Monday, April 13, 2009

Throwing the Apostle Paul under the Bus UPDATED

I drafted this post on Saturday, but I see that Justin Taylor already pointed to it, even quoting J.I. Packer against Tony Jones. Here's what I thought I'd point out:

So on the one hand, talking about the penal substitutionary atonement Tony Jones writes:
Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, that God's wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.

But then a little later on in the comments he writes:

To the rest of you, we seem to have locked horns on this dilemma: Is the penal substitutionary *theory* of the atonement the primary historical and biblical understanding of Jesus' death, or not. Of course, the answer is that it's not. It's relatively recent, and it's a minority opinion, historically speaking. Nor is it the only way that Paul understood atonement, though it is surely one of the ways...

Finally, using Isaiah to reflect on the meaning of the crucifixion is fine, within limits. Surely the prophet established an alternate understanding of the Messiah's trajectory, but that can hardly be seen as a theological justification for penal substitution.

(April 11, 2009 11:01 AM, emphasis mine)

Well if that's not throwing the apostle Paul under the bus, I don't know what is. Paul says it, but I can find it "neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative." Of course, we've seen this before. And given Isaiah's explicit language and that fact that our theology should be derived from Scripture what in the world is the rational for saying that what he says "can hardly be seen as a theological justification for penal substitution"? Where do we get of being so dismissive if the text actually points to Christ (or an "understanding Messiah's trajectory" [whatever that means]).

If we aren't as Christians going to submit to what Scripture actually says--even as we acknowledge that is what it says... what are we even doing?

UPDATE 2: I put the first update in the comments. Tony Jones has added another post where he acknowledges that he does not deny the penal substitutionary atonement but rather denies it pride of place in the gospel. He does not believe that one theory can cover all the aspects of Christ's death.

Tony does not explain his view in light of what he said in the first quote above. Nor does Jones elaborate {in fact the first commentor points this out}. He notes that "
I don't disparage that theory of the atonement (see my recent endorsement on the back of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Stott's The Cross of Christ), but I believe the birth/death/resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the pivot point of cosmic history." I am not sure how holding that Christ's death as the pivot point of cosmic history necessarily entails downplaying the significance of penal substitutionary atonement. In fact, in 1 Cor. 15:3-4, Paul holds to the centrality of the death and resurrection and the fact that this death was 'for our sins'--clearly alluding to the substitutionary nature of the atonement.

In another post he again claims that he does not reject all of PSA.
However, that [his statement in my first quote] does not lead me to reject it outright. Why? Because I can still see the merits of PSA. I can still understand the theological arguments behind it. I can still see how it is justified by some Pauline writings.

As I have said and written elsewhere, I consider the crucifixion-resurrection to be the pivot point in cosmic history. It is ultimately more immense and beautiful than any human words can describe or explain.

Every atonement theory proffered by theologians over the past two millennia has shone a spotlight on that event. And I, for one, think the more spotlights shining on the cross and empty tomb, the better.

Ok, so his comments seemed initially to me to indicate throwing Paul under the bus.but he has clarified himself in some subsequent posts. He does see aspects of Christ's work to involve penal substitution because it is justified by some of Paul's writings. Regardless of what Tony Jones believes or how he parses his view, for the believer, based on Paul, Hebrews, Isaiah 53 and the rest of Scripture, the PSA should be spiritually compelling and significant to our theology of the cross--even if we all acknowledge it does not exhaust the sum total of the cross.


jazzact13 said...

Going a bit off-topic...

The coming Star Trek movie just earned some major kudos from me. Don't know if you've heard about this yet.

jazzact13 said...

-- I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.

What was it as well that Paul wrote about preaching Jesus? That to some it was a stumbling block, and to others foolishness? I can't help but think that Jones' words about this idea of the atonement being "neither intellectually compelling", despite the biblical evidence for it, as being his way of saying that it's foolishness.

Tim Bertolet said...

UPDATE: Tony gave a link to some of the responses from the 'Young, Restless and Reformed' to his comments on the atonement, and he included this post.

He finds it ironic when heirs of the reformation call people heretics and point out grave errors. This makes the Young Restless and Reformed look like they are making the same power plays that Rome did.

Although he doesn't point out that the reformers themselves spoke out against heresies with and because of a firm conviction that one's heart has to be held captive to God's Word.

Nevertheless, our zeal for the truth should be fueled by vigilante pride.

Nick said...

Penal Substitution is unBiblical and thus a Christian is not bound to accept it.

I had a debate on this issue with a Calvinist, and I show it to be without Scriptural warrant:

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...