Thursday, May 30, 2013

Be Reconciled

In Lutheran dogmatics a sharp distinction is made between justification and sanctification. Justification is to be declared righteous. Sanctification is to be made holy (or declared and made holy). Justification is a forensic act. A careful consideration of the Formula of Concord Article III (Righteousness of Faith Before God) makes this clear. Justification is carefully hedged in juridical terms, and set against the idea that one is actually made righteous by the Holy Spirit as a matter of renewal. Specifically we can cite the following from the Epitome [selections from par. 12-23]:

Therefore we reject and condemn all the following errors:

3. That in the sayings of the prophets and apostles where the righteousness of faith is spoken of the words justify and to be justified are not to signify declaring or being declared free from sins, and obtaining the forgiveness of sins, but actually being made righteous before God, because of love infused by the Holy Ghost, virtues, and the works following them.

7. That faith saves on this account, because by faith the renewal, which consists in love to God and one's neighbor, is begun in us.

8. That faith has the first place in justification, nevertheless also renewal and love belong to our righteousness before God in such a manner that they [renewal and love] are indeed not the chief cause of our righteousness, but that nevertheless our righteousness before God is not entire or perfect without this love and renewal.

9. That believers are justified before God and saved jointly by the imputed righteousness of Christ and by the new obedience begun in them, or in part by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, but in part also by the new obedience begun in them.

10. That the promise of grace is made our own by faith in the heart, and by the confession which is made with the mouth, and by other virtues.

11. That faith does not justify without good works; so that good works are necessarily required for righteousness, and without their presence man cannot be justified.


Why the care? Why go so far as to restrict the concept of justification to a forensic declaration? Surely the Scriptures speak at times of being imputed or reckoned righteous, but at other times do they not speak of being made morally righteous as an interior, spiritual renewal similar to the Lutheran concept of Sanctification?

What makes Lutheran justification a matter of faith alone is its target, or better put, the aim of Christ's atonement. In the Book of Concord the target of the atonement is God's wrath. Consider paragraph 9 in this very article (emphasis mine):
9] 6. We believe, teach, and confess also that notwithstanding the fact that many weaknesses and defects cling to the true believers and truly regenerate, even to the grave, still they must not on that account doubt either their righteousness which has been imputed to them by faith, or the salvation of their souls, but must regard it as certain that for Christ's sake, according to the promise and [immovable] Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.

Also the Augsburg Confession itself, Article III (emphasis mine):
1] Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in 2] the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably enjoined in one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and 3] buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.

4] He also descended into hell, and truly rose again the third day; afterward He ascended into heaven that He might sit on the right hand of the Father, and forever reign and have dominion over all creatures, and sanctify 5] them that believe in Him, by sending the Holy Ghost into their hearts, to rule, comfort, and quicken them, and to defend them against the devil and the power of sin.

6] The same Christ shall openly come again to judge the quick and the dead, etc., according to the Apostles' Creed.

Regarding par. 3, the confessors state their belief that Christ's work of redemption was to reconcile the Father to us, though St. Paul indicates the opposite in 2Co 5:18 and Eph 2:16 - that the Father has reconciled us to Himself and one another through the cross.

The work of redemption in the Lutheran Confessions is primarily to affect something in God (viz. His justice/righteousness), and secondarily or consequently to affect a change in us. Justification is identified with the former, and Sanctification with the latter. The work of atonement - meaning the birth, life, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ - merits or earns Justification by providing to God both the righteousness that He requires from human beings and suffering the penalty for disobedience that we have incurred. Since this work is complete, meaning all legal accounts have been settled with God, nothing can be added to this redemption. Faith alone remains, that is, one only has to embrace this forensic acquittal and imputation in order to apply it to oneself. God is appeased, so now if we will believe - and keep on believing this - we never have to worry about the wrath of God unto hell again. It all depends on satisfying the justice and wrath of God, as if that is the problem that must be solved before we can reunite with God.

But what if that was not the problem? Yes, we lack righteousness, and Christ supplies righteousness to us. The Epitome III says well:
3] 1. Against both the errors just recounted, we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that Christ is our Righteousness neither according to the divine nature alone nor according to the human nature alone, but that it is the entire Christ according to both natures, in His obedience alone, which as God and man He rendered to the Father even unto death, and thereby merited for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, as it is written: As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous, Rom. 5:19.

But what if Christ did not satisfy any punishment? Yes, Christ suffered for our sins, but what if that did not mean that the stripes He suffered were a replacement for the punishments coming to us in hell? Or (as Luther puts it) that Christ did not suffer the full fury of God's hell and punishment spiritually on the cross, but just suffered the cross and the human experience of abandonment and death that comes with it? What if all that Christ suffered was simply a matter of obedience - that He suffered out of obedience to God, and this obedience alone unto death atones for ours sins? And that where obedience is supplied for all, punishment is taken away for all? Is justification still by faith alone?

Perhaps, because then it still remains a legal matter. All that has happened in what I've described is that the legal condition that punishments be suffered as a condition for forgiveness is removed. Forensic righteousness must still be supplied.

Yes, except the concept of punishments is not all that is removed. With the canceling of any need to satisfy punishment also goes the primary difficulty of the wrath of God.

Wait, are you sure? There will be a Day of wrath, according to St. Paul's gospel. (Romans 2) Yes, this is true. What I mean is that the wrath of God is no longer the target of the atonement. God loves us and wants us to be righteous. He is not interested in having someone punished before He is willing to forgive, so there is nothing in God that needs to be changed. The target is actually all of us - those who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

So two things need to be considered regarding Formula of Concord III:
  1. That the aim of the atonement was not that we should gain a gracious God or have Him become reconciled to us - as if He were angry and we wanting reconciliation - because God has always been gracious towards us, and we as a race have gone astray in our hearts and acted as enemies of God (i.e. the other way around). The aim was not that God should be made to change and reconcile, but that we should be made to change and reconcile.
  2. There is no need to satisfy a legal requirement for punishment when sin has been replaced with righteousness. If wrath awaits us on the Last Day, it is due to a lack of righteousness. The idea that God's justice must be satisfied by suffering punishments comes from Anselm and medieval scholasticism. Anselm posited that God's honor is offended by man's sins, and in the fashion of typical Normal chivalry he believed that any slight against honor had to be satisfied. Thomas Aquinas took exception to the idea that the atonement was to restore something in God, since God does not need sacrifice. We need sacrifice, so Christ's work was interpreted as supplying merit and suffering penance - a system the Lutheran confessors try to reject. Their success was limited, in that they still held fiercely to the notion that Christ needed to satisfy a divine justice that could only be appeased by meting out suffering and not by innocence alone.

Given that justice is not satisfied by suffering but only by obedience (which in this world is often in the face of suffering), and that Christ's sacrifice is offered to God because we need it so that something in us may change, justification is not a purely forensic act. In order to be effective it must be a transformative act. At this point some of my readers may be going back over what I just said and saying, "Yeah, but it could still be a purely forensic act." Really? Why? If you tell someone, "Faith alone saves," then from what is faith saving? Not an unreconciled God, because God's attitude is always one of reconciliation. We need to reconcile. From wrath? But Christ died not to change God's wrath but to change you. Wrath is still coming. Christ's death didn't take away wrath, or the God who is wrathful over sin. Christ died to give you righteousness - His righteousness. Faith is the core, but faith leads into Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, and the Eucharist. Faith is the beginning of your change. And by faith through Baptism you die and rise again in Christ. You change.

So when the Scriptures use the word that means Justification it speaks morally. It is not speaking about a change in God, it is speaking about a change in you. It is speaking about Christ in you through the Holy Spirit, sharing and imparting to you His pure and incarnate self that is righteousness itself. And when the Scriptures speak of Sanctification, it is to be taken in the same fashion except in terms of holiness.

From the change in you through union with Christ comes the forensic acquittal. Abraham was accounted righteous because his heart turned toward God (faith). This is the seat of actual righteousness. In Christ the same applies to you, but even more in that Christ supplies to the willing heart all that He offered to the Father in love for your salvation. Christ supplies the Grace necessary for that inward renewal that we need for our salvation.

So the Lutheran Confessions are not correct on this point. They tried, but were unable to get outside the box of medieval scholasticism. There are many Lutherans that know there is more to Justification than the legal aspect, but as Lutherans they are committed to this article and others that drop anchor in a place irreconcilable with catholic and orthodox interpretation, thus pitting Lutherans against 1500+ years of the Church. This is not a comfortable place to be.

The Roman Church, though limited by medieval scholasticism, has generally not bought into Anselm's idea that something in God must be appeased as much as in the ideas of Thomas Aquinas, which includes the concept that all actual sins must be temporally expiated (though Christ expiates the eternal guilt), either here or in Purgatory. Even though Rome has applied effort in combating the Angry God perspective, they still suffer from Papal Supremacy - which has become Papal Infallibility. :-(

The Orthodox Church, though, does not depend on this medieval trap. Lutherans should consider, as a matter of consistency, a move to communion with the bishops and churches of the East. Consistency? Yes, consistency. Reformation of the western church was not entirely successful through the efforts of the 16th century reformers. The reformers were not able to find the necessary correctives to the problems posed by Rome. The Orthodox Church retains that necessary corrective. Lutherans in this country ought to consider achieving reunification of the west with the east through themselves and their own congregations. It is something to think about.

34 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I cannot say what the intent is these quotes is, but one of their effects is to get around the necessity of repentance, at least as the Orthodox understand that word. Lutherans, I think, define repentance another way, which goes to reinforce my impression.

Trent Demarest said...

Subdeacon Benjamin,

"Why the care? Why go so far as to restrict the concept of justification to a forensic declaration?"

Indeed, why? Lutherans do not. Justification is coincident with regeneration, in which we are reborn and given a new heart of flesh.

"Surely the Scriptures speak at times of being imputed or reckoned righteous,"

...so, what about those times? Are we going to ignore them? You seem to.

"...but at other times do they not speak of being made morally righteous as an interior, spiritual renewal similar to the Lutheran concept of Sanctification?"

Yes. Yes, they do. Like the Lutheran confessors, you note well the distinction which the Scriptures make.

"The work of redemption in the Lutheran Confessions is primarily to affect [sic] something in God (viz. His justice/righteousness), and secondarily or consequently to affect [sic] a change in us."

This is pure and unsubstantiated assertion. God justifies us. He's the subject; we're the objects. Much would be cleared up by focusing on "who's running the verbs," as Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel has said. Whence cometh this understanding of yours which separates these two aspects of justification into "primary" and "secondary"?

"Justification is identified with the former, and Sanctification with the latter."

No, actually. You need to read Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard. This is a misconstruing of Lutheran teaching. I will not surmise that it is willful; it is, however, not even remotely accurate.

Robert Catherwood said...

Interesting. Would you please provide a reference for Luther speaking on Christ not suffering the full fury of God's hell and punishment spiritually on the cross, but just suffering the cross and the human experience of abandonment and death that comes with it? Thank you in advance.

David Garner said...

Mr. Demarest,

I'm neither fit nor inclined to weigh in on the subject of your dispute with Subdeacon Benjamin. I would, however, note that since he is someone with a seminary education and was not too long ago a Lutheran Pastor, I'm fairly certain he has read Chemnitz and Gerhard. Perhaps it might help if you would note exactly what it is in Chemnitz and Gerhard's work you think refutes the claim Subdeacon Benjamin made.

Benjamin Harju said...

Robert,

You wrote:
Would you please provide a reference for Luther speaking on Christ not suffering the full fury of God's hell and punishment spiritually on the cross...

Response:
My point was that Luther does say Christ suffers the full fury of God's hell and punishment on the cross, not that he does not. I'm sorry if that was not clear.

"So the righteous and innocent Man had to tremble and fear like a poor, condemned sinner and in His tender, innocent heart had to feel God’s wrath and judgment over sin, taste for us eternal death and damanation, and, in short, suffer all that a condemned sinner has deserved and must suffer eternally... He had to quench and put out in His soul the extreme agony that is called ‘being forsaken of God’ and the devil’s fiery darts, hell’s fire and terror, and all that we had deserved by our sins. By this heaven, eternal life and blessedness, has been purchased for us, as also Isaiah says: ‘He shall see the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied’” [St. Louis V:223 ff., emphasis mine].

Benjamin Harju said...

Trent,

Thank you for catching my grammar mistake :-)

You wrote:
Justification is coincident with regeneration, in which we are reborn and given a new heart of flesh.

Response:
Yes, they happen at the same time, but saying they happen at the same time is not the same as saying they are the same sort of thing. The entire concept of "faith alone" and the proper distinction between Law and Gospel rests on Justification NOT being regenerative in and of itself, but forensic alone. Yet this distinction depends on two false premises:

(1) God requires a payment of human suffering before He will accept us, and

(2) Christ offered Himself in sacrifice because He was trying to change something directly in God - viz. the legal charge held against us.

You wrote:
No, actually. You need to read Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard. This is a misconstruing of Lutheran teaching. I will not surmise that it is willful; it is, however, not even remotely accurate.

Response:
No Lutheran congregation or pastor is required to vow to believe, teach, and confess Chemnitz or Gerhard in the LCMS, but the Book of Concord. You will need to speak to the Formula of Concord, Article III (or other parts of the Lutheran Confessions) if you wish to back up your assertion about my accuracy. Are you sure you are reading Chemnitz and Gerhard correctly?

I don't want you to think I am making this up. Standard dogmatics textbooks in the LCMS (such as Mueller p.367) teach what I am saying of Lutheranism, that Justification is the satisfaction of God's justice without bringing about a moral change in man but only the divine judgment against us.

If you simply wish to say that Justification includes being made morally righteous by way of spiritual renewal/transformation, and that this sort of righteousness avails before God on the Last Day for our salvation, then I would agree with you.

Is that what you are saying?

Fr John W Fenton said...

It is always fun hearing a Confessional Lutheran argue against Lutheranism! I remember those days with some fondness, yet not for that reason alone but because they stand closer to the angels and with a few firmer roots in the Tradition, I shall always cheer for the Confessional Lutheran.

Yet I do so with sadness, knowing that two premises undermine their argument (both against Lutheranism and with the Orthodox and Catholics). These are:

1) Confessional Lutheran arguments cannot escape the atmosphere and water of Lutheranism within which they are formed. In other words, many suppositions of Lutheranism still lurk beneath and within the Confessional Lutheran argument--something I many fought to deny for many years, but ultimately could not. As support, I point not only to the arguments among Confessional Lutherans about their own self-understanding of the Confessions, but also to the odd co-mingling of Chemnitz and Gerhard (among others). There is a discernible gap among the former and anything that grew up in "Lutheran Orthodoxy," as dear Dr Nagel will never hesitate to point out.

2) At the end of the day, there is no Confessional Lutheran ecclesiology, not simply because ecclesiology is hardly a topic in the 16th-18th centuries (one has to look to Loehe to find the beginnings of an attempt), but also because Lutheranism and Confessional Lutherans agree on an ecclesiology that is at variance with the "faith once delivered"--an ecclesiology which, I've argued elsewhere, was clearly apparent in Luther and Chemnitz, but which changed dramatically the day that Lutherans accepted the fact that they are Lutherans.

As for this present presentation by the learned Subdeacon, his main point still needs to be reckoned with; namely, how can the Lutheran Confessions, in several places, speak of God being reconciled to man. My friend Pr William Weedon once tried to argue this case, but it was not convincing, especially when he was asked to play by his own rules ("bible-locatedness"). It shall, I fear, forever remain a puzzle for those of us who have rejected the notion that Jesus was praying that the Father had abandoned Him (Ps 21 [22]), thereby consigning Him to a wrath and fury worse than hell, all so that He might appease God's wrath.

But now I'm back where I began--with the Lutheranism (i.e., Jensen's "Calvinism with a bizarre sacramentology attached") which hides within the Confessional Lutheran defense.

123 said...

It is not forgiveness if someone had to pick up the bill.

Eric said...

Ben,

Here are some problems with your argument:

1) You ignore Subjective Justification. Lutherans do not speak only of justification being secured, but also of it being applied. The faith that believes unto salvation is not the operation of an unregenerate mind. It is a supernatural gift, a change wrought in the believer. God is reconciled to the world through the sacrifice of Christ (Objective Justification), but no one is reconciled to God (Subjective Justification) until he is reborn.

2) For some reason you think it's a contradiction to say that Christ reconciled the Father to the world, and that the Father reconciled the world to Himself through Christ. I can't imagine why. Christ is the hand of the Father. There is no contradiction.

3) You speak incoherently when you say that we, and not God, are the "target" of the Atonement. We were in the wrong, not in the right, so our stance toward God could not be changed by an act of Atonement. If there was an Atonement at all, God was the one being placated.

4) You write, "justice is not satisfied by suffering but only by obedience...." This is a false dichotomy. Justice is "satisfied" by obedience if you're obedient, but the obedient don't need to be saved. The way the disobedient satisfy justice is, in fact, by suffering. Christ satisfies Justice in both ways at the same time, that He might bear our griefs and bestow on us His joys.

Eric said...

> It is not forgiveness if someone had to pick up the bill.

It is if the One who picks it up is the One to Whom it is owed.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

First I would like to say thank you for your comments. When I wrote this post a few different "ah yes, but..." issues came to mind. I chose to avoid trying to guess what problems my potential readers might have with my post. The conversation is worth more than trying to post an impervious article.

You wrote:
You ignore Subjective Justification...

Response:
It is not that I ignore Subjective Justification, but that I take issue with Objective Justification. I'm afraid you are incorrect if you are suggesting that in Lutheran theology one's subjective justification means he or she is made/transformed spiritually to be morally righteous - that this is subjective justification. I do not know your affiliation, so you may be part of a Lutheran group that does not bind itself too carefully to the Lutheran Confessions. Strictly speaking the Lutheran Confessions reject what you have proposed in the very article of the Formula I have cited.

Or are you suggesting that Conversion and Justification are the same? They are not. Conversion is the sanctification of the human will, so that one may be subjectively justified, which is to receive a judicial acquittal from God without having to do good in any way - previously, concurrently, or thereafter (you do have to be good after, but this is not part of Justification in Lutheran theology but Sanctification).

I would suggest, though, that the Lutheran theology that I've outlined for you above has gotten away from the historic, catholic and orthodox interpretation of redemption.

You wrote:
For some reason you think it's a contradiction to say that Christ reconciled the Father to the world, and that the Father reconciled the world to Himself through Christ. I can't imagine why. Christ is the hand of the Father. There is no contradiction.

Response:
It's not that I think it's a total contradiction, but that the reconciliation of the Father to the world has taken on a disproportionate emphasis in the Lutheran Confessions, which fuels a misunderstanding of the atonement. The Lutheran Confessions work with the assumption that Christ's work of atonement was primarily to deal with God's legal wrath, which when removed results in a legal justification, and that this is the essence of salvation and the article on which the Church stands or falls. The Formula of Concord here goes out of the way to limit the term Justification to a legal imputation of righteousness without any moral transformation as part of the same Justification.

I'm saying this is not only wrong, but that its wrong-ness comes from being unable to escape the trap of medieval scholasticism. Contra the Lutheran Confessions I am saying that Justification comes from:

1) Christ canceling the need for punishment by
2) supplying perfect righteousness
3) not to God for the fulfillment of a legal requirement
4) but instead to us in the sacraments through faith
5) so that we are made morally righteous
6) through communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit
7) which is partially why the Eucharist is central in the Church.

And I might add that the forensic condemnation goes away when one is actually righteous.

Benjamin Harju said...

You wrote:
You speak incoherently when you say that we, and not God, are the "target" of the Atonement. We were in the wrong, not in the right, so our stance toward God could not be changed by an act of Atonement. If there was an Atonement at all, God was the one being placated.

Response:
What I'm going to write next is very important: Christ is not placating the Father. Idols and pagan deities (i.e. demons) are placated. God is Love. John 3:16 and all that. This is the very medieval scholastic mindset that I'm talking about. We were in the wrong, but God does not need to be placated toward us. Rather, we are in the wrong, and we need to be changed so that we are with God in the right. The only time God needs to be calmed down is when we are in the wrong and we will not change. The concept that atonement means God's anger must be diffused is a falsehood that crept in during the middle ages, I'm sorry to say. Atonement never used to mean that Christ placated an angry God so we could go to heaven. Atonement meant that in Christ mankind is returned to true righteousness, holiness, faithfulness, and purity again in communion with the Holy Trinity. And our salvation meant that we are changed and conformed to this redeemed reality that is Christ. If God's wrath is appeased or propitiated, it is by our transformation in Christ alone.

You wrote:
Justice is "satisfied" by obedience if you're obedient, but the obedient don't need to be saved. The way the disobedient satisfy justice is, in fact, by suffering. Christ satisfies Justice in both ways at the same time, that He might bear our griefs and bestow on us His joys.

Response:
Why are sinners punished? Because they are sinners, and not righteous. What happens if the sinner becomes righteous? Then he is not punished. Consider God's justice in Ezekiel 18:21-23:

"But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?"

Christ suffers scourging, mockery, beatings, the nails, the gall, and finally death. He is betrayed by the Devil-inspired, handed over to Pilate by those called sons of the Devil, and convicted by the representative of those that worship devils. For His righteousness Christ is condemned by the evil powers of This World. He suffers what He suffers not as punishment to satisfy God's justice - because He is righteous and is supplying righteousness to the unrighteous. His suffering, which He suffers for our healing, is about something else. He suffers what He suffers in order to accept the full consequences of our expulsion from paradise - which was an expulsion into a world filled with devils that wish to destroy us and drag us to hell with them - and by such humble acceptance destroy those powers with His divine innocence, righteousness, and immortality. Expulsion, domination by demons, mortality, sin, and Death are all canceled in Christ, like an antidote nullifies a poison. Punishment awaits those on the Last Day that have not been made righteous in Christ.

David Garner said...

"It is if the One who picks it up is the One to Whom it is owed."

Well, in that case, it isn't a debt to begin with, for the One to Whom it is (allegedly) owed knew from all eternity He was going to pick it up. That's not paying a debt. It's simply forgiveness.

The problem with the debt analogy isn't that it's wrong, or unscriptural. It's that it is taken way too far and well outside its intended boundaries. It's perfectly fine to view ourselves as debtors, and even to view Christ as cancelling our debt. It's when we add in that the "payment" for the debt is "punishment" that must be paid to "God" that things get sticky. Because then it makes no sense whatsoever to say that Jesus (Who is God) "paid" back the debt owed to God (Who He is) by "punishing" Himself (i.e., by "punishing" God).

It also seems to put an artificial separation between the Son and the Father that reeks of Christological heresy. I'm certainly not saying you are taking it that far, simply suggesting that's where the reasoning leads. At some point, Jesus ends up paying something to the Father that is either 1) not owed to Himself, or 2) could not be simply forgiven by the Father. Our answer to that rests in the Incarnation. But given a forensic and penal view of the atonement, I fail to see how yours can do that.

Eric said...

> I do not know your affiliation

I’m Missouri Synod, a convert to Lutheranism from Baptistic Evangelicalism about 12 years ago.

> It is not that I ignore Subjective Justification

You did ignore it, when you said that in Lutheran theology Justification concerns only a change in God, and not a change in us. To equate Justification with Objective Justification is to ignore Subjective Justification.

> I'm afraid you are incorrect if you are suggesting that in Lutheran theology one's
> subjective justification means he or she is made/transformed spiritually to be morally
> righteous

No, nothing like that. Transformation to moral perfection is the work of glorification in the resurrection, and sanctification is the temporal path between now and then. If justification were held to effect glorification, we would have to conclude of ourselves and of all Christians in this life that they had not yet been justified. Nevertheless, Justification does involve a transforming work of grace in the individual sinner, contrary to what you said when characterizing the Lutheran understanding.

> Or are you suggesting that Conversion and Justification are the same?

Not the same. But as you go on to say, you don’t receive the latter except through the former.

> subjectively justified, which is to receive a judicial acquittal from God without having
> to do good in any way - previously, concurrently, or thereafter

If we receive justification through faith, and faith is good, then we are in fact “doing good” when we believe the Promise of the Gospel. The crucial point for Lutheran soteriology is that this deed does not contribute to the righteousness by which we are saved. It’s an experience, not an accomplishment. It doesn’t come from us. We merit nothing by it. “It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

> It's not that I think it's a total contradiction, but that the reconciliation of the Father to
> the world has taken on a disproportionate emphasis in the Lutheran Confessions,

That’s a whole lot different than what you said in your post. There isn’t even any similarity between the two criticisms. In case we’re miscommunicating, this is the part of your post I was replying to in my #2: “Regarding par. 3, the confessors state their belief that Christ's work of redemption was to reconcile the Father to us, though St. Paul indicates the opposite in 2Co 5:18 and Eph 2:16 - that the Father has reconciled us to Himself and one another through the cross.”

> And I might add that the forensic condemnation goes away when one is actually
> righteous.

So when I rise again to new life in the resurrection, remade in the image of Christ, perfectly righteous, I won’t need forensic justification anymore. I agree. But I need it now. How else can I expect to attain the resurrection?

Eric said...

David,

> That's not paying a debt. It's simply forgiveness.

Why do you bother with this false dichotomy, when you are about to acknowledge (in your very next sentence) that this debt language is in fact a biblical idiom for forgiveness?

> It's when we add in that the "payment" for the debt is "punishment"
> that must be paid to "God" that things get sticky.

The debt owed by sinners to divine Justice is a debt of punishment. The Bible is abundantly clear on that subject, and so is Reason, so it's hard to see where the confusion could be coming from.

> Because then it makes no sense whatsoever to say that Jesus (Who is God) "paid"
> back the debt owed to God (Who He is) by "punishing" Himself (i.e., by "punishing" God).

The Incarnation does transcend sense, if that's what you mean. The compassion and humility of God Almighty cannot be grasped, only praised forever and ever.

> I'm certainly not saying you are taking it that far, simply suggesting
> that's where the reasoning leads.

Every orthodox statement leads to heresy if you take it to an unorthodox extreme.

> At some point, Jesus ends up paying something to the Father that ...
> 2) could not be simply forgiven by the Father.

Allow me to recommend St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Book 2.

David Garner said...

"Why do you bother with this false dichotomy, when you are about to acknowledge (in your very next sentence) that this debt language is in fact a biblical idiom for forgiveness?"

It's not a false dichotomy. It's a matter of taking a metaphor beyond its proper bounds to illogical extremes.

That something is Scriptural does not mean that any expansion on the Scriptural use is therefore also Scriptural.

"The debt owed by sinners to divine Justice is a debt of punishment. The Bible is abundantly clear on that subject, and so is Reason, so it's hard to see where the confusion could be coming from."

Let me suggest it is not quite as clear as you suggest, else we would not be having this discussion.

"The Incarnation does transcend sense, if that's what you mean. The compassion and humility of God Almighty cannot be grasped, only praised forever and ever."

Rather, what I mean is that in our understanding, the Incarnation was so that Christ could take on our flesh, our nature, and heal it in Himself. Lacking that understanding and assuming instead a purely penal, forensic understanding removes the need for Christ to be incarnate at all. Why take on flesh if all that is needed is forgiveness? Why not simply forgive?

Which makes this a bit ironic:

"Allow me to recommend St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Book 2."

As I recommended to Mr. Demarest above, why don't you tell me what about St. Athanasius' work you think resolves the issue.

Citing to Athanasius with the assumption that 1) I haven't read his work, and 2) it supports your view, is simply an appeal to authority to support a begged question. It doesn't move the ball an inch.

David Garner said...

For what it's worth, I've elsewhere argued that some Lutherans at least do not take a purely forensic view of the atonement. So if that's not what you are arguing, we may be talking past each other.

But the hyper-forensic view is what I am addressing. I don't mean to address an argument you are not making. It just seemed you were making it with the comment I initially responded to regarding debt and debtors.

Eric said...

> Christ is not placating the Father.

According to Holy Scripture, He is. The sacrifices in the Old Covenant were clearly offered to God, and explicitly said to satisfy Him so that He did not smite the People. Then the book of Hebrews, esp. ch. 9, explicitly says that Christ is our High Priest who has offered His own blood instead of the blood of rams and goats, as the final atoning sacrifice, thus inaugurating the New Covenant. All this was written long before the Middle Ages. We don't know for sure who wrote Hebrews, but it wasn't a Norman.

> For His righteousness Christ is condemned by the evil powers of This World.
> He suffers what He suffers not as punishment to satisfy God's justice -
> because He is righteous and is supplying righteousness to the unrighteous.

Mostly true. He suffered unjustly, this is certain. But He submitted to this injustice in order that He might offer His patient suffering to the Father on behalf of His brothers and sisters according to the flesh. And he does make us righteous, but that's only half the story. You keep saying that suffering isn't needed if the sinner reforms and becomes perfect. Not true. He is still guilty of all the things he has done before becoming perfect. He must still be forgiven, or he must die.

Eric said...

David,

> Rather, what I mean is that in our understanding, the Incarnation was so that Christ could take on our flesh,
> our nature, and heal it in Himself. Lacking that understanding and assuming instead a purely penal, forensic
> understanding removes the need for Christ to be incarnate at all.

False dichotomy again. The Incarnation accomplished both ends. You must be assuming that I'll deny the sanative, intrinsic side since you want to deny the penal, forensic side, but you're wrong about that.

The reason I recommend On the Incarnation book 2 is that Athanasius directly opposes your objection that God could simply forgive the debt rather than paying it. If you don't remember that, maybe it's time to revisit the work.

David Garner said...

"False dichotomy again. The Incarnation accomplished both ends. You must be assuming that I'll deny the sanative, intrinsic side since you want to deny the penal, forensic side, but you're wrong about that."

Which is why I asked for clarification. Neither are we denying the penal side (at least I'm not), simply arguing against its over-emphasis or use beyond its proper boundaries.

"The reason I recommend On the Incarnation book 2 is that Athanasius directly opposes your objection that God could simply forgive the debt rather than paying it. If you don't remember that, maybe it's time to revisit the work."

Well, you are again begging the question a bit (not to mention, you are still not discussing things openly -- you still are suggesting that I "re-read" something rather than simply telling us what it is about the writing you think refutes what I have said). But I'll endeavor to answer anyway.

St. Athanasius in Chapter 2 discusses God keeping His word, that is true. I suppose there is a juridical aspect to that. And he discusses the law of death, etc. But St. Athanasius balances that nicely with quite a few points that you have not discussed, and that we would emphasize. Notably, that 1) the one who holds the power of death is not God, but satan; 2) Christ's incarnation comes not simply to abolish the law of death, but to "destroy" death so that "life can be raised up anew," and 3) (perhaps most to the point here) Christ was Incarnate precisely because "corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father's Son, was such as could not die." The latter, of course, supports a more ontological view than juridical. So certainly God would not go against His word. That does not fairly argue that it was His "divine justice" being appeased or that St. Athanasius should be read in light of a penal view of the atonement. In fact, St. Athanasius doesn't discuss "divine justice" in On the Incarnation at all. You seem to be reading into Athanasius something he has not said.

Again, I don't deny the forensic. I simply don't emphasize it beyond its bounds. And it is ultimately the "penal" part we have a problem with. Putting all else aside, the simple error we speak against is this -- that we must be saved from the Father. It is the Father Who wills our salvation.

David Garner said...

Above, my apologies -- when I wrote we do not deny "the penal side," I meant the "forensic side."

We would deny that Christ died as punishment from the Father. We would agree, I think, that there is a forensic element to His suffering and death on our behalf. Forgive me for confusing my words.

Trent Demarest said...

Dear Eastern brothers.

Whence cometh this idea that sin is simply a sickness or corruption in our nature, but in no way an offense to God? As Lutherans we confess that it is both, for as Eric has pointed out, both the Old and New Testament scriptures speak of sin as a transgression which is atoned for through the shedding of blood. We confess that it is both, but you confess that it is only one. Or rather, you suggest that God's wrath over sin ends when we by simply cease from a certain sin. Is this a fair description?

I'm curious then what you do with Christ suggesting that the offering of His Body and Blood unto death was for "the forgiveness of sins." Do you see this merely as a reference to the continued giving and pouring out of Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, but not a reference to what Christ accomplishes by dying on the cross?

The relevant portion from Ch. 2 of St. Athanasius's "On the Incarnation", at least for the purposes of showing the placative aspect of Christ's suffering (though, as said before, not at all to deny the sanative/restorative aspect of Christ's death) is below:

"For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father."

Why did we need an ambassador?

"For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father's Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death..."

Trent Demarest said...

"...All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire."

If I'm understanding the Eastern gloss of this correctly, you're contending that death is not a punishment, but it is rather a consequence. We Lutherans say that it is both.

What of the Curse after the Fall into sin? Natural result, or punishment for disobedience? Both? Neither?

Eric said...

David,


> St. Athanasius in Chapter 2 discusses God keeping His word, that is true.
> I suppose there is a juridical aspect to that.

Yes, especially since the word in question was the law that stipulated death as the penalty for sin. That’s why God can’t simply “forgive,” or rather, why forgiveness has to be implemented by means of penal substitution.

> That does not fairly argue that it was His "divine justice" being appeased

I don’t think there’s any difference between “God couldn’t simply abrogate the law He had enunciated, but had to fulfill it” and “God’s justice had to be appeased.” Exactly the same principle is expressed. If you think otherwise, it’s probably because you’ve been sold a distortion of Western soteriology.

> St. Athanasius doesn't discuss "divine justice" in On the Incarnation at all.

Oh no, only the irrevocability of the divine law, and the resulting necessity of the Word dying for the human race, if the human race was somehow to be saved. That’s totally different from justice.

> Putting all else aside, the simple error we speak against is this -- that we must be saved
> from the Father. It is the Father Who wills our salvation.

Ok, right, there’s some of that “distortion of Western soteriology” that I was talking about. We don’t have to be saved from the Father, but from His just and irrevocable Law. He Himself is the one who saves us, through the willing sacrifice of His Son.

Points 1-3 (as you list them) are all in Athanasius too, and it’s all good stuff. But no one in this conversation has denied any of it.

Benjamin Harju said...

You wrote:
You did ignore it [Subjective Justification], when you said that in Lutheran theology Justification concerns only a change in God, and not a change in us. To equate Justification with Objective Justification is to ignore Subjective Justification.

Response:
I stand by what I said. Conversion (whereby a change in a person's will occurs) is not Subjective Justification. It is *how* one becomes subjectively justified in Lutheran theology. Conversion is not Subjective Justification in and of itself. Objective Justification is the verdict, Conversion is the acquisition of faith, and Subjective Justification is the verdict applied to the individual through this faith. If you do not believe this about Lutheran theology, then your problem is not with me, but with the LCMS that teaches these things through the Book of Concord and its seminaries and dogmatic texts. I encourage you not to believe these things taught by the LCMS, because they are grounded in a false approach, which is what my blog post is about.


You wrote:
That’s a whole lot different than what you said in your post. There isn’t even any similarity between the two criticisms.

Response:
I'm sorry you cannot detect the similarity. In my post I am demonstrating that the Book of Concord is in error by setting the reconciliation of a wrathful God at the center of it's concept of Justification. By citing Scripture I am showing that their primary approach is backwards. In my comments to you I am admitting the the reconciliation of the Father is a concept that can be admitted, but not at the center as in Lutheran forensic Justification. I stand by my statements. The Book of Concord has taken a permissible concept (reconciliation of the Father) and set it at the center of the atonement, when Scripture sets the opposite dynamic at the center of the atonement.


You wrote:
According to Holy Scripture, He is. The sacrifices in the Old Covenant were clearly offered to God, and explicitly said to satisfy Him so that He did not smite the People. Then the book of Hebrews, esp. ch. 9, explicitly says that Christ is our High Priest who has offered His own blood instead of the blood of rams and goats, as the final atoning sacrifice, thus inaugurating the New Covenant. All this was written long before the Middle Ages. We don't know for sure who wrote Hebrews, but it wasn't a Norman.

Eric, you are making the same mistake I made when I was a Lutheran looking at this for the first time. You are reading into the Scriptures something that does not exist, because you were taught to do so by others. Consider Leviticus 17:11 - "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life." What is being satisfied here? A divine desire for punishment? No. A divine desire that we return to God in righteousness and purity? Yes. According to the Scripture I just cited the blood makes atonement by reason of the life, not by reason of punishment. Likewise Christ offered His life for atonement; He did not offer His punishment for atonement. I'm going to challenge you to find for me where the Scriptures say Christ offered His punishment to God to satisfy God's wrath for atonement. Please keep in mind that I agree that atonement removes wrath, but not on condition that someone gets punished for sins. Atonement removes the need for punishment, it does not reassign punishment to someone else.

Benjamin Harju said...

You wrote:
You keep saying that suffering isn't needed if the sinner reforms and becomes perfect. Not true. He is still guilty of all the things he has done before becoming perfect. He must still be forgiven, or he must die.

Response:
It sounds as if you are disagreeing with Ezekiel 18:21-23 cited above. You also seem to equate forgiveness with suffering. Is that what you are saying? You will have to explain why the Scripture records God saying that a sinner that repents will live instead of die (meaning his sins are forgiven without punishment), but you say that even if a sinner repents he still must be punished, or (as I take you to mean) someone else must take the punishment for him before he can be forgiven. I have cited Scripture in my defense. Where is the Scripture that establishes your point? It's important that you back up your argument from Scripture, since I am saying you (and the writers of the Book of Concord) are importing foreign meanings into the Scriptures on this topic.

I will add the following Scripture to the argument: Hebrews 9:22
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Throughout this chapter blood is described as purifying, not as acquitting. Verse 7 indicates blood was offered for the errors of the people. We already know that blood means life and not punishment. Life is offered for forgiveness. In the OT unblemished animal life sanctified the flesh of the people; in the NT the unblemished life of Christ sanctifies our consciences from sins so that we can serve the living God. Hebrews 9 says both Christ's blood (i.e. life) and His death redeem, but in verse 18 we see that blood and death are used interchangeably - death in reference to a will, blood (i.e. life) in reference to purification from sin so we can serve the living God. Sin is sanctified or blessed away in a person through the blood of Christ. This suggests that the sin in a person is more than just guilt, but also includes corruption and self-harm. Both guilt and corruption are purified away by Christ's blood.

The question may arise, then, that if Christ's blood sanctifies us as righteous, are we perfect? Obviously we are not. How do we obtain a perfect transformative righteousness so that we are not condemned as unrighteous by God? We will be perfectly righteous upon our resurrection from the dead. Are we then only legally righteous until then? No, more than that. I am saying that through Christ's blood we have become actually righteous according to the inner man, but not according to the body. The body is still sinful, the inner man is made actually righteous. This is why Hebrews says conscience, to indicate the inner man. I criticize Lutheran Justification - Subjective Justification even - for denying this and relegating this to the category of Sanctification. The categories of Justification and Sanctification should be one, not two. Even though more and more Lutherans no longer believe their Confessions on this point (thank goodness), the Formula of Concord limits Justification to a forensic category, and in no way allows it to be what I have described in this paragraph from the Scriptures.

Benjamin Harju said...

Trent,

In the East sin is an offense to God, but the atonement is not so that God's offense will go away. The atonement is so that we will be healed from sin and come back home to God like the prodigal son. In our healing from sin and return to God the offense is forgiven. Did the father of the prodigal son need to have his offense satisfied with punishment? No. The sin of the prodigal son inflicted its own punishment. The father's offense was satisfied by the return of his wayward son. This is how it is with God toward us. God is not injured by our sins, and so no injury needs to be compensated.

Regarding St. Athanasius whom you quote, there is no denying that there is wrath over sin. The issue is that the way God puts away wrath is NOT to take it out on someone else (Christ), but to restore those that had gone astray so that there is no need for wrath. God does not need to punish someone in order to no longer be wrathful toward us. When we do sin as Christians - for if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us - we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, as St. Athanasius says, whose intercedes on the basis of His own blood (i.e. life).

Some comments about your quotes from St. Athanasius:

1) Corruption is the penalty for the Transgression - Adam's transgression.

2) "The law" refers to the Mosaic Law which spoke of Christ, which Christ fulfilled.

3) Universal liability to death refers to the power that Death and Hades have over everyone. As he said a couple sentences before in your quote, "He saw ... death reigning over all in corruption." All were corrupt through Adam's sin, through which corruption death reigned (even before the Law of Moses), which death is the power of the Devil (Heb. 2:14).

4) As it says in bold, He surrendered His body to death instead of all. Yet we all still die. So if death is a punishment for sin, then the punishment has not been satisfied, because we all die even though Christ died. Rather St. Athanasius means that Christ surrendered to the power of death. St. Athanasius has established that Death held us, so Christ surrendered to Death - which surrendering overthrew the Devil who holds the power of death. God is not holding death over us, but the Devil. He offers Himself to the Father so that He may return humanity to the Father out of the clutches of sin, death, and the Devil. He offers Himself to the Father, and the Father accepts the sacrifice by accepting Christ - hence the resurrection from the dead. In the process sin, death, and the devil are overturned.

Is death a punishment?
God warned Adam that in the day you eat of it you shall die. Did God punish Adam with death? Did God inflict death on Adam? The Scriptures show that Adam inflicted death on himself, and introduced it into creation by rebelling against God, whose breath is Adam's source of life. Adam died spiritually according to the inner man through turning his will away from obedience, to the Devil, which spiritual death (corruption) eventually resulted in his physical death. On the flip side we have been transformed by the blood (i.e. life) of Christ according to the inner man, and thus we will eventually rise from the dead as He did.

Death is the power of the Devil. Since the introduction of death God has used it to limit sin in the world. From God death is a correction and a blessing, because it puts an end to sin. So we can say death is a punishment in that sense.

David Garner said...

Mr. Demarest, Subdeacon Benjamin has addressed your concerns well enough that I apologize I must refrain from further comment. I have a long night ahead of me at work and vacation starting tomorrow.

Eric, I do want to address something you wrote, that I find to be a saddening recurrence on your part, and that is to dismiss what I say based on your speculations about my person. You say:

"I don’t think there’s any difference between “God couldn’t simply abrogate the law He had enunciated, but had to fulfill it” and “God’s justice had to be appeased.” Exactly the same principle is expressed. If you think otherwise, it’s probably because you’ve been sold a distortion of Western soteriology."

Well, this is no more than a speculative red herring on your part. It, much like assuming Athanasius agrees with you and presuming I have never read Athanasius, is a way to dismiss my argument by suggesting I am not nearly so learned as you are. As to what you think of me, I could really care less -- whatever blows your skirt up. I just think it's a pretty weak argument to presume that if I don't agree with you, it must be because I have been "sold" some or another bill of goods.

Then you go on to write:

"Ok, right, there’s some of that 'distortion of Western soteriology' that I was talking about. We don’t have to be saved from the Father, but from His just and irrevocable Law. He Himself is the one who saves us, through the willing sacrifice of His Son."

Well, how exactly is it a distortion? Are you suggesting that the Father doesn't punish by imposing a blood sacrifice, but His Law does? That the Father doesn't demand punishment but His Law does? That the Father is not owed a debt but His Law is? That the Father doesn't curse but the Law does?

If I tell you that my rule is that you should not park in the street, and then when I see you park in the street, I flatten all your tires and bust out your windshield, can I defend my trespass against your property by claiming it wasn't me that did it, but rather my rule? It's like theology done via a Steve Earle song -- "nothing touched the trigger but the devil's right hand." I assume that's not what you mean, but I'd be interested in hearing you explain how you untangle God's Law from God Himself without that being the result.

This would seem an incredibly contorted basis to justify hanging on to something so needless. If we agree that we do not have to be saved from the Father, then let's be clear that we don't have to be saved from His Law, either, because His Law is something that, to have any effect, He must Himself impose. God's Law is not something that acts in and of itself. It is not a concrete object with power to do anything. I fail to see how your approach to this is any different at all from what we say, which is that our sin caused us to fall away from God, and thus the Fall is a consequence of our action, but not a punishment meted out by the Father because of our action.

Unless you are saying the punishment is meted out not by the Father, but by His Law, in which case I would simply reply, "that's absurd."

Eric said...

Ben,

> Conversion is not Subjective Justification in and of itself.

I already agreed with that. It doesn’t matter. Conversion is how Justification is applied. No one is justified personally until a change has been wrought in his life. Therefore you are wrong to speak as if Justification involves no change in the sinner.

> I'm sorry you cannot detect the similarity....

I quoted the offending passage above, so I won’t do it again here, but in it you say that the Lutheran Confessions are wrong to say that the Son reconciled the Father to the world, since a few verses say that the Father performed this act of reconciliation. I pointed out that this makes no sense, because the Father did it through the Son, and therefore both statements are equally correct. You haven’t addressed that. Now maybe this is because you meant that “reconciling the world to Himself” and “reconciling the Father to the World” are different in another way, not in who the Actor is but in what is reconciled. But 2 Cor. 5:19 explains what “reconciling the world to Himself” means: “not counting their trespasses against them.” In other words, it means exactly the same thing as we mean when we say that the Son reconciled the Father to the world.

> The Book of Concord has taken a permissible concept (reconciliation of the Father) and
> set it at the center of the atonement

Who cares what the “center” is as long as the other side is also affirmed? You complain about scholasticism, but nothing could be more scholastic than debating which of two blessings (forgiveness and renewal) is at the “center” of salvation. Oh, but you say “center of the atonementM,” don’t you. Well, then you’re just not making any sense, because reconciliation of the Father is the Atonement. To “atone” for something is to make a payment that rights a wrong. If you don’t believe there was any such transaction, you just have to ditch the word.

> "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to
> make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of
> the life."
What is being satisfied here? A divine desire for punishment?

Um... yes? Seriously, you’re quoting a passage that proves the sacrifice has to DIE, in order to prove that the sacrifice isn’t suffering in the sinner’s place? That’s unbelievable. Then you say, “blood makes atonement by reason of the life, not by reason of punishment”. Hello? When you are deprived of your blood, you are deprived of your life, and THAT IS PUNISHMENT. It is, in fact, the very punishment God threatened Adam and Eve with in the Garden of Eden.

> It sounds as if you are disagreeing with Ezekiel 18:21-23 cited above.

Not remotely. I’m pointing out that the verse implies forgiveness.

> You also seem to equate forgiveness with suffering

I don’t know where you got that.

> but you say that even if a sinner repents he still must be punished

No, I didn’t say that. I said (and you even quoted this part back to me), “He must still be forgiven, or he must die.”

> Where is the Scripture that establishes your point? It's important that you back up your
> argument from Scripture

I did. That’s how we got talking about the OT sacrifices and Heb. 9.

> Throughout this chapter blood is described as purifying, not as acquitting

It’s unfathomable to me that you can say this immediately after quoting Heb. 9:22, the second half of which reads, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Yeah, that doesn’t say anything about blood acquitting, does it.

Egad.

Eric said...

David,

> I do want to address something you wrote, that I find to be a saddening recurrence on your part,
> and that is to dismiss what I say based on your speculations about my person.

Weird. I haven't done that once.

> It, much like assuming Athanasius agrees with you and presuming I have never read
> Athanasius, is a way to dismiss my argument by suggesting I am not nearly so learned as you are.

The first is not an assumption, but a point easily proven by the text in question, as I have shown. The second is not something I ever presumed, and the third is not something I ever suggested. I will here make my one and only personal comment about you: you have a thin skin, and take offense where none is given.

> Well, how exactly is it a distortion? Are you suggesting that the Father doesn't punish by
> imposing a blood sacrifice, but His Law does?

Not exactly. The Father doesn't punish because He hates us, or is infuriated in some anthropomorphic sense, and needs Christ to give Him a valium or something, but only because He is the just judge who, as Athanasius says, will not go back on His law once He has laid it down. He loves those He must punish, and does not want any of them to perish. The "raging father" of Western soteriology is the bill of goods I suspect you've been sold.

Benjamin Harju said...

Eric,

You wrote:
It doesn’t matter. Conversion is how Justification is applied. No one is justified personally until a change has been wrought in his life. Therefore you are wrong to speak as if Justification involves no change in the sinner.

Response:
??? I'm very sorry that I have not been clear enough for you to understand the force of my words. I will refine my words some more to better reveal my original and ongoing intent: Lutheran Justification involves no change in the sinner that is actually Justification; all changes taking place in the sinner are outside Justification (objective and subjective) proper and either preparatory (Conversion) or resultant (Sanctification). Since you agree with me that Conversion is not part of Justification, I hope you now better grasp the point I am making.

You wrote:
I pointed out that this makes no sense, because the Father did it through the Son, and therefore both statements are equally correct. You haven’t addressed that. Now maybe this is because you meant that “reconciling the world to Himself” and “reconciling the Father to the World” are different in another way, not in who the Actor is but in what is reconciled. But 2 Cor. 5:19 explains what “reconciling the world to Himself” means: “not counting their trespasses against them.” In other words, it means exactly the same thing as we mean when we say that the Son reconciled the Father to the world.

Response:
I am sorry, but I am not following you. What do you want me to address? That when Christ reconciles the Father to the world, it is still the Father reconciling Himself to the world? That whichever way you put it, it is God doing the reconciling? This is not the issue I am speaking to. I am speaking to the fact that the Reformers based their concepts of atonement and Justification on the appeasement of divine wrath, and that this should not be the basis but instead peripheral.

You wrote:
Who cares what the “center” is as long as the other side is also affirmed? You complain about scholasticism, but nothing could be more scholastic than debating which of two blessings (forgiveness and renewal) is at the “center” of salvation. Oh, but you say “center of the atonementM,” don’t you. Well, then you’re just not making any sense, because reconciliation of the Father is the Atonement. To “atone” for something is to make a payment that rights a wrong. If you don’t believe there was any such transaction, you just have to ditch the word.

Response:
If we are going to have this conversation, it's important that we do our best to be nice. I'm not debating whether forgiveness or renewal is at the center of the atonement. I hear you saying that the atonement is accomplished by Christ being perfectly righteous and suffering the debt of punishment due to sinners. I am saying that the atonement is accomplished by Christ being perfectly righteous alone. Both interpretations involve making a payment that rights a wrong. I hear you saying that Christ pays God both righteousness and punishment for our forgiveness and renewal. I am saying Christ *offers* to God only His righteous life for our forgiveness and renewal. However He *pays* this same righteous life as a ransom cost by His crucifixion and death, because we needed to be ransomed from the power of death and the Devil. In this Patristic interpretation of the atonement, God's wrath over our sins goes away when we become righteous, because He does not desire the death of a sinner but rather that he turn and live. (Justice does not require to be paid punishment, it requires correction, and where that will not happen then consequences). If you expect that forgiveness can only come if God is paid in punishment, then this Patristic view of the atonement will not be as agreeable as the much later view of medieval western Scholasticism and the lines of interpretation that come from that time period.

Benjamin Harju said...

You wrote:
Um... yes? Seriously, you’re quoting a passage that proves the sacrifice has to DIE, in order to prove that the sacrifice isn’t suffering in the sinner’s place? That’s unbelievable. Then you say, “blood makes atonement by reason of the life, not by reason of punishment”. Hello? When you are deprived of your blood, you are deprived of your life, and THAT IS PUNISHMENT. It is, in fact, the very punishment God threatened Adam and Eve with in the Garden of Eden.

Response:
In case you haven't done so yet, I encourage you to read the quotes from St. Athanasius that Trent shared and my response to him. I won't repeat it here. So are you suggesting God killed Adam and Eve for disobeying Him? He did not say "I will kill you" but "you will die." But the passage under examination proves that it is not the animal's suffering that makes atonement, but the animal's life. You focus on the suffering of death and then mischaracterize God as requiring the suffering itself, when God *says* He is providing life for the Israelites, not a substitute for suffering. Focus on what God *says* as God interprets what's going on. You are in error to *read into the Scriptures* that God was punishing animals for atonement. Reading into Scripture. It does not say that. It says something else. Just because you see suffering, that does not mean God is asking for suffering to satisfy His requirement for suffering; no such requirement is ever expressed. He has no requirement, except on the Last Day for those that refuse atonement in Christ. Look again through the Scriptures, and pray to God to show you the truth. That's the only solution for seeing things in the Scripture that don't exist.

You wrote:
I did. That’s how we got talking about the OT sacrifices and Heb. 9.

Response:
I have overturned your point of view regarding these passages, and I have demonstrated it foreign to the Scriptures.

You wrote:
It’s unfathomable to me that you can say this immediately after quoting Heb. 9:22, the second half of which reads, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Yeah, that doesn’t say anything about blood acquitting, does it. Egad.

Response:
Acquittal was a poor word choice, I see now, given the context. I apologize. Let me rephrase my statement so you can understand the gist: Hebrews 9 speaks of forgiveness (acquittal) coming through purification (which is the same as sanctification) of something in us, not forgiveness through paying God off with human suffering and death so He will wipe the slate clean on His end and just forensically declare us righteous as the Book of Concord declares.

David Garner said...

"Weird. I haven't done that once.

(snip)

The first is not an assumption, but a point easily proven by the text in question, as I have shown. The second is not something I ever presumed, and the third is not something I ever suggested. I will here make my one and only personal comment about you: you have a thin skin, and take offense where none is given."


I'm not being thin skinned -- that is simply another ad hominem. I also have not taken offense, because as I said, I don't really care enough to take offense. I'm simply pointing out that it does not move the ball forward to suggest I read something as if I have not read it, and assume that by reading it I should come around to your position. It is your burden to demonstrate that the text proves what you suggest. You say it does. I disagree. So you still haven't moved the ball forward despite your claim to have "proven" your case. At the point of dispute, you revert to the same argument. Likewise with the comment about me being "sold" a bill of goods. It's rhetorically convenient and a way to dismiss my argument without addressing it.

I'm not being thin skinned or taking offense. I'm pointing out the fallacies in your argument. Sticking to the argument helps us actually get somewhere, as follows:

"Not exactly. The Father doesn't punish because He hates us, or is infuriated in some anthropomorphic sense, and needs Christ to give Him a valium or something, but only because He is the just judge who, as Athanasius says, will not go back on His law once He has laid it down. He loves those He must punish, and does not want any of them to perish."

Right. So in that framework, where the Father must impose the Law not because of anger or wrath, but because He is good, how does one account for the need to punish the Son in our stead?

In other words, you seem to be painting a picture of the same sort of God we would agree exists, and yet you still seem to be defending the claim that Christ died to appease the wrath of the Father against us, which seems discordant with what we know about the Father.

Sending the Son to fix the problem is a perfectly viable picture. In that sense, terms like wrath and anger, and juridical terms like justice, are fine if applied to us in a proper sense, but not if taken to the extreme that Christ died to appease that wrath against us. And by the way, equating this view with a false picture of what you call "Western soteriology" is no less problematic than when those on our side do so to tar you all with the same brush. For what is true of Lutherans is not, for example, true of Calvinists, some of whom absolutely hold to the view Jonathan Edwards so famously espoused, and yet many Roman Catholics hold a view more similar to our own, etc. There is no "Western soteriology." There are simply Western soteriologies. I hold no false presuppositions about yours. I once was a Lutheran myself.

"The "raging father" of Western soteriology is the bill of goods I suspect you've been sold."

You suspect a lot of things so far that just aren't so.

Benjamin Harju said...

At this time I am going to close the comments on this discussion. I appreciate everyone that contributed time and energy to discussing the topic at hand. Even though the discussion did not lead to a consensus among all the participants, I find that the arguments made by all sides did a fine job of highlighting the issues involved in Lutheran-Orthodox concepts of the atonement.

Since this is my blog :-) I will close the comments with one last thought. The Scriptures explicitly say, "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" [Hebrews 9:22]. We might be tempted to think that this says that the shedding of blood equals the paying to God's Justice of a punishment in recompense for our sins. I would like to suggest an alternative, which I feel is consistent with the arguments I have made here: There is no forgiveness without blood, because God is not interested in just turning a blind eye to our sins, nor in just treating us forensicly righteous even though we are not actually righteous. Instead I suggest that God does not forgive sins without providing a way for the sinner to change and be released from the corruption and bondage that our sins bring upon ourselves. The shedding of blood and the forgiveness of sins are intertwined, because God not only wants us to become sorry, but to actually be able to change and return and abide with Him forever. The purification that comes from Christ's blood does this, and is our pledge that God loves us and wants us to return to Him in righteousness and holiness. Maybe I'll write another post on this topic when I have more time. We'll see.