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John 3:16 and the Wrath of God (II)

July 9, 2007

Here are some questions that are raised in my mind when I read over Wright’s statements and I think over what I believe the Bible teaches about the atonement of Christ:

Does God’s wrath negate any sort of love towards the world? Or in other words, Can God be filled with wrath against actual sinners and still have the capacity to, in love, send his Son to the world? Does the Bible allow that tension? Or can God be only a loving God or wrathful God?

Is Wright’s accusation of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) as being “over-simple” fair? Is Wright’s view of the atonement (I am assuming some form of Christus Victor) an “over-simple” view of the Trinitarian Covenant of redemption?

Does God only judge “sin” in the cross, not Jesus as our substitute? Does judging only sin rightly condemn who is guilty of dishonoring the glory of God? If God only judges sin (evil or evil actions) on the cross and nobody in particular – making the cross impersonal – does that make the cross actual justice?

    The problem N. T. Wright has with those who espouse PSA (especially the authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions) is that they “ignore the story of Israel.”

    But the fully biblical meaning of the cross, as presented by the four evangelists, is that the cross means what it means as the climax of the entire story of Jesus – and that the story of Jesus means what it means as the climax of the entire narrative to which the gospels offer themselves as the climactic and decisive moment, namely, the story of Israel from Abraham to Jesus (just read Matthew 1), and thus the story of Israel seen as the divine answer to the problem of Adam.

    My short response to that statement (to which I hope to develop) would be that, if I may speak for the authors of Pierced for our Transgressions, they are not ignoring the story of Israel and the entire narrative of the gospels (which I believe is a bit of an exaggeration on the part of Wright), but that they fundamentally disagree with that hermeneutic. We might say that Israel is not the divine answer of Adam (despite Wright’s interpretations of Isaiah’s servant songs), but that Israel is the channel of God’s answer to the problem of Adam, namely Jesus (just read Luke 3). To which I might add that Jesus was the answer to Israel’s problem with gross idolatry and sexual immorality as well, hence the need for a substitute, which Wright seems to ignore entirely.

    The problem I want to display in how Wright looks at “Israel’s stoy-line” and “the entire narrative” is that by doing this, he almost entirely dismisses God’s wrath against human rebellion, not just against sin, itself. D. A. Carson responds to the “de-personalizing” the wrath of God with words I cannot improve upon:

    It thus fails to wrestle with the fact that from the beginning, sin is an offense against God. God himself pronounces the sentence of death (Gen 2-3). This is scarcely surprising, since God is the source of all life, so if his image-bearers spit in his face and insist on going their own way and becoming their own gods, they cut themselves off from their Maker, from the One who gives life. What is there, then, but death? Moreover, when we sin in any way, God himself is invariably the most offended party (Ps 51). The God the Bible portrays as resolved to intervene and save is also the God portrayed as full of wrath because of our sustained idolatry. As much as he intervenes to save us, he stands over against us as Judge, an offended Judge with fearsome jealousy.

    What seems to be clear of Wright is that he sees God’s judgment is specifically against sin, and not sinners. Meaning, that when “God so loved the world that he gave us his Son”, he only had love for us and only had wrath for sin. So, in one sense, all those who will perish because of their sin, they die because of their association to sin, not because of their own guilt. This seems to be the end of the arguments Wright makes. I would hardly think that Wright wants to make this conclusion, but it is difficult to steer clear of it. However, Romans 2 unmistakably lays the guilt and wrath on the individuals practicing “all manner of unrighteousness” (1:29) and yet still pass judgment on others (2:1). “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things…. But because of your hard and impenitent heat you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:2, 5). These verses are directed towards Jewish Christians I might add.

    It seems that Wright’s impersonal judgment of sin on the cross “flies in the face of Paul’s deep-rooted” theology of the wrath of God against sinners. To deal with the sin and not deal with the sinner will not do!

    I will try to deal with more of the questions in detail with passages in the next few posts. As it is probably obvious, there are further related arguments as we go along that tend to form a web of issues. I will try to be as clear as possible. This treatment might need clarification in places, so responses and comments, as always, are welcome.

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