For over 130 years, many orthodox Christians have sang and are singing Robert Lowry’s (1826 –1899) treasured hymn with joy, delight and awesome conviction that the Old and the New Testaments testify that “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” can wash away our sin, make us whole again, white as snow, and our sin atone. “Naught of good that [we] have done”. Nothing but the blood of Jesus is Christians’ hope and peace. This is all their righteousness. “Glory! Glory! This [they] sing—Nothing but the blood of Jesus, All [their] praise for this [they] bring”.
The story is changing. The blood of Jesus shed for our sin, in our place as God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness is nothing than “a footnote to a gospel that is much richer, grander, and more alive, a gospel that calls you to become a disciple and to disciple others, in authentic community, for the good of the world”(McLaren 2003: 215)
The notion of God so loved the fallen world (John 3:16) that He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Rom. 8:32), a demonstration of His own love for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8) Christ died for us, so that by the grace of God, Jesus suffered and tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9) and we, thus, might live through him (1 John 4:9) since his atoning sacrifice (1 John 4:10) has freed us from our sins by his blood (Rev. 1:5) is sadistic and masochistic and in fact a form of cosmic child abuse, we are told.
In Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker, misrepresented penal substitution, I believe, as “God takes on the role of the sadist inflicting punishment, while Jesus, in his role as masochist, readily embraces suffering” (Green & Baker 2000: 30). They contented that “It will not do, therefore, to characterize the atonement as God‘s punishment falling on Christ” (ibid 113)
A Baptist minister, Steve Chalke, lines with Green and Baker, as he expounded:
The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: God is love”. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.’(Chalke 2003: 182-3)
Is it true that Christ Jesus representing us as he lived, dead and rose again to bore our penalty by his blood a form of cosmic child abuse? What is Old and New Testaments understanding of Christ atoning work? I believe it is in the context of redemptive history as told in the Old and New Testaments that we can begin to understand the notion of Christ Jesus’ death.
Puzzling that N. T. Wright endorsed Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus, he correctly warned us that it is “to easy to belittle [the interpretation of Jesus’ death]”. Wright agrees that each model has its point to make. “But important though” is the model of Jesus “’representing’ his people, and through them the whole world” since it is “not only in the gospels but in Paul and elsewhere, it will scarcely carry all the weight required”. He explained,
There is too, third [first being exemplary, second representing], a massive sense in which Jesus’ death is penal. Jesus has announced God’s imminent judgment on his rebel people, a judgment that would consist of devastation at the hands of Rome. He then goes ahead of his people to take precisely that judgment, literally, physically and historically upon himself, ‘ Not only in theological truth, but in historic fact, the one bore the sins of the many’ This is both penal and substitutionary, but it is far bigger and less open to objection than some other expressions of that theory. Once you put it together with the previous model (Jesus as Messiah representing Israel and hence the world), you draw the sting of the main objections that have been advanced against it. (Wright 2011: 181)
I believe Wright is very correct. In the next article, I will begin with Passover Lamb of Exodus 12, sacrificial system of Leviticus 14 – 16, and the suffering Servant of Isaiah 52- 53 to show that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22 ), “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Matt 20:28 ESV emp. added) and that “Christ Jesus’ blood of the covenant,[…] is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(26:28 ESV).
Question: Why did N. T. Wright, who defended superbly penal substitution model in his works, endorsed Steve Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus which rejects this model?
Next: Penal Substation: The Lamb and the Suffering Servant
Previous: Penal Substitution: In My Place He Stood
McLaren, Brian (2003). “The Method, the Message, and the Ongoing Story” in The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives. Leonard I. Sweet, Andy Crouch, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Brian D. McLaren, Erwin Raphael McManus, Michael S. Horton.
Green, Joel B. & Baker, Mark D. (2000). Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity.
Chalke, Steve (2003). The Lost Message of Jesus: Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Wright, Tom (2011). Simply Jesus: Who he was, what he did, why it matters. HarperCollins Publishers.
Bloody photograph is from Dexter.