Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Christ in Our Place

There is a helpful essay of the contributions of the prepositions to our understanding of the death of Christ: R.E. Davies "Christ in our Place--The Contribution of the Prepositions" published in Tyndale Bulletin ( 21 [1970] pp71-90). The essay is almost forty years old. It argues that the prepositions in the NT, particularly anti and hyper, contribute to our understanding of Christ's substitutionary atonement. The argument is that prepositions are just one portion of a full orbed understanding. I found his introduction quite telling:

"Christ dying in our place, the substitutionary suffering of our Lord--this, according to these writers [after quoting hymns by Charles Wesley and Philipp Bliss], is a key concept in the New Testament understanding of the saving work of Christ.
This view, however, is not without its critics, and it is often suggested that such an understanding involves a reading into, rather than reading out of, Scripture. It is said that the New Testament knows nothing of a 'crude transactionalism', and that even if certain elements which might suggest a vicarious, substitutionary idea appear, this is only one of many ideas which are put forward in the New Testament to explain Christ's death, and should not be made the controlling concept in our understanding of it." (pp71-72)

I find it ironic that this was written forty years ago. Davies' allusion to 'crude transactionalism' cites a work that is now ninety years old. These debates have not gone away and have in fact been around for quite a while. The opponents of the penal substitutionary atonement have not changed their rhetoric much. There still are strong defenses of penal substituionary atonement out there which articulate that it is a significant part of the Biblical witness to Christ. It is something that we should not abandon today, regardless of which way the cultural winds are blowing and the suppossed force with which they blow.

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