VERDICT
1983

Essay 8

The Scandal of God's Justice
Part 3

Robert D. Brinsmead

        Introduction

        The Downfall of Western Christianity

        The Theological Basis of Christendom's Ugly Face

        The Triumph of God's Justice

        A Critique of the Latin Theory of the Atonement

        An Approach Based on Grace

        Notes and References

 

Introduction 

In the previous two issues of Verdict we defined justice--first, as it
relates to God and, second, as it relates to his people. The principal task of this issue is to understand how God's justice was disclosed in the gospel event of Jesus Christ. This will lead to a re-examination of the doctrine of the atonement and will raise some of the most sensitive issues in the history of Western theology. In order to emphasize the necessity of this bold venture, we will precede our re-examination of the doctrine of the atonement with a discussion on the downfall of Western Christianity.

The Downfall of Western Christianity.


We are living in an era of change--rapid, cataclysmic change. As one author declares, "All the certainties of the industrial society in which we live are disintegrating. We are witnessing an erosion of ideologies, economic theories,and traditional culture." Indeed, we are witnessing the decay and disintegration of Western civilization.

The church as we have known it is more an expression and institution of Western civilization than we generally realize. It will not escape this process of disintegration any more than the
kingdom of Judah escaped the overturning of the world order in the sixth century B.C. These are "the last days of the Constantinian era."' Douglas John Hallis not a lone voice crying in the wilderness when he declares,"The church as we have known it, the church that tried to be a 'mighty army,' the church also of the little wooden buildings and the big brick and stone edifices--in short, 'Christendom'--has come to an end."'

If we believe that Christ is the Lord of history, then the downfall of Christendom must be seen as the triumph of divine justice. A review of some facts of history may help us to appreciate this. There are historians who believe that Christianity triumphed over rival religions in the Western world because it was the most intolerant of all the competing religions. Some may dispute this verdict, but no one can dispute the evidence that the Western church has been an oppressive, persecuting institution for most of its history. There is something profoundly intolerant about historic Christianity.

For example, the Christian West has much to account for in its treatment of the Jewish people. For long centuries the Jews were subjected to massacres, burnings, hangings and lootings at the hands of Christians. Superstitious Christians often blamed the Jews for the Black Death, which decimated Christendom. In 1492
Spain issued the infamous Edict of Expulsion, which made more than 100,000 Jews homeless. Christian authorities often forced Jews to undergo Christian indoctrination and to profess the faith on pain of dreadful persecution.'

The young Luther appealed to Christians "to deal kindly with the Jews." But the older Luther became more intolerant and irascible. In his - Concerning the Jews and their Lies, he advised his followers to eradicate Jewish  homes and synagogues by burning them to the ground and covering the site with dirt; prayerbooks and Talmuds were to be destroyed, rabbis silenced on pain of death, travel forbidden, wealth seized, and usury stopped; young Jews were to be enslaved at hard tasks. As a final step, Luther advocated expulsion: "Let us drive them out of the country for all time. He concluded, "To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden--the Jews."


The entire Christian West--both Catholic and Protestant--cannot be absolved from some responsibility for the Holocaust.

Christians have proved just as hostile toward fellow Christians. They have generally been a feuding, fighting family. Christians have often put one another to the sword, to the stake and to other kinds of inhumane suffering. Protestants have sometimes been too inclined to dwell on the oppressive exploits of the Catholics. Yet Protestant historian, Roland H. Bainton, says, "At the moment of its beginning Protestantism was more intolerant than contemporary Catholicism." In 1525 the Swiss Reformer, Zwingli, launched a campaign to drown Anabaptists. Luther did not oppose this dreadful program, although he refused to propose such a solution for
religious differences.

In 1536 Melanchthon drafted a memorandum demanding death for Anabaptists. In the same year, Fritz Erbe died after being incarcerated in the Wartburg solely for his religious convictions. Luther did not express one word of sympathy,respect or regret.

A few years later the brilliant and somewhat eccentric Servetus was brought to the stake in Calvin's
Geneva. Farel was present at the dreadful execution to invoke God's blessing on the wretched procedure. Servetus was offered a reprieve if he would confess that Jesus was the eternal Son of God. He said, "I confess that Jesus is the Son of the eternal God." But that was not good enough for these guardians of the faith, and so Servetus was committed to the unspeakable agonies of a slow fire. Finally he fell down in the flames, crying, "O Jesus, thou Son of the eternal God, have pity on me!"

Beta, Calvin's successor, dismissed the plea for Christian tolerance, calling religious liberty "a most diabolical dogma because it means that every one should be left to go to hell in his own way."

This short sketch of the spirit of Christian intolerance is not a distortion of evidence biased by Christianity's lunatic fringe. It is an
expression of mainline Christianity through some of its most celebrated personalities.

As far as historic Christianity is concerned, tolerance and religious liberty are only a phenomenon of the last 200 years. And the triumph of tolerance was sometimes gained, not because of Christians, but despite them. The hated "secular humanists" were often more responsible for securing religious liberty than were committed Christians. Marty's lament has often proved to be true: "The civil people are not committed and the committed people aren't civil."" In the United States the presence of religious pluralism also helped force Christian groups to settle for religious toleration.

While the laws of the land will no longer countenance the use of physical force in religious matters, the spirit of intolerance is not dead. We are not merely referring to those, like Gary North and Rousas John Rushdoony, who are trying to make what they think are God's laws the laws of the land. But we simply draw attention to the various means which Christians often use to control the religious commitments of other people. In a situation in which Christian groups compete for allegiance, numerous people have become victims of mental, social and psychological coercion designed to make them submit to religious systems. These processes of intolerance are more subtle because they are generally conducted with loving, earnest concern for the eternal well-being of the victims. Christians often bring pressure to bear on other Christians for the pettiest reasons. A recent report from China illustrates this:-

Differences in worship among believers in so called house churches have begun to surface, leading to tears that authorities may step in more rigidly to control the evidences of revival in this country, according to reports distributed by the Hong Kong based Chinese Church Research Center. The house churches exist apart from the jurisdiction of the official Three-Self Church, the body recognized by the government but considered by many to be more liberal than evangelical. But now differences in house church practices appear to threaten their unanimity. Some local church groups, according to the report, insist that all women wear some sort of head covering as they pray, in obedience to the injunction of the Apostle Paul.

Others insist that men and women sit at opposite sides during worship, even if there are very few men present. Yet others believe they must speak loudly when they pray--a practice which annoys local residents. One group insists that only one cup be used for Holy Communion, regardless of the size of the group of participants. "These and other practices are causing confusion and disharmony among believers," the CCRC report says. "Some go so far as to insist that those who don't practice the faith as they do are not true Christians.


"All this arguing gives local authorities an excuse to interfere in worship services in the name of public order and peace." the report says. Reinhold Niebuhr declared that "the grossest forms of evil enter into history as schemes of redemption."" He said this in the context of comments regarding evils in the Christian church.

In his book, The Cost of Authority, Graham Shaw has made the following disturbing observations:

Christianity is not simply a programme for human reform. It is a gospel of freedom, deliverance and reconciliation. It proclaims Jesus as the Saviour. It offers men the opportunity of new life and brotherhood. The fundamental challenge of the historical experience is that it directly contradicts that claim. Repeatedly in the church's history the message of freedom and deliverance has only served to sanctify a new system of social control, buttressed by bitterly divisive social attitudes.

In this respect Christian experience has a disconcerting similarity to many modern secular ideologies. The moral earnestness to abolish slavery established the
British Empire. The French pursuit of freedom, equality and fraternity brought first the Terror and then the Empire. The search for social regeneration in Italy and Germany established Fascism. Most pervasively, the Marxist dreams of a new humanity have sanctioned systematic oppression and the uncritical concentration of power. These secular gospels have all promised a fresh start, and have often directly appealed to aspirations for freedom and fraternity. Repeatedly such rhetoric has only served to sanction the replacement of one tyranny by another, and provided ancient antagonisms with new sanctions. Some features of Christian history suggest disturbing parallels. ...


Does all the ringing language of liberty only prepare for a new tyranny? The basic question of this book is whether the freedom of the Christian is self-sustaining. or whether it simply prepares for a new tyranny?

In a recent newspaper article on Gandhi, columnist J. Stephen Conn quoted Howard Thurman,who once asked the Mahatma, "Mr. Gandhi, what is the greatest enemy of Christ in
India today?" Gandhi's one-word reply was: "Christianity!"

 

The Theological Basis of Christendom's Ugly Face.

These unpleasant features of Western Christianity should not be dismissed as simply the aberrations of the sinful human nature which exists in all Christians. Of course, an inherent intolerance in human nature cannot be denied. But we need to face the evidence that Western Christianity has given intolerance a theological basis.

In our recent issue of Verdict, "Justification by Faith Re-Examined," we devoted a large section to a critique of Christian nomism. We showed that Latin or Western Christianity made a synthesis between New Testament grace and Old Testament law. Christian existence was thus governed and structured by law at every point. Living by rules and regulations of the religious tradition is a type of Christian judaism in which the law (or religion) operates as a barrier creating hostility even between Christian and Christian (Eph.
2:14, 15). But all must now see that the problem of Christian nomism is not confined to ethics--what Christians do. More fundamentally, it is the basis of Western theology--what Christians think. Latin or Western philosophy and theology assumed that since this is a law-ordered universe, law must be the basis and starting point of the entire dogmatic schema. Lutheran scholar, Gerhard O. Forde, has succinctly expressed the law-basis nature of Western theology:


The key to the traditional orthodox position is the understanding of the place of the law in the theological system. ... This idea of law provides the basic structure for the whole orthodox system and so determines the understanding of all other related doctrines the nature of the gospel, revelation, and of course, the doctrine of the atonement. ...The law provided, therefore, the structure which governed the understanding of other doctrines."


This Latin or Western theology, grounded in and governed by the principle of law, has had profound implications for all of Western Christianity:

1. This law-based theology inevitably led to the development of systematic theology. Good systematic theology is as logical (law-ordered) as geometry. In fact, Gordon H. Clark insists that geometry ought to be the norm for expressing theological truth.'"

2. Systematic theology means that Truth becomes equated with a closed system. This is too much like a "God-in-a-box" religion. A closed system of truth results in closed minds. The faithful are not supposed to--and in most cases dare not--think outside the boundaries of the closed theological system. Systematic theology marks off precise boundaries for the human mind, and the fear of crossing these mysterious boundaries is akin to the fear medieval sailors had of dropping off the edge of the world. And if the
inculcation of fear of wandering outside the closed system is not enough, there are people with big religious clubs and ecclesiastical walls designed to prevent the faithful from thinking outside prescribed limits.


There is another aspect of systematic theology which increases religious control and loss of freedom. The great theological systems have become so complex that their mastery is beyond the capacity of ordinary people. The task of understanding and interpreting the faith has therefore been handed over to specialists. This has encouraged the development of a distinct class of religious professionals in the church called clergy. Since most theological inquiry is conducted by religious professionals, it tends to become more and more esoteric and increasingly removed from the laity. All this lends itself to clericalism, hierarchism and the manipulation and control of Christian people by those supposed to possess superior knowledge.

William Tyndale envisaged a revolution which would elevate the plowboy to the level of the bishop in the essential knowledge of the Scriptures. That vision never materialized in Protestantism because Protestant scholasticism triumphed over the gospel. Protestantism developed its own complex theological systems in which people eventually were controlled and manipulated by the 'priestly class" just as much as they were in the Roman Catholic system.

3. The Christian life ceases to be a pilgrimage. Instead of a venture of faith, it becomes static. It offers a security with a certain appeal, but it is too much like the security of the totalitarian state. The carefully defined theological system and the over clericalized religious structures of Western Christianity are not unlike the carefully-planned economy of the socialist system. In both instances individual initiative is stifled because the entire system is programmed by the clergy or the bureaucracy. In the church system, however, the loss of true humanity is worse, because control of the mind is worse than control over the body.

4. Truth (with a capital "T") too easily becomes equated with a belief-system. The question, "What do you believe?" is given a preeminence it should not have in determining how we stand with God and with others. The impersonal "What?" or the belief system becomes the all-important and some-times the only criterion by which people are judged as worthy of acceptance or rejection.

Thus, a law-based theology is largely responsible for incarcerating
Christians in closed systems, making them closed-minded, intolerant toward those who hold different opinions, and easily manipulated by a priestly elite.

Yet today gaping cracks are appearing all along the walls of the classical systems of theological thought. To begin with, advances in biblical science through the application of the historical-critical method have repeatedly shown that the arguments often used to establish systematic theology are untenable. More seriously, the liberating gospel calls all these closed systems into question. They have become as obsolete as
Newton's ideas about a wholly explicable mechanistic universe.


A Copernican Revolution in Theology.

The end of Christendom means the beginning of a new era in Christian thinking. A new beginning is far more than a new coat of paint on the old theological structures. It is, in fact, a Copernican-type revolution in the way we do our theology. Instead of making law the starting point and the principle which determines the shape of the entire structure of Christian theology, we believe that we must now begin with grace which was given us in Christ before anything else began (2 Tim. 1:9). The beginning of all things is not an abstract principle of law or election or anything else, but the word of God's grace, who is Jesus Christ(John 1:1; Col.1:15-17).


The idea that we begin with grace rather than with law and make that the reference point in determining the meaning of everything else may appear too simple to accomplish a profound revolution in Christian thinking. Yet even science (to say nothing of Christian history) can show us that the most far-reaching results are often affected by the simplest means.


We do not deny that grace has always been an important part of every great system of theology. Classical Calvinists have often referred to their system as "the doctrines of grace." But without exception, all these classical systems have their starting point in law and then make grace active in the service of law. We now say that this entire way of thinking must be reversed as radically as was the pre-Copernican universe. Grace is the starting point and under girds everything. Law merely exists in the service of grace (see Gal.
3:16-19). This will radically change the entire spectrum of Christian thinking--such as our ideas about God's justice, the atonement, Christian existence, the church and final punishment. It will call into question two elements of the Christian religion which have been dwelt upon with almost sadistic pleasure--i.e., certain ideas about the blood atonement and hellfire. A savage religion can only produce savage people. But before we explore these things in more detail, let us summarize the over all implications of making grace the starting point of Christian thinking:

1. It will mean the end of all systematic theologies. The grace of God is so sovereignly free, overwhelming and surprising that it cannot be encompassed, mastered, domesticated and confined to a tidy system --any more than God can be put in a box. Surely salvation- history should teach us something about that. No wonder classical systematic theology tends to be a historical! God's grace in Christ defies all attempts to make it conform to the canons of human logic.

2. The end of closed systems means the end of closed Christian minds and all the stultifying arrogance which goes with them. No more religious walls and ecclesiastical policemen to decree, "Thus far you may think and no further.

3. The end of closed systems and closed minds means that the Christian life will become what it was always intended to be--a pilgrimage of faith. Instead of the dull security of the carefully-defined religious system, there will be the venture of living in the tents of faith. Abraham must have found his pilgrim existence frightening at times, but certainly much more exhilarating than being confined within a walled city.

4. No longer will the priority be given to the impersonal "What," of the
belief-system. Ultimate significance will not be given to what we believe but to in Whom we believe (2 Tim.
1:12). Faith means living without demanding an answer to all our theological questionings. Faith enables us to live with ambiguity instead of demanding a pat answer for many things.


At times we may not be too sure what we believe. When like Abraham we do not know where we are on our pilgrimage, it is enough to know that God knows where we are. After all, even the smart man of the world realizes that it is not what he knows but who he knows that gets him places. Those who are secure in whom they believe will not be so inclined to quarrel with other Christians about what they believe.

The Triumph of God's Justice.

In Romans 1:16, 17 Paul declares that he is not ashamed of the gospel because in it God's justice is revealed. In Part 1 of this series we gave various reasons for preferring the word justice to righteousness. Paul proceeds to show us that the justice of God revealed in the gospel is not a justice based on the law. The apostle could hardly be more emphatic: "But now the justice of God apart from the law (which is not based on the law] has been made known" (Rom.
3:21, author's translation).

The justice revealed in the gospel event is a justice based on grace, and it consists in God's faithfulness to his covenant promise. It is that liberating, saving justice which manifested itself again and again in Old Testament history. This becomes clear when we look at the background of Romans 3:21. The apostle depicts the entire world arraigned at the bar of divine justice. The Gentiles are proved to be such sinners that they are worthy of death (Rom. 1).But then the Jew is also silenced, because he is really no better (Rom. 2). All are guilty. Then God rises to execute justice. The un-expected happens. A "but" intervenes--"But now the justice of God which is not based on the law is made known. Instead of bringing doom and death, it brings liberation and life.

The contrast between the justice based on law and the justice based on grace has already been examined in Part 1 of our series, but we will here summarize this difference:

Latin or Western Biblical or Gospel justice Definition: Conformity to a norm i.e.. based on the law - distributive justice : Giving what is deserved - In tension with mercy - Primarily punitive (re-retributive)   Biblical or Gospel Justice - Definition: faithfulness to a    relationship--i.e. based on grace: Nondistributive justice: Carrying out what God has graciously promised. Mercy for all who are oppressed Primarily liberating, saving action.

 

A Critique of the Latin Theory of the Atonement.

In the eleventh century A.D., Anselm developed a theory of atonement to explain why Christ had to die. He articulated a theory on the "satisfaction" of divine justice based on the Latin philosophy of law. In historical theology this is known as the Latin or forensic theory of the atonement. The Reformers stood in Anselm's tradition. They further developed the Latin theory by making the law the object of "satisfaction" or "payment of debt" in the death of Christ. Thus, the theory of the "vicarious satisfaction of divine justice" or"penal substitution" entered the stream of Protestant orthodoxy.

In reaction to Anselm, Abelard developed an alternate view of the atonement which became known as the "moral-influence" theory. Abelard said that God exhibited his love at the cross in such a way that contemplation of the cross would move us to repentance and faith. No objective transaction took place at
Calvary whereby salvation was secured. The real act of salvation occurs in the subjective response to the cross. There are many variations of this theory, but in historical theology they are all grouped under the heading of "subjective" theories of the atonement.

Before critically reviewing the Latin theory of atonement,we should say something about its value. In contrast to all subjective theories of the atonement, the penal-satisfaction theory enabled the church to maintain the essential element of biblical teaching--namely, the objective basis of human salvation. The church was able to confess that our salvation is effectively grounded in an objective (outside-of-me) event. The Reformation doctrine of justification likewise maintained this objective basis. On the other hand,the Abelardian theory of atonement and the Tridentine doctrine
of justification lead people to look at either their own response to the
cross or to their inward transformation as the ground of their acceptance with God. The Latin theory of the atonement also enabled the church to proclaim the radical seriousness of sin and God's profound hostility to it.


If, therefore, we are given the choice between the classical Latin theory of atonement and the moral-influence theory, we would have no hesitation in choosing the former. If we compromise the objective basis of salvation in the finished work of Christ, the vital element of the Christian gospel is lost. So let there be no suggestion that in criticizing the Latin theory we are in any sense predisposed to a subjective theory of the atonement.

Nevertheless, we have the following serious reservations about the validity of the classical Latin theory of atonement:

1.The legal explanations it offers as to why Christ had to die and how his death actually accomplished redemption go beyond what is actually said in the New Testament. The best twentieth-century biblical scholarship seems to be reaching the consensus that all theories of the atonement, including the Latin theory, go beyond the New Testament revelation.

Christ reconciles man to God and gives him peace with God. It is one task of theologians to attempt to explain how Christ in his self-giving on the cross has achieved this end. No precise explanation, however,is offered in the NT, nor has the church officially sponsored anyone of the theories of the Atonement which have been propounded. When we come to systematize the teaching concerning the Atonement we find, as in all doctrine,that definite
system is not offered us in the NT...

All serious theories partly express the truth and all together are
inadequate fully to declare how the Daystar from on high doth guide our feet into the way of peace (Lk 1:79).

"The NT does not and could not (as St Anselm and some Reformation theologians did) set forth the death of Christ as an offering or satisfaction rendered by Christ as man on behalf of man to make restitution for the outraged honour or majesty of the infinite God. 'Satisfaction' is a concept which has figured prominently in discussions of the Atonement in Western theology, but the word does not occur in the NT. Most of the distortions and dissensions which have vexed the Church, where these have touched theological understanding, have arisen through the insistence of sects or sections of the Christian community upon using words which are not
found in the NT: and this is nowhere more true than in the matter of
atonement-theories. The NT does not say that God demands satisfaction (in terms either of honour or of debt) or that man (even the God-man) renders it to him.

Anselm's theory of satisfaction, consequently, has absolutely nothing in common with Paul.

2. The Latin theory of "vicarious satisfaction" or "penal substitution" is
based on the Latin theory of law. The Western law court, in which the
fundamental task is to uphold the demands of the law, becomes the metaphor which explains the atonement. But this directly contradicts Paul's statement that the justice of God revealed in the gospel is "apart from law" (Rom.
3:21).

The central idea in the Latin or legal theory of atonement is that justice and mercy are in tension and are reconciled only by the act of the cross. We have already demonstrated (Part 1), however, that there is no tension between biblical justice and mercy.

When Paul preaches the good news of a justice which by passes the law altogether (Rom.3:21)or a justice which is grounded in a promise which preceded the law (Gal.
3:16-19), he is faithful to the teaching of Jesus.

In his preaching about the good news of the kingdom, Jesus spoke about a divine justice which refuses to conform to the canons of legal justice. His parables teach us that love and grace do the surprising, "foolish" and daring thing--such as the employer who rewards late-comers with a full day's pay and the father who welcomes the prodigal as if he were a hero.

3. The Latin or legal theory of atonement embraces grace as an important element, but ultimately it is grace in the service of law. This means that Christ himself is really the servant of the law. His work meets its demands, pays its debt and establishes its claims as if it were the paramount principle of the universe. But the New Testament nowhere teaches us that Christ's obedience was directed to the law or that his death was a payment or satisfaction to its demand. These theories have been imposed upon the New Testament. Christ is not the servant of the law. The law is always his servant and exists in the service of grace. The Latin theory is like the medieval world-view, which placed the earth rather than the sun at the center of the planetary system.

4. The Latin theory depicts God as demanding an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exod.21:24). Exact repayment for the damaged one appears to be dearest to God. Yet Jesus preaches another kind of justice in the
kingdom of God--a justice that does not retaliate but returns love for hate and good for evil (see Matt. 5:38-48). Does God ask us to live by a justice opposite to that which he exhibits in the atonement? Hardly!

In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul declares that love "keeps no record of wrongs." but the legal theory of atonement tells us something very different. In this theory God carefully keeps the score and requires exact compensation. The theory of atonement based on law and explained by law too closely resembles a commercial transaction in which the scales of debt and repayment must exactly balance. It tends to transform God's love into a coldly-calculating love. For example, the classical Calvinist must deny that Christ died for the entire world on the basis of mathematical, law-based logic. How could people suffer in hell,the Calvinist asks, if Christ actually paid for their sins on the cross? Does God require repayment twice--once at the hand of Christ and once at the hand of sinners in hell? So the classical Calvinist is confident in the unassailable logic of his systematic theology. The fallacy, however, consists in thinking that divine love and grace must submit to such logic--even good Calvinist logic.

Such closed systems of theology are no more able to contain divine justice than the sealed tomb could have contained the crucified Jesus.

5. The penal-satisfaction theory of atonement too closely portrays God as a celestial Shylock who must have his pound of flesh before he can forgive. We agree with Alan Richardson when he declares that the New Testament does not say that God demands satisfaction to either his own honor or to the law.


6. This law-based theory of divine justice has given credence to a
religion which dwells upon two elements in a way that sometimes borders on Christian sadism. These elements, of course, are blood and fire. God appears to love blood and fire. Only the sight of blood can appease his anger. Otherwise it can never be appeased, even by the endless torments of the damned. Such views of final punishment are unquestionably sadistic." No one in his right mind would want to meet a God whose insatiable vengeance dwarfs the cruelest monsters of history into insignificance. If we worship a God who so loves blood and fire, why should we be surprised that for most of their history Christians have been intolerant, persecuting, cruel and savage whenever they had the opportunity. Even today, what segment of the
United States' community is the most vocally hawkish and would be the first to "nuke" the national enemies! Are they not the exponents of a religion of blood and fire!

An Approach Based on Grace.

The justice of God revealed to us in the gospel is not a justice based on the law (Rom.3:21). It is based on grace--the grace which God gave in Christ before the beginning of time (2Tim. 1:9). The starting point of all our theological thinking, therefore, must not be some static law but God's commitment to lavish upon the human race every blessing in Christ.


By its very nature love is unconditional. It cannot be qualified by an "if"
or an "until." God committed, promised and covenanted to love the world of people irrespective of what they might do or deserve. He pledged himself to go to any length, at any cost to himself, to make them sharers in his inheritance in Christ. Where there would be human misery, need and oppression, there God's love would bring healing and restoration. God would do this because he would be God. He cannot deny himself (2 Tim.
2:13). 


We have seen (Part 1) that God's justice is God's keeping his promise. The Old Testament is full of evidence that divine justice is biased in favor of the oppressed. God is one who executes justice for all who are oppressed (Ps. 103:6). The Exodus was proof of that. This act of liberation on behalf of the Hebrew slaves is celebrated in the Old Testament as an act of divine justice. Clearly, it was not a justice based on law and what those slaves deserved. It was based on grace--it was God's faithfully carrying out his promise to Abraham.

This is the kind of justice revealed in the gospel. In an excellent
article Sam K.Williams concludes that the righteousness of God
in Romans is God's faithfulness in keeping his promise to
Abraham....Ultimately, in fulfilling his promises to Abraham, in making all peoples his children through Christ, He is doing nothing more or less than being true to himself--that is, to his own nature as creator and savior.


The gospel shows us that divine justice is a justice that is for us, with
us, and even instead of us. God is not only on the side of all who are
oppressed (Ps. 103:6), but in the person of his Son he has become one with us in oppression. He is Emmanuel "God with us" (Mart. 1:23: cf. Isa. 7:14).

On earth Jesus especially went out of his way to be friends with those
considered outside the pale of the law and those who lived on the periphery of society. He preached the good news "to the poor... the prisoners ... the blind ... the oppressed"(Luke
4:18). On the cross he not only identified himself with us all in our sin and misery, but he went beyond and endured the ultimate consequences of sin instead of us. We do not deny that there is substitutionary imagery in the Bible, but we suggest that it is not so much the language of a legal transaction as it is the language of love.

Love is always for us. It identifies with its object. It bears the other's
burden (Gal. 6:2).

In order to understand the meaning of the resurrection, we must appreciate that it was the resurrection of the crucified Jesus (Acts
2:37-36;3:15).

Crucifixion was a gruesome spectacle. No one of noble birth was crucified, nor was any Roman citizen put to death this way. It was the most degrading kind of punishment, reserved for the trash of society. Jesus was crucified in weakness. He was an oppressed, rejected, cursed, condemned, spat-on and forsaken man. In this criminal's cross, all smeared with sweat and blood, we behold God's becoming one with all who are oppressed. He takes the cause of all condemned, wretched, forsaken sinners upon himself and becomes absolutely one with them in all their deprivation and oppression. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he showed that he was the God who executes justice for all who are oppressed. When God executes justice, he liberates and restores rights to those who have been deprived of rights. The verbal form of the word Justice is justify.

When God raised this oppressed Man to his own right hand, he thereby justified him--he did him justice and kept his promise that he would deliver the oppressed. The resurrection, therefore, was the triumph of divine justice over all human oppression summed up in this Oppressed One who was the one for, with, and instead of the many. He was one with us in all our oppression in order that we might become one with him in his resurrection and justification." He ... was raised to life for our justification" (Rom.
4:25). The resurrection was therefore the triumph of divine justice over our sin, alienation, deprivation and death. This triumph of divine justice in the resurrection is the triumph of unconditional love. There is no one so cursed, forsaken and oppressed but may not hear this good news that death itself is vanquished and that God has executed his liberating justice for everyone in the raising of Christ.

Instead of trying to develop a theory of the atonement in the framework of some philosophy of law, we have placed it in the historical- -redemptive framework of the Bible. In this way we are able to preserve its essential objectivity. It is as objective and as unalterable as the Battle of Waterloo. Just as an event took place at Waterloo which changed the course of history for every Englishman, so an event took place in the death and resurrection of Christ which reconciled the world to God and inaugurated the new history of man in Jesus Christ.

We are mindful that this leaves many questions unanswered. The Bible proclaims what God has done to save us but does not answer our questions about why he did what he did except that his love called him that way. Yet why should we expect God's most glorious deed to be subjected to all kinds of rationalistic explanations? We do not wonder and stand in awe before miracles which can easily be explained. To live by faith means to live with unanswered questions. The propensity to insist on answering too many questions has burdened Christians with complex systems of theology and given them too many issues over which to fight and feud.

It may be considered certain, therefore, that in Rom.3:25. Paul indeed regards the death of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement and sees in it precisely God's saving righteousness at work. But it is a free,"foolish" activity of God (1 Cor. 1:21), and it is completely foreign to Paul to describe the activity of God as in any way a necessary activity, the necessity of which was explainable and to which God had to submit. Anselm's theory of satisfaction, consequently, has absolutely nothing in common with Paul, and Rom. 3:25. conforms in every respect to the Pauline proclamation. Paul does not intend to explain God's activity or to deprive it of its foolish character by making it intelligible in this text either.

Rather, he wants only to proclaim and to testify what God has done and what impelled God to do it."

Notes and References

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New
International Version.

1. Michel Poniatowski. Minister of the Interior under former French
President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, in an interview for news magazine Pourquoi Pas?
of
Brussels, quoted in World Press Review 29, no 10 (Oct.1982):23.

2. Douglas John Hall, Has the Church a Future? (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1980), p 36.

3. Ibid.

4. See Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Part VI, The Reformation - A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300-1564
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957). p. 218: Roland H. Bainton, The Travail of Religious Liberty: Nine Biographical Studies (
Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1951, pp 35,51-2.

5. Martin Luther, quoted in Richard E. Gade, A Historical Survey of
Anti-Semitism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), p 51.

6. Ibid.

7. Bainton, Travial of Religious Liberty, p 55.

8. See Ibid., P 61.

9. See Ibid., P 64.

10. Michael Servetus, quoted in ibid., p 94.

11. Theodore Beza, quoted in Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952), p 211.

12. Martin E Marty, quoted in Robert Jewett, Christian Tolerence: Paul's Message to the
Modern Church (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1982), p. 9.

13. The Presbyterian Journal,
15 June 1983, p. 5.

14. Reinhold Niebuhr, Faith and History: A Comparison of Christian and Modern Views of History (New York: Charles Scibner's Sons, 1949), p. 214.

15. Graham Shaw, The Cost of Authority: Manipulation and Freedom in the New
Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pp.5, 51, 48.

16. J. Stephen Conn, "Gandhi Still Has Impact on People," Augusta
Chronicle,
16 Apr. 1983.

17. Gerhard O. Forde, The Law-Gospel Debate: An Interpretation of Its Historical Development (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969), pp. 3-5.

18. See Peter W Macky, 'The Role of Metaphor in christian Thought and Experience as Understood by Gordon Clark and C. S. Lewis," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24, no. 3 (Sept. 1981): 239-50

19. See Robert D. Brinsmead, "The Scandal of God's Justice--Part 1, "The Christian Verdict, Essay 6, 1983.

20. C.L. Mitton, art. "Atonement," The interpreter's Dictionary of the
Bible" An illustrated Encyclopedia, ed. George Arthur Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 1:313.

21. William Owen Carver, art. "Atonement," The international Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, ed James Orr (1929; reprint ed.,
Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976, 1:323-24.

22. Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1958), p 217.

23. Werner G. Kummel, "A Contribution ot the Understanding of the Pauline Doctrine of Justification," in Robert W. Funk, ed., Distinctive Protestant and Catholic Themes Reconsidered (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1967) p. 13.

24. See
Richardson, Theology of the New Testament, p. 217.

25. See Edward William Fudge, The fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of Final Punishment (Fallbrook, Calif.: Verdict Publications, 1982)

26. Sam K Williams, 'The Righteousness of God' in Romans," Journal of Biblical Literature 99, no.2 (June 1980): 265, 290.

27. Kummel, "Pauline Doctrine of Justification," pp.12-13. Kummel's use of the work "necessary" might be somewhat misleading if taken in isolation from the entire statement. It seems to us proper to confess the necessity of Christ's death but improper to explain why it was necessary.

 

Copyright 1983-2008 Robert D. Brinsmead