Monday, April 13, 2009

Resurrection and the Atonement

In a recent blog post Tony Jones has commented on the relationship between the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) and the resurrection. Here are some of his thoughts:
But, in all honesty, PSA never sat quite right with me. For one, it didn't seem to jibe with the chesed of God in the Hebrew Scriptures....Another problem with PSA, it seems to me, is that there's really no reason for the resurrection. It's little more than Jesus, "Ta-Da! See, I told you that I was divine!"...Well, if you found some resonance with my previous post on the crucifixion, then the resurrection of Jesus is all the more important. In Jesus, God identified with humankind in an unprecendented way -- this is why the divinity (i.e., non-mortality) of Jesus really matters...

So, when Jesus rose from the grave, it was more than the resusitation of a corpse (hell, I've seen Criss Angel do that!). Instead, it was a foretaste of the eschaton. I described Jesus' miracles in the last post as significations of the new, eschatological age that Jesus the Messiah inaugurated. The resurrection is the capstone event in the inauguration.
Jones says some things that are right here about the beginning of the eschaton in the resurrection. This is of course because Christ is fully human. The resurrection is one of the stages of his exaltation where is crowned with glory and honor in advance of what awaits all who trust in Christ. He is the 'firstfruits'. He is given indestructible human life. He is the 'Last Adam'... the eschatological man. He is also made king of all creation and appointed to judge the world (Acts 17:32). This is a fulfillment of the OT hopes of the eschaton where their will be at God's right hand a human king. So Daniel 7, Psalm 110, Psalm 2, and Psalm 8, to name a few, come to fulfillment in Christ.

Yet the reality is that these things are grounded in the atonement. In fact, Hebrews is quite clear that he is exalted into heaven as our representative based on the fact that He has offered his own blood and has obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9, esp. 11-14). The covenant cannot be inaugurated unless Christ bears the penalty of our transgression of the first covenant (Heb. 9:15, 26-28, et al).

I posted a comment on Jones' blog. Here was my brief response.
Four quick thoughts:
PSA isn't against God's 'hesed'. In fact, if you consider Genesis 15 and how God himself walks between the divided animal parts, you see that God himself in covenant with his people promises to take upon himself the curses of the covenant when God's people break the covenant in order that the covenant faithfulness (hesed) of God might be maintained. This has been articulate in much more extended form elsewhere, let's not put up false antitheses where there are none. You can find further Biblical examples of this so that PSA and hesed are not against each other. In fact the latter is the basis for the actions taken in the former.

Second, outside of the internet world, the best articulations of PSA have also been clear to include a two-adam christology, Christus Victor and other elements that help explain both PSA and representation/identification and the eschatos man that Christ is for us. At what point have you crossed over from 'dethroning' into the realm of tearing asunder?

Third, Hebrews all over the place connects PSA with Christ's representation of us as one just like us as high priest, mediator, intercessor, etc. Christ's continuing work for us is ground on the fact that he both accomplished redemption (PSA) and he is exalted with indestructible life to minister as high priest. In fact, Hebrews is clear that he cannot do the latter without doing the former. Here again, resurrection is not an after thought as if 'once we have PSA we don't really need the resurrection'... this of course, just isn't Biblical... but just because this view is false doesn't mean downplaying the significance of PSA is true.

Finally, Romans 4:25 has not problem with PSA and the resurrection of Christ and connecting the two as part of Christ's one great work for us.

I am sure not all will agree with me, but the least we could do is not erect straw men (even if they are unintentional). Granted many people who hold to PSA do not work it out in relation to other areas of theology, but it would be prudent to listen to the best articulations where these issues are dealt with more fully. I think one might find that some of your objections fall by the wayside... perhaps not, but the full-orbed articulations are out there.
I will refrain from expanding each of these brief points into a blog post on its own, but I trust one will recognize that these thoughts can go much deeper than my brief reference of them. The riches of Scripture expand these ideas in a way that would interlock PSA and the resurrection beyond Jones' quick dismissal.

In the internet world and elsewhere I'm sure, those of us who hold to PSA wholeheartedly are not always good at linking it to the rest of theology. But theology is like dominoes, if you knock one down a whole mess of things begin to fall. The same is true with PSA. Those others areas of theology that Jones holds dear (Second Adam, Christ's identification with our humanity, etc.) cannot truly be held together apart from PSA... at least that is how the Bible holds them together.

The resurrection is not an afterthought to God's design in the atonement. The resurrection truly is the beginning of the New Creation now that God has exhausted the curse that condemned the new creation.

Let's be clear, the resurrection of Christ is more that simply saying "That Jesus who died is divine". No first-century Jew understood resurrection to prove divinity... although Jesus' resurrection would vindicate all his claims (including his divinity). Resurrection says some key things about humanity, the new creation and the new humanity. It says some things about Jesus' representation of His people (the second Adam, 1 Cor. 15). Even more, it says some things about his exaltation (Eph. 1:19ff, Hebrews). Nevertheless, the resurrection is intimately connect to PSA. If we listen to Scripture more closely, we would see that Jones' positive affirmation of the resurrection do not dismissive but rather uphold PSA. In fact, it is only if we neglect the Biblical text and carry ourselves with extreme prejudice against PSA that we will think that the resurrection is more persuasive than PSA. Listening to the Biblical text means seeing how the two are interlocking as part of one system. Those of us who hold to the PSA ought to be careful that in our emphasis on a Biblical theme we do not inadvertently intentionally or unintentional minimize the resurrection. Theology is a set of dominoes, let's not knock a few over and assume it does not matter.

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