"Our diocesan synodical singing of these words comes on the heels of a diocesan-wide study through Lent of a booklet The Praying Life, written by two of the top and most influential theologians in our diocese, Peter Carrell and Lynda Patterson. In this they wrote:
The wrath-of-God-satisfied approach has been canonised as our diocesan soteriology (understanding of how we are saved)."
Naturally I am overwhelmed by self-defensiveness at this point :)
A couple of observations about what Bosco Peters writes elsewhere in the post:
(1) Bosco observes in respect of the controversial lines in the hymn:
"The understanding is that God (The Father) was angry at us in our sinfulness. And that God took out this rage on Christ instead of on us. And that this now enables God (The Father) to love us.
This understanding is heresy."
That raises for me whether or not such "understanding" is in the minds of people singing the hymn, and in particular, is it the understanding in the minds of the good Anglicans of the Diocese of Christchurch?
In one way I do not know that answer to that question, that is, I have not surveyed people on the matter. But I would like to have a high estimation of people and their theological maturity! I do not share Bosco's confidence that the understanding he outlines is the understanding at work in the singing of the hymn, and thus I am not convinced that we have "canonised" such understanding as our diocesan soteriology.
(2) Bosco also writes,
"So here I am dealing with the God-has-anger-management-issues, straightforward understanding of “on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied”.
Does God need Jesus’ death in order to love us?"
This raises significant questions about whether Bosco allows that language used in hymns may express doctrines? Doctrines, as I understand them, are teachings of the church which seek to encapsulate what the church believes, including beliefs which may have little support in Scripture, or whose support in Scripture is spread through various parts of Scripture rather than being explicitly expressed in at least one scriptural text.The doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, is a drawing together of many pieces of scriptural evidence for the co-eternity, co-equality, co-divinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit without any one text explicitly stating that God is Three-in-One.
Thus there is no requirement of the lines, "on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied," that they are justified by demonstrating that somewhere in the Bible there is an explicit statement that "Jesus' death satisfies God's wrath."
What is required is that these lines fairly express the doctrine of atonement, that is, orthodox teaching on what took place on the cross in respect of scriptural exposition about God's judgement on sin (e.g. Romans 1-5), about the wrath of God against sin (e.g. Romans 1, Ephesians 2, 1 Thessalonians 2, 2 Thessalonians 1, Revelation 14-20), about the effect of Jesus' dying on the cross as an expiation/propitiation/atoning sacrifice for sin (in particular Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2), and as an action which in some way or another removed our sins from God's concern (e.g. because we are now deemed to have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, e.g. 1 Peter 1:19, 1 John 1:7, Revelation 1:5, 5:9, also the interconnection between John 1:29, 36 and the Johannine timing of the death of Christ as the same time as the passover lambs were slaughtered, John 19:14).
As I understand the conservative evangelical commitment to this understanding of the doctrine of atonement, we are agreed with Bosco when he writes, "God is not divided. There is not some sort of internal battle within God - of his wrath versus his love." As best I understand this lack of division within God, God's love is God's wrath: in God's love for us God cannot bear the imperfection of sin marring the image of God and so God's wrath is God working to eradicate that imperfection. God's wrath is satisfied when sin is dealt with and expunged. God's love is, indeed, magnified, when we understand that love to go to any length required in order to deal fully and completely with sin.
In response to Bosco's question, "Does God need Jesus death in order to love us?" the conservative evangelical answer is a question, What does this question actually ask? If, for instance, it is asking whether God needs Jesus to die first in order that God may then love us, then the answer is "No." I understand conservative evangelicalism to pose a different question in this context of discussion about God's love, God's wrath and the atoning work of Christ on the cross. This question I suggest is, "Could God have avoided Jesus dying as the innocent victim of injustice in order to deal with sin?" The answer (taking account of the whole biblical narrative as it relates to sacrifice, atonement, cleansing) is, "No."
A point to make here is not that a conservative evangelical understanding of atonement is sole bearer of the standard of orthodoxy, rather it is that historically theologians have engaged robustly with a variety of understandings of atonement so that orthodoxy rules in several understandings, including the understanding that on the cross Jesus died a substitutionary death for us and satisfied completely all requirements for God's judgement against us to be averted. It is one thing to suggest that "the wrath of God was satisfied" is either not the only possible understanding of the atoning work of Christ on the cross or only one of several understandings, it is another thing to say that this is either heretical or (the point I understand Bosco to be making) prone to heretical misunderstanding.
What then, getting back to the study booklet and the citation above about Luke 22:42? Briefly, I suggest that if the words there are wrong - that is, they offer a mistaken interpretation of Jesus' reference to 'cup' in the context of the cup representing something awful if not unbearable - then what is the alternative understanding of 'cup'? I can think of no other that makes sense in the light of the unbearableness of what Jesus faced and the use of cup imagery in scripture in relation to the wrath of God.