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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Awful Alternative

Traditional, biblical Christianity has claimed from the beginning that the Bible teaches that Jesus died for our sins, that with His blood He paid the price that justice demanded and bought our forgiveness by taking our sins on Himself. Traditional, biblical Christianity then holds that we can be justified by grace through faith apart from works. The first version ("traditional") of this concept was called "the Ransom Theory." (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim 2:5-6). This view says just this: By His death, Jesus paid the ransom price for us. He redeemed us (Rom 3:24-25; Eph 1:7). Other theories rose around (not apart from) this one. Jesus came to have a moral impact (the "Moral Theory") and to be victorious over Satan ("Christus Victor"), but all through these others the Ransom Theory was fundamental. These others didn't deny or replace that basic claim of the Church and the Scriptures. Other theories emerged later. Anselm suggested that Jesus satisfied the demands of a Just God (the "Satisfaction Theory") -- that Jesus satisfied God's just wrath for our sin (1 John 2:2; ; Rom 3:25) -- but you can see that's just an expansion or clarification for the Ransom Theory. The Reformers put forth the "Penal Substitutionary Theory" as a refinement of the Satisfaction Theory, again an expansion and/or clarification of the Ransom Theory. Of course, to this day alternate views abound. He did not die to pay for sin. He did not redeem us. He did not become sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). From there they branch out. Some say He simply died as an example of what love looks like. Others say, "He died so everyone would be saved." (Universalism) At the core of these objections to the traditional, biblical view is just this: The cross is an offense. "God would never demand such a thing. That's not right."

Setting aside the argument for a moment, let's just take up the possibility that traditional, biblical Christianity has, for all this time, been wrong. Jesus died, sure, but He didn't "pay the price." He didn't "satisfy God's wrath." He didn't "fulfill the demands of justice." He died ... for some other purpose. What can we conclude? I think there are a few clear things.

First, clearly God is not "just and justifier" (Rom 3:26). The Ransom Theory and its sequels start with the premise that sin demands justice. Jesus did not satisfy that demand, so God is not just. Abraham asked, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen 18:25). No, Abe, He won't. Second, while those opposed to the Ransom Theory et al. agree that Jesus died, they also must agree that He died unjustly. We all agree that what was done to Jesus was not just, certainly not in human terms. But Scripture is clear that God planned it (e.g., Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28). Thus, God's plan was not to satisfy the demands of justice for sin, but to perpetuate injustice on the person of His Son.

There are, of course, other losses. All those believers for all those centuries were wrong. All those fine hymns -- Nothing but the Blood, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, and so on -- are all bad, evil, offensive. Well, of course, and the Holy Spirit failed to bring so many of His own to the truth. Sure, to many, the cross is an offense. Well, Paul said it would be (1 Cor 1:18). To me a God who does not seek justice -- who does not provide what is right either for Himself, for His Son, or for His creation -- is not a God I can worship. Fortunately for me, the Bible portrays Him as that just, righteous, wrathful-while-forgiving, justifying God. That is indeed "Amazing grace." The Bible says that Christ died for our sins, ransomed us, redeemed us, paid the price for us (1 Cor 6:20). I know. Even some self-professed Christians find that offensive. Jesus isn't surprised (1 John 2:19).


David said...

See, you need to just ignore that whole Justice thing. Is it really all that important? Acceptance is so much nicer. God is a God of love, and the primary focus of that love is us, and if that focus is us, than He MUST bring everyone to heaven, or He doesn't love us. (Writing this I realize that if you ignore justice, you must also ignore mercy. Mercy is unnecessary without justice.)

Stan said...

Yes, ignore justice, nullify mercy, and eliminate any basis for morality at all except "whatever I think it should be."

Stan said...

To readers in general, Dan assures me that my God -- just, wrathful, etc. -- is false. (He uses much more colorful language than I just did.) He assures me that my Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible. The one I described condemns such things as murder, hate, adultery, lust, and a failure to forgive. (There's obviously more, but you get the idea.) The Jesus he follows condemns no one. Well, no one except what Dan classifies as "Pharisees." But, to be fair to Dan, in the end Jesus doesn't even condemn them. Everyone gets a "get out of jail free" card, so to speak. Now, without debating the validity of Dan's God or Dan's Jesus, it must be clear that the God Dan follows and the Jesus Dan believes in is not the same as the mine. Why, then, would Dan be upset that I say that we are not in the same religion? If "Christian" means following the same Jesus and we don't, it would seem absolutely obvious that at least one of us is not a "Christian." Maybe it's me, following the longstanding, traditional, biblical version, or maybe it's him, with his what I would term "new and improved" version. But clearly we are not of the same faith if we do not have the same Father and the same Son to worship and obey.

Stan said...

I'm sorry you took such offense to this, Dan. I did NOT say you were wrong; I said the two are different. My God is defined as just (among other things) and yours is not. My Jesus condemns lots of sin and yours does not. These are not minor differences. YOU described mine as a "dick god" and argued (on your blog) that Jesus condemns no one, so YOU must realize the differences are not minor. Without ever establishing "nuance" or even who is right, surely you have to agree that the differences are major and not minor.

Marshal Art said...

Dan's response seems to once again conflate "condemn" with "rebuke". Christ did a lot of the latter, particularly regarding the Pharisees, but not only them. Any time He said anything along the lines of "go and sin no more", I'd say that's a rebuke. But Dan then speaks about how forcefully Christ rebuked the Pharisees, while not so much to any "common" sinner. But there are simply no stories of any "common" sinner confronting Jesus in the same way and on the same terms as the Pharisees, so it's pretty obvious He is dealing in a specific way to a specific situation. What's more, His troubles with the Pharisees are an important detail about how Christ's life went from Christmas Day to Good Friday.

This notion of "human traditions" is rather deceitful as well. If we're studied in Scripture, to live our lives accordingly is obviously a human tradition, but it is based on Scripture. Dan needs Scripture to be mysterious and ambiguous so that all beliefs, traditions and practices can be regarded as arbitrary and no more or less valid than his own which I think are pretty obviously flawed and self-serving.

Craig said...

Years ago, when the PCUSA was still a reasonably orthodox denomination, I had multiple conversations with people who were intent on changing the tenets that have historically defined what is a Presbyterian. I pointed out that the things they advocated for were the opposite of those tenets, and asked why they didn't simply decamp to a denomination where their beliefs fit. The response was something like, "Why should I have to leave a denomination that I've been a member of for my whole life?".

This attitude made me wonder what value they placed on the PCUSA that made them willing to dismantle everything that made the denomination distinct (and reasonably biblical), just to maintain the name.

I'm now seeing this phenomenon with Christianity itself. People are so desperate to call themselves Christians, even though they've stripped literally everything from Christianity but the name. Instead of redefining Christianity to mean something that it's never meant, why not just acknowledge (like the Mormons) that you've moved on to something that's different (and presumably better) than Christianity?

Why do people cling so tightly the the "brand" even though they strip everything distinctive from the brand.

It's like someone who loves Coke, but doesn't like all of the ingredients that actually make Coke distinctive. Instead they bottle carbonated water, and try to pass it off as Coke.

I just don't understand why folks can't acknowledge the reality that they worship a different god.

Marshal Art said...

"Why do people cling so tightly the the "brand" even though they strip everything distinctive from the brand."

The perks.

Stan said...

Craig (and Marshal), I was thinking about this (Marshal's comment to Craig). It occurs to me that it's very similar to "Why do same-sex couples want to redefine 'marriage' instead of just coming up with another term?" Marshal answered, "The perks." Yes, like "legitimacy." "My own new religion" has less legitimacy as "Christian modified" (without the "modified" so you won't notice).