Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sungenis: Defending Purgatory By Attacking Limited Atonement

In my previous post (link to post) I highlighted Sungenis' admission that Roman Catholicism cannot answer with any certainty even such a basic question about Purgatory as whether it is a place or state. In the same oddly titled article (link to article), Sungenis purports to respond to Dr. White's criticism of the Roman view of Purgatory with respect to the Atonement.

The bulk of the discussion, however, is simply an attack on Limited Atonement. It includes one of the typical misrepresentations of the Reformed position (the allegation that we or Calvin held that "Christ went to hell for [the elect]." In his Institutes, Calvin explicitly ties the credal expression "descended into hell" to Christ's suffering on the cross, rejecting the idea that it refers to somewhere he went after his death and even responding to the objection that it would lead to the creed expressing the phrase out of order:
Those who — on the ground that it is absurd to put after his burial what preceded it — say that the order is reversed in this way are making a very trifling and ridiculous objection. f441 The point is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.10

The Continental Reformed likewise teach:
Question 44. Why is there added, "he descended into hell"?

Answer: That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by his inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which he was plunged during all his sufferings, (a) but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell. (b)

(a) Ps.18:5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. Ps.18:6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Ps.116:3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Matt.26:38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. Heb.5:7 Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Isa.53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Matt.27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (b) Isa.53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
- Heidelberg Catechism, Question/Answer 44

While the Scottish Reformed teach:
Question 50: Wherein consisted Christ's humiliation after his death?

Answer: Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which has been otherwise expressed in these words, he descended into hell.
- Westminster Larger Catechism, Question/Answer 50

(see also Pastor Danny Hyde's historical discussion)

Thus, it is misrepresentation of the Reformed position (either in General or as "Calvinistic" in particular) to say that we teach that Jesus "went to hell" for our sins. As to his humanity, he suffered on the cross and he remained under the power of death for three days. That's our view, not the typical misrepresentation.

After all the criticism of the Reformed view of the atonement is complete, Sungenis remarkably offers only general characterizations of what his own view of the atonement is and no link at all between that view of the atonement and Purgatory:
The Catholic doctrine of the Atonement is the only one that answers ALL of the relevant Scripture passages. I go through them all in my book Not By Bread Alone. God predestinated, but not without man’s free will. God desires all men to be saved even though not all men will be saved. Christ’s atonement was given to the whole world, and from it all men have the potential to be saved. Christ did not go to hell to pay for man’s or the elect’s sins; rather, Christ propitiated the Father and made salvation possible for all men. All of these are taught in Scripture, and we arrive at these truths by combining ALL of what Scripture teaches.
Notice how, even in this brief paragraph, Sungenis again manages to insert his misrepresentation of the Reformed position on the atonement as a contrast to what he calls the "Catholic doctrine of the Atonement."

While I understand that he is referring to the reader to his book (where one would hope to find a more detailed explanation), it's worth noting that he simply offers a series of assertions, none of which really address the issues that Dr. White (and other Reformed critics) raise against Purgatory.

Also note the claim: "we arrive at these truths by combining ALL of what Scripture teaches." This is a comment that is obviously tailored toward a "Protestant" audience. But is it true? Does Sungenis arrive at his view of the atonement by combining all of what Scripture teaches? It seems unlikely that this is really how Sungenis arrives at his view - though it may be how the more "Arminian" listeners in the audience may have arrived at their view of the atonement.

It's easy to look at the explanation that Sungenis has provided and think that his goal is to trick Arminian hearers into thinking that the Roman Catholic view of the Atonement is essentially the same as their view of the Atonement by emphasizing certain differences between Roman theology and Reformed theology (as lampooned). I hope that's not his intention, but it is certainly a danger in his approach.

Because he has not actually presented a full and relevant discussion of the Roman Catholic view of Christ's work and its relation to the forgiveness and remission of the guilt and punishment of sins, Sungenis has not begun to answer the criticisms to which he purports to be responding in the article. In short, the article falls short of a rebuttal. Instead, some stones are thrown at a misrepresentation of the Reformed position.



Anonymous said...

There's so much uncertainty here to be definitive about Sungenis.

I am interested in his view:

"...Christ did not go to hell to pay for man’s or the elect’s sins; rather, Christ propitiated the Father and made salvation possible for all men...."

Not able to know which word he refers too, propitiated, I would select some verses that directly apply, selecting one Greek Word, and refer to it, here:

1Jn 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1Jn 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

The Greek word in verse 10, propitiation, is:

atonement, that is, (concretely) an expiator: - propitiation.

What I find interesting here is verse eleven.

This opens wide the judgment of "just what does it mean" to propitiate as Jesus propitiated for the sins of the Elect?

In the Apostle's creed spoken in my Church confessional, it in fact says Christ descended into hell.

What and where is hell seeing everything created is created out of nothing? God is eternal. The scripture refers to damnation as "eternal damnation".

Did Jesus descend to a "temporal" hell? He too is an Eternal Being.

And, further, if this is the Love of God, that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, what does it mean that we are to do likewise as 1 John 4:11 implies?

Just some questions and comments to liven up the debate a bit? :)

Ryan said...

Interesting. I wonder if some of the better educated RCs on facebook who have been arguing that penal substitution implies Nestorianism (since they alleged PS teaches Jesus went to Hell) were relying on Sungenis. Trying to coax an answer out of them as to why Jesus must have gone to Hell if PS is true has been a pill.

Coram Deo said...

Two excellent resources for further reading on the subject of Christ's descent, particularly from a Confessional Reformed perspective are as follows by Rev. Danny R. Hyde:

In Defense of the Descent

In Defense of the Descendit: A Confessional Response to Contemporary Critics of Christ’s Descent into Hell


In Christ,

Anonymous said...

I think there is something to be said about the origin. One of the main problems with the English language is the misrepresentation of words.

For example: mortgage (house payment) is a death pledge...doesn't really match up.

Christ descended into Sheol according to the early Jewish converts--also known as the Bosom of Abraham or the Limbo of Our Forefathers.

Sheol translated into Greek was Hades.

Hades translated into Celtic was Hel, which all three mean place of the dead. Not the place of eternal damnation.

Hel is where we get our word hell from, even though they have different meanings.
Thus when we say "he descended into hell, the original was Hel--or the place of the dead, not the damned.

Turretinfan said...

Not just the early Jewish converts, but the Psalms themselves indicate this. As you said: the place of the dead, not the damned.