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John 3:16 and the Wrath of God

July 8, 2007

In the next few posts I wanted to interact with a few compelling statements in the conversation on atonement these days.  As you have probably read or heard, from my blog or through many other avenues, that atonement is a much debated topic these days.  What is specifically being attacked is the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA from now on) – the doctrine maintaining “that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ, and he, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve. This was a full payment for sins, which satisfied both the wrath and the righteousness of God, so that He could forgive sinners without compromising His own holy standard.”  N. T. Wright’s statement against the doctrine of PSA that I quote below is the most absorbing statement in that it forces me to return to Scripture and think much of what I have thought about the doctrine (which is always good):

This is what happens when people present over-simple stories with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent.“ You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting recent song ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’, and we come to the line, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’, I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ‘the love of God was satisfied’.

I better include this quote as well in order that you can have larger awareness of where Wright is coming from:

In Romans 8:3, where Paul says explicitly that God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ? Paul does not say that God condemned Jesus; rather, that he condemned sin; but the place where sin was condemned was precisely in the flesh of Jesus, and of Jesus precisely as the Son sent from the Father. And this, we remind ourselves, is the heart of the reason why there is now ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The problem that I face with interacting and responding to statements like these is that Wright has not been abundantly clear on what he actually believes concerning atonement.  From the likes of his book Evil and the Justice of God, it would seem he would espouse to a Christus Victor understanding of atonement.  But, again, he has been all but clear on how he would view the atonement.  At any rate, I will attempt to carefully respond to these statements, using the verses Wright refers to and others.  This is just an introductory post into this, hopefully, short series.  I do not want to say that Wright’s words are convincing or cause me to question PSA, but they are good remarks that deserve more than just the usual Isaiah 53 responses; so they compel responses that are thoughtful.


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