Book Review: Aspects of the Atonement

atonementOkay – I realize this is a post-resurrection discussion of the atonement but I personally think that is a good time to discuss these kinds of things, after the fact (well, in relation to the Christian calendar at least).

My copy of I. Howard Marshall’s Aspects of the Atonement: Cross and Resurection int he reconciling of God and Humanity (Posternoster, 2007) is not a review copy.  I purchased it as part of a birthday amazon gift card last year – so I am not necessarily obligated to review it -but I’d like anyways to put it out there as a pretty good articulation of penal-substitutionary theory of the atonement.  It’s not the typical “God got angry and took it out on his kid” view, and Marshall takes issue with Steve Chalke and his “cosmic child abuse” arguments.

The book itself is based on a series of lectures Marshall gave in different settings over a period from October 2004 to Feburary 2006.  In his preface he writes:

Although the various parts of the book thus arise from different occassions, it seemed to me that there was sufficient unity between them to consitute a coherent set of essays.  Between them they discuss the state of human kind from which deliverance is needed, the way in which the death of Christ functions to bring about deliverance from sin and its consequence, the (often neglected) place of the resurrection of Christ in the saving action, and the resulting offer of reconciliation with God that carries with it the obligation to bring about reconciliation among the different people for whom Christ died (viii).

There are four chapters and they have a progression about them from discussing the penalty of sin (1-24), the substitutionary death of Jesus (34-64), “raised for our justification” (role of resurrection in salvation) (68-96) and finally, the centrality and relevance of reconciliation (98-137).

In the introductory chapter discussing the penalty of sin Marshall raises two key questions, which it sees as the two most important questions for scholars and theologians today and, ones which he will seek to answer: how are we to understand the significance of the work Jesus Christ that is the basis of salvation for sinners? And how are we to explain it in our presentations of the gospel to our contemporaries?   He sets the chapter up identifying himself as an evangelical and why – then working to explain how the doctrine of the work of Christ as the basis of salvation is central to evangelical theology.  Two aspects of the doctrine seek to address the human situation: our situation as sinners in relationship to the God against whom we have sinned and our situation as sinners in relation to the sin that masters us (2-3).

One other key question Marshall wants to address is “in what way is death of Jesus Christ the grounds for our salvation? (4)  One answer to this is the (more or less) traditional understanding of the atonement that is typically labeled the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement.  This theory has come under some criticism in recent years and is fastly being abandoned by many for other views especially after Steve Chalke (who in collaboration with Alan Mann wrote the book, The Lost Message of Jesus) assaulted this view claiming it makes God out to be a “cosmic child abuser” (a gross misunderstanding) but who wants to be connected to such a view as that?    This work has in some fashion contributed to a mass exodus of sorts where quite a number of significant theologians have come to”reject the concept of penal substitution as the principal means, or even a subordinate means, of understanding the significance of the death of Christ” (5).

In contrast, Marshall argues in this set of essays that the doctrine is well founded in Scripture, and that it is defensible against the objection brought against it.  He writes: “I hope it may in such away that, whatever may be the problems with the terminology, all of us may be able to recognize the validity, and indeed, the centrality of what is known by the term “penal-substitution” instead of repudiating the concept” (7).   Marshall is primarily concerned with the biblical and theological foundations that underlie the preaching of the gospel and not with the evangelistic edifice built on these foundations (8).  While not all like using the terms “penal suffering” or “appeasing God” in preaching it still needs to be asked if there is a place for them and what is meant by these terms.  Also, Marhsall argues we cannot evade the problem of how we communicate biblical theology to unbelievers with a different world-view from ours.

Through the chapter Marshall discusses the use of metaphor to explain the atonement and in this recognizes that no one theory of the atonement can bear the whole weight of explaining the significance of the work of Christ on the cross.

Well, it’s a very good book – well worth the read.


on knowing and understanding the Bible

I am not going to claim I have the corner on this market – but I was thinking about why biblical illiteracy is such an issue in the good ‘ol USofA today.  Many claim they can’t understand the Bible, or they can read it but don’t know what it means or how it can apply to real life.  Even fewer have actually read through the Bible cover to cover, ever, let alone even once, so on and so forth.

Now all I have to offer are speculations and possiblities not certain answers (and I know the Bible says to stay away from specualtions so I am taking a risk here).  But I was watching some movies with my wife a while ago and the time in the movies was back in the time of old west, particularly when folks were going out west to stake a claim.  One thing I noticed about the setting was that things took time to get done and the people had the time to get it done.  In other words, there was a lot of time.

I began to realize why so many of us have trouble getting into the Bible, be it reading it, studying it, memorizing it and so on – for many of us, we’re just too busy.   We’ve got our TV’s, our Cable, our Internets, and every other thing under the sun.  Not that these things are bad in and of themselves, but I think a lot of them prove distracting enough that tempt us to misplace our priorities.  In additon, these things also can tend to minimize interaction and thinking skills such that when it comes time to actually think, it hurts our heads or it exhausts us – or we just aren’t that interested.

If you want to know and understand the Bible for your self it will take time and effort to so that – and it will be well worth the effort.


Quote of the day: A.W. Tozer

From Dave Black’s blog:

I think unlovely orthodoxy, unbeautiful Christianity is a tragedy. We have pugilistic Christians; we have acrobatic Christians; we have athletic Christians; we have big-domed, learned Christians. We have all kinds of Christians, but where are the beautiful ones, those who shine with inner beauty? I am looking for them, and I pray that God will send us a revival, not of noise and nonsense, but of beauty with God dwelling in us.

a thought on the book of Philippians

This is going to be an intentionally vague post but in the light of certain recent events both local and global within the church and from without – it would seem to me that the message of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one in particular that needs to be preached in the church local and global.  The Philippian church was a suffering church – Philippi had been established as a town for the veterans of the Roman Army and had been named after King Philip (Alexander the Great’s father) – it received many privileges and especially when it paid tribute to the Caesars, especially as “kurios” (Lord).  For the Christians this was a problem.  A big problem.  They could not and would not call Caesar “kurios.”  That term they reserved for Jesus Christ alone.  The problem for the Christians living in Philippi then was that this brought on much persecution and suffering – be it loss of work or removal from the various guilds, higher taxes and so on.  Their refusal to call Caesar “Lord” jepordized the special status and standing of the city in the eyes of Rome.  The citizens of Philippi were not going to put up with that.  No way.  So this caused many problems for the Philippian church.  Strife arose among them.  Conflict, struggle, finger pointing, murmuring, grumbling, complaining which also probably led to minimized acceptance of and or fellowship with one another and the like.  and ’round and ’round the mulberry bush it went.  It was tearing the church apart.

Paul urged them not to give in to the stress and the pressure both from within and from without.  It would undermine two things: the unity of the church and progress of the gospel.

With regard to the unity of the church – I think it’s the true theme and purpose of the letter.  I know may think joy is the main theme, especially since the word joy or rejoice occurs frequently throughout the letter, but in my opinion, which has been heavily influenced by the work of Dave Black (his blog, some of his papers and his Linguistics book) and also from Gordon Fee’s commentary on the letter, is that unity is the major theme of the letter and that, for the sake of the gospel.

For Paul, I am not sure much else mattered.  If ever there was a truly gospel-centered person, it was the apostle Paul.  He lived and died (literally) for the sake of the progress of the gospel (yeah, that’s probably too many uses of “of.”  lol).

I think we might see this most strongly in Philippians 1:27-28:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one FOR the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God (NIV). (capitalized “for” is mine) 

In his estimation, despite whatever happened, all that mattered in life was that the church maintained its unity and that the gospel went forth – and in someways I’ll aver that for Paul the two were in tandem with each other.  Anytime unity in the church was broken or under duress – it affected the progress of the gospel.   As proof, while he was in prison, in chains, others took advantage of the situation and went about promoting themselves and or criticizing Paul (1:15-18).  You would think, “goodness, he got thrown in jail, is chained to a wall, and others are out there mocking him and or promoting themselves, supposedly “preaching the gospel.” That’s gotta be rough.  So discouraging too.”  And yet, what brought Paul true joy?  Nothing other than the progress of the gospel.  It may not have been going forth in the best ways, but nevertheless, it was going forth.

I share this because I know the church local and global is in the midst of conflict.  There is strife about certain preachers locally.  The church in the Middle East is being systematically murdered.  The church is facing new levels of conflict both from within and from without.

I think Paul’s prophetic and pastoral word here is most pertinent for our times – I mean I could be over-reaching but it seems to me that if ever there was a time the church needed to be “striving together as one FOR the faith of the gospel,” it is now.  I could be wrong but I see a lot of finger pointing going on (not that I haven’t been guiltless of this myself) and some complaining going on, a ton of “folding of the arms” so to speak (a resistant defensive posture), all kinds of line drawing in the sand and the like.  The church abroad is facing much suffering.  I am not on the ground over there but I know from personal experience that hardship can either build up or break down.

In the midst of conflict in the world around us, it’s important that we “keep the main thing the main thing” – and for us as Christians, the main thing should be unity in the body for the sake of/progress of the gospel.  Any infighting, whining, complaining and so on will only hinder the progress of the gospel, not help it (IMO).  Now, unity is not uniformity (as an example, the NFL is in unity about how to play football, though the various teams within wear different uniforms).  We, the church (that is, all Christians), can have differences about some things and that’s all part of being human – and still have the same end goal in mind – the progress of the gospel.

I pray this message be the message to the modern church – that “he who has an ear will hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”


On expository preaching

Great thoughts here from the great Vineyard pastor Luke Geraty:

“<opinion>After preaching hundreds upon hundreds of sermons and after a lot of formal theological education and personal reading, I have come to some pretty strong conclusions about the “sermon” space in our Christian worship gatherings.

First, the public reading of Scripture can’t be encouraged enough. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about this until I read Jeffrey Arthurs’ “Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture.” Reading Scripture *well* can’t be overemphasized!! Correspondingly, I think it’s best to read pericopes (units of thought) and trust that reading the stories (or texts) in and of themselves *is* transformational as the Spirit works through Scripture. Christians have included Scripture reading as part of their liturgies for 2,000 years and Jews did it long before in the Old Testament…

Second, much of what is called “expository” preaching is actually *not* what good expository preaching is. A common mistake I often hear from new “expositors” is that they will read a text of Scripture and then tell you exactly what you just read and basically provide a surface rereading. My homiletics professors used to always remind us, somewhat jokingly, that if the person listening to the sermon could get what you are saying simply by staying home and reading the passage to themselves, you need to rethink some things. I agree. (By the way, you can be exegetical and theological in sermons that are “topical” and textual, so don’t let the Fundies make you feel guilty if you don’t preach like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and hang in Romans for 30 years). Anyway, read the text and then *build* from it! This leads me to my third thought…

Third, you need to have a proportional amount of exposition, illustration, and application. If these three homiletics ingredients aren’t in proportion, you will either fail to ground people in Scripture, fail to give imagery and pictures so people can better understand Scripture, or fail to help people understand how to *live* out what’s revealed.

Fourth, you need to spend a significant amount of time exegeting your culture if you want to effectively understand what is *needed* and what will serve toward provoking hearts and minds toward Christ. Get out of your office and prepare your sermons where people hang out. Get. Out. Of. Your. Office.

Fifth, I believe that all sermons should have one primary “big idea” yet also encourage people in their spiritual formation, serving, missional activity, and over all devotion to Jesus and the kingdom. You can do it. Just be creative and thoughtful and prayerful.</opinion>”

Originally posted on Facebook on Feb 24, 2017. Shared with permission.

Hebrew Roots? Think again

From Evangel University professor Bill Griffin:

Here’s are some tell-tale signs that people who claim to have “special insight about Hebrew secrets” have no idea what they are talking about:

1. They treat Hebrew as a code to be deciphered, rather than as a language.

Ancient Hebrew was a _language_. People did not wonder about the mystical meanings of various letters when they were engaging in ordinary speech, making contracts, arguing, or trading with other people.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, not because the language is inherently holy, but because that’s what the people spoke! It is basically the language of Canaan, and anyone who knew Hebrew could talk with their Moabite neighbors who basically spoke a variant of the language (the difference between “Hebrew” and “Moabite” is the difference between how people speak in Iowa and Arkansas). When Moabite King Mesha had an inscription written, in which he brags about defeating Israel, he is not talking about Jesus when he exalts Chemosh over Yahweh and uses the aleph-tav in his inscription.

2. They cite Strong’s Concordance as an authoritative Hebrew resource.

Strong’s Concordance has a “dictionary” in the back which can give a little extra information about Hebrew and Greek words to the English speaker. However, it is not designed for someone who knows Hebrew, and it lacks the precision of a “real” Hebrew lexicon (that’s a fancy word for “dictionary”)–a precision which only someone trained in Hebrew can use.

3. They show you an interlinear and claim that certain words are not translated and therefore have a special meaning.

An “interlinear” is a text which has Hebrew or Greek words with English equivalents written below. Many people who use interlinears are unaware of the word order differences between Hebrew and English, and they also do not know or understand Hebrew _syntax_. (Syntax is the relationship between various words and the meanings which combinations have which might not be the same as what one would expect from individual words–context is quite important.)

Humans convey meaning by combinations of words, rather than by arbitrary definitions of individual words, and a context is needed to figure out what someone means.

For example, take the English words “put” and “up” or “down”. “Put” implies placing something somewhere, and “up” is a direction which is the opposite of down. But “put up” can mean “tolerate” or “place somewhere above”, depending upon other words. Thus “He put up with John’s speech” means he tolerated John’s speech, while “He put up a painting on a wall” means he hung a painting on a wall. “He put his cup down on the floor” (placed it on a low place) is different from “He gave John a put-down” (insulted John).

4. They assign mystical meanings to Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew alphabet is based on the Phonecian alphabet, and those letters are basically pictographs of ordinary objects. There is no spiritual significance to a house, door, throwing stick, camel, ox, or water.

5. They convert Hebrew letters to numbers and make mystical claims.

During Old Testament times, letters were not used to represent numbers. Instead, they wrote out words to represent numbers, just like we use “three”, “two thousand”, or “seventy”. The practice of (think in terms of English) having A=1, B=2, C=3 (but w/Hebrew letters) did not begin until after the Old Testament was completed.

6. They cherry-pick Hebrew words (such as names) and string them together to make an English sentence which is supposed to have spiritual significance.

Even if it was legitimate to pick a word here or there and put it together (and it is not), Hebrew word order is quite different than English word order. If you have studied _any_ human language other than English, you are aware of the differences between the order of one language and another. Biblical Hebrew likes to put verbs at the beginning of sentences, before the “whodunnit” (subject). We put the whodunnit before a verb. When people extract a bunch of Hebrew words, put them together in an English order, and then claim that God intended a particular meaning in the original Hebrew, the level of irrationality in which they are engaging and which they are promoting is difficult to quantify.

William P. Griffin, Ph.D.

Yoder QOTD on ministry

“The transformation that Paul’s vision calls for would not be to let a few more especially gifted women share with a few men the rare roles of domination; it would be to reorient the notion of ministry so that there would be no one ungifted, no one not called, no one not empowered, and no one dominated. Only that would live up to Paul’s call to “lead a life worthy of our calling.”” (From Yoder’s Body Politics, p 60.).