Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, November 19, 2007

My View On The Atonement

My View On The Atonement
Brief Article
Will G

The atonement has run into some difficulty in recent times because of its notion of penal substitution. That is, that Jesus Christ substituted on the cross for our moral crimes. This view is attacked as being fundamentally unjust and unworkable, i.e., penal substitution can't happen.

My view is not to abandon substitution, because I think that is clearly taught in the Bible. My approach would be to say there is substitution, but it's not a penal kind of substitution. That is, although Christ substitutes for us, he doesn't do it like in a moral debt. How can this be? We're talking about sin after all.

What I do is divide sin up into two types. There's 'attitude' sin and 'past deeds sin'. Attitude sin is sin linked with our ongoing attitude against God. It goes away when our attitude becomes perfect towards God. 'Past deeds sin' is sin that is 'attached' in a sense to someone now because of something they did in the past. But I don't think 'past deeds sin' is a moral kind of sin. It's more like getting a disease; in fact, it's completely amoral. Past deeds sin is more like catching a deadly virus, let's say Ebola, and dying. But instead of dying physically you die spiritually. That's what happens with 'past deeds sin.' Everyone who does something evil accrues a kind of spiritual deadliness, whereby they die spiritually. This is not moral. And because it is not moral, Jesus Christ substitutes for it not in a moral way. Jesus Christ is substituting for our 'past deeds sin', but as this is not a moral kind of sin, but rather a 'disease' kind of sin, then it's not penal/moral substitution, but just substitution.

That gets rid of, I maintain, the biggest problem with Christian views of the atonement. There's nothing wrong with substitution, the problem is penal substitution. A soldier dying on a battlefield for another is a kind of substitution, my giving you money is a monetary kind of substitution. Substitution is clearly a valid principle in the world. But Christians ran into trouble when we said it was a matter of 'guilt', or penal, substitution.

What I maintain is that Christ took on our 'disease sin' and suffered the penalty for it in our place. But, as a caveat, I add that in order to take advantage of this we need to have a relationship with Christ. Why and what for? Because that's the nature of this kind of substitution Christ did for us. How do you mean? Well, just like I can't jump in front of a car and save your life if I'm not near you, so Christ's non-penal substitution can't affect you if you don't have some kind of relationship with him and his Holy Spirit in some way.

Maybe the reason for that is that we need to be 'in' Christ in some way, through his Holy Spirit, for our 'past deeds' 'disease' type of sin to transfer to him.

See this article here for a fuller exposition of my views and defense of them with regard to scripture.


Anonymous Tomjunlee said...

Hmm... I never thought that the idea of a penal substitution could be harmful analogy until now.

I often hear about American Christians (with often fundamentalist ideologies) use the courtroom analogy. However, I now must say that the analogy is an insufficient and lacking one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just finished reading your argument against the argument from non-belief on tektonics. I have to say that it was well-presented, but ultimately becomes an incoherent mess. One reason for this is that you essentially argue both for and against free will in the same argument. I personally think certain forms of Christian universalism do a much better job of explaining the problem of non-belief.

Blogger Will G said...

I decided to rewrite the article a while ago but haven't gotten round to it. I think if anything, it was way too long. But I wasn't aware that was a problem. If it is a problem, then either I'm a lot more confident in the problem of nonbelief not being a problem than I should be, or I just haven't explained my thoughts well enough.

Blogger Will G said...

I think I know what you're referring to anonymous. I argued that God chooses people to believe in him who would choose to believe in him anyway, therefore people don't have a choice. But actually although I think that is the case in this life, in the next life people do get to choose out of their own free will, it's just that God doesn't get it wrong. Is that what you were referring to?


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