"Salvation Brings Imitation": Piper on Christus Exemplar

One of the important doctrines I have studied recently with the feeling that orthodox theologians have ignored in the doctrine of the atonement is Christus Exemplar. I reject the Moral Influence Theory of the atonement (birthed by Abelard centuries ago) that says Christ died to give us an example of how much he loves us and how we are to love others. In Abelard’s theory, there is no objective purpose of the cross. It is purely subjective. This view has been adopted by liberals theology and is nothing more than heresy.  Christus Exemplar is not that.

I will not go into great detail here into defending it, but Scripture is clear that the root work of the cross is substitutionary, but that does not mean that the only motif or purpose of the cross is substitution. Christus Victory, when properly understood, is valid as is Christus Exemplar. If we deny substitution, Christus Exemplar becomes nothing more than Abelard’s heresy.

I have found as a pastor the power of this doctrine. The work of Christ on the cross redeems us and at the same time we as Christians are to never to leave the cross and resurrection. Christus Exemplar assures that we do just that.

I want to quote John Piper in a book he wrote called Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (read online here).  One chapter is dedicated To Call Us to Follow His Example of Lowliness and Costly Love.  He quotes from 1 Peter 2:19-21, Hebrews 12:3-4, and Philippians 2:5-8.  Piper writes:

Imitation is not salvation. But salvation brings imitation. Christ is not given to us first as model, but as Savior. In the experience of the believer, first comes the pardon of Christ, then the pattern of Christ. In the experience of Christ himself, they happen together: The same suffering that pardons our sins provides our pattern of love.

In fact, only when we experience the pardon of Christ can he become a pattern for us. This sounds wrong because his sufferings are unique. They cannot be imitated. No one but the Son of God can suffer “for us” the way Christ did. He bore our sins in a way that no one else could. He was a substitute sufferer. We can never duplicate this. It was once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. Divine, vicarious suffering for sinners is inimitable.

However, this unique suffering, after pardoning and justifying sinners, transforms them into people who act like Jesus—not like him in pardoning, but like him in loving. Like him in suffering to do good to others. Like him in not returning evil for evil. Like him in lowliness and meekness. Like him in patient endurance. Like him in servanthood. Jesus suffered for us uniquely, that we might suffer with him in the cause of love.

Christ’s apostle, Paul, said that his ambition was first to share in Christ’s righteousness by faith, and then to share in his sufferings in ministry. “[May I] be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ . . . that I may . . . share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:9-10). Justification precedes and makes possible imitation. Christ’s suffering for justification makes possible our suffering for proclamation. Our suffering for others does not remove the wrath of God. It shows the value of having the wrath of God removed by the suffering of Christ. It points people to him.

When the Bible calls us to “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10), it means that our imitation of Christ points people to him who alone can save. Our suffering is crucial, but Christ’s alone saves. Therefore, let us imitate his love, but not take his place. (92-93)

"Blood Work" by Anthony Carter: A Review

It has been said that Christianity is a bloody religion. critics usually make this accusation, pointing to the wars, inquisitions, trials, and executions carried out over the years in the name of Christianity. We must admit that blood has been wrongly shed in the name of so-called Christianity, but Christianity would be a bloody religion regardless. it is a blood religion not because o the blood shed by people in wars and inquisitions, but because of the blood shed by Jesus Christ. (1)

To read the Bible with any seriousness and sober discernment is to see the shedding of blood or the implications of it on practically every page. If the history of redemption is a story told in pictures, the blood of Christ is the paint with which the story is portrayed. (2-3)

The Bible is a bloody book. One can barely turn a page of Scripture without seeing its distinct stain on the page. From the sacrifice of an innocent animal to cover the nudity of Adam and Eve, to the murder of Abel, to the Day of Atonement, to the countless murders, wars, and rapes, to the cross itself, to the martyrdom of the first saints, and even in the end when Christ returns with a sword. There is an over-abundance of blood throughout Scripture.

The good news of Jesus Christ by which men are saved, the church is established, the Kingdom is inaugurated, and the cosmos retaken itself is a bloody gospel. To many such a theme is confusing and strange especially in the 21st century. In his book Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accoplishesh Our Salvation (Reformation Trust, 2013), Anthony Carter delves into the theme of blood and how it assures our propitiation, salvation, justification, reconciliation, ransom, redemption, cleansing, sanctification, peace, and every major soteriological theme in Scripture.

I picked up this book simply because I have become convinced that missing from Christianity is an emphasis on blood. As the author illustrates throughout the book, the great hymns of old were filled with blood. “What can wash away my sin?” the hymn writer asks. “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Another reminds us “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins.” A fountain full?*

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Carter’s book is it clear reminder that one cannot speak of grace or salvation without an emphasis on blood. The blood of goats are not enough, the writer of Hebrews tells us, and cannot save. Instead what we need is the penal substitutionary blood of the Lamb of God.

The outline of the book is simple. Each chapter looks at a major theme of soteriology and shows how blood defines it. So perhaps we could sum up the contents of the book as follows:

  • Blood purchases us
  • Blood Propitiates the Wrath of God
  • Blood justifies us
  • Blood brings us near to God
  • Blood makes peace
  • Blood cleanses us
  • Blood sanctifies us
  • Blood elects us
  • Blood ransoms us
  • Blood frees us

A couple of thoughts. First, the theology is sound and Reformed. As the above outline shows, there is an entire chapter dedicated to the subject of election and the author makes reference and develops it throughout the book. Beyond the question of predestination, defends orthodox soteriology and though the language of blood might be strange for us today, this book would not have been so unique in the past. What I find helpful about Carter’s approach to this subject is it reminds us that Scripture utilizes a number of images and ideas to describe and define salvation. Redemption reminds us of our slavery to sin. Justification reminds us of our guilt before God. Cleansing reminds us of the filthy nature of sin. We should not be surprised, then, that blood covers them all.

Secondly, this is not an academic book. Carter is not interested in old debates over the nature of Scripture, various theologies of salvation (liberation theology, liberalism, the social gospel, etc.), or atonement theories (moral influence, Christus Victor, etc.). Carter seeks to explain what role blood plays and how it accomplishes our salvation as revealed in Scripture. An academic book typically finds itself in debating both debates of the past and debates of the present. Carter avoids this. This is neither a praise nor criticism of the book, but a confession as to what sort of book this is. This also means that Blood Work is accessible to the average Christian.

Thirdly, the writer is good but not great. This brings with it the benefit of it being more accessible to the average Christian new to theology and the theme of blood, but at times the writing is almost too simple. I do not want to suggest, however, that there are no memorable quotes or powerful paragraphs. Consider the following.

Regarding sin:

  • “How do we know that someone understands the blood of Christ in his life? We know it by the fact that he or she is not out for revenge, but is living out redemption.” (10)
  • “The human condition is not just a bucket of errors; it is an ocean of iniquity.” (34)
  •  “Thus, it is important to see that the Bible portrays sin not just as an action but also as a tyrannical master.” (43)
  • “The tragedy of sin is not just that it kills, but that it defiles, it violates, and it dirties our consciences, our hands, and our lives beyond our ability to clean them.” (71)

Regarding the blood of Christ:

  •  The blood of Christ gives us a home. The blood of Christ becomes the flag and color under which we stand. The blood of Christ takes those who were once strangers and makes them family. As the Bible says, we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but . . . fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19). Simply put, the blood of Christ brings us near to God. As Stott reminds us:
    And this nearness to God which all Christians enjoy through Christ is a privilege we take too frequently for granted. Our God does not keep his distance or stand on his dignity, like some foreign potentate, nor does he insist on any complicated ritual or protocol. On the contrary, through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit we have immediate “access” to him as our Father. We need to exhort one another to avail ourselves of this privilege. (40)

Regarding the blood of Jesus and reconciliation:

  • The blood of Jesus tears down the walls of hostility and brings peace and prosperity of soul. It takes a people who are not His people and makes them His people under God, indivisible. The blood of Christ, spilled at the cross, is so powerful that it destroys all the foolish, oxymoronic statements we sometimes hear: “selfish Christian”—there is no self at the cross, only Jesus; “stingy Christian”—the cross is the greatest motivation for giving there could ever be; “proud Christian”—the ground at the foot of the cross is the humblest in the history of the world; or “racist Christian”—at the cross there is no Jew or Gentile, black or white, Arab or Asian. There is only Christ and those who are washed in His blood.
    In Christ, the ethnic and racial identities that separate and often become the source of animosity and even enmity lose their power to divide. The blood of Christ overcomes them. There- fore, Christians must remember that there is only one family of God. We not only fly the same flag and fight under the same banner, but we share the same blood. That blood has brought us near—to God and each other. Racial and ethnic bloodlines are not omnipotent. The blood of Christ is. When the blood of Christ brings us near, it brings us to the cross and asks us this question: “Do you remember?” Let us remember that the blood of Christ has reconciled us to God, ended the hostility, and transformed us from enemies to friends. Let us remember to pray as the songwriter suggests:Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget thine agony, Lest I forget thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary. (57-58)

Consider also some of the following helpful illustrations. First a story about Augustine:

The story is told that Augustine, the fourth-century theologian and bishop of Hippo in North Africa, after confessing faith in Jesus Christ, ran into a former mistress on the street. Immediately upon recognizing her, Augustine reversed his course and began moving swiftly in the opposite direction. The woman, surprised at seeing Augustine and equally surprised at the reversal of his route, cried out, “Augustine, it is I.” Augustine, continuing to move away from her, replied, “Yes, but it is not I.” (79)

Secondly a legend about Abraham Lincoln:

The story is told that Abraham Lincoln went down to the slave block and there noticed a young black girl up for auction. Moved with compassion, he bid on her and won. Upon purchasing her, Lincoln told the disbelieving girl that she was free. In her surprise, she said,

“What does that mean?”

It means you are free,” he replied.

“Does that mean,” she asked, “I can say whatever I want to say?”

“Yes, my dear, you can say whatever you want to say.”

“Does that mean I can be whatever I want to be?” “Yes, you can be whatever you want to be.”

“Does that mean I can go wherever I want to go?” “Yes, you can go wherever you want to go.”

At that, the girl, with tears streaming down her face, said, “Then I will go with you.”

Admittedly, this account is probably more legendary than legitimate. Yet it does communicate an important spiritual truth. Like the young girl on the slave block, we, too, have been redeemed and set free. The Bible reminds us in 1 Peter 1:18–19 that if we are in Christ, we have been “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” The blood of Christ is of incalculable value, and for that reason it alone is able to ransom sinners from their slavery to sin. (99-100)

More could be given, but this should make the point. Carter is not a great writer, but is a memorable one. Then again, when one proclaims the wonderful gospel, how can we not be? Carter wants the reader to not just have his head filled with a better understanding of the biblical theme of blood and the role it plays in our salvation, but to instead use this great theology to bring us to praise. It is not an accident that the great hymns and praise songs quoted throughout the book are used. If this is true regarding the blood of Jesus, and it is, then how can we not worship.

O precious is that flow
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

* The author provides an entire appendix of his book to songs on the subject of blood.

Reformation Trust was kind enough to provide a free copy of this book for the purpose of this review.

Not Entirely: Why Most Illustrations Don’t Fully Explain the Cross

When I worked at a Christian bookstore while in seminary, we sold a short film that told the story of a father who worked at a train station and on this particular day had his young son with him. The son eventually went on his own and began playing on the track. Without his knowing, a train was coming and the father had to either spare his and allow the people in the train die or sacrifice his child to save the passengers. He, like God the illustration goes, chose to sacrifice his son.

Here is the short film.*

Why is this is a horrendous illustration of the atonement? Mark Dever suggests.

It ignores [the] element of Jesus choosing to laying down his life. Its right in saying it is very costly. Its right in pointing to the cost there was to God the Father. Its right in all of those ways. But its deeply wrong in presenting that little boy just laying there on the tracks being killed without even knowing about it. Because the presentation biblically is one of Jesus laying down his life for His sheep. –Atonement in the New Testament

In an article entitled Nothing But the Blood published in Christianity Today, Dever again highlights this common illustration:

For example, there is the story of the railroad operator who learns that the bridge ahead is out, so he prepares to switch the tracks to save the lives of hundreds on a fast-approaching train. But at that moment, he sees his son playing in the gears, and he pauses to reconsider. Here, many a preacher has meditated on God’s love in ways that border on the grotesque—we’re told that the man decided to go ahead and sacrifice his son’s life in order to save those on the train. Such an unwitting sacrifice has led to the charge that the Atonement is divine child abuse.

. . .

Substitutionary Atonement has indeed been misapplied. The railroad analogy above, for example, is inadequate because it does not include the Holy Spirit. But even more to the point, Christ willingly offered up his life; he was not blindsided by the Cross. 

I think Dever is right. The New Testament repeatedly argues that Christ was a willing sacrifice who voluntarily carried His cross (see John 10:17-18). This in no way denies that God sent His Son or that Christ was obeying the will of the Father, but it is simply wrong to portray the cross as “divine child abuse” (as modern detractors repeatedly suggest).

Instead, what the above film illustrates is the story of Abraham and Isaac. The promised son in Genesis 22 did not volunteer to be a sacrifice nor did Abraham volunteer to give his son over for sacrifice.

The point of all of this is to argue that one must be careful in trying to explain the cross through simple illustrations. Illustrations for the atonement are similar to that of the Trinity. Most illustrations used to explain the Trinity are actually heretical (usually modalistic). Likewise, most illustrations used to explain the cross are at best dangerous and misleading.

*The original film was not interrupted with text.

One Glaring Weakness of Narnia

On November 22, 1963 three culture-shaping men died: President John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley, and C. S. Lewis. Most would have assumed that fifty years after their deaths, of these leading figures of the 20th Century, President Kennedy would have the most lasting influence. Yet it is Lewis whose respect and influence has grown while the others continue to fade. Few know who Huxley is anymore and the Democratic party has largely left Jack Kennedy behind.

This is encouraging to say the least. I do not agree with everything Lewis wrote, but when Lewis was right, he said it better than anyone in history. As such, his writings remain relevant and have proven prophetic.

Among his most influential and beloved writings is without a doubt his Narnia Chronicles. These seven books ought to be read by every child. Like other great works of literature, one can enter into the fantastic world of Narnia and leave having discovered something they missed before. This is part of what makes Lewis so riveting. Whether he is writing fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, Lewis has an ability to enlighten every time he is read.

With the continued rise of Lewis’s popularity, many scholarly and popular books and articles have been written on him. One subject that fascinates me regards Lewis’s view of the atonement. Admitting up front that Lewis considered himself a “mere theologian” that only wanted to emphasize “mere Christianity,” that does not mean he did not address other, deeper theological doctrines (the debate over Lewis’s view on Calvinism, for example, is a fascinating one).

Others have discussed Lewis’s view of atonement (see links below). Any serious discussion must consider the Narnia Chronicles. In the most popular book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch releases Edmund Pevensie upon the execution of Aslan. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, but on the surface, the narrative strikes one of the Ransom Theory of the Atonement whereby Christ death pays a ransom to Satan.

This theory is predominately seen in Pentecostal circles where Satan is seen behind every bush and every book not available on TBN. It is a theory fraught with problems. For one, God owes Satan nothing. Satan will receive nothing from God except judgment, war, and a crushed head.

There is clear evidence Lewis rejected penal substitution. In Mere Christianity, he wrote:

Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem quite so immoral and silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor an other is Christianity. The central belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter: A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. (57-58)

A strong paragraph in light of the book’s title and purpose. He more forcefully added later:

The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before–the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. (59)

With that said, however, let us return to the stone table and its meaning. One thought continues to cross my mind that makes Narnia a difficult source for understanding Lewis’s theology: there is no Trinity in Narnia.*

The reason Aslan seems to pay a ransom to the White Witch is because there is no one else to pay the ransom to. Narnia’s most glaring weakness is its lack of Trinity. It should be stated clearly that Lewis does not deny classic trinitarian theology as Mere Christianity and other writings make clear. Nevertheless, being that Lewis refused to portray the Father and the Spirit (for reasons I am sensitive to), the Narnian world suffers.

The lack of divine Trinity means there was a time when Aslan was not. From the time he breathed his last to the time the mice broke the ropes and Aslan was resurrected, Aslan – Narnia’s creator – ceased to exist. This is problematic to say the least.

This is not to say we should avoid the Narnia books as rank heresy. However, for theologians in general and students of Lewis in particular, it is important not to treat Narnia has theological treatise. It has its weaknesses and it fails to adequately summarize Lewis’s theology.

* This is technically not true. There is a hint of a Trinity in The Horse and His Boy.

Touchstone – Mere Atonement
Kevin DeYoung – Cautions for Mere Christianity

For more:
Correcting the Record on a Common Lewis Misquote and Why it Matters
He Was Not a Tamed Arminian
Was Lewis a Calvinist?: A Brief Look at Perelandra
Was Lewis a Calvinist?: Doug Wilson Says Yes
“A Mixture of Fool and Knave”: CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism 

Free eBook – "Blood Work" by Anthony Carter

Today, the good folks at Crossway Books are offering the book Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation as a free digital download as we quickly approach Resurrection Sunday. I have written a full review of the book and you can read it here.

Evangelical Christians often sing and preach about the blessed blood of Christ and the wonderful things it accomplishes for believers. To the uninformed ear, such language can convey the idea that Jesus’ blood had semi-magical qualities. Actually, Jesus’ blood was normal human blood, but the Bible refers to it in metaphorical terms to portray the many benefits that come to Christians because of Jesus’ death. In Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation, Anthony J. Carter traces this theme through the New Testament, showing how the biblical writers used the powerful metaphor of the blood of Jesus to help Christians grasp the treasures Jesus secured for them in His death on the cross. In doing so, he provides a fresh perspective on the atonement Jesus made.

You can download this free ebook here.

"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke – The Atonement

“Whosoever Will”: Blogging Through Allen and Lemke – Introduction
“Whosoever Will”: Blogging Through Allen and Lemke – Preaching John 3:16
“Whosoever Will”: Blogging Through Allen and Lemke – Total Depravity“Whosoever Will”: Blogging Through Allen and Lemke – Congruent Election
“Whosoever Will”: Blogging Through Allen and Lemke – The Atonement

The one theological doctrine most debated among everybody – from both non-Calvinists, Arminians, and even Calvinists – in the often-used acronym T. U. L. I. P. is the “L” which stands for “Limited Atonement.” We could debate all day about the term itself (most Calvinists prefer the term “Particular Redemption”), but such a conversation would be unfruitful and dodges the real issue. Is Jesus’ death upon the cross – the atonement – limited exclusively to the elect? Non-Calvinists hold to a universal atonement whereas Calvinists embrace a limited atonement.

As expected, the editors of Whosoever Will offer their critique of Particular Redemption. One of the general editors of the book, Dr. David Allen, writes this chapter. From the beginning, Allen offers the following assurance:

The goals of this essay are to be firm but fair, simple but substantive, biblical but not bombastic, and to avoid an unbecoming pride of ignorance as well as an arrogant elitism. (62)

I appreciate his goals and I wish more would pursue the same in this discussion.

In this essay, Allen defends the traditional non-Calvinist view: “Jesus’ death is sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect.” (66) The primary means by which he goes about defending that thesis is not by quoting Arminianism, but by quoting other Calvinists – specifically, four-point Calvinists.

First, he suggests that some of the best known Calvinsts in history (including Calvin himself) rejected particular redemption. The list of men include, but are not limited to, Heinrich Bullinger, Thomas Cranmer, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Stephen Charnock, Isaac Watts, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainard, Charles Hodge, and JC Ryles. Anyone familiar with the issue will not be surprised by Allen’s strategy or the above list. In fact, a latter chapter of the book looks extensively at Calvin’s view on limited atonement and concludes that he likely rejected.

The point of this historical sketch for Allen is three-fold: 1) “First, there has been and is significant debate over beliefs concerning the extent of the atonement in Calvinistic history.” 2) Baptists, whether Calvinistic or not, need to be more historically self-aware concerning the extent of the diversity on the point. 3) “[O]ne needs to see the novelty of the Owenic view of limited atonement in church history.” (68)

Secondly, Allen considers the exegetical evidence for universal atonement. He begins by stating that there are “Three key sets of text in the New Testament” which “affirm unlimited atonement: the ‘all’ texts, the ‘world’ texts, and the ‘many’ texts.” (78) Again, for those familiar with the issue, there is nothing new here.

In this section, Allen makes some strong points against the Reformed position while occasionally straying toward disingenuous statements about Calvinism. For example, he takes John Owen to task over his exegesis of John 3:16. He writes:

When Owen said the use of the word kosmos in John 3:16-17 must designate “they whom he intended to save, and none else, or he faileth of his purpose,” it is clear his theology precedes and determines his exegesis. His argument proceeds in this fashion: since “world” is used elsewhere in senses other than “all humanity,” it cannot be used in that sense in John 3:16. He also argued the same for the use of the world “all.” Since “all” sometimes means “all of some sorts” or “some of all sorts,” it can never mean, according to Owen, that all humanity includes each and every person. The logical fallacy of such an approach is evident. (79)

I agree. He then adds later: “If Owen is correct that ‘world’ means ‘elect,’ when John 3:16 says ‘whosoever believes shall not perish,’ the possibility is left open that some of the elect might perish.” (79). Again, a valid point.

These are strong arguments for the non-Reformed position. Yet many on that side of the aisle have a tendency to immediately jump to disingenuous conclusions. Allen does that here. On the very next page, he writes “This distortion has immense repercussions for evangelism and preaching!” (80) We all know that some Calvinist do flirt with hyper-Calvinism, but non-Calvinists overuse it. Hardly a page goes by, it seems, in books like this without stereotypical accusations against Calvinism are made – Calvinists are against missions and evangelism, Calvinists don’t believe in free will, Calvinists don’t believe in altar calls, etc. One should note that near the end of the chapter, Allen extends this comment and suggests that limited atonement is a serious challenge for motivating evangelism.

Sigh!

The final section of the essay regards a number of practical concerns Allen has with affirm limited atonement. In general, this section is Allen’s way of not just criticizing particular redemption, but criticizing Calvinism.

These practical concerns include, but are not limited to, the standard stereotypical matters addressed above: “Problems for Evangelism” (96-98), “Problems for Preaching” (98-100), “Problems Concerning the giving of Altar Calls” (101)”, etc. Most of these points address stereotypes I will not rehash here.

There is, however, one concern Allen raises that I do believe is legitimate: “Problems When Non-Calvinist Churches Interview a Calvinist Potential Pastor or Staff Member” (102-103). His main point here is that a church that is convictionally non-reformed should not hire a reformed pastor and any candidate being considered should be open about his convictions about the doctrines of grace. He rightly points out the tendency among reformed pastors and candidates to hide their Calvinism during this process. This is concerning to Allen.

A few brief thoughts. First, I am in general agreement with Allen here. Both churches and candidates should be open about theological convictions during the hiring process. With that said, the frustration among many reformed ministers is that most churches are woefully uninformed on what the issues actually are. Even books like this one continue the narrative that Calvinists do not believe in missions, evangelism, altar calls, or free will. Calvinism is a dirty word and is being avoided by many who would otherwise adopt the name. Many churches are hostile to Calvinism out of ignorance and fear, not because they have actually read the Bible or know an ounce of theology.

Conclusion

Of all of the chapters in this book, this is the one I knew I would likely find the most agreement with theologically. Yet even here the frustration I have with this entire conversation seeps through. Allen emphasizes the high number of Calvinists who reject particular redemption yet no one on either side ever seems to ever question why.

Could it not be that particular redemption is a modern theological category that Scripture never addresses? Do Allen, Calvin, or John Piper honesty believe that the apostles Paul and Peter discussed the topic in Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome? It is my contention that the entire conversation on the extent of the atonement is a waste of time and thus we are creating unnecessary dividing lines. I fear entire dissertations and books have been written on a subject the Bible never truly addresses which is why both sides hold fast to their group of favorite verses.

Michael Bird on Christus Victor

In his book Evangelical Theology, Dr. Michael Bird offers the following on the subject of Christus Victor.

Let’s get Paul right here. Jesus’ death is not only a transaction of my sin being placed into Jesus’ account; there’s much more to it. Jesus lets the powers do their worst to him, he takes the full brunt of sin, he drinks the dregs of judgment, and he allows death to hold him in its clutches. Then in the midst of a powerless death emerges a divine saving power to forgive, redeem, and renew. The festering cancer of sin has at last heard news of its cure. In the apex of death, life rises with healing in its wing. Satan’s force is spent and his worst was no match for the best of the Son of God. The fatal wound of Jesus deals a fatal blow to death. The powers of this present darkness shiver as the looming tsunami of the kingdom of God draws ever nearer. the despots of the world live in denial as much as they live on borrowed time. This is Paul’s atonement theology; this is the victory of God. (394-395)

I applaud the above. It is eloquent and shows why theology produces doxology. But to be clear, Bird affirms (and I with him) that Christus Victor can only be properly understood as the result of penal substitution. A few pages later, Bird writes:

Thus, the Christus Victor view cannot stand alone. The victory of God in Jesus’ death needs to be explained with some other mode of the atonement hat shows how Jesus’ death cancels sin, overcomes death, and vanquishes Satan. More likely, the victory of Jesus’ death is achieved because his death is an atonement for sin, it is a substitutionary death, and it renders the devil’s work of accusation as impotent (see Zech. 3:4; Rev. 12:10). (397)

For more from Michael Bird:
The God of the Gospel: A Review of Michael Bird’s Theology Proper
The Goal of Theology: To Be Gospelized
The Gospel is From, About, and of God
Is God Impassible?
Is Karl Barth a Good or Bad Guy
Michael Bird on Why Eschatolgoy Matters
“Evangelical Theology” by Michael Bird Out Today
Humanity in Humiliation No Less: Michael Bird on Kenotic Christology

One Glaring Weakness of Narnia

On November 22, 1963 three culture-shaping men died: President John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley, and C. S. Lewis. Most would have assumed that fifty years after their deaths, of these leading figures of the 20th Century, President Kennedy would have the most lasting influence. Yet it is Lewis whose respect and influence has grown while the others continue to fade. Few know who Huxley is anymore and the Democratic party has largely left Jack Kennedy behind.

This is encouraging to say the least. I do not agree with everything Lewis wrote, but when Lewis was right, he said it better than anyone in history. As such, his writings remain relevant and have proven prophetic.

Among his most influential and beloved writings is without a doubt his Narnia Chronicles. These seven books ought to be read by every child. Like other great works of literature, one can enter into the fantastic world of Narnia and leave having discovered something they missed before. This is part of what makes Lewis so riveting. Whether he is writing fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, Lewis has an ability to enlighten every time he is read.

With the continued rise of Lewis’s popularity, many scholarly and popular books and articles have been written on him. One subject that fascinates me regards Lewis’s view of the atonement. Admitting up front that Lewis considered himself a “mere theologian” that only wanted to emphasize “mere Christianity,” that does not mean he did not address other, deeper theological doctrines (the debate over Lewis’s view on Calvinism, for example, is a fascinating one).

Others have discussed Lewis’s view of atonement (see links below). Any serious discussion must consider the Narnia Chronicles. In the most popular book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch releases Edmund Pevensie upon the execution of the Aslan. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, but on the surface, the narrative strikes one of the Ransom Theory of the Atonement whereby Christ death pays a ransom to Satan.

This theory is predominately seen in pentecostal circles where Satan is seen behind every bush and every book not available on TBN. It is a theory fraught with problems. For one, God owes Satan nothing. Satan will receive nothing from God except judgment, war, and a crushed head.

There is clear evidence Lewis rejected penal substitution. In Mere Christianity, he wrote:

Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem quite so immoral and silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor an other is Christianity. The central belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter: A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. (57-58)

A strong paragraph in light of the book’s title and purpose. He more forcefully added later:

The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before–the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. (59)

With that said, however, let us return to the stone table and its meaning. One thought continues to cross my mind that makes Narnia a difficult source for understanding Lewis’s theology: there is no Trinity in Narnia.*

The reason Aslan seems to pay a ransom to the White Witch is because there is no one else to pay the ransom to. Narnia’s most glaring weakness is its lack of Trinity. It should be stated clearly that Lewis does not deny classic trinitarian theology as Mere Christianity and other writings make clear. Nevertheless, being that Lewis refused to portray the Father and the Spirit (for reasons I am sensitive to), the Narnian world suffers.

The lack of divine Trinity means there was a time when Aslan was not. From the time he breathed his last to the time the mice broke the ropes and Aslan was resurrected, Aslan – Narnia’s creator – ceased to exist. This is problematic to say the least.

This is not to say we should avoid the Narnia books as rank heresy. However, for theologians in general and students of Lewis in particular, it is important not to treat Narnia has theological treatise. It has its weaknesses and it fails to adequately summarize Lewis’s theology.

* This is technically not true. There is a hint of a Trinity in The Horse and His Boy.

Touchstone – Mere Atonement
Kevin DeYoung – Cautions for Mere Christianity

For more:
Correcting the Record on a Common Lewis Misquote and Why it Matters
He Was Not a Tamed Arminian
Was Lewis a Calvinist?: A Brief Look at Perelandra
Was Lewis a Calvinist?: Doug Wilson Says Yes
“A Mixture of Fool and Knave”: CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism 

"The Cross of Christ" by John Stott: A Review

There are some doctrines every Christian should cherish, study, and rejoice in. The cross of Christ is one of them. There are some books most Christians and every pastor should read. The late John Stott’s The Cross of Christ is one of them. I have been told and now concur that this is one of the best and most important books on the cross of Jesus Christ and how we are to understand it.

Stott opens the book asking a simple, yet important, question. In search of a symbol, and every movement and religion has one, why did Christianity settle on the cross? There were, after all, multiple options; the ichthus, empty tomb, Noah’s Ark, creation, the manger, etc. Yet at the end of the day, the church chose a Roman cross – an instrument reserved for the worse of criminals – as their symbol. The reason is simple: their is no Christianity without the cross. Their is no gospel without the cross.

The book is broken down into four parts, but it is parts 2 and 3 that get the most press and rightfully so. It is here that Stott the theologian does his best work. Stott seeks to unravel what the cross means and why it was necessary. Stott is an ardent defender of penal substitutionary atonement. To defend this thesis, the writer slowly walks the reader through some of the dominant atonement theories in history and argues that the atonement must be one of substitution and satisfaction. Thus Anselm was on to something with his satisfaction theory (with emphasis on God’s honor), but falls just short. The cross satisfies God, but it does so as God in Christ stands as our substitute. Propitiation is made.

But to suggest that this book is just a good defense of penal substitution (as Tony Jones does on the back cover) is to fail to appreciate what Stott does. Stott defends in great detail penal substitution, but the atonement is not limited to that. The current debate over the atonement is really missing this point. Those who rightly affirm penal substitution are quick to reject any and all other theories. The same is true on the other side. Those who deny penal substitution as the root purpose of the atonement usually reject it outright. Stott shows, as I have argued before, that the cross does more and is more than this.

Think of the atonement as a rope with three strands each being important. Though penal substitution is the key purpose of the atonement, other theories are just as valid and ought to be embraced. These include Christus Victor and Christus Exemplar. Stott dedicates an entire chapter to these other two theories but clarifies what the Bible actually says about them. His chapter on victory is very good. His chapter on the cross as God’s revelation (Christus Exemplar) rightly rejects Abelard’s moral influence theory but does not deny that Scripture affirms that we are to look to the cross and follow Christ’s example there.

With all that is great about this book, there were a few things that are worth mentioning that are unfortunate. First, Stott makes a brief comment regarding creation. He notes that the fossil record indicates that predation and death existed in the animal kingdom before the creation of man (67). He then adds that God apparently had a different plan for humans. I am sympathetic toward old earth creationism (though I still remain a young earth creationist), but Stott fails to consider the implications of OEC. He says nothing regarding original sin, the historic Adam, the interpretation of Genesis, etc. in light of an old earth creationism conviction. Instead, we are to just assume that the earth is old without any theological qualms as a result.

Secondly, chapter 10 on the cross and community was a little weak. I feel that Stott really missed a great opportunity to emphasize the church. This is not to suggest that Stott undermines or ignores the importance of the church in the book, but that this would have been a great opportunity to emphasize it. Each stage of redemption – creation, fall, the passion, and consummation – deals with three aspects: the individual, the community, and the cosmos.  God establishes all three in creation, the fall distorts all three through, and cross redeems all three, and the eschaton renews all three. Thus when speaking of the cross and its work of redemption, it is imperative to highlight the church.

Finally, in his chapter on suffering, Stott heavily defends the passibility of God. I for one am stuck on the issue. Is God passible or impassible? Does God suffer or not? Stott gives an emphatic yes and I am not sure Scripture is clear enough on the subject and I’m not sure how Stott presents it is the best. For example, Stott uses the story of the execution of an innocent Jewish boy hung by the Nazis. “Where was God,” the onlookers ask. “There hanging” comes the answer. The implication, then, is that God suffers with us. Let me say that I am not necessarily against passibility, however it is a difficult philosophical and theological issue. Stott uses it as a key answer to suffering and I’m not sure Scripture takes us there so clearly.

With all of this said, there is no doubt that this is an excellent book and portions of it will be featured on this site moving forward. His chapter highlighting the four images of the cross, including redemption, propitiation, reconciliation, etc., is an excellent way to explain the effects of the cross and I would recommend the reader to return to it often. Overall, buy this book, read this book, and love this book.

For more on Stott and Penal Substitution:
Its Not Just a Theory: Stott on Penal Substitution
John Stott on the The Human Enigma
Theology Thursday | Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution: A Review of the Evidence
Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology:  From Cultural Accommodation to the Social Gospel
God as Butcher: McLaren on Penal Substitution  
The Postmodern Social Gospel:  Brian McLaren Proves My Point  
Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology:  From Cultural Accommodation to the Social Gospel
Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution:  A Look at the Evidence
Death by Love” by Mark Driscoll 
Death by Love” by Mark Driscoll
“In My Place, Condemned He Stood
It is Well
“Precious Blood”: A Review

For more on the atonement:
Allison: A History of the Doctrine of the Atonement
“Salvation Brings Imitation”: Piper on Christus Exemplar
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary – Part 1 – Introduction
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary – Part 2 – Christus Exemplar and the doctrine of sin and depravity
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary – Part 3 – The History of Christus Exemplar
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary – Part 4 – Christus Exemplar and Humility
Sanctification Demands It: The Necessity of the Atonement
“The Cup & the Crucifixion” Spoken Word

5 Books on the Cross and Resurrection

Obviously Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is a golden opportunity to reflect and meditate on the meaning of the cross and resurrection. I pray it is a daily exercise. Below are five books that I have read and found to be excellent resources in no particular order (except for the first one).

John Stott The Cross of Christ

This is a classic that should be read at least once by every Christian. This book inspired an entire sermon series on the various motifs of the cross such as the Temple, the Battlefield, and others.

Adrian Warnock Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything

Of all the books I have read on the reality and the doctrine of the resurrection this is by far the best. Warnock presents a strong case for the resurrection’s historicity as well as looks at its prediction in the Old Testament and the role it plays in the theology of the New Testament. This is an invaluable tool for every pastor certainly and it is written in a way that the average Christian could grasp.


N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God

Though this is more of an academic work, it remains as one of the most thorough and important works on the resurrection of Christ. Its a thick volume (numbering at 740 pages), but virtually no rock is left unturned. Wright, as a theologian, has his weaknesses, but when it comes to this subject, Wright proves himself to be quite the scholar.


Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal substitution

This is the book to read regarding the doctrine of penal substitution. The authors tackle the biblical evidence and survey what theologians of the past have said regarding the doctrine. Perhaps most helpful is their critiquing common arguments against penal substitution like the more recent “divine child-abuse” blasphemy.


Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Death by Love: Letters from the Cross

In my opinion, every pastor should be aware of the contents of the book (though the first chapter is admittedly weak and problematic). The reason is because it forces ministers to view all of pastoral challenges as remedied by the cross. Each chapter reflects a unique challenge Driscoll has faced and ministry. He then writes a letter to those he is ministering to pointing them to the cross. Throughout the book, the authors apply the doctrines of redemption, propitiation, expiation, Christus Exemplar, and many others. This is an important model for pastors to always follow. Preach. The. Cross.



Others worth mentioning: