Search This Blog

Loading...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wayne Grudem's Attempt to Justify Penal Substitution

Wayne Grudem was for 20 years a Professor of Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and for the last ten years has held the same same role with Phoenix Seminary. He is the author a widely used seminary textbook in evangelical schools entitled, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. First published in 1994, it has sold over 300,000 copies to date.

Grudem takes the traditional Reformed view of imputation as solving the moral dilemma of punishing an innocent in place of the guilty. In other words, man's sins were "charged" to Jesus account and thus became really his. He explains:
...it was God the Father who put our sins on Christ. How could that be? In the same way in which Adam's sins were imputed to us, so God imputed our sins to Christ; that is, he thought of them as belonging to Christ, and, since God is the ultimate judge and definer of what really is in the universe, when God thought of our sins as belonging to Christ then in fact they actually did belong to Christ. This does not mean that God thought that Christ had himself committed the sins, or that Christ himself actually had a sinful nature, but rather that the guilt of our sins (that is, the liability to punishment) was thought of by God as belonging to Christ rather than to us(p. 574).
In very simple and plain language, Grudem says that the imputation of man's sin to Jesus means God thought of them as belonging to Christ. This is in line with the meaning of the word impute λογίζομαι (logidzomai) which is essentially "to consider" or "to reckon something to be so." According to Grudem, then, God just decided to consider man's sin as really belonging to Jesus. He further adds since God is the ultimate judge and definer of what really is in the universe, when God thought of our sins as belonging to Christ then in fact they actually did belong to Christ.

Certainly evangelicals have held that God is sovereign and that he can do what he pleases, BUT they have also taught that whatever God does, it will always be in accordance with his nature which is perfectly holy and just. Can even God declare that man's sin belongs to Jesus and thus it becomes reality?

John Nevin, a 19th century Reformed theologian, and purportedly the best student Charles Hodge had at Princeton, saw the problem with this view of imputation. He wrote:
The judgment of God must ever be according to truth. He cannot reckon to anyone an attribute or quality that does not belong to him in fact. He cannot declare him to be in a relation or state that is not actually his own, but the position merely of another. A simply external imputation here, the pleasure and purpose of God to place to the account of one what has been done by another, will not answer. Nor is the case helped in the least by the hypothesis of what is called a legal federal union between the parties, in the case of whom such a transfer is supposed to be made; so long as the law is thought of in the same outward way, as a mere arbitrary arrangement or constitution for the accomplishment of the end in question. The law in this view would be itself a fiction only, and not the expression of a fact. But no such fiction, whether under the name of law or without it, can lie at the ground of a judgment entertained or pronounced by God The Mystical Presence and Other Writings on the Eucharist, pp. 190-91 cited in by Mark Horne, Real Union or Legal Fiction).
A. H. Strong whom we discussed in yesterday's post, also recognized that the traditional Reformed doctrine of imputation was in fact a "legal fiction." He wrote:
Arbitrary imputation and legal fiction do not help us here. We need such an actual union of Christ with humanity, and such a derivation for the substance of his being, by natural generation from Adam, as will make him not simply the constructive heir, but the natural heir, of the guilt of the race. . . . All believers in substitution hold that Christ bore our guilt. . . . But we claim that, by virtue of Christ's union with humanity, that guilt was not only an imputed, but also an imparted, guilt (p. 759).
I think that both Nevin and Strong are correct. A "God of Truth" (Deut. 32:4), who the Scripture says, "cannot lie" (Tit. 1:2) cannot consider something that is false to be true. The entire plan of salvation for mankind cannot be based on a lie (or a legal fiction). As Strong points out, in order for Jesus to legitimately be considered guilty, sin must not merely be imputed to him but imparted to him. Few if any evangelicals are going to be willing to go this far because of the fact that it impugns the nature and character of the sinless Son of God. In addition, it is difficult to understand how sin could be imparted. Sin is not a material substance, it is not a liquid that could be injected into the body. Sin is a thought or an action. How do you impart thoughts or actions into a person? So, it doesn't appear that either imputation or impartation of sin will solve the dilemma for evangelicals.

Grudem concludes his very brief discussion of this topic by saying that penal substitution is the way God chose to accomplish the atonement and thus it has to be right and the believer just needs to humbly accept it. He writes:
Some have objected that it was not fair for God to do this, to transfer the guilt of sin from us to an innocent person, Christ. Yet we must remember that Christ voluntarily took on himself the guilt of our sins, so this objection loses much of its force. Moreover, God himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the ultimate standard of what is just and fair in the universe, and he decreed that the atonement would take place in this way, and that it did in fact satisfy the demands of his own righteousness and justice (p. 574).

As has been pointed out before on this blog, the fact that Jesus voluntarily went to the cross is a red herring. It is irrelevant to the problem. Yes, Jesus died voluntarily and that is noble. However, the question is how could God the Father accept the punishment of an innocent as satisfying the penalty owed by the guilty? How can that ever be just or right? Grudem's answer: "Well, he is God and he determines what is right and wrong." However, if that is true, then anything God ever commanded or did would automatically be good or right and the concepts of good and right would lose their meaning. For example, is it good to massacre whole villages and kill all the inhabitants including women and children and even infants? The great majority of mankind would agree that could never be called "good." Yet, that is precisely what God commanded to be done in the book of Joshua and I Samuel. If that is an example of "good," the word has lost all meaning.

So, here we have another evangelical theologian's failed attempt to justify the PST of the atonement.

25 comments:

  1. All this discussion of PST led me to a line of thought I'd never considered before, which then congealed into a short story. I've written it down (mainly to get it out of my head). If anyone is interested, or just has time to waste, it's here.

    Sorry about the shameless self-promotion. It's on topic, I swear.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ken,

    I would say quickly that we are in no place to question what God has chosen to do. He made us, and He can choose to annhilate us if He so chooses. That is where the comparison of God's and our justices ends.

    ReplyDelete
  3. John, I assume you are referring to the potter and the pots story. This whole discussion is just amazing to me. I fail to understand why anyone would even have the slightest wish to worship a God that is not interested in the well-being of his so-called creations.

    The potter can smash the pots he doesn't like, but we are human beings with, I hope, a little more value than pots!
    If God did indeed create mankind, then why did he give them free will and then provide temptation in the form of the talking snake and the apple tree? This whole thing does not make any sense to me at all. Why are we all sinners? I don't consider myself a sinner. I have never deliberately harmed anyone, and neither have most of my friends as far as I know. Why do we need to repent and feel guilty?

    I really do not understand where evangelical Christians are coming from. They seem to be going round in circles trying to justify their philosophical positions that make no sense whatsoever.

    The only explanation for me is that feelings of guilt are induced by preachers in their flocks in order to have more control over them, so that they give more money to the church.

    ReplyDelete
  4. John: I would say quickly that we are in no place to question what God has chosen to do. He made us, and He can choose to annhilate us if He so chooses.

    I hope you don't have children.

    I don't see eye to eye with my parents on a lot o things, but I highly doubt they want me to spend an eternity suffering in Hell. For that matter, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't want me to suffer much at all and would rather I live a happy life. Why the hell should my "fallen," "sinful" parents care more about me than a supposedly all-loving god who dearly loves his children?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have followed the discussions thus far on PST with great interest. I know Ken well enough to wait until he's done with something before assuming to know where he stands or where he's going. I think he has more to say on this, so we'll see where it goes.

    I do think it interesting that in every post thus far the standard by which PST's validity has been judged has been human justice. Moreso, a 21st century American view of justice. It's too broad to paint every human culture's view of justice, past or present, with the same brush. As with all other moral and ethical positions, our sense of justice is derived from the moral and communicable attributes of God. However, since the Fall, we have been corrupted by sin. Though our justice resembles that of the Creator, we are still the creature, corrupted by a depraved heart. Because we are not eternal we cannot fully understand all things related to God, He is knowable, but not fully comprehensible by our finitude. Is that not where faith comes into play. If I could fully explain everything there is to believe in relation to God, including PST, there would be no place for faith. Even in the purely rational realm some things are just not fully explainable, let alone provable through empirical or rational methods.

    Please do not believe this to be just another evangelical Christian way of avoiding the subject. Like I said, I'm waiting for Ken to drop the other shoe.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Geds,

    Your comments presuppose a discussion on another topic...Divine Will vs. Human Responsibility. I'll let Ken speak his peace on that, but just a starter..We are sinners by nature and by choice. That alone merits us Hell. God does not want any sinner to go to Hell, but he has left the responsibility for exercising faith in Jesus Christ with us. Like I said, that's another discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  7. DWSmith: I do think it interesting that in every post thus far the standard by which PST's validity has been judged has been human justice. Moreso, a 21st century American view of justice. It's too broad to paint every human culture's view of justice, past or present, with the same brush. As with all other moral and ethical positions, our sense of justice is derived from the moral and communicable attributes of God.

    However, if god is permanent and unchanging, then god's standards of morality and justice must also be unchanging. So by pointing out that modern, Western ideas of justice are beyond the justice applied by god, Ken argues that humanity is now better capable of arbitrating justice than god.

    If, on the other hand, you want to hold to the idea that we must not evaluate justice based on society because we can't judge other societies, you're arguing in favor of moral relativism by default. There is, then, no possibility for universal justice in a morally relativistic environment.

    Your comments presuppose a discussion on another topic...Divine Will vs. Human Responsibility. I'll let Ken speak his peace on that, but just a starter.

    You make two mistakes via assumption there:

    1. That Ken is going in that direction, and;
    2. That I give a flying crap about Divine Will. Seeing as how my argument is that god is a much, much bigger jackass than my own parents, I'm pretty sure that any argument in favor of Divine Will will fall on deaf ears.

    We are sinners by nature and by choice. That alone merits us Hell.

    Prove it. Empirically.

    ReplyDelete
  8. ---

    DWSmith,

    I believe you are approaching Ken from the wrong angle. I think Ken would agree with you in principle that if there is an infinite, omniscience in the Universe, it would be foolish for us to think we could completely understand such a being.

    That being said, the purpose of looking at these questions and these alleged difficulties (at least to skeptics) is to determine whether or not it's likely that such a being exists. And, after surveying these difficulties, it does not seem plausible, in the least, that such a being exists.

    Now, it is certainly possible, in the broad sense, that such a being exists, and that these issues, which seem contradictory when studied rigorously, aren't actually contradictory at all once they are handed over to an omniscient mind. But, based on the laws of logic and reason that we have arrived at over the course of our history, these issues are either seemingly irreconcilable, or blatantly contradictory and fallacious. If such is the case, then it is not reasonable to believe in such a being.

    A bad analogy, but it's the best I could think of right now: Suppose a group of researches develop tests to look for the Loch Ness monster. After several months of searching for caves, evidences of dwelling, evidences of predation, and all other manner of physical evidence, they continually find absolutely nothing, let alone something substantial. Well, a detractor to their work could certainly object that the scientists shouldn't expect to know the dwelling, eating, and living habits of such a mystical creature, and thus their attempts to study this creature using their reasoning is inherently flawed. While the objector is technically right, the fact is, this objection is true WHETHER OR NOT Nessie actually exists. Therefore, the scientists would be right in their conclusion that believing in such a creature is unreasonable due to the complete lack of hard evidence that such a creature exists.

    Now, with all that on the table, it becomes obvious that all the skeptic can do in a discussion is try his best to show that it is unreasonable and irrational to believe in Yahweh, because if he succeeds, yet the believer still maintains belief, what is the skeptic to do: reason with the believer?

    I think Ken has shown time and again through this series that belief in the PST as being the work of a completely just God is entirely irrational and unreasonable. While it's probably impossible for Ken to show that such a doctrine is absolutely illogical, he has certainly succeeded at showing the irrationale of such a position, and therefore, as far as I'm concerned, he's done what he set out to do. By it's nature, his tactic has defeated your "punting to mystery" defeater, although, I do appreciate the thrust of your arguments, and I hope that I'm not being too aggressive, nor have I offended you with my remarks.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Geds,

    Thank you for your very asstute arguments. Perhaps my comments should have been directed toward John, his comments upon which you commented were simply opening a new discussion. I'm sorry, however, you believe your parents to be jackasses.

    EtU,
    Thanks for the interaction. I always appreciate a gentlemanly exchange, even when we will never see eye-to-eye.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oops...I think I meant "astute."

    ReplyDelete
  11. "In the same way in which Adam's sins were imputed to us, so God imputed our sins to Christ"

    I understand there is a concept of original sin vs. actual sin, but how does Adam's original sin get imputed to us today without a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, etc.? I assume there is a standard apologist answer to that question I just haven't run across yet.

    "Well, he is God and he determines what is right and wrong. However, if that is true, then anything God ever commanded or did would automatically be good or right and the concepts of good and right would lose their meaning."

    Exactly. You can't use human standards to judge God, you silly humans. God just is, sort of like gravity. Of course, some folks are quick to point out how kind and loving and wonderful God is, which seems like they're very willing to use human standards to judge him when it suits that point of view.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Brap, I think that evangelists and apologists mostly do believe in a literal Adam and Eve. At least the ones I have met. If Adam and Eve are merely metaphorical concepts, then the whole discussion about sin and redemption is metaphorical as well.
    Of course, if one takes the garden of Eden story literally, then it brings up all sorts of other problems (a different discussion again) about how they managed to produce offspring without incest, who did Cain adn Abel marry etc etc.

    ReplyDelete
  13. DWSmith: Perhaps my comments should have been directed toward John, his comments upon which you commented were simply opening a new discussion. I'm sorry, however, you believe your parents to be jackasses.

    Yeah...um, that wasn't my point...

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  15. DW Smith,

    You say the reason we object to perceived injustices in penal substitution is simple: Our sense of justice was damaged in the Fall. I've heard that same line of reasoning applied when we question endless torments, the Canaanites slaughters, predestination and any number of moral difficulties in the Bible.

    What you're saying, though, is that the Fall made our sense of justice too fastidious -- the sin of Adam amplified our moral expectations. We appreciate the consistent application of justice and expect morally perfect beings to act ways that look like perfection. When an alleged act of God contradicts our sense of justice, we feel outrage.

    Now, does this stem from a moral sense that's been damaged? We expect too much ... so that's evidence of some inner depravity. How so? Shouldn't just the opposite be true?

    One of my all-time favorite Christians is the unitarian William Ellery Channing. He challenged Calvinists who believed God predestined souls to hell, and who argued that our objection to this is due to our moral impairment. "God's ways are not our ways," was Calvinist apologetic. But according to Channing, it's senseless to maintain that justice assumes a certain character at the human level, but, when raised to the level of divine perfection, suddenly resembles injustice. (I think he's right on the money, too.)

    ReplyDelete
  16. The Genesis account of creation can be understood to contain spiritual truths that are communicated through its imagery and symbolism. However, it seems somewhat arrogant of man to deny the possibility of their being a Creator, whose being exists from eternity, when finite man is beginning to work towards the creation of new life forms in the laboratory. Given the eternity of time, isn't it likely that a Creator far greater than man already exists?

    I am glad, Ken, that you are only calling yourself an agnostic atheist - you are still open to the possibility of there being a God.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  17. On the massacres and slaughters described in Joshua and 1 Samuel, I have already made comment:

    http://bible-study-online.org/jesus_christ_atonement/?page_id=1004/#A7

    See: The Sin of Achan, 'Note' (added after our last discussion on this topic)

    To know the Father, we need to see His Son, as we find in the Gospels. Jesus presents the perfect character witness and in Him we can believe and trust.

    Kind regards.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Glad to have your company in the world of Athiestic Agnosticism!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ken Pulliam wrote:

    "For example, is it good to massacre whole villages and kill all the inhabitants including women and children and even infants? The great majority of mankind would agree that could never be called good.' Yet, that is precisely what God commanded to be done in the book of Joshua and I Samuel. If that is an example of 'good,' the word has lost all meaning."

    So then, the bottom line for Ken is that "good" is to be defined according to what the "great majority of mankind would agree" as to what can be designated as "good."

    Of course, once upon a time (not long ago at all, by historical standards) the vast majority of mankind followed kings and emperors who also massacred whole people groups and thought it was "good." And, once upon a time, the vast majority of mankind also worshiped idols and offered bloody (and frequently human) sacrifices to them and thought it was "good." And for most of recorded history it was common practice to put unwanted infants to death, either by exposure or some other means. And it's quite clear that not too long ago the vast majority of mankind thought that women should be subjugated to the whims of males, have little or no voice in political affairs, and be treated as little more than property.

    Hmmm... Perhaps we should redefine "good" to mean "that which the great majority of mankind would agree is good TODAY"? So I guess we're left with a definition of "good" that keeps on changing depending upon the current majority vote.

    But even if we just stick with what's "good" today, considering China's size and how many cultures agree with them on this point, I suppose we'll have to reconsider the question of whether infanticide is "good," since they practice it all the time over there. Not to mention that virtually every nation on earth occupies its geographical location today because of aggression and conquest sometime in the past—their ancestors moved in, displaced other nations through violence, and have occupied their territory ever since, and many (perhaps most) of those nations think that to be a "good" thing. At least, I don't see any of them volunteering to return their lands to their former inhabitants and leave.

    I'm beginning to think that defining "good" by a majority vote (and what makes us think we can trust the self-appointed pollsters here?) is what is really making the term meaningless after all.

    ReplyDelete
  20. You say that "sin is not a material substance", and so it cannot be imparted from one to another. How do you know this? Hebrews 11:1 calls faith "the substance of things hoped for", so if faith is substance, why not sin? In 2Cor. 5:16, we are told that "God made him to be sin for us...". Does this not at least suggest some transfer of material, if not very form? Think of the serpents in the wilderness(Num. 21). As Jesus himself said, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men umto me" so the serpent of brass was lifted up, and all who looked upon it were healed. Is God's word beautiful or what!

    ReplyDelete
  21. The debate has become your god.Ken your faith did not evaporate,you drowned it .You became smarter than God.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "However, if that is true, then anything God ever commanded or did would automatically be good or right and the concepts of good and right would lose their meaning."

    Actually, they FIND their meaning. What you are seeking at the core is a set of standards that God himself is subject to, so that YOU may substitute as the judge and evaluate whether God has matched up. This is a philosophical absurdity and foolishness. God certainly matches up to His own standards. The issue is whether you think He has explained this to your satisfaction. At some point, you have to say "all the cards are not in, and I trust" or "I reject this because I will not trust."

    ReplyDelete
  23. I believe Snark has nailed it on the head. You are putting God on trial by your own set of standards. There is no indication in Joshua that God is unjust for the Canaanite conquest. In fact, the Scripture takes the position that God was perfectly just in commanding the removal of the Canaanite peoples. These peoples were completely given over to idolatry and immorality. Joshua was right to destroy them only because God commanded him to do so. God has not commanded his church to the same behavior today, so it would be presumptuous and sinful today to act in the same way. But if God decided to wipe out entire nations today, however he felt like doing it, he would still be perfectly just to do it. The reason he has not commanded the church to go to war, except through the preaching of the gospel, is precisely because Christ died for sins. Grace has been purchased by the free sacrifice of Christ. If sin is not reckoned to him, there is simply no possible explanation for the offer of grace. To reject the substitutionary atonement is to reject the very means by which God does not eliminate all peoples today. Of course, those who reject the atonement will eventually get exactly what their rejection results in, justice.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I am not a big fan of Wayne Grudem's continuationism views being a classical cessationist like B.B. Warfield myself, but on Christ's penal understanding of (double imputation) subtitutionary atonement he is absolutely right. Regarding this also being imparted I have my reservations.

    Maurice Harting at mauriceharting@yahoo.ca

    ReplyDelete
  25. "If God did indeed create mankind, then why did he give them free will and then provide temptation in the form of the talking snake and the apple tree?"

    What if God used Corrupt Chaotic Essence to create human beings? That would mean that Chaos and Darkness is in our very nature. That would mean that Hell and all Disorder, Pain and Calamity is not a "new" place but instead it is our former and default state of existance. In other words, imagine Darkness and Chaos roaming around freely, and then God gives it a nervous system so it can feel what it really is. So once God moved forward to Create, it cannot be undone. We, as living human beings cannot go back to our Alpha Point. That Alpha Point no longer exists as it once did. It's existance is altered by our existance. This ofcourse assumes that the Soul that God breathed into a Body is a type of energy or essence that cannot be destroyed. The Question will not be whether the Soul Exists or Ceases to Exist. It will be whether the Soul will be in a Stage of Peace, in Order and Whole.. Or in a stage of Calamity, in Disorder and Parted..

    We are not going to be sent to Hell, we are simply going to unravel and revert back to our previous state of existence, which, if I'm understanding this correctly, it is not an existance that I should desire. And it is only by Grabbing on to that which Holds our very being together in one piece, that we will enter an existance that is different than where we came from...

    Hence the constant repetition of Coming out of Eygpt and Entering the PRomise Land.. Going from the Old man and becoming a New man. From a debased mind, to an enlightened mind..

    Its the only thing that makes sense to me. God began with a Vision for a Future, and went to work in the Past to bring about this future. Think of History as a progression from Imperfection to Perfection. Like a Gold nugget being purified. Or breaking away the impurities of a Diamond.

    The Purifier has a vision of what the Gold looks like, but the Gold nugget itself still feels dirty or corrupt or impure. And if the Gold nugget continues to hold on to this immature view of itself, then it will feel the pain of the Impurities instead of feeling the glory of the Gold. the "soul" of the nugget is associating it's existance with the pain of getting it's impurities ripped off from it.

    This is like the Israelites missing the ideologies of Egypt. Wanting to return to Egypt and hating God for bringing them out of slavery. They were so used to the Slavery that they didn't realize the greater purpose that was brewing within them. a Purpose that God wanted to bring out...

    How does this fit in with Jesus Christ? Did God "dirty his soul" so that we can see a way out of our own impurities? I guess that would be the question. Is it a sin to be human?

    ReplyDelete