in my quest to broaden and deepen and stretch and evolve my understanding (and descriptions) of the gospel and atonement, i found these two sections (from two different posts) of scot mcknight’s still-developing series on penal substitution to be very helpful.
first, on the wrath of god…
The wrath of God came under severe review in England decades back. First, CH Dodd wrote a chapter that argued a case for wrath being impersonal, and it was Dodd whose view became famous. But, for my read of the idea, it was AT Hanson’s book on the wrath of God in the Bible, which argued over and over that wrath is impersonal, that really set the tone for this viewpoint (it is the way God has made that world that bad deeds result in bad consequences; that is wrath; but wrath should not be understood for Christians as an emotion on God’s part but the impersonal and inevitable result of doing bad things). Leon Morris countered the work of Dodd and Hanson with his dissertation, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, as well as few other publications, and argued that wrath is both personal and central to the concept of propitiation in the NT and, therefore, wrath is central to atonement. Many evangelicals have followed Morris; many have not, and the first group of “many” often don’t know about the others, and the first group of “many” sometimes ignore the studies of the latter.
Most anchor all statements of wrath in the justice of God; this is a mistake if that is all that is done. Wrath derives from the love of God who is Jealous; the love of God who is jealous to protect the sanctity and integrity of love and relationship. Justice preserves wrath. Here again we have to be careful not to divide attributes within God.
Here’s my contention with you today: most define the problem in exclusively individualistic terms. To define the problem (sin) in exclusively individualistic terms results in an individualistic atonement theory and an individualistic redemption. And we are tempted over and over to define sin narrowly as individual act, but sin (as we will begin to see tomorrow) is a term for a spectrum of deed and state and consequences.
Now we are face-to-face with our problem: if the problem is hyper-relational distortion, then atonement “fixes” that hyper-relational distortion. If sin is relational, so also is atonement. If we define sin as nothing more than offense of the Law, then atonement is nothing more than wiping the offense clean. But, will this do? I don’t think the Bible lets us reduce the problem to offense and therefore it does not let us reduce atonement to offense-rectification.
It’s bigger than that, but we only figure this out if we realize that the problem is the problem, and we’ve got to figure out just what this problem is.