Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The cross is the means by which .... what?

'[A]lthough many Christians think of the cross as the means by which human beings get right with God, Paul thinks of the cross as the means by which God deals with the alienation of human from human, from the world in which humans live, and from God'

This delightful sentence comes from Marianne Meye Thompson's brilliant contribution to 'The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary' series (Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians and Philemon [Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2005], 121)

For a recent and spunky review of a book opposing the concept of penal substitution, do have a read of Phil Groom's superb offering here.

For me, the inner jury is still out on the whole 'penal' issue. If you were to recommend any book on the penal substitution issue, what would it be?


At 6/11/2008 1:32 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

Well, I have I.Howard Marshall's Aspects of the Atonement: Cross and Resurrection in the Reconciling of God and Humanity (Paternoster 2008). He is decidedly evangelical and for penal substitutionary atonement but does well to explain why penal is important (better to think of it in terms of God's judgement and wrath over punishment).

Another possibility to consider would be P.T. Forsyth's Cruciality of the Cross or The Work of Christ. Several publishers have it (Wipf and Stock for example).

Those are suggestions I have.

At 6/11/2008 6:56 AM, Blogger Geoff Smith said...

Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross by Han Boersma. Tis brilliant.

For another excellent treatment of atonement that includes the penal aspect I'd get "Community Called Atonement" by Scot McKnight.

Then of course there are :The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross" by Leon Morris and "The Cross of Christ" by John Stott (a more popular level treatment)

At 6/11/2008 7:37 AM, Blogger jordan said...

"The Glory of the Atonement" (edited by Hill and James) provides biblical, historical and theological essays that generally assume the penal character and do so from different angles.

At 6/11/2008 9:54 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Superb! Thanks, chaps. I'll head off to the library today or tomorrow to get a few of these.

At 6/11/2008 10:21 AM, Anonymous Terry said...

Steve Holmes's The Wondrous Cross is worth reading, too, and not just because it's the most balanced book on the issue I've read.

At 6/11/2008 8:24 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

I'll say at the outset that I haven't read the reviewed book and I'm highly Reformed.

But to the extent that Groom accurately represents McIlwain, it seems like his argument against penal substitution is based on some weak proof texting and a lack of understanding of the ideas of penal substitution.

'(McIlwain) takes Proverbs 17:26 as its starting point: "It is not good to punish an innocent man" (NIV). McIlwain asks, "Could God have done that which is not good?" '

Is this really the way Proverbs should be used?

The perspective presented by Groom/McIlwain, to me, seems to desire to be one that is enlightened compared to a barbaric penal perspective, when really it just fails to appreciate the depth, comprehensiveness, and majesty of Christian paradoxes such as that God is the "just and the justifier" of those who believe.

At 6/11/2008 11:24 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Kenny. I hear what you are saying there, yes. But I too have not read the book Phil mentions, so I cannot comment.

At 6/12/2008 2:59 PM, Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

I think any of these books would be good (esp. Marshall, Carson's essay in Hill, Holmes, Boersma, and Gathercole's SBET article from a few years ago). Marshall is good because he avoids the excesses of some evangelical types (e.g. Grudem) that God gets revenge on Jesus! Wright's Romans commentary on Rom. 3.22-24 and 8.1-2 is also good.

At 6/12/2008 4:18 PM, Blogger Jason Pratt said...

Great quote from Thompson--I'm glad to see that she said it! (I'm a fan of her work in The God of the Gospel of John and somewhere in my to-read stack is The Humanity of Jesus in the Gospel of John.)


At 6/12/2008 10:47 PM, OpenID ordinand said...

I know that you are familiar with it but 'Jesus and the Victory of God' by N.T. Wright stes out a good case for a narrative understanding of penal subtiutuion. This is taken up in a more systematic way by Hans Boersma 'Violence, Hospitality and the Cross'

At 6/13/2008 11:06 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Mike, and Ordinand thanks. I'll certainly dig these out. Monday visit to the library will extend my reading pile.

At 6/14/2008 9:06 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

It's a guy on a cross.

You can add whatever significance you what to it, or ignore it.

Personally, I could think of tons of ways to get people's attention besides a guy on a cross. And I don't think some guy dying 2000 years ago really does it any more. There's so many other things getting people's attention these days.

I think lessons in basic practical ethics beat going on about a guy on a cross and trying to make the whole cosmos revolve around that.

And I don't get how any of the so-called theological explanations really work. Some sort of mystical magic is passed along by one means or another. Or Jesus is our example. Take your pick.

The mystical magical version makes little sense. Like some guy had to die on a cross because little Billy refused to clean his room 2000 years later, thus disobeying his parents and breaking a commandment which would have sent him to a place of eternal torment.

Or there's Jesus the "example," yet there's a wealth of good moral examples in all the world's religions including religious and secular humanisms. Including Jesus among them really doesn't make Crhistianity appear all that special.

At 6/14/2008 9:09 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...


Reporter: What will we do in heaven for eternity? Won’t we get bored?

Rev. Spurgeon: Nonsense. We will joyously sing and meditate on the sufferings of Christ that made the miracle of our salvation possible. As for myself, I could sing and meditate on the wounds round Jesus’s head for a billion years. Then focus on the wounds on his scourged back for the next billion. Then the wound in his right hand for a billion more, the wound in his left hand for a billion, the wound in his side for a billion. Then the wounds in his feet, each foot for a billion years.

Reporter: So, you’re saying there’s nothing worthy of a Christian’s time and devotion, nothing worth looking at, or singing about, for all eternity, except Jesus and his wounds?

Rev. Spurgeon: That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Reporter: So, ah...What’s hell going to be like?

E.T.B. (based on actual replies of Rev. Spurgeon)

When Robert Ingersoll heard how Rev. Spurgeon planned to spend billions of years in heaven just staring at Jesus’s wounds, Ingersoll said, “I bet he even takes great delight in reading the genealogies of the Old Testament.”

The Best of Robert Ingersoll, Robert E. Greeley, Ed.

At 6/14/2008 9:12 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Whenever I forgive someone I’m relatively straightforward and direct about it. But for God it takes a bloody miracle.


Though I admire Jesus for deploring the temptations of wealth, organized religion and its powerful sway, as well as hypocrisy, I no longer find the doctrines of either “original sin,” or “imputed righteousness” believable. I don’t think the cosmos is the way it is simply because one human couple failed a test with some fruit, nor do I believe that a man being executed 2000 years ago “paid the price” for the “world’s sins,” and we ought to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” for the forgiveness of sins, not even metaphorically. Sounds rather paganish, echoing both vampirism and cannibalism.



A: Have you heard the latest?

B: No, what’s happened?

A: The world has been redeemed!

B: You don’t say!

A: Yes, the Dear Lord took on human form and had himself executed in Jerusalem; and with that the world has been redeemed and the devil hoodwinked.

B: Gosh, that’s simply lovely.

Arthur Shopenhauer


No chipmunk had to be crucified
on a tiny cross of twigs
To save all the other chippies,
Had to have nails pounded
through his little paws,
Had to take upon himself
all the sins of all the chippies
that ever were or would be
and die in agony
So that after they died
all the chippies
could live again forever,
But only if they believed
in all the sayings and doings
of the chipmunk crucified
on the tiny cross of twigs.

Antler, Last Words

Christians believe that God has established a bizarre system through which our sins are forgiven by the commission of the greatest sin of all [i.e., if murder is the greatest sin, then murdering God’s own son must be the “greatest sin of all.”--E.T.B.] This is a deicide to haunt the mind. That such a thing could arise from an eternal, all-loving, omnipotent God is beyond belief.

What are we to make of the juxtaposition of God’s requirement of this barbarous act with his directive that we should “love one another?”

The saving death of Jesus represents a primitive concept, the principle of blood sacrifice both of animals and of humans that was regarded by ancient and prehistoric man as the fundamental way to placate and intercede with the gods. It was part of the natural order. In fact it was so taken for granted that no one anywhere in the Bible, Old or New Testaments, offers a justification for it, or an explanation of how it works. Christians today are just as much in the dark about why the death of Jesus should have atoning power with God. Ironically, those same modern Christians would universally regard the ritual killing of humans or animals as outdated and repugnant in any other area of society’s life. And yet they continue to endorse it by their adherence to the idea of Jesus as a blood sacrifice on their behalf.

Earl Doherty, a review of “Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ” [The Jesus Puzzle webpage]

A Rochester filmgoer (after seeing the bloody religious epic, The Passion) was quoted as saying, “It was heartbreaking to know that I had put Jesus there on the cross, it wasn’t the Jews and it wasn’t the Romans, it was me and what I did…It was all of us, and that is why he had to die; for us.”

It is distressing to consider that there are lots of people who think their misbehavior drove the nails into the Savior’s wrists, that their sins punctured his side, just as surely as when they were fifteen their marijuana habit meant stealing twenties from their long-suffering father’s wallet and finally caused his coronary. And these people can vote.

R. Joseph Hoffman (for The Institute for Humanist Studies), “A review of The Passion of the Christ--A Mel Gibson Film,” first published February 2004

It seems to me that the most spurious of all the great religions is Christianity. Its Biblical miracles are childish, pre-scientific myths. Its theology has been taken right out of the caldrons of blood sacrifice and appeasement. For God so loved the world that he allowed the crucifixion of his only son to appease his own wrath, and then he denied eternal life to billions of human souls who refused to accept the gory myth.

Paul Blanshard (former minister), Personal and Confidential

Let me see if I have this straight…God sent His boy to His people, so that His people could kill His boy to save them from God?

NoGodHere (in “God is a Myth” AOL chatroom)

I am impaled on a big giant stick with Christ: nevertheless I somehow magically live; yet not I, but Christ magically lives in me through the Power of the Holy Spook who is also somehow magically Him: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by thinking magically about the Son of God, who loves me from the Sky Kingdom, and magically gave himself for me to appease the murderous anger of the pissed off version of Himself in the Sky Kingdom.

Galatians 2:20 (Jeff Reid Version, composed by “Brother Jeff” or “Jeffrey L. Reid” jlr1701@acsalaska.net Website: religionisbullshit.net/ribs)

Don’t Christians ever wonder why killing God’s son was not the greatest sin of all? Or wonder how we could be forgiven for that sin, except by killing another savior whose blood must be shed to “atone” for the sin of killing the first one? And so forth and so on? At some point direct forgiveness, not based on a bloody sacrifice, has to intervene to break the endless loop. Maybe that’s why Jesus himself did not believe that God’s forgiveness depended on a bloody sacrifice, but instead taught everyone to pray “in this way…Our Father…Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Direct forgiveness.


Let’s not forget that Jesus (after a few hours of pain) rose from the dead and ascended to a throne in heaven. So in essence, nobody really “killed” Jesus; it was more like a fraternity hazing, or an early version of the TV show, “Fear Factor,” where you endure all kinds of shit to win a valuable prize.

T-Shirt Hell Newsletter, 2/25/04

Jesus Christ--who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death and rose bodily into the heavens--can now be eaten in the form of a cracker. A few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well.

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

The Old Testament taught, “The life is in the blood.” But science teaches today that if the “life” of an intelligent organism can be said to reside in a particular organ, that organ is the brain and nervous system, not the blood. The blood merely carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain. The brain guides the body, and is far more intimately connected to each person’s “life or soul” than the “blood” is.

Even people with less than a high school education today recognize the priority of the brain over the blood, so much so in fact, that in the movie, Hannibal (about a cannibalistic serial killer), the thought of slicing out tiny parts of a person’s brain, cooking them in a pan, and serving the pieces to that person to eat has become in the public’s mind a more disturbing image than, say, serving a person a glass of their own blood to drink, which appears relatively tame in comparison. Because we know that a person’s brain doesn’t grow back like their blood, and we know that each person’s “life/consciousness,” resides in the most valuable organ of all, the brain. Some people even opt to freeze their heads in liquid nitrogen after they die in hopes of one day being revived (with the help of nano-bots).

There also seems to have been a reduction in the number of sermons that focus on being “covered by the blood,” or “saved by the blood.” Today the phrase, “saved by blood” means receiving a blood transfusion, which does not change a person’s brain/soul. Even the phrase, “Jesus shed his blood for you,” simply brings to mind the image of someone’s blood dripping onto the ground, not doing much for anyone at all.

I prefer a more “brain intensive” religion today, not one soaked in bloody metaphors mixed with magic.


Conservative religious broadcasters tickle me whenever they exclaim, “Christianity is under attack! The Christian religion deserves to be respected, not attacked!”

Let me see if I have this straight. Here is a religion that teaches that anyone who doesn’t accept it will fry forever in hell--what am I supposed to respect about that? Hasn’t such a religion “raised the ante” of disrespect to infinite levels before anyone else has even drawn their cards (let alone their swords)?

Anonymous at ex-Christian.net [edited by E.T.B.]

“Civilization will fail without Christianity,” at least that’s what Christians have emailed me on their computers that were designed ironically by atheists, agnostics and Buddhists (in America & Japan). Chinese Communists have also begun producing computers and will soon have hundreds of millions of them.

“Civilizations fail even with Christianity” would be more to the point, as the decline of the Christianized Roman Empire illustrates. Also, the Southern U.S. fell to the troops of the North during the Civil War, even though the South believed it was God’s new chosen nation and had added an invocation to “God” in their Southern Constitution. Today, America is the most church-filled nation on earth and also spends more money on weapons of mass destruction than perhaps all other nations combined. America also has more obesity and more of its citizens in prison than any other nation on earth. Neither do Americans live the longest (even Canadians live longer than your average American), nor do we have the highest average school test scores, nor do we have the lowest rates of teen pregnancy--not when compared with nations with far fewer churches.


Jesus didn’t die on the cross for your sins, he died on the cross because he was a crazy ass cult leader, and the Romans knew it.


At 6/14/2008 2:53 PM, Anonymous bobbyt said...

Oh dear, Edward T Babinski - I believe that this is at least the third theological blog site to which you have posted exactly the same set of 'objections' to the Christian faith. To (mis)quote Shakespeare: "Methinks you protest too much". If the Christian faith is really so much bunkum, why not give it a really wide berth and ignore it completely? Or is there perhaps just something about the faith you claim to have left behind that strikes a chord in you that is too deep to eradicate? Maybe you imagine that by repeating your mantras you will expunge the last vestiges of what you once believed to be true.

At 6/17/2008 3:29 AM, Blogger Norman McIlwain said...

The book Phil Groom reviewed: 'The Biblical Revelation of the Cross' is now fully available free online @



At 6/17/2008 1:26 PM, Blogger Pilgrim said...

Hey Chris - thanks for this.

Replying to Kenny: "But to the extent that Groom accurately represents McIlwain, it seems like his argument against penal substitution is based on some weak proof texting and a lack of understanding of the ideas of penal substitution."

You admit that you haven't read the book, I take that on board, so what can I say other than, yes it's obvious that you haven't read the book?

Please do go read it: you'll see that this isn't a case of so-called 'proof texting' — it's a detailed, wide ranging and careful study of the relevant biblical material. In a review all I can offer is a snapshot to whet your appetite... and now that Norman has kindly made the whole book freely available online, you've got no excuse not to follow through.

As for not understanding or appreciating paradox: I'm your Christian Atheist, OK? I live in paradox.

Replying to ETB: Thanks mate. Lovin' it, especially the Chipmunk story. But do us a favour, OK: if you have already posted all this stuff elsewhere as bobbyt says, quit the spamming please; just post a link to one of your previous posts. Gets kinda tedious scrolling through it all otherwise...

Happy daze, y'all!

At 6/17/2008 1:29 PM, Blogger Pilgrim said...

PS: forgot to say: here's my review of Holmes, Wondrous Cross...

At 6/17/2008 10:53 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Norman, THANKS for the link! I'll have to link to this on the main page. Thanks again for making this public like that - a real service.

At 6/18/2008 1:06 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...


You're right, I ought to add such titbits to my own blog and simply leave a link here.

As for why I do it? Why do I post? You all think outside the box here at Chrisendom. You're all condemned by religious believers to your right. Yet you all continue onward with your own views of what lay behind the metaphysical curtain -- a kinder gentler god perhaps, almost universalistic, even questioning penal substitution and other ideas, taking neither the Bible's beginning nor ending very literally. This is all very nice tea time religious conversation, and I see nothing wrong with that.

But when someone appears to the left of your own view, who does not see all the poetry you do in the word of God (but who none the less does sees some poetry in parts of it, but which could be reduced to a much smaller bible, and one that ought to include soul stirring poetry from all the world's books, holy or otherwise), then some of you begin guessing at my ulterior motives, my protesting too much, or rather my laughing too much at the fineries of "atonement hypotheses," or at the near limitlness number of other things that Christians cannot agree upon, yet which each side seems incredibly certain about. To me religion appears like a gigantic carnival, a zoo of metaphysicians, all damning the rest in more than purely rhetorical, even a metaphysical fashion, except of course for the universalists. Yet you are near to them as well, at least Chris appears to be.

At any rate I enjoy tweaking people to my right (orthodox moderate Christians) as much as they enjoy tweaking theologians to their right (conservatives). Ah, the tweaking of the gods.

At 6/18/2008 3:04 PM, Blogger Jason Pratt said...


When the majority of your multiple-spam cut-n-paste post elements involve derision (especially instead of actual conversation with the original post author and/or the subsequent thread posters), then you have only yourself to blame if people complain in various ways and degrees about your posting. (Moreover, there are people who merely troll for complaints using very similar flamebait tactics. So when you yourself use such tactics, it is inductively reasonable for some respondents to infer you're only trying to do the same thing.)

In any case, you have made it clear that you have no intention of respecting our very nice tea time religious conversation--if you really thought there was nothing wrong with it, you wouldn't stand on the fringe expounding your various derisions in our general direction. You would either quietly listen, or go away and do something else, or else try to join in the actual conversation with the persons here.

I may not agree with most atonement theories, and I may even strenuously disagree with most atonement theories; but I wouldn't call the attempts by various parties to talk about them (even favorably) as "a gigantic carnival, a zoo of metaphysicians". At the very least, I would have enough sense not to call them that and then expect these same people to believe I see nothing wrong with their very nice tea time religious conversation where they all try to damn the rest in more than a merely rhetorical fashion.

True, I write some extensive comments myself, on a not-uncommon basis. But I do so in conversation with the people involved; and I have something positive to bring to the field; and I make a point of respecting my opposition enough to get down on the field and risk myself with them, for the sake of hopefully accomplishing something worth doing, rather than trying to stand on the sidelines chunking fog grenades at the players on the field. Moreover, I don't do it for my own amused self-aggrandizement of 'tweaking the gods', ah.

I do it out of respect for truth, over-above (and occasionally against) myself; and because I positively love other people than myself, including ones I may not like very much. (But especially I do it for the one whom I love the most, whom I would never try to enmesh in a hopeless fog. I would be totally betraying her if I did that.)


At 6/22/2008 3:23 PM, Anonymous bobbyt said...

Dear ETB

Having begun a criticism of the way you appear to add multiple comments to your posts, I am feeling a more than a little guilty and would like to offer an apology. Having moved from a position of strict Calvinistic interpretation of the cross and other theological matters, what is of real value in re-examining all aspects of belief, is to have real personal views to sift and sort through. It really helps someone like me (and I'm sure others) to get involved in debate that requires careful thought before making a reply. Most Christians carry a great deal of spiritual baggage which really has not been thought through. To genuinely debate with someone like yourself, in your 'natural guise' as opposed to you quoting others would be of value in producing much self-examination and perhaps the discarding of something (much?) that is really not true.
Yours in Christ


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