Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Responses to Audience Questions About the Substitionary Atonement Debate

I've received a couple of comments on the Substitutionary Atonement debate. One of the commenters was someone using the nick "Michael". Michael asked:

1) What do you mean by "wrath of God?" Is it the same thing as Godforsakenness or is there a distinction? Has there ever been a case or will there ever be a case of a person who has been regenerated and justified experiencing the wrath of God?

I answer:

I believe that when Scripture speaks of the wrath of God being upon Christ and upon the reprobate it is intended to convey that judgment is coming against them. That judgment took the form of an horrible and excruciatingly painful death for Christ, and the form of eternal torment in hell for the reprobate: for all those who do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and him alone, for salvation.

But those who are regenerated and justified will also be glorified, as the Scriptures teach. Therefore, the wrath of God will not come upon them, although it was hanging over them before they were converted.

2)Nick cited a number of Reformed authors. Do you agree or disagree with their statements?

I answer:

I don't agree that Nick's quotations accurately represent the teachings of all of the Reformed authors that he quoted. This is something I want to address at greater length in the future. I think Nick's fundamental objection seems to be that he doesn't see how the Father could have wrath toward the Son: but the Father quite clearly gave over the Son to die for the elect. On any analogical level, mere wrath is less than giving someone over to death. So, Nick's objection is rather irrational, because he objects to the gnat while swallowing the camel.

3) Do you believe Nick gave an accurate presentation of the Catholic position on the atonement?

I answer:

I assume you mean the Roman Catholic position. There is no "universal" (Catholic) teaching among the Christian church on this doctrine, since Christians can (and do) disagree with each other over doctrines that are not fundamental to the faith (and understanding the atonement in a very detailed way is not fundamental).

Nick didn't really provide any support for the "Catholicity" (in either sense, i.e. as being Roman Catholic or as being universal) of his position, he just asserted it. That was one of my criticism of Nick's presentation: he provided no coherent, cogent alternative.

Nick did seem to argue for a pure commercial satisfaction view. Whether that it is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, I leave for others to say. I cannot recall (offhand) any "infallible" teaching in Catholicism that would necessitate that, while I can think of fallible teachings within Catholicism (especially at the liberal end of Catholicism's spectrum) that would contradict that (link).

Nick's position certainly is not the position of the early church, as was demonstrated over and over again in the debate. In fact, the Reformers may have explained the doctrine in ways that are more clear than many of the medieval predecessors, but the basic doctrine that Christ's death was to satisfy God's justice on behalf of sinners is found not only in the medieval writers but in the early writers of Christianity.



Michael said...

Hi TurrentinFan. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question. I just have a follow up question, since there is something that is still a little unclear for me. You said that in the case of Christ, God's wrath manifested itself as an extremely painful death. Many Reformed seem to teach, however, that Christ not only endured an extemely painful physical death, but also the pains of hell as well. Is the pain you're referring to of a physical nature -which includes the emotional pain associated with suffering physical pain - or is it also of a spiritual nature as well?

Thank You and May God richly bless you,


Turretinfan said...


1) Yes, Jesus' suffering was not only physical but also spiritual/emotional. It's hard to view Jesus sweating blood or his crying out in the Jewish language "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me!" as merely a physical phenonemena. He was not just wounded but insulted, humiliated, and degraded. His disciples were scattered, and it appears that only the beloved disciple was (of his male disciples) willing to come near the cross. His own nation betrayed him to the Romans and picked a murderer for mercy instead of him. He was crucified between two theives and mocked by the uncircumcized - including the theives!

2) No, it is not the Reformed doctrine that Jesus suffered the fires of hell (i.e. the tortures of the damned). One of my gripes with Nick's presentation is that he quotes various authors in an effort to portray them that way.


JohnD said...

Where does scripture speak of the wrath of God being upon Christ?