Friday, May 3, 2013

The cup of wrath

Is it possible to think of criticism of one's theology as a form of wrath? If so, that wrath is being poured all over me today! Bosco Peters, at Liturgy, has a go not only at the hymn In Christ Alone and its much controverted line, "The wrath of God was satisfied" but also with my contribution to the exegesis of Luke 22:42 in a recently published Lenten study booklet, The Praying Life: Through Lent with Luke (Theology House, 2013), written by Lynda Patterson and myself.

"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:
‘This cup’ particularly points to the cross as the place on which the wrath of God against sin was borne by Jesus as the final and full sacrifice for the sin of the world.
And Peter reinforces Lynda’s and his point on his blog:
If Jesus were not raised then we would not know whether God’s wrath was satisfied. That Jesus was raised demonstrated that God’s wrath was satisfied. The cup had been drained by Jesus.
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”.
It is not in the Bible. Show me anywhere in the Bible that explicitly states Jesus’ death satisfies God’s wrath.
God is not divided. There is not some sort of internal battle within God – of His wrath versus His love.
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.

17 comments:

Andrew White said...

I don't see the problem (with the song as-written).

The bible is abundantly clear that God is angry at us sinners. Blazing, white-hot, righteous, completely justified anger. The word wrath is used unstingily of Israel, and it's of those post-Christ who will not repent.

And why should got not be angry? His greatest creation, whom he created to rule over and tend his world under him, decided that we could do a much better job without God as boss, and as a result have turned the whole thing into a stinking, immoral mess. That's treason. It's spitting in the face of the Holy Creator God. And if he wasn't blazing angry, it would be pretty clear he didn't care about creation at all.

And yet the punishment for rebellion, God's blazing, righteous anger, the Death that we had introduced into his world, falls on God instead of us. It is on the cross that God demonstrates his love for us, that while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:10), Christ died for us. And this to make us not merely obedient servants, but sons!

We must never underestimate the vast gulf between us and God, and the sheer audacity of God to repay our personal, malicious, evil dismissal of him with forgiveness and transformation into his children and heirs.

This category confusion is echoed in some of the comments on Bosco's post. For example:

"When we examine Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels it is clear that forgiveness (even 77 times) is enjoined upon us, and that we are expressly forbidden to make someone pay. If that’s good enough for us feeble humans, why doesn’t it apply to God?"

Because God is holy and we are not. Vengeance is not evil, but is reserved for God (Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30), who is pure, holy and just. We are called to forgo vengeance not because vengeance is inherently evil, but because we are. Instead, we leave vengeance in the hands of God, who is both righteous judge and merciful saviour.

David Ould said...

a pleasure to agree wholeheartedly with you, Peter. Bosco's post portrays, at the very least, a deficient understanding of that which he denounces as heresy and little awareness of the depth of discussion that has been had over this issue.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you, Andrew and David!

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter,
I really agree with your post!

Not withstanding the Anglican formularies that all ordained Anglican Bishops, Priests and Deacons affirm:
Article XXXI. Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross is clear on this issue?

"The Offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation , and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.

Three very powerful terms: redemption, propitiation, satisfaction.

Terms that (with the article) are strongly supported by Holy Scripture.

I remember having a discussion on Cranmer's Curate about this topic and a fellow cleric asked me:

Do you really think that God's wrath at human kind could only be satisfied by planning the brutal murder of his son?

I can see no other way that God's wrath could be satisfied. The passage that comes to mind most strongly is Luke 22:39-42 (see also Matt.26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42). Particularly v.42.

I think it is very clear from the OT that the cup is God's wrath and there are many references (Isa 51:17, 22; Jer.25:15,17, 28; 49:12; Lam.4:21; Ezek.23:31-33, just to name some. Thus the cup that Jesus is referring to is the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world and the wrath which those sins deserved.
The fact that Jesus went to the cross and that God's will was for him to go to the cross reveals that God the Father knew that there was no other way. It was not (and is not) possible for God to saves sinners without the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

Thanks again Peter for your post.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Joshua!

Anonymous said...

Anyone who asserts that God is not angry with sinners who violate His holy law has evidently not read and understood the Psalms, the Book of Revelation or the many parables and sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ on this very subject. Statistically and grammatically, statements about God's anger with sinners are actually more abundant and clearer than statements about 'God's love for all the world', which is standard boilerplate. The only way one can avoid this rock of offence is by denying that these biblical statements amount of revelation of God's mind. This is a standard liberal strategy but it isn't historical Anglican, much less Catholic, practice. Christ as the bearer of God's wrath against sinful mankind is taught in a number of texts (2 Cor 5.20; Rom 3.23-26 and others collected and discussed by Stott in 'The Cross of Christ' and by Ovey et al in 'Pierced for Our Transgressions', which is particularly good on the Patristic discussion of these verses). It is also central to the Roman Liturgy of the Mass. Archly mocking talk about God having 'anger management issues' only calls to mind Anselm's rebuke: 'Nondum ponderasti pondus peccati.'

Martin (simul justus et peccator)

Anonymous said...

vere peccatus sum - I should have written: Nondum considerasti quanti ponderis sit peccatum, "you have not yet considered how great the weight of sin is" (Anselm of Canterbury)

Martin

Kurt said...

I think that Father Bosco has the better of the argument. The alternative is the same old, same old, tired, Calvinist heresy.

Even most mainline Presbyterians here don't hold this view anymore. I mean Jonathan Edwards is considered a theological joke even at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Kurt Hill
Enjoying the beautiful spring weather in historic 1634 Breukelen (the brook lane), NY

Shawn Herles said...

Until now I have heard nothing but high praise for the Lenten series, and it seems to have been well received by a large number of churches.

For myself I thought it was very good, and a welcome change from the sometimes superficial and sentimental theology-lite material I have seen elsewhere.

There is no justification whatsoever for the charge of heresy against either the people who produced the material or the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. In fact I find the charge to be ludicrously over the top and the general tone of Bosco's post likely to create more heat than light. Heresy is a serious charge, especially when it is aimed towards two respected theologians in our diocese.

The charge however is false.


For a start, as was said in a post above, propitiation IS Anglican doctrine, and always has been.

IF Bosco's description of propitiation here:

""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."

was a true and accurate description of the doctrine, then it would be heresy. But it is not a description of the doctrine, it is at best a caricature, at worst an utter fabrication, a straw-man.

No Anglican, Lutheran or Reformed theologian understands the doctrine in this way.

There has been a lot of serious theological work on atonement in recent years in response to the attacks on substitutionary atonement, not the least being 'Pierced for Our Transgressions' by Mike Ovey, Steve Jeffery and Andrew Sach, and 'God the Peacemaker' by Graham Cole.

Both books show that substitutionary atonement is Biblical, easily answering Bosco's challenge concerning Scripture, that the doctrine was held by many of the Church Fathers, and that it was central to both Luther's and Calvin's teaching.

'Pierced' also answers directly the various charges against the doctrine, showing that they are often based on inaccurate caricatures, misunderstanding, and modern, Western, sentimental understandings of God's love. (See especially D.A Carson's 'The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God' on that issue.)

In 'God the Peacemaker' Graham Cole shows how the doctrine, rightly understood, is part of God's redemptive mission to bring shalom to the whole of creation.

Why then are we still having to deal with silly caricature's of the doctrine?

Neither penal substitution nor propitiation imply a division in the Trinity.

The work of of the cross is the one work of the Trinity. In voluntarily choosing to drink the cup of wrath the Jesus is not acted upon by the Father, but the Father and the Son work as one and are of one mind and purpose.

The wrath of God is not human anger or rage, it is the expression of righteous opposition to sin, injustice and evil. God's love and justice are one, not two different things.

God is not enabled to love of by Christ's sacrifice. God already loves us, and thus takes upon Himself, the wrath we deserve. And this is the important point. The Father does not take his wrath out on the Son, The one God takes the wrath we deserve upon Himself. The critics of this doctrine have failed to understand that atonement is the work of one God who is not divided.

Anonymous said...

I can only echo what Shawn has written, which references books by Anglican theologians and a Baptist (Carson), which I have read carefully, to which we should add the careful studies by the Anglicans Stott (The Cross of Christ - see the chapter on 'The Satisfaction of God') and Packer, whose essay 'The Logic of Penal Substitution' discloses the origins of modern Atonement thought in 16th century Socinianism. I can only wonder whether Bosco has ever read and interacted with these Anglican theologians. At the very least he should know that the Church of England has *never* called the doctrine that 'the wrath of God was satisfied on the cross of Christ' a "heresy".
A 'heresy' is a formal declaration that a teaching is false - something that modern day Anglicanism is virtually incapable of making.
It is easy to stir the pot, just as it is easy 'epater les bourgeois', especially when this aligns you with secular bien pensants; but preaching the message of the New Testament is altogether a more demanding task.

Martin

Anonymous said...

Shawn writes: "The Father does not take his wrath out on the Son, The one God takes the wrath we deserve upon Himself. The critics of this doctrine have failed to understand that atonement is the work of one God who is not divided."

This is correct. Critics of the doctrine have an inadequate (possibly even heretical) understanding of the Trinity and fail to grasp the perfect unity of purpose and will between the Father and the Son. This error is not really surprising, since the modern (mis-)understanding is based on a Socinian or Unitarian view of Christ, not a Trinitarian one. Only the Trinity and Incarnation of the Eternal Son (with its communicatio idiomatum) makes the actions and sufferings of Christ the actions and suffering of God. Athanasius clearly understood this, against the Arians.

Martinus contra mundum

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
Please take care with what you write. It is ad hominem to raise questions about what people have or have not read: "I can only wonder whether Bosco has ever read and interacted with these Anglican theologians." No one expects a full display of scholarship in a blogpost or comment on a post.

Also, it is simply idle ad hominem speculative chit-chat to write, "It is easy to stir the pot, just as it is easy 'epater les bourgeois', especially when this aligns you with secular bien pensants; but preaching the message of the New Testament is altogether a more demanding task." In various ways you are maligning another Christian minister here.

Anonymous said...

Peter, if you think my comments unfair, you can and should censor them. I read through the entire thread on Bosco's website where David Ould, Shawn and one or two others interact with him, sometimes using sharper and more direct language than I have ever used on the blogosphere (which Bosco consented to publish), and where I saw no interaction at all with Stott, Packer, Carson, Ovey etc, but rather something of an attack on a caricature which nobody I know believes or teaches. But you can read the thread for yourself. I don't expect a 'full display of scholarship in a blogpost', just a recognition that this caricature is *not what Stott, Packer, Carson, Ovey etc believe - or James Denney and John Owen before them, not to mention Leon Morris in 'The Apostolic Teaching of the Cross' (against C. H. Dodd). Otherwise, what is the point of such comments? To attribute to others views they don't hold (e.g., Chalke's 'cosmic child-abuse', or 'God's anger management issues') is to malign them.
Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
The point of Bosco's post was that he was not querying what scholarship might be saying on the matter but what ordinary church goers and synodspeople might be understanding. Thus he was proposing not a caricature but a real possibility that the understanding critiqued was an understanding actually held by people (or being avoided by people). Commenters on his site show that a body of people is very concerned about a false understanding of JDWGS.

I disagree that to attribute to others views they do not hold is necessarily to 'malign' them. It may simply be to hold a mistaken attribution. My own key point of difference with the post at Liturgy is that I do not know how we would know what views synodspeople willing to sing the words hold unless we survey them.

Yes, I am more keenly going to take up the role of censor!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
JDWGS = as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.

I am editing your comment below. I appreciate you are justifying yourself and so on, but it involves discussing Bosco's views. I think that is best done on his own site.

From Martin, with moderational editing:

"Well, you have lost me with 'JDWGS' - as I usually am with idioglossic use of acronyms. If Bosco had merely meant to say 'Some ignorant people take the line in Townend's hymn to mean 'X' but this is wrong [and isn't what evangelical theologians mean]', it would have been a comment scarcely worth making. But anyone who knows the history of 20th century debates about soteriology, penal substitutionary atonement and the wrath of God knows that these issues are lurking in the background (remember Niebuhr's line about liberal theology: 'A God without wrath sends Christ without a cross into a world without sin', or roughly so).

[... thid part is omitted because it has no bearing on what is being discussed...]

Shawn Herles, David Ould and Joshua Bovis challenged Bosco directly on his own website to expound his own understanding of the doctrine and texts like 1 Peter 2.24 (with allusion to Isa 55.3 etc) but he punted every time, never answering the questions put (quote: 'I'm comfortable with Peter's understanding of Isa 55.3' - which wasn't the question asked). EDITORIAL NOTE: Then take that up on Bosco's site with him.

[... the following is omitted because, while it expresses your frustration with Bosco's manner of answering/responding to questions, both now and in past times it involves too much speculation about what and why ...]

As for "maligning" others, we have a duty to be fair and accurate in what we say about others, and to educate ourselves about their actual beliefs. With all the books and resources around today, ignorance is not really justified.

Martin
"

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Tom.

Thanks for your post. I'm an evangelical studying up on this very issue at the moment and I've found a few spanners in the works that would be worth your consideration.

1. Mark 10:39 / Matt 20:23. If the cup is a cup of wrath how can two sinners for whom Christ died (James and John) also drink it? I'm wondering if in our zeal to defend penal substitutionary atonement we've forced a right idea onto a wrong passage. Perhaps the cup is a cup of intense suffering which believers also share in to a lesser extent, while the substitutionary nature of his death is better established from other passages such as Rom 8:3-4, 1 Pet 2:24, 2 Cor 5:21, Mark 10:45 etc.

2. Perhaps we should also consider the difference between wrath (usually understood as an emotion) and punishment in the law court sense. They're not necessarily the same thing. For we ought to remember that whilst Jesus is bearing the sin of the world and its punishment, he is also - at the same time - offering up to God the one true perfect act of obedience and worship which is acceptable to the father on our behalf. Could we say that the Father is pleased with the son while he bears our sin?

3. The wrath of God is not confined to person of the father alone. God the son (and I assume it fair to say the Holy Spirit also) are also rightly wrathful toward sinners. Ps 2 and Rev 6:16-17 both depict wrath as being both the wrath of the father AND the wrath of the Son. If we are saved by Christ absorbing the father's wrath, how is the son's absorbed? Does he tip a cup on his own head? I think not. Perhaps many evangelicals, in trying to defend the reality of God's wrath have actually gone soft by creating a wrath free Jesus? It seems that Christ in his death has saved us from his own wrath on the day of judgement! Perhaps because the penalty is paid in full, we are reconciled and so made exempt from wrath which God will still pour out on those outside of Christ.

I'd be interested to see how these ideas contribute to your thinking on the atonement. I'm totally with you on Christ's cross as the centre-piece of the Christian faith, and as a substitutionary death in which the price is paid in full on our behalf, but the mechanism of how that all works needs a bit more thinking through in our evangelical circles.

One more note for reading, Calvin is interesting to read on this - note that in his commentary on Gethsemane, he doesn't call it a cup of wrath. And check out his institutes Book 2, ch 16.11.

Peter Carrell said...

HI Tom
Great observations which bear thinking about as we try to comprehend the wonder and mystery of the atonement. You are right to draw attention to matters such as the wrath of the Son (cf. the wrath of the Lamb in Revelation) and to the pleasingness of the Son's sacrifice.