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Tuesday, March 14, 2006



Sounds good Brodie. Just have a question.

I've not read it (yet), and I'm commenting late at night, so treat my comments accordingly. Gonna read it as soon as the student loan comes in and my wife lets me buy books again. :)

For me it's the penal bit rather than the substitution bit that sticks in my throat, as I still see problematic implications for our doctrine of God. It seems there is still some 'higher power' (sin? or a sort of higher legal code?) forcing God into this resolution. As if somehow he got his hands tied by sin and has to 'solve the problem he's got himself into'? It seems to me that the only difference in Volf's logic is that God 'whups' himself rather than the Son.

Does Steve Chalke's "cosmic child abuse" just become "cosmic self-harming"?


/adds one to the reading list.


Hi Brodie,
Glad to see Big Volf has convinced you of this. Bring it on! Gunton also argues similarly to Volf, but adds that all of the penal substitutionary views are basically tritheist because the Father and the Son are so unharmonious in the depicted act of this atonement motif. It looks as if the Son isn't God the Son in penal substitutionary views. I think they are right. Trevor Hart also shows that this view grew out of an administrative Europe that demanded such a view. Thus, penal substitutionary views are basically contextual readings of the atonement from the 15th century!


Thanks for your comments guys.
Stuart it would be good to read Gunton on this, how about giving us the ref. Yes I know penal substitution is a contextual reading and have no wich to see it "set in stone" as the only understanding on the atonment.

I just found Volf honest and helpful on his struggle in accepting God is wrathful. I too have struggled with this and his slant on penal substitution has given me food for thought rather than convinced me of anything.

Jammie - I know where your coming from with the question does this make God the "cosmic self harming" God. I don't think this is the case, as while the Son is not a "third" party thus abused, he is not the Father either, thus it is not the Father who is the subtitute.


HI Brodie,
Let me try and track down that Gunton ref.

Also, there does seem to be some aspect of God's wrath in the atonement i.e. Rom. 5.9 & Isa. 53. We must have a view on this. The questions I want to ask here though are: 'what is the object of God's wrath in the atonement?' 'Is it the sin or the sinner?' 'And can we really separate the two?'

What do you think?


Hi again,
I tracked down that Gunton ref. 'Atonement and Actuality', 1988 edition, pp.161-7, but especially p.165. I must admit that I've interpreted Gunton's comments on penal substitution to reveal tritheism. Gunton doesn't mention tritheism. That is my reading of it.


Thanks for the comment Stuart - good point, but doesn't this send us back to the unharmonious tritheism? If it's not 'self-harm' and not some kind of third-party 'child abuse' what is the alternative within a penal substitutionary framework? I wonder if the whole idea of making it 'penal' inevitably results in something like tritheism since two separate individuals are needed with a penal motif?

Also, that whole question on 'punishing sin but not the sinner' has been sticking in my throat lately actually. Can anyone help me out with this one?

Is this division between 'sin' and 'sinner' sufficient? How do we tell that to, say, a homosexual for whom there is no division between 'what they do' and 'who they are'. Are our actions not somehow 'part of us'?

(I read this sort of comment by a homosexual lately who objected to such separation on these grounds - For him the suggestion that God loves him but hates his sin was offensive. I can't remember where I saw that post though, sorry)

Steve Hayes

I've not read anything by Miroslav Volf, though I think I have heard the name somewhere before, though I'm not sure in what connection.

But the phrase penal substitution caught my eye. I'm not sure where you stand on that, or where Miroslav Volf stands on it, for that matter (I'd have to read his book to know that), but I believe that it's one of the most divisive doctrines in the Christian world.

But I really wrote this just to say hello -- you visited my blog, and left a comment, so I'm visiting yours, and that subject happened to catch my eye.


Steve - thanks for the comment. In 2003 /4 there was a bit of a storm over penal substitution here inthe UK with the publication of a book by Steve Chalke called "The Lost Message of Jesus". Chalke stated that we needed to get rid of the penal substitution view of atonement as it made God a cosmic child abuser.
As for me...I don't think that penal substitution should be the main way that we understand what was happening inthe atonement. I think we need a more relational understanding. However, I'm then not sure what to do with the passages of scripture that talk of God's wrath and seem to fit the penal substitution model well.
I guess I found Volf helpful to a degree as he put this in a Trinitarian perspective. I think as an Orthodox you'd like Volf. He's been deeply influenced by Metropolitan John Zizioulas and builds his trinitarian theology from the Cappadoceian Fathers (via Jurgen Moltmann).
Peace - Brodie


There are some helpful thoughts by Tom Wright at www.ntwrightpage.com in the Q&A session for October 2005. Like what I've read of Volf - must get hold of this book.

Space Cadet

I've read your discussion with interest. The opener with the critique of Volf is interesting, because he exposes the way in which the critics of Penal-Sub (PS)have carichatured it in ways in which it's proponents would not express it. The lousy 'cosmic-child-abuse' stuff is absurd b/c believers in (PS) see Christ as not only sacrifice, but also priest, and judge. It is after all the 'wrath of the lamb' being addressed as per Revelation.

The later comment about (PS) being merely the result of 15thC concerns is only part of the story. (it predates this era anyway) Certainly of the various scriptural pictures of atonement (PS) is one of many and Reformational concerns brought it to the fore. However, your discussion draws more from the Reformation to the present theological debates - at the total expense of the Old Testament. You say elsewhere "much of the evangelical church is essentially gnostic" (fair enough) but just as worrying is that most of it is Marcionite too.

An adequate theology of the cross surely must address the substitutionary nature of the 2 lambs of the day of atonement. One bore wrath (slaughtered) one bore sin (scapegoat sent into the desert). Jesus as fulfillment of both of these lambs must involve an element of (PS), as interpreted definitively by Isaiah. However when we read that "it was the Lord's will to cause him to suffer" with Volf we include Jesus in that definition of "Lord".

The evangelical alliance has issued a statement on (PS) and the Chalke debacle. It's worth a read:


(PS) may not be the most helpful apologetic approach to take in the UK today. However that does not mean that this facet of the diamond of atonement can be deleted. The atonement pictures of the Bible are almost impossible to systematise. Instead turn the diamond in your hand and watch the light glint off the many images, Christus-V, sin-bearer. scape-goat etc etc.

"worthy is the lamb that was slain"
"who takes away the sin of the world"

Happy Easter

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