Friday, 23 May 2014

Christ's death was not divine child abuse

Jason Helopoulos, author of the very good A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, has written a good piece responding to those who would accuse the penal substitutionary view of the atonement as being a form of divine child abuse.  You can find his wise and biblical answer here

To his answer, I would only add that I believe the penal substitutionary view of the atonement, while biblically faithful and true, does not say all there is to say about the atonement.  There are elements of recapitulation, of moral influence, of satisfaction, of participation, of ransom and 'Christus victor', in the biblical atonement narrative, which begins in Genesis 3, not in the Gospels.  Someday I would like to systematically work through each of the views or theories of the atonement and present the scriptural evidence for each one.  But for now, I would say I that rightly and biblically understood, these various theories of the atonement, each with its own proponents quoting proof texts at each other, do not contradict each other but rather serve to give us a full orbed view of what Jesus' passion accomplished for the people of God.  This is not to say that every aspect of each theory of the atonement as they are put forth by their respective proponents are indeed faithful to Scripture.  Careful biblical study is required to reconcile many of the points of each view with the various points of the others.  And in reconciling these varied understandings, we also need to recognize that, if Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consumation is the meta-narrative of all history, the master story-arc of God's interaction with the human race, and it is, then it is in some ways beyond the abilities of human language and human reason in a fallen state to understand the fullness of what God has done for us in Christ and the cross.  Therefore the explanations and descriptions we find in Scripture of how salvation is accomplished are to a degree metaphoric (some likely more so than others), and it should not surprise us that no one metaphor or theme can contain or describe the fullness of the reality of Christ's saving work.

Neither should it surprise us that the triune Creator and Redeemer God of the universe, who himself is three persons in one God, would do many things when he does one thing.  It should not surprise us that, when he cuts the incomparable diamond of redemption and fixes it in the complex setting of fallen human and redemptive history, we cannot take in its full beauty when we view only one of its facets.  Christ's cross is a jewel that must be viewed from many vantage points to fully appreciate its glory and its perfections.  Any view of the atonement that has no room for other views that are also firmly biblically based serves only to diminish the fullness of what God has done for us in Christ when he rescued us from sin, death, condemnation, hell and from his own righteous wrath toward sin.  It seems to me that more "both/and" and less "either/or" is required in our study of the atonement. 

All that said, any view of the atonement that excludes penal substitution, where Christ takes the Father's righteous and just punishment of sin upon himself in our place, not only amputates perhaps the chief and uniting among all the aspects of the atonement, but it handicaps its adherents in their understanding of the holiness of God, the seriousness of their own sin, and the helplessness of anyone to do anything about reconciling the two apart from the sovereign and total grace of God in Christ.


  1. Yes. Agree with you. I accepted, then rejected the PSA theory. Studying it again with an open mind. Christ as God's and our Representative! Atonement is so infinitely multifaceted and PS is one of them. Trying to grasp it all - not logically / intellectually, but in the domain of realizing / wordless knowing.

  2. A blog post on the multifaceted nature of the atonement that you would probably like is found here: