“The Wrath of God Satisfied”

“The Wrath of God Satisfied” June 22, 2012

The title for this post comes from the line in the hymn that has this before it: “And on that Cross, where Jesus died.” We’ve got rhythm and we’ve got rhyme, but do we have NT theology? Back in the 1950s and 1960s C.H. Dodd and L.L. Morris locked horns on this one: Dodd said the term meant “expiate” (as in expiate or remove sins) while Morris said the term meant “propitiate” (as in Jesus’ death resolving and pacifying the wrath of God against sin and sinners). John Stott, in The Cross of Christ, weighed in on this one and sided with Morris, and it has become standard evangelical theology to contend for a propitiatory atonement (penal substitution is a slightly larger, though connected, theological category). Most encounter this evangelical theology in gospel preaching in which the problem is sinners under God’s wrath with the solution being the death of Jesus that resolves that wrath. I have addressed some of this in A Community called Atonement.

Do you see propitiation at the core of the atonement? Do you think God’s wrath was pacified (propitiated) in the cross?

Not all agree with the propitiation proponents, and one who did not agree was C.F.D. Moule. Recently Robert Morgan and Patrick Moule, nephew to that great NT scholar, Charlie (C.F.D.) Moule, published some previously unpublished writings of Professor Moule and the title is Christ Alive and At Large. I read everything Moule writes if I can. Once I heard a young enthusiast explain Grammcord to Charlie Moule by describing a grammatical problem that could be chased down through a computer search, and then the enthusiast said there five instances of the grammar in the NT — to which Professor Moule responded: “Six if you count Codex Bezae.” The enthusiast knew what a computer could pop out; Moule knew the textual tradition alongside it that wasn’t in the computer. Then I heard Moule say something that I shall never forget: “Why, the Greek Testament isn’t so long one can’t put it to memory!” (Why use a computer if you have it all put to heart? was the implication.)

Back to propitiation. Moule in his characteristic succinct way summarizes the NT texts, and I quote them below after the jump.

1. The word “propitiation” means to propitiate God and his wrath; that sense is found in the OT but “in the NT it is almost extinguished” due to the “startingly original thought of the NT” (113).

2. In the NT “God is not spoken of as the recipient of what is referred to” … that is, nowhere in the NT, when the recipient of this action of these words is mentioned, is God the one who receives the action. For the word to mean “propitiate” or to “appease God” God must be the recipient; nowhere in the NT, when the word is used, is God the recipient.

3. Whenever the initiator, or subject, of the action is used in the NT, God is that initiator. That is, God does this act. He points to Romans 3:25 and 1 John 4:10.

4. If the acted upon is sin, then the term does not mean “propitiate” but “expiate.”

Thus, Moule: “If, then, God is the subject or originator, not the object or recipient, of hilas-procedures, it is manifestly inappropriate to translate them as propitiatory; one is driven to use a word such as ‘expiatory’, which has as its object not propitiating a wrathful God but removing a barrier” (114). The theme of NT atonement then is 2 Cor 5:19: God was reconciling the world to himself. God doesn’t need to be propitiated, Moule observes; God is the one doing the reconciling.

5. He sees an exception in language at Eph 5:2: “…walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is propitiation language from the OT, but a hilas– word is not used here. He doesn’t think 1 John 2 is about advocating before an alienated God.

Overall then he finds the “centrifugal force of the Christian gospel spinning an OT concept to the circumference, if not beyond” (114). Reconciliation exacts a price… forgiveness and repentance. In Christ, both God and man, he observes, “that price is paid, absolutely and finally” (114). “Nowhere in the NT is it said that the wrath of God was satisfied by the death of Jesus” (114).

Now the texts:

1. Hilaskomai:

Luke 18:13    “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Heb 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like them, a fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

2. Hilasmos:

1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

3. Hilasterion:

Rom 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, a through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

Heb 9:5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

"...but it is an idea promoted by egalitarians and feminists. They are against gender roles, ..."

Elisabeth Elliot, Beth Moore, Denny Burk
"No failure detected. Your post was very polite and thoughtful.My point was subtle. Often many ..."

Church Attendance is Down, But Why?
"But to say Jesus put his woman forward in the context of this article , ..."

Captain Marvel and Woman Warriors
"Vixens is not about gender roles but about specific women in the Bible. I'm not ..."

Captain Marvel and Woman Warriors

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Missing the big picture somewhat (I’m inclined towards a propitiatory understanding of 1 John 2), but the line in Stuart’s hymn is “the wrath of God *was* satisfied.” Pedantic, me.

  • Evelyn

    Thank you for posting this – so interesting! The following is not rigorous scholarship, but when I look at the life, teachings and character of Jesus expiation makes a lot more sense than propitiation. I think the propitiation dynamic can be very off-putting to non-Christians.

    Question about point 1 above: what are some of the OT references to the propitiation of God’s wrath by way of comparison? Thanks!

  • Morris and Stott, have both done an exceptional job of this whole argument. Wrath is a real issue to be solved. Wrath is still a NT reality. Wrath is something that was not simply an antiquated thought-form for OT saints. Wrath is so extensive throughout the entire revelation of Scripture that it cannot be glossed over. Jesus is clearly dying “in the place of sinners” who need not only reconciliation, redemption, and deliverance, but who need covering and forgiveness (i.e. propitiation). The OT sacrificial system was fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus. If propitiation is an extensive OT concept (no argument by Dodd and Moule mind you) and Jesus came to fulfill its meaning, than it goes to show that propitiation is very much a part of the work of Christ.

    Modern theologians wrestle with the whole wrath concept because of the spirit of the age. Since the modern world hates the very idea of a God of wrath and vengeance we shy away from the concepts. But is this really the way to re-invision the Scripture for today? Let the Scripture speak and say what it needs to say without us having to defend the sensitivities and proclivities of a world that hasn’t killed an animal to eat in a hundred years or so.

  • @David


  • Michael Teston

    This distinction is crucial in understanding God. Jesus’ character and presence cannot but undo the “angry/wrathful god” perspective that haunts most human beings inside and outside the circles of church. Even our own need to “punish” ourselves for our wrong doing leaks out everywhere and also on the God who is love and is seen in the face of Jesus. Jesus comes to deliver us from the real consequences of such “sin.” Expiation makes “sense.” Absolutely.

  • scotmcknight

    David (and John Thomson), the best way to respond to Moule (or Dodd) is not to explain atonement using propitiatory language, for that just illustrates our ability to explain texts in light of what we believe/think, but instead to offer texts in the NT where you think propitiation is explicitly taught.

    Where do you think there is clear evidence that Jesus’ death satisfied the wrath of God in the NT?

  • phil_style

    @ David: “Modern theologians wrestle with the whole wrath concept because of the spirit of the age. Since the modern world hates the very idea of a God of wrath and vengeance we shy away from the concepts”

    Theologians since the second century have wrestled with the concept. Not because of “modern sensibilities” but because of the pure incongruity/ difficulty of reconciling violence with other doctrines of God.

  • Tracy

    Thanks for this. Beautifully explained. It also seems to me that the doctrine of the Trinity should help us. It is, after all, God on the cross. Not God buying off God.

    I’m also a litte troubled by some sense that the OT offers a different doctrine of propitiation. After all, we’re talking about the same God. And how many times do the prophets challenge the whole system of sacrifice? Or does God say, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” or words to that effect.

  • I do think Gods wrath is an issue we have to deal with. Marshall wrote a beautiful and small essay about it: http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/222. But I do not know wether I agree with him that it necessarily leads to penal subsitution as he contends. Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath; 1Th 1.10. So Gods wrath – even after the cross – is very real. Yet, maybe we could say that the cross provides a way to escape from God’s wrath. The cross provides an alternative, a way out for us humans – being both abusers and abused.

  • Joey Elliott

    Propitiation AND expiation! He took my punishment AND made me clean!

  • David Wegener

    Romans 5:9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:10 talk about Jesus saving us from the wrath of God by means of His death.

  • Left out, here at least, is the issue of the character of God’s wrath. We want to explain the work of the cross using nuanced terms but seem to take ‘wrath’ as a self-explanatory issue, often defining it in terms that mimic a stern judge, an aggrieved lord of the realm, or an emotionally disturbed parent. So many atonement theories come out of finding ways to calm this angry fellow down and accept us into his austere presence despite our clearly egregious behavior that is an affront to his sense of self.

    Is that, however, the character of God’s wrath in the Old Testament? We’re not, after all, only discussing the particular meaning of Christ’s death but in discussing this we are expressing the sort of God that we say is the true God. Is this God expressed in our various atonement theories the God revealed in Scriptures? It seems his form of wrath should be determined by such revelation rather than by our own imposed, or historically imposed, interpretations.

  • @David

    I guess by your quotes from Romans and 1 Thessalonians, you mean that they imply that Jesus satisfied Gods wrath. But to be rescued from Gods wrath not necessarily implies that Gods wrath was satisfied by the cross. If someone rescues me from a stormy sea, that does not necessarily imply that the sea is pacified and the storm gone.

    @Patrick O
    As far as the character of God’s wrath, up until now, I feel inclined to expound on it from both God’s holiness and his love. A route that is also followed by Stott.

  • What is the object of the Atonement? Is it sin or God? Does God sacrifice Himself in order to please Himself or does He sacrifice Himself to claim victory over sin, death, and Satan? Does propitiatory Atonement conform to the Trinity? If so how can one reconcile the two doctrines so that the Trinity is still one in essence and undivided? If it is in God’s nature to decree judgment before love this way what does that tell us about humankind as image-bearers of God? Shall we judge as God does or follow Jesus’ clear teaching not to? This issue speaks to the issue of a fundamental difference in who we understand God to be.

  • Kristin

    Aw, man. I chose to sing that hymn this Sunday. Now I will obsess about it all weekend!

  • Mark

    NT Wright says that he thinks the song would be more appropriate as, “on the cross where Jesus died, the LOVE of God was satisfied.” Thoughts?

  • Scot McKnight


    Do you think those are the only two passages? These are commonly cited in defense of wrath-averting atonement.

    I’m unconvinced 1 Thess 1:10 is about the cross averting God’s wrath and more along the line of being in Christ saves us from the judgment of God in history against Jerusalem and its leaders — so I’d see wrath there as historical judgment.

    Rom 5 can be plainly read as you do; but Moule’s point is not defeated by this since he’s concerned with the hilas- word group. You agree with him on this? Or do you think 1 John 2 is more propitiatory?

  • Cal

    I agree with Joey, I think the language provides for both propitiation and expiation. I think it is causal, one after the other

    First if we disconnect Jesus from God, like some evangelicals are apt to do, and think of it as two different wills and two different entities we’re bordering either on tritheism or arianism.

    The Wrath, visualize as a cup, is alienation and separation, something the whole Trriune Lord suffered to pass. Jesus, as Humanity’s representative and Sin bearer, holds all of Sin and the wrath is poured on Sin. On the Cross Sins is expiated. And in this there is propitiation, the whole Godhead is satisfied for the sacrifice was complete. Wrath being satisfied was its target was destroyed and that was by a Sacrifice of the very one who poured the wrath out and the received the same. Christ’s death propitiated the wrath.

    Also, I see both expiation and propitiation in the OT. If we cut out propitiation, what was the purpose of the Temple system if its sacrifices did not point to the coming Lamb of God?

  • fb

    the difficulty of this debate is that most of us (myself included) don’t have the linguistic chops to adjudicate this conflict, so it quickly moves to a discussion on more theological grounds. but i wonder: are the two ideas mutually exclusive? is the fact that God is the one who initiates reconciliation and removes the barrier incompatible with the notion that he has wrath against sin which must be satisfied?

  • Bev Mitchell

    How we see God, and how we approach God definitely shifts our view on concepts like these – sometimes 180 degrees. Scot covers this well in KJG saying, in effect that “Who do you say that I am?” should be correctly addressed before asking “What must I do to be saved?” These kinds of pairings are everywhere, and it would be good to have a more complete list than the one below. I think they all bear in some way on the propitiation/expiation discussion. Our orientation is crucial. Thoughts? Additions?

    Apprehending God, not comprehending him
    John 1 before Genesis 1 
    Love then speech
    Jesus the Son of God, then Jesus the Saviour
    God the Father, then God the Creator
    God is love, then God is sovereign
    The Incarnation then the Cross

  • Luke Allison

    I don’t buy Romans 5:8-9 as teaching propitiation in the sense that we’re discussing here.
    Paul has clearly outlined what “the wrath of God” looks like in Romans 1:18-25, and it doesn’t look like a frothing angry deity smiting folks. It looks like a letting go, a turning over. This is a very common way of seeing God’s judgment in the OT as well.
    Clearly, the OT still has issues of divine wrath “breaking out” against the people. But we can’t just translate these word groups “propitiation” because we like the idea of propitiation. We can’t import that in there just because the idea of God slaughtering himself to appease his own hatred of sin resonates with us somehow.

    I speak as someone who has been profoundly committed to this idea in the past. But the words can’t just suddenly mean something because we feel they should. We can’t make statements like “wrath is everywhere in the New Testament” and then proceed to demonstrate it by pointing to a theologically skewed translation of this word group. The popular pastors/theologians who continually push for this idea think that not pushing for it undermines God’s holiness, the moral gravity of sin, and the seriousness of the future judgment. It’s sort of a: “You see what happened to Jesus? That was for you! Now accept it or the same thing will happen to you and your family!” If we don’t have God’s wrath to fling around, what do we have? If we don’t have hell for all who reject Christ, what do we have?

    Much of this comes back to the massive Rob Bell discussion and Scot’s Parchman lectures. The wrath of God being poured out on Christ lends gravity to our teaching. It makes sense of the brutal and horrific nature of the crucifixion. But it also gives us a bit of an extra power in our “new birth” punch. We have experienced the new birth. We are different. You are not. And guess what? The wrath of God is burning against you. Repent. Be like us.

    This is cynical, but I’m becoming more and more convinced it’s closer to the truth.

  • Andrew

    What *does* Moule — or, for that matter, the Orthodox fellow with the two chairs from a few weeks back — have to say about “wrath” in the New Testament? I’m inclined to agree with both Moule and Orthodoxy, but can’t get over the many passages that tell me that God is angry/wrathful over sin and will punish sinners out of said anger. The one that echoes in my head, perhaps because the wrath is mentioned with a specific object, is Colossians 3:6 (cf. Ephesians 5:6), “For because of these things the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.” The word appears in the NT fully 34 times.

    (Other NT wrath passages, for ease of reference: Matthew 3:7 / Luke 3:7, Luke 21:23, John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Romans 3:5, Romans 4:15, Romans 5:9, Romans 9:22, Romans 12:19, Ephesians 2:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:9, Hebrews 3:11, Hebrews 4:3, Revelation 6:16-17, Revelation 11:18, Revelation 14:10, Revelation 16:19, Revelation 19:15.

    Some potentially interesting contexts:

    – Mark 3:5, where the Lord is described as angry and grieved at the same time
    – Romans 2:5, which speaks of a day of wrath and “revelation of God’s righteousness”; perhaps this kai is appositive, that is, the revelation of his righteousness IS his wrath, working within the Orthodox’s preferred metaphor of God’s presence as consuming fire
    – Romans 2:8, which couples wrath (orgē) with indignation (thumos); we should probably also explain the indignation bit
    – Romans 13:4-5, where the exercise of civil authority is put forth as a minister of God’s own wrath
    – Ephesians 4:31 / Colossians 3:8, 1 Timothy 2:8, and James 1:19-20, where we are called to put away wrath (orgē) from our own lives)

  • Jonathan Wilson

    Great post Scot and thanks for the reference to Moule’s work. I am convinced by his argument against translating (and understanding) hilas-forms as propitiation. But I still want “pedagogical” continuity between Old and New Testaments, so I worry about any language that sets OT and NT in contrast to one another. I think that the sacrifices of the OT prepare the way for understanding Christ’s death as sacrifice. Perhaps we have read back into the OT our mistaken NT understanding of propitiation? Perhaps Israel also misunderstood this in their practice? We also still have to submit ourselves to the clear biblical declaration of God’s wrath. We seem caught between evangelicals who give an account of God’s wrath in propitiation terms and others who give no account of God’s wrath. Who are the Bible scholars and theologians providing alternative accounts of God’s wrath?

  • EZK

    My questions about propitiation:
    Does God have X amount of wrath to pour out on sinners?
    What percentage of his total wrath (X) was propitiated by Jesus?
    What percentage is saved for the judgement at the end of the age?
    Does that mean Jesus’ sacrifice only propitiated some of God’s wrath for sin? Or is all the leftover wrath only for wrath based on the rejection Jesus?
    If God’s wrath has to be propitiated, what does forgiveness mean?
    Am I using propitiated correctly? : )

  • Scot, it seems like your making a distinction without a difference on 1 Thess 1:10. It’s clearly God’s wrath that Jesus rescues us from, is it not? This at least pushes against Moule’s second point and leads to a caveat of his third.

    Moule’s interpretation of the hilas- words matches his rejection of retributive justice in a sermon of his published in Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The two almost always go hand-in-hand.

    His point that God is never the object of propitiation in the NT is grammatically true but also a bit narrow. The logic of Rom 3:25-26 points to God as both subject and object. It’s no accident that the presentation of Jesus as the hilasterion in Rom 3:25 is followed by no less than three purpose statements, all that have to do with God himself. Why was Jesus put forth as a hilasterion? Paul’s answer is a resounding: “For God’s sake!”

    It has always seemed to me that the Greco-Roman background of the word (not to mention the OT background) would lead Paul’s readers to (a) fill in the obvious grammatical blank and (b) be surprised that the object of the propitiation is also the one who provided it.

    It seems like Moule’s point 4 is driving his point 2.

  • By the way, I love the verse links! Very helpful.

  • scotmcknight

    Peter G and Jonathan Wilson… as always, thanks both of you. I have published a bit on wrath in my A Community called Atonement and I do believe too many want to push wrath off the stage, and sometimes it is this bit by Moule that gives them the logical push … but, but, but … wrath is connected to God in the Bible, quite often I might add, and God’s name is also Jealous, so wrath can’t be eliminated. But wrath works far more often, vastly in fact, at the level of perceiving God’s judgment acts in history, like the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC or 70 AD, than at the personal level. For all the attention it gets, I find it rarely in any atonement passage. That means something to anyone who wants to articulate theology biblically.

  • Marshall Janzen

    And on the cross, as Jesus died
    God’s arms of love were open wide…

  • Luke Allison


    Do you think that Paul’s understanding of “the wrath of God being revealed” in Romans 1:18-25 is a good lens to read the rest of his letters through? That is, was he thinking of a similar concept when he used the “wrath” language in other writings?

    That makes a big difference to how we understand the atonement as “saving us” from the wrath of God.

  • Joey Elliott

    EZK #23,

    Not sure there are simple answers to your well constructed questions. But, I will try! The way I understand it, wrath is an attribute of God, which like all His attributes, cannot be quantified. It is infinite. I think if you try to quantity any of them, you will quickly understand God less, which is not good, and not His intention in our celebrating His attributes for His glory and our joy.

    So wrath is an attribute of God that is not quantifiable, and it is directly linked and dependent on other attributes: Holiness – a holy God cannot tolerate sin or he would not be holy; Justice – a just God could not leave sin unpunished or He would not be just; Love – a loving God does not desire anyone to perish, or else he wouldn’t be loving. Etc.

    If you look at the attributes of God, and the place of wrath in those attributes, you see how they all meet perfectly at the cross. So they are all satisfied at the cross. That alone should make us all shut up with our various explanations and fall on our face.

    But if you talk in terms of “how much” of God’s wrath was satisfied on the cross, you will definitely confuse both the wondrous nature of God and the scandalous grace of Jesus in the event of the cross, and all of Christianity will be confusing and less good news.

    Rather, if you understand God as infinitely all the things that He is, and see ourselves as infinitely separated from Him, and understand the cross for the infinite implications of all God’s attributes coming together on our behalf (among other things, by the way), then Jesus becomes infinitely precious.

    So God is infinite, and wrath is an infinite attribute of Him, and all people will experience that infinite wrath either forever in eternal separation from Him initiated at the final judgment, or by propitiation through the work of Jesus.

    Perhaps that makes sense. I hope so because it is amazing and wonderful! And that is all without talking about expiation, which is different, and equally true; namely not only is our sin atoned for, but it is taken away and we our clean!!!

  • Ron Newberry

    The atonement is God’s victory over evil. Christus Victor. But the church, overall, has never settled for one theory of atonement. You can make the case for most theories from Scripture. Why does it have to one or the other, all show something of the nature of God.

  • Luke Allison

    Joey Elliott # 30,

    My only problem with what you’re saying is that you’re using systematic theology (God’s attributes are equal and perfectly coincide within him) before you engage with the text.
    Where does the Bible say that “God is wrath?” Or that “God is justice?”
    We know that God gets angry, and that god is just.

    But are you honestly saying that God’s love is just one more in a series of emotions? Is God’s love really that relative?

    Starting with this kind of theology essentially puts the witness of Jesus as just another in a series of witnesses as well. Because we know God is like THIS, so when we read Jesus doing THIS he’s actually doing THIS based on what we already know about God.

    This and a few more reasons is why I can’t count myself among the Reformed camp.

  • EZK

    #30 Joey Elliot

    “So God is infinite, and wrath is an infinite attribute of Him, and all people will experience that infinite wrath either forever in eternal separation from Him initiated at the final judgment, or by propitiation through the work of Jesus.”

    This sounds like you are saying that Jesus is suffering eternally. People are either experiencing infinite wrath forever or Jesus is forever propitiating the wrath of God on our behalf.

  • Cal


    When we start juggling attributes we get to far away from what the Scriptures say and more into a system (as Luke pointed out). God’s justice and wrath and even His mercy all flow out of who He is, which as the Apostle John said “God is love”. He is for His own glory in as much as it is because only by it are we rescued and united with Him as His people. God doesn’t have to do anything, He is wholly free and sovereign but He does because of who He is. Which simply Is. That in conjuncture that He is love, that is a bizarre and radical statement of His freedom, Sovereignty and His will.

    Also, we should remember to define Holiness as not a moral attribute but being “set apart”. In a sense, Sin is Holy from God, it is not apart of His order whereas He calls us to be Holy to God because He is Holy, which is set apart from death and sin. It’s not that He can’t enter into it, or be near it. Rather it is that they shall never mix. God enters into our sin and because God is almighty, it is broken and crushed. By bringing blessing to the afflicted and cursing the curse. Love never fails.

  • Joey Elliott


    I need to think about your response a little more, and whether saying God is wrath vs. God is wrathful is really that different. I agree that “God is Love” stands out in Scripture, and I think what I meant was that all of these other attributes are necessary as characteristics of God to be able to understand what “God is Love” means. So “God is Love” is coherent to us as we see all of His attributes meet at the cross. But let me think on this a little more.


    You’re not going to like to hear this, but I believe Jesus suffered more through the experience of the cross than anyone who rejects Jesus will suffer in eternal separation from Him. And that is a lot. There is much that goes into that, namely, the nature of the Trinity, and the concept of the Trinue God experiencing separation at the cross, etc. that can’t be quantified and compared next to what we understand as “eternal” from a time standpoint. Eternal means more than time, especially in this context.


    First, I appreciate your words in #18. I think I understand what you are saying in #34 and I appreciate it as clarification to my own points.

  • I don’t know Greek, so I feel unqualified to nitpick over the details of a Greek word here and there. But not so fast… I think we’re missing the point by doing so. In some ways—if you’ll indulge me—this debate reminds me of the debate over homosexuality—as if a verse here or there can keep us from seeing the big picture: that God’s intention is that sex is reserved for marriage, which is between a man and woman.

    Similarly, the big picture in the debate over penal substitution, in my opinion, is God’s justifiable wrath toward sin, which is an affront to God’s holiness, and that sin deserves punishment. This seems uncontroversial, not because of a Greek word here or there, but the thrust of both Old and New Testaments. But you guys tell me.

    Speaking personally, I need God to have done something—objectively—about my problem with sin and guilt. Does the cross expiate? By all means. But how? At least penal substitution, as classically formulated—not its many caricatures—provides a coherent account of how God takes care of my problem with sin. It’s not the whole story, but it’s part of it. I’m a United Methodist pastor whose clergy have mostly abandoned the doctrine and in so doing have left God’s wrath behind. As if, once Jesus came, sin was no longer a big deal. Whatever else we say about penal substitution, let’s not say that we don’t deserve punishment and condemnation for sin.

    N.T. Wright defends the doctrine against its many critics (even writes about the aforementioned contemporary hymn) in this excellent essay: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/news/2007/20070423wright.cfm?doc=205.

  • Regarding David’s insightful comment back in #3: “Modern theologians wrestle with the whole wrath concept because of the spirit of the age. Since the modern world hates the very idea of a God of wrath and vengeance we shy away from the concepts. But is this really the way to re-invision the Scripture for today? Let the Scripture speak and say what it needs to say without us having to defend the sensitivities and proclivities of a world that hasn’t killed an animal to eat in a hundred years or so.”

    I can’t speak for modern theologians, but I can speak for most United Methodists and say that this is exactly right.

  • Luke Allison


    I agree with much of what you’ve said…
    I would recommend Christian Eberhart’s “The Sacrifice of Jesus” for an entertaining and scholarly exploration of different viewpoints on “sacrifice” over the years.

    My only rebuttal to you is this: Paul clearly defines what he means by “the wrath of God” in Romans 1:18-25. Since Paul is the main purveyor of the phrase “wrath of God” in the New Testament, shouldn’t we at least give some credence to how he actually defines it?

    Also….writing off the fact that centuries of translation and theology have possibly obscured the meanings of words (the hilas- word group as Scot has pointed out) is a bit like saying “God takes care of everything, so why do anything?”
    There is a great deal of theological translation in modern Bibles. Saying “the common person doesn’t know Greek, so there’s no point in studying it” misses a rather large part of what I would assume would be Jesus’ cultural paradigm: study is the highest form of worship.

  • EZK

    Joey #35-
    “You’re not going to like to hear this, but I believe Jesus suffered more through the experience of the cross than anyone who rejects Jesus will suffer in eternal separation from Him. And that is a lot. There is much that goes into that, namely, the nature of the Trinity, and the concept of the Trinue God experiencing separation at the cross, etc. that can’t be quantified and compared next to what we understand as “eternal” from a time standpoint. Eternal means more than time, especially in this context.”

    It’s not that I don’t like to hear that, it that I don’t see any evidence of that in the Bible–i.e. separation of the Trinity at the cross.

  • Joey Elliott


    “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?!”

  • Luke Allison


    This is the point I’m making: everything you’re saying is a particular theological extraction from a text. There has been endless debate about what Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 22 means. Keller uses that as the formulation for his entire understanding of what was happening on the cross. I disagree, and I think there are good reasons for disagreeing.

    My problem isn’t with the fact that people believe what you’re articulating, but that people think that’s the only thing you can believe in order to have a proper understanding of Christianity. And that simply ain’t so.

  • Percival

    Very interesting discussion.

    Romans 1:15-2:16 is all about God’s wrath and judgment. These two terms are tied. However, it is interesting that three times Paul describes judgment and wrath in terms of God “giving them over to” lusts, and impure and depraved minds. It sounds as if THIS is the wrath being poured out, as if the “giving them over” to what the people lust after is the expression of His wrath, as if the wrath is inextricably bound up with sin as its natural consequence – the fruit of sin, so to speak. Romans 2:5 is a good example, “You are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when His righteous judgment will be revealed.” So, the wrath is something THAT SINNERS PRODUCE AGAINST THEMSELVES (sorry for the caps) and in the judgement this will be revealed. It seems almost as if the expression “day of God’s wrath” is an idiomatic expression for the revelation of the depravity of people in the day of judgement. Certainly the expression has emotional content, but it is not an attribute of God, it is an intense expression of being out of harmony with God.

  • Dan Arnold

    Oh why do you have to post such interesting things on days when I have so little time to interact?!

    I would like to go back and challenge the belief that the Hebrew Scriptures somehow provide a penal substitutionary understanding of sacrifice. I can find no place in Leviticus, where the bulk of the sacrificial Law is described, that portrays YHWH as being placated by sacrifice (see Goldingay, Israel’s Life, 139-141). In fact, Leviticus does not portray YHWH as being angry. In studying Leviticus, that was probably one of the biggest surprises to me. But it makes sense, especially in light of the declarations elsewhere that sacrifices are not what YHWH desires (Hosea 6:6, Psalm 40:6, 51:16, Hebrews 10:8 and differently, 1 Samuel 15:22).

    This is not to say that there is never a substitutionary component in sacrifice. This is most clearly portrayed in the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). However, and this is important for those that look for typologies in the Hebrew Scriptures, here, as in Leviticus, there is no hint of this sacrifice redirecting God’s wrath. But neither does this say that something objective does not take place. As Milgrom argues in his magisterial commentary on Leviticus, blood sacrifice has a purging, or cleansing affect. Both of these concepts dovetail nicely with how Christ’s sacrifice is understood by the author of the book of Hebrews.

    Gotta run, all afternoon meeting starting in 5 minutes…

    Shalom uvrecha

  • Dan Arnold

    Aack, I hate it when I don’t close my italics tag…

    Sorry about that…

  • Percival

    I just now read Morgan Guyton’s post, and when I read point #4 about God’s wrath, I realized my previous post is redundant. Anyway, I guess that means I agree with her (him?) on that point.

  • EZK

    Joey #40
    “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?!”

    You have determined that the the Trinity separated at the cross based on that statement alone? That is so much conjecture. And like Luke in #41 said, there is much debate over what that means, and I do not think it means what you think it means…

    I don’t think Jesus was asking God a literal question. Psalm 22 is a cry of anguish that Jesus uses to reflect his own anguish. And verse 24 promises that the anguish Jesus was expressing was not reflective of the reality: God does not turn his back on Jesus in his suffering, but he heard his cry. I find joy in that, and know that God does not turn his back on me in suffering. There is mystery in this that can’t be explained: God listens as we cry out in suffering when it seems he has forsaken us.

    Even if you disagree with that interpretation, what need is there for separation of the Trinity at the cross for atonement? What would that accomplish? What does that even mean? How did they get put back together again?

  • Joey Elliott


    I’m curious, what are the “good reasons” you believe other than what I am articulating?


    You can believe whatever you want to believe, and I realize that many have debated the meaning of Jesus quoting Psalm 22, but somehow you need to understand what you are doing when you debate this point, given the weight at which those such as myself hold to it. Conjecture? That is flat out insulting. I see the whole Bible teaches what I am saying. I am not making a personal comment here, but your interpretation of what was going on the cross when Jesus screamed those words, is tragic. It is the reason so many (maybe not you) find so little joy or amazement in the gospel of grace. You find joy in the fact that God did not turn His back on Jesus? I believe you. But to me thats mud pies in the slum compared to a holiday at sea (C.S. Lewis). Don’t you see the love of God in actually being the just and the justifier?! If God did not actually turn His back on Jesus, it means that Jesus did not suffer the punishment that we deserve. God forbid!

    As far as comfort in suffering, that is a good but different topic. I would love more dialogue on this blog about the theology of suffering – not so we can debate it, but so we can help those who don’t have it and therefore ask “why” in suffering, instead of clinging to Jesus who can and will comfort them until he makes all things new. I would say that I find joy in suffering knowing that Jesus went through more suffering than I could ever imagine, and He did it for my sake! So my suffering is light and momentary, and I have a Savior who can sympathize with me and comfort me in affliction! His suffering had a purpose; why wouldn’t mine?

    How does it get put back together?! The Resurrection! Jesus ascending to the right hand of God interceding on our behalf, the Suffering Servant becomes the Righteous King!

    The feeling of being forsaken I realize is powerful and not answered easily by a statement of theology, even if that statement is true. But when you read the entirety of Psalm 22, you see the psalmist wavering between pain and belief, pain and belief. He is honest about his pain, but he is enduring in his belief that God is good and has not forsaken him. That is the Christian life. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment and example of that. And how does it end? Hope!

    22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
    23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
    24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
    and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

    25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
    26 The afflicted[d] shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

    27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
    and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
    28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

    29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
    30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
    31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

  • Luke Allison


    1.The natural place to start in formulating the type of theology you’re espousing is 2 Cor 5:21, which incidentally is also the primary “double imputation” verse in Reformed theology. There’s debate about what this text is actually saying. Some translations say “God made him who knew no sin to be sin”, some say “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us”, and others “say God made him who knew no sin to be a sin offering.” Any text with a variety of interpretations is most likely not meant to form the foundation of important doctrines. We don’t really know what this verse means, but we can take informed guesses.

    2. I don’t believe that God “can’t look upon sin”. That’s a huge theological error that’s been getting pushed on people for a long time. So even if Jesus were “made sin” in some metaphysical sense, I don’t believe this would prompt God to “look away in disgust” or whatever people have made up.

    3. The Gospel narratives are not theological texts to be mined for doctrines or causative theories. They are stories. I don’t think we should draw a theological conclusion from Jesus saying this anymore than we should draw conclusions about some “hell” based on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. That misses the point entirely. It’s western to a fault. Narrative is mined for logical, mathematical systematic thought.

    4. The context of Psalm 22 is not that of a man who has actually been abandoned by God. It is that of a man who feels like he has been abandoned by God, but eventually finds his way back into God’s covenant love and faithfulness. The only reason why we would make the theological jump you and others have made is if the idea of Jesus being actually abandoned resonated with us in some way, as it clearly does with you. It doesn’t resonate with me.

    5. I have lots more, but I hate long posts.

    All that said, I do believe that Jesus experienced abandonment, in the exact same way that every “godforsaken” person in the history of humanity has experienced it. But this is me theologizing.

    I don’t start with the premise that God is so holy that people can’t come near him. So I don’t start with the notion that God’s disposition towards humanity is hostile and angry. So I don’t see any need for Jesus to have been slaughtered by God or executed by God or punished by God in our place.
    Keep this in mind: I don’t believe in original sin either, at least not in its Augustinian formulation. And I don’t believe in total depravity in its Reformation sense. I think things are…well…complicated.

  • Joey Elliott


    Thanks for your response.

    With all due respect, of course the idea of Jesus being forsaken on our behalf does not resonate with you if you don’t believe that is ultimately what we (you) deserve apart from Jesus. You have a different understanding of sin, so atonement for that sin will of course look different.

    I just think our disagreement here is profound, and a shame.

  • scotmcknight

    Joey, most of your comments have been theologizing… so let me ask this:

    What text in the NT do you go to as a compelling and clear instance of propitiatory atonement, or one in which we see that the Father poured out his wrath on the Son and so averted the wrath of God against humans? Let’s talk texts.

  • DRT

    Joey Elliott,

    “With all due respect, of course the idea of Jesus being forsaken on our behalf does not resonate with you if you don’t believe that is ultimately what we (you) deserve apart from Jesus.”

    Joey, are you saying that you believe that each and every one of us deserves to die for what we do? That we should be killed? That my grandma, and Gandhi deserve death? Is that your view of god?

  • Joey Elliott


    Thanks for jumping in! And sorry if I have diverted attention away from texts. I will never resist the encouragement (or rebuke) to go back to the text of Scripture.

    The texts I would mention have probably already been labored over to some extent in this post (Romans and 1 John). Though, I am not one to indicate specific verses as proof of a point. Perhaps that is hard to believe! But I have been convicted by my pastor recently of the importance of Biblical theology in addition to (not instead of, though probably more important than) systematic theology. You would have to do a pretty comprehensive Biblical theology presentation to do justice to what I am articulating. Many have, as I’m sure you have even read. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time with access to a computer and am going home for the weekend! I promise that’s not a cop out! I really do want to be able to better articulate, from Biblical passages (not just verses), why I hold so strongly to propitiation as I articulate it. And I do hold it strongly!! Even though I know it is not the only part of the atonement, it is such an important part!

    I have A Community Called Atonement, by the way, and need to read it!

  • Cal


    I agree with Joey and it is a bit of a systematization of what we read in Scripture. In one sense, the God is one and cannot be separated and cut apart, but Jesus did feel the weight of Sin and the wrath He drank. I think its a paradox in that God felt alienated from Himself while remaining One. I don’t think can say God forsook Jesus, that’s the whole point of the Resurrection. He was not forsaken, He is the Messiah and He lives. That’s the point of the joy of Psalm 22, the one afflicted is raised up and at His name all, even the dead, see this Light.

    Why did all this happen? To bring Man, sinful, enslaved, blind and alienated, into His peace. That was the intent from the beginning: the Creator amongst His creations. Immanuel. This has many different faucets and angles (like Scot’s book goes on about): forgiveness, adoption, peace, healing, declared just/not-guilty, made honorable, new-life/new-creation, victory of light over dark/good over evil, united etc.

    I firmly believe in penal substitutionary atonement, but also Christus Victor. The Cross was destroying sin (expiation & Christus Victor) and bearing God’s own Judgment on Sin and Cursing the Mystery of Iniquity (propitiation & penal substitutionary atonement).

  • Joey Elliott


    Yes. My view of sin, as rejection of God in Jesus, and exchange of His glory for created things, is that it deserves the infinite wrath of God, or being “killed” as you say. We all fall short.

    But my view of grace is that God, while we were yet sinners, died for us in Jesus! He atoned for our sins and made us clean!

    That is basic Christianity.

  • DRT

    Thanks Joey, there is no question that god does not like sin, heck, when my kids sin I don’t like it either. But I would never consider killing them or subjecting them to eternal conscious torment.

    I just find it interesting (and shocking frankly, but I have not been around evangelicals too long) that you think sin is worth the death penalty.

  • Luke Allison


    “That is basic Christianity”

    That is basic Reformed Christianity.

  • Cal


    I guess the Apostle Paul is Reformed then? Joey is liberally quoting from Romans 1,3,5.


    I agree about “eternal conscious torment” and that’s why I don’t agree with that as what Judgment means for those who’ve rejected Christ in the bible.

    However, I would add that “killing” implies something active rather than the other way around. If Christ is the creator and sustainer of all things, and yet man is in rebellion (ignorant or not), we don’t deserve to be sustained. By that I mean, we haven’t merited life. I think that’s what Joey means, but I could be wrong! Wouldn’t be the first time haha.


  • DRT

    Cal, thanks, and I think I can get myself to buy in to us alienating ourselves from god and him not forcing himself upon us, even if it means something pretty final in the end.

    But that is not the sense that I was getting from Joey. My good grandma (the goodess person I have known, but I may be biased), does not deserve to be forsaken by god because she did not give the last spoonful of the custard to her husband and instead ate it herself (she promised that she would give it to him). I just have a very hard time thinking that if she did not know Jesus (but she did, she was an ex-nun, which is a bit of a sin too, I believe), would she be bad in god’s eye, or would he look at her as a mostly very good person, as I do, and that he loved her despite her sin irrespective of anything else.

    I recognize the need for us to say that we do not deserve what god gives us, and that we do not earn salvation, whatever that really means, but the other side of that coin is that do we really deserve wrath, hate, death, or whatever else one will term it if we do not do something else right, like know Jesus? I am not trying to get into a universalism argument here, just trying to push back against this hard line that seems to get drawn about how we all are worthless and deserve, wrath and death. I can’t help but think there is another way to frame this up that is more true to the Jesus I encounter.

  • DRT

    ..and as far as Roman’s goes, I believe there are great many truths in there, but I also believe that there is hyperbole. What pastor would not engage in a bit of it with his flock under those circumstances? I can’t imagine that if you pulled him aside afterwards and said “hey Paul, now about xyz, is that literally what you meant?” that he would say something like “as sure as there is a Satan and the flood rid the earth of evil for awhile I am not exageratting at all!” 😉

  • Dana Ames

    I just wonder if we could look at those hilas- texts without using a made-up 14th century English word – which itself expresses a theological point of view. Why not at least try to read these passages with the word as what it refers to – particularly in that last example. In doing that, we also bring in the connection with the Israel-story.

    Oh God, *be the mercy-seat* for me, a sinner.

    For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might *become the mercy-seat* for the sins of the people.

    He is *the mercy-seat* for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

    This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son *the mercy-seat* for our sins. (the “as” does not appear in Greek, to my knowledge)

    God presented Christ *the mercy-seat* (the “as” does not appear in Greek, to my knowledge)

    Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing *the mercy-seat*.

    What is the mercy-seat? It is the place where God and Man commune, where God’s faithful love is directly _at least as much as is possible – experienced by Man, where Man through his whole life (blood) sums up the worship of all creation toward God. No “wrath” in sight. Possibly expiation, but there would have to be some nuancing connected with God’s faithfulness to bring about his intentions for humanity.

    The “gospel of sin management” is way too narrow to explain God’s ultimate purpose of summing up *all things* in Christ.


  • DRT

    Sorry for writing so much, but I just can’t help but believe that god did not change and his wrath is a potential in theory but not in practice and that is one of the things that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus showed us. Yea, verily, we doth sinned the big one! We killed god himself! But he again did not hold it against us but said, again, just be willing to try and follow me.

    I think of the wrath of god like the wrath of grandma. It would be like a fire burning through me and I would wish I were dead if grandma’s wrath were unleashed on me, but the actual action of the wrath would be her saying “Dave, I am so disappointed in you, I thought you may be better than that…. 🙁 “

  • Joey Elliott


    Would you be willing to listen to a 22 minute narrative that might give powerful meaning to my heart behind this? Sorry I can’t give you a link, but if you Google “The Fathers Cup: A Crucifixion Narrative” by Rick Gamache, you’ll find it. Be sure to listen, not read. Thanks

  • len

    WOW – very helpful discussion people. Dana – good point! I have to somehow summarize this in a blog post 😉

  • DRT

    Joey, thank you for that link and sharing what you believe. I have listened to more than half of it and recognize that it is indeed a powerful story. But the problem I have with it is that it is obvious from the telling of this story that we are all very steeped in guilt for a sin that is a basic orientation of the humanity, the way that we are. Now I am not saying that it is the way we must be, I am saying that it is the way that We are.

    But what happens in this exchange is that we feel guilty and horrible about the absolute cruelty that We did, and then teach ourselves and others that all we have to do is believe in Jesus for this to be all better. I say that is garbage.

    The person presenting that story said at least a couple times how god (Jesus) looked on his attacker and betrayer with love (centurion and Peter). So he is not sitting around being wrathful about this, he is loving them as individuals right there on the spot in spite of their sin. He has already forgiven them!

    But we continue to think and teach that somehow we need to believe in Jesus to make us forgiven. That we need to somehow acknowledge that Jesus is Lord then he will not take it out on us.

    What I heard going on there was that god loved us individually despite our condition of sin. That god would not take it out on us even before the resurrection (for Jesus is god, right?). That god does not believe that our sins warrant death to us, but that he would accept us anyway.

    All he asks is that we try to follow him, to do what he commanded, and I don’t mean that we need to have an intellectual ascent that he is the son of god.

    We have turned this around and, true to form, made it about us! God loves us. We may not be able to accept him, but he loves us. That is what that story is telling.

    Yes, it is also saying that we are incredibly evil as a population, but when we turn that around and take individual salvation without taking communal action we are again missing the point in a very big way. I will listen to the rest but it sure seems to me that Jesus loves us along the way to the cross.

  • DRT

    One clarification, my central point is that, yes, we are guilty of terrible sin corporately, but that Christianity is teaching us that we get saved individually and that this is out of synch. We can”t have it both ways and make out in the end.

  • Joey Elliott


    Listen to the rest of it.

    I believe your theology to be dangerously flawed, but I love you brother!

  • DRT

    Thanks for the love Brother! I will.

  • Jeff Martin

    I hope God has wrath. After all he is just, right?! BUT it is not against his Son but against sin.

    Also I dislike when people talk about it is a good idea o memorize things in toto. We can read in America. Memorization was for and is for people who are illiterate and for people who have too much time on their hands. In my experience those who have done much memorization have lost the passion of the Scriptures, they are believer types not disciple types, with a few exceptions of course

  • This one got cited in the original post but some how I missed it. I just ran across it again this morning and thought it’s worth mentioning for anyone still following the thread.

    In Luke 18:13 the tax collector asks God to “be propitious” (passive) to him. And of course, the tax collector–unlike the Pharisee–has nothing to offer by way of propitiation. So who is being propitiated and who is doing the propitiating here? The tax collector seems to think the answer is the same for both: God. And isn’t it telling that this use of hilaskomai is in the context of Jesus’ teaching on justification? We get it in parable form, but the logic is the same that runs right through Romans 3-4.

    So again I must demur on Moule’s points 2 and 4. For those willing to accept it, there is pretty clear NT evidence that God propitiates himself and that he does so through the death of Christ.

  • Joey Elliott


    You are right, His wrath is against sin and not His Son. Yet, His Son took on sin for us. Amazing!

    I would have to be considered the exception to your accusation that memorization reduces passion for the Scriptures. I am finishing the book of 1 Timothy now, and I cannot describe to the impact it has had. I have meditated on it in community and just this morning I listed 20 themes from the book that have transformed my life.

  • Joey Elliott

    And Colossians is next!

  • Luke Allison

    Joey Elliott,

    Read Dana Ames post a few up there at # 60. This is the problem that Scot is addressing.

    We can’t just say “that word should obviously be translated ‘propitiation'” because we like the idea of propitiation.

    What this whole conversation does for me is highlight the vast gulf between some believers’ view of Scripture and others’.

    I’m tired of people setting themselves up as gatekeepers for good theology. I’m even more tired of lines like “I think your theology is dangerous and deadly, but I love you as a person!” That’s bull-honkey. That’s evangelical-speak for “I respect nothing of what you have to say and won’t ever consider you a reasonable source of information, but I’m going to be surfacey and nice to you so you know that I follow Jesus still.”

    There’s an entire world of theology out there that is not Reformed in any way. There is an entire world of scholars who don’t agree with more Reformed conclusions on texts. How did people with a Reformed perspective become the gatekeepers?

    This is ranty, but I’m just tired. Tired of talking about the same old things. Tired of nodding my head while people rant about gay marriage, tired of starting blankly when people start talking about stealing paperclips being on the same level as rape, tired of hearing about how the beautiful picture of God shown in Jesus is actually just a masquerade costume so that we can really see ass-kicking slaughtering Jesus coming in the future at some point.


  • Joey Elliott


    Not bull-honky! I disagree with you but love you! Don’t let those who are inauthentic with this statement taint your perspective of those of us who are authentic.

    And for the record, much of what I disagree with on this blog is not just because I consider myself reformed. Much of it is, I think, off from orthodox Chritianity altogether (i.e corporate sin only) and frankly I’m surprised Scot isnt more vocal about some of these things and isnt doing a little gate keeping himself. I can’t explain why Reformed are serving as gatekeepers, but better them than nobody!

  • CGC

    Hi Joey,
    I quess it depends on what people mean by gatekeepers? My problem is the number one image that comes to my mind were the religous leaders of Jesus day when it comes to gate keeprs. I am sure there could be some theologians that help the church think more deeply or helps define the Christian faith within the confines of orthodox boundaries but I still don’t know why they would have to function as gatekeeprs? Maybe this is just a metaphor with too many negative connotations and too many horror stories for my tastes?

    PS – I have not really followed this discussion much! All I know is there is a kind of twisted irony where some of the Reformed folks at Southen Baptist have been viewed as pushing a kind of Calvinism and calling some things into question on those who take a different perspective. Now there are some other Baptists that are pushing a kind of arminianism while calling into question others who view things from a more Calvinist perspective. We fiddle with these kind of things while Rome burns 🙁

  • DRT

    Joey, I may get to it tomorrow, but today was preperation then hosting a picnic at my house. What a wonderful day for one!

    But I would like to know what is dangerous about what I said.

  • Joey Elliott


    In as honest and loving way as I can, I believe your focus on corporate sin is a distortion of the reality of individual sin in each of us, and such a neglect of personal sinfulness can lead to spiritual pride and stunted growth in the Christisn life, perhaps at worst faith shipwreck. Perhaps I misunderstood you neglect of personal sinfulness?

    My life verse this year has been from 1 Timothy: but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost (of sinners) Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example for those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

    I am the biggest sinner I know. The foremost. And I received mercy so that Jesus could show His mercy to others through me, in his patience.

  • DRT


    Perhaps I need to wait until I listen to the other half of that audio, which I may do now, but I still do not get the distinction that you are making. I know we all sin, individually and corporately. But I also believe that there is a real and material difference between a serial killer and Grandma. Yes, even Grandma sinned, but I find it difficult to believe that we all deserve death because of our sin at the individual level to be over-stating the situation quite a bit here.

  • DRT

    Joey, I listened to it and that is one of the sickest most demented things I have ever heard.

    Now, what does that have to do with corporate and individual sin?

  • DRT

    I probably should be more specific as to what I object to. I think the actual description has it’s intended effect. And that is grusome, but that is not what I am objecting to.

    First, he says that while Jesus was hanging on the cross he looked up and did not recognize his Father’s eyes.

    Next, he says that Jesus felt dirty hanging on the cross. While I am not sure exactly what he means by that, I don’t think my god ever felt what I would call dirty.

    He then takes that thought of dirty and says that Jesus was dirty on the outside, but now had that feeling of human wickedness on the inside. Like somehow the wickedness of those people is now part of him.

    And then, he takes that to the next rhetorical level by pretending he is god’s voice and says “Son of Man, why have you sinned against me, you are self sufficient and self righteous” and continues on for what seemed like forever throwing vile hateful language at Jesus.

    And during that horrible, vile diatribe, he says “you rob me of my glory” Wow. Does he really think we can rob god of his glory? And what is his glory? His glory is that he layed down his life for us! So right in the middle of Jesus showing the glory of god, laying his life down, this preacher is saying that it is robbed of him.

    Then, as an apparent riff on Roman’s 1, he lists all kinds of sin then says “so you are given up to your homosexual passions” (!) Wow, how vile. God is berating Jesus on the cross…this is too much.

    And he goes on and on and on with this image of god reeming Jesus out while he is hanging on the cross. This is absolutely vile and disgusting.

    …”…and I hate these things inside or you and I am filled with disgust….” I see why you want me to hear it, he acts like he is savoring every word and emotion. My god does not act like that.

    And then, “…my indignation for your sin consumes me…..Now. DRINK. MY. CUP.” Yikes!!!!! It sounds worse than Clint Eastwood ever did. That is not god, that is Satan. And what is with this cup? He is saying that god is the one torturing Jesus and making him pay? This is just sick!

    And just to make it clear…. “….omnipitent wrath aimed at one naked man hanging on a cross. The father can longer look on his son. His heart’s treasure …and he looks away.”

    Joey, that god is an absolute monster.

  • DRT

    Roger Olson’s most recent post has this gem in it, and this is exactly what is going on in that sermon:

    These statements and things like them are preached in some contexts by Calvinist preachers as if they were gospel truth and not theological opinion. They are preached as if they were quotations straight out of the Bible on a par with “For God so loved the world…” (a biblical statement not often quoted by these preachers without defeating qualifications).
    The problem I point out is some preachers’ lack of signals to help listeners distinguish between gospel and theological opinion that they should go home and check out with Scripture, tradition, reason and experience–in other words that they should exercise discernment about.

    That guy in the sermon is mixing scripture, fantasy, theology, opinion and shear gratuitous violence and vile while not distinguishing between any of them.

  • Luke Allison


    That’s what my issue is with this stuff: What kind of God do you find beautiful and compelling? My Calvinist friends find this kind of God appealing. I don’t. I understand why they do, but will not and cannot go there.

    They, on the other hand, think I’m treading a slippery slope to the hell they preach by even suggesting something like this. Piper’s recent quotation sums it up for me: “It’s a sin to not like the true doctrine of election (the Calvinist doctrine); it’s a sin to not like what God likes.”

    I hold my theological opinions loosely and assume I’ll be corrected in the future at some point (because it’s happened so many times already!). My friends in the Reformed circle seem to have the assumption that they have already learned everything there is to learn, and no one can change their mind. That”s why so little attention is paid to important thinkers like NT Wright besides towing a theological line and pretending like he doesn’t matter, as in the Gospel Coalition review of How God Became King.
    I believe Erasmus once said something about Calvin to the effect of: “The way he writes, it seems as if there is nothing he does not know!” That’s my major concern here. If there is nothing we do not know, there is nothing to be learned. And my experience tells me that learning never ends, opinions exist to be changed, and the deepest heartfelt convictions can turn if honest doubts are applied to them.
    So you have Rick Gamache doing something extremely manipulative here: mixing a few completely neutral verses altogether into a theological goulash with a direction and a bias representative of 15th century concerns. I shudder to think what 1st century writers would have done with something like this…what they would have thought, felt, concluded…

    I have been overwhelmed with emotion about my theological convictions (PSA being one of them in the past) to the point where I couldn’t even comprehend how anyone could see it differently. Why, if they do see it differently, they must just be willfully suppressing the truth…because it’s so plain to me.

    That is what I see my young brother Joey doing here….applying intense passion and conviction to a doctrine that resonates deeply with his heart, and being somewhat unable to understand how anyone could disagree.

  • Joey Elliott

    Luke and DRT,

    How do you define sin? Is your sin not vile? Mine is! If you don’t think so, we’ll never get anywhere here. What I see as an infinitely holy and extravagantly gracious God in Jesus, you see as an absolute monster. How could we be so far apart? 

    This is not minor disagreement. Scot raised the question from this blog, I gather, because it is a legitimate question. You make it sound like what Rick Gamache expressed was some kind of new blasphemy. It was instead a powerful, convicting articulation of historic Christian (not just Calvinist) understanding of what was happening on the cross. Disagree with it fine. But were it as ridiculous and objectionable as you claim, Scot would have no reason to have initiated the conversation. 

    I am shocked at the response to that narrative. It is not that such a God is “appealing” to me, it is that such a God by his grace saves me from the sin that is so vile (and clear) in me, which drives me to worship him. He became sin!! What else would that mean? What else was the Father’s cup if not wrath? Do you not need as dramatic a salvation?? Well then of course such grace is not as “appealing”. But i shudder at thinking my sin is “not that bad” in the presence of a holy God.

    That said, I wish topics of this importance were not only left to blogs. I would love to attend church and lunch with you sometime and pray with and for each other. 

  • Bev Mitchell

    Joey (83)

    Let me have a go at this long-standing difference in how the great distance between fallen humanity and a holy God should be understood, felt and explained.

    We agree that God is infinitely good and that he is love unbounded. How could using over the top language to describe our depravity increase the distance between God and us one iota? Infinite is infinite. To try to make the distance between us and God larger by waxing hyperbolic about our sin is essentially a misplaced aggrandizement of our depravity – strange, to say the least. For me it’s the infinite greatness of God and the unsearchable depths of his love that calls me to Christ and makes me realize the essential nature of his sacrifice on my  behalf. His love is so great that my sin is completely swallowed up by it. I feel no need to go on about the greatness of my sin when confronted by such infinite love. Nor do I want to return to it, imagine  it, wallow in the remembrance of it or use it to explain something about God’s love to others. Again, it’s God’s love, through Christ’s sacrifice in the power of the Holy Spirit that is all sufficient.

  • Joey Elliott


    Do you believe you still have sin? If you did, and it was against an infinitely holy God, would it not be important to consider vile, so as to flee from it!? What do you make of passages about putting to death sin?

    The idea of being lax on the gravity of sin, even in our lives as believers, is what I meant by “dangerous” to DRT earlier. The Bible certainly warns of such complacency.

    In all this I just hear very little admission of personal sin and pleas to God, “be merciful to me, a sinner!” it’s mostly just theological arguments as to why God’s wrath is not so serious as I am syggesting (and others thoroughout church history have suggested).

  • DRT


    How do you define sin? Is your sin not vile? Mine is! If you don’t think so, we’ll never get anywhere here,

    No, I think your sin is vile, we agree 😉

    What I see as an infinitely holy and extravagantly gracious God in Jesus, you see as an absolute monster. How could we be so far apart?

    I did not say a critique of the portrayal of Jesus, but god the father in that speech. I do not see a monster in Jesus, nor god the father. I see a monster in that portrayal of the father in that sermon.

    And yes, we are worlds apart in this. If that sermon portrays the god you worship then it is a different god than I worship. The key difference being that god did not say or do any of what is in that sermon, and that is not orthodox, you are mistaken.

    Seriously now Joey, how can you worship a god that is not even as good as you are? Would you go out and torture and kill your son and say all that vile stuff about him? Would you ever turn your head away from your child like that? What can you possibly find that is admirable about that?

    As far as Scot considering this a good subject for his blog, I agree it is a good one. Look at this conversation. There is obviously a great problem and disagreement here that needs to be fleshed out. Scot did not post this to say it is a good trade off, he posted it because it is relevant to Christianity. Some people are clearly being taught what you have been taught.

    The incredible vile nature of sin is hyperbole in many cases. It is more akin to Grandma looking at me and saying, Dave, I wish you were better than that, I am disappointed, rather than something that Grandma would say, “you took the last gummybear! You vile creature, now go away from my sight forever!!!!!” That portrays god like a 2 year old.

  • DRT


    Here is the way I look at it. I am disappointed in my own actions quite often. Being as I believe in Jesus and recognize that he is the best image of what god looks like in a human, I have a target to go after.

    I follow Jesus because he is Jesus, the true Lord of the Universe. I don’t follow Jesus hoping that good things will happen to me, though he does tell me that they will if I am true in my pursuit.

    Sin is indeed the degree to which I am not successful in that pursuit of being like Jesus. That is the definition of sin, it is not being up to what god would do.

    But, given that god made us, given that Jesus showed the incredible mercy and love for us, given that all he wants me to do is join his kingdom and he will accept me, I am grateful to him and pledge that I will do my best to not sin. To do the best.

    I try throughout my life to get better not because my sin is vile, but because it is missing the mark of what I am trying to do with my life. I am trying to life my life in the footsteps of my teacher the best that I could possibly can.

    God did not torture and kill Jesus, we did. God was on the cross on good Friday afternoon. We tortured and killed him. That is part of our corporate sin.

    And guess what he did? He then fulfilled the prophesies and promises made and showed, through the resurrection that he is indeed the rightful ruler. And guess what he did? He said that he will take us despite what we just did, which was truly vile, if we just say we will follow him. That is my god. He loves me, encourages me, and comes back and loves me some more. Wow I love that god.

    But identifying myself firstly as a sinner, and thinking that god tortured Jesus on the cross is not right.

  • Bev Mitchell


    My sin does not so much push me toward God because of its ugliness, rather, God’s Spirit draws me to himself through his love. Of course, with reference to a holy God, we are dead in our trespasses and our sins. We absolutely need the sacrifice and love of God to free us from the debilitating effects of those sins, so that we might turn to him. In addition, moment by moment, we must open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and move, by his power, ever closer to Christ. Our tendency to put ourselves ahead of God (sin) and our refusal to open more of ourselves to the Holy Spirit (sin) are constant “thorns in our sides” and our growth in grace, spiritual development, sanctification depend utterly on the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can and do resist and grieve that good Spirit, but he will constantly and faithfully remind us of our failure and lovingly guide us away from our sin to become better disciples of Christ. However, the Holy Spirit is a gentle and kind friend, who will not impose his will on us – we open ourselves, the Holy Spirit guides. We follow, our loving God smiles. And so should go the Christian life.

    Being lax on the gravity of sin is as nothing to misunderstanding the love of God. I find the infinite love of God infinitely more motivating than the totally debilitating effects of my sin.

  • Joey Elliott


    So many thoughts. You are very condescending by the way.

    What does it mean to you that Jesus became sin for us? What was the Father’s cup by your interpretation?

  • CGC

    Hi Bev and all,
    I was thinking of the remark of God is a gentleman or as you said, “the Holy spirit does not impose his will on us.” I have always believed this but I will say I have seen some strange and even humorous things that sometimes makes me wonder about this? Ultimately, I don’t believe God forces his will on us either but I will say if push comes to shove, we all may have met someone or know of a situation or probably can even pull a section or two from Scripture that nuances this all somewhat.

    Here is one example and I am sure others could give other examples:

    I was raised in an anti-charismatic church. I still remember the day like it was yesterday when one of my youth leaders told me of a situation that happened to him that rocked his world. He was at a worship service when he said he suddenly fell to the floor and found himself speaking in some kind of strange tongues. All the while this was happening he was saying to God prayerfully, “God, why are you doing this to me? I don’t even believe in this stuff!”

    I wonder how many others have possibly felt God really gave them no choice or wasn’t very gentlemanly in how God brought something about 🙂

  • DRT

    Chuckle. Well Joey, I have heard that before but when I read my post I can’t see how it is condescending. Perhaps you can tell me so that I can improve because I really don’t see it in there. It is usually best to give people something specific and concrete about what they did when you are coaching them rather than simply telling them they are bad. If they knew why they were bad they would generally change it. Telling me that I am condescending is nice and all, but it is not exactly actionable for me. When I critique someone on here I try to be as specific as I can as to what exactly the critique is about so that they can see what my view is, and if they choose to make a change then they can make one. I see that as a good practice, not a bad one and would welcome you giving me something specific so I can choose to do something about it.

    And I bet you have not hung out with engineers a whole lot, huh?

    Regarding Jesus becoming sin, I think it is the same as the scapegoating process, where we figuratively put our sins on this other thing and then condemn it to death. God gave him us in the incarnation, god did not suddenly literally make jesus sin. There is a long commentary here:


    and I will quote the most directly applicable paragraph:

    But all such views as go to make the Holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings which he endured, border on blasphemy, and are abhorrent to the whole strain of the Scriptures. In no form, in no sense possible, is it to be maintained that the Lord Jesus was sinful or guilty. It is a corner stone of the whole system of religion, that in all conceivable senses of the expression he was holy, and pure, and the object of the divine approbation. And every view which fairly leads to the statement that he was in any sense guilty, or which implies that he deserved to die, is “prima facie” a false view, and should be at once abandoned.

    The Father’s cup, is everything that Jesus had before him. I don’t interpret that is that the father is doing this stuff to him, it is Jesus purpose, his cup, to endure what we did to him.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hi CGC,
    Yes, Saul was treated rather roughly, wasn’t he! But, he still could have walked away and God would have chosen someone else. Your friend could have done the same. Why did they not run away screaming? Probably the overwhelming love of God had a lot to do with it. Getting our attention when we become pig headed is one thing, invading us to control us apart from our will is quite another.  As an ultimate example, at the end of the age we will all bow down to Christ. But even then, it will be the undeniable love of God that gets our attention, not his totally controlling, coercive power. It is very good news that God exercises his invincible power through his infinite love. In the desert Satan tried to get Jesus to change his mind and go with the shock and awe method, but the love (and gentleness) of God prevailed.

    Do you know Dave Schmelzer’s little book “Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist” ?  Warning: May be somewhat shocking to those suffering charismatic shyness. 🙂  This book is inspiring and should even be helpful in witnessing. It often refers to unmistakable and sometimes dramatic interventions by the Holy Spirit, in Boston, among super academic types.

  • Luke Allison

    Joey Elliot,

    Sin is vile, yes.

    The Reformed hermeneutic sees the primary message of the Hebrew Bible to be: How can sinful men stand before a holy God? The impossibility of keeping the law is on the forefront.
    This puts the onus far more on individual sin. This is where Scot’s “soterian” gospel springs from.

    Is sin primarily moral corruption? Rebellion? Breaking law?
    Is the Hebrew Bible primarily concerned with “the sin problem?” How often do the Hebrew Scriptures reference Adam’s failure in the garden as the primary problem at hand?

    How often do the Scriptures reference God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s consequent failure to keep it?

    So is the Reformed hermeneutic spot on here?

    Jesus’ “cup” is clearly defined in Matthew 20:21-23. Jesus even tells James and John (the “boanerges”), that they will drink the same cup he will. Is Jesus referring to Rick Gamache’s cup here? How then can James or John drink it?

    The Hebrew Scriptures obviously speak of the wrath of God and God uses the cup imagery throughout, particularly in Jeremiah. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus has all of that in mind when he brings it up in this passage, or in Gethsemane. You have to make a distinct theological decision to insert the level of stuff that Gamache has inserted here.

    Let me ask you a question: What historic church council has dealt with atonement theories?

  • Joey Elliott


    I need to step back a second. I already regret some of my tone and I apologize for my harshness, pride, and quick words. As you can tell I get very passionate and this topic is at the core of what I find precious in Scripture, in the gospel, and in Jesus. The love of God would not be as precious to me were it not for the significance of the sacrifice (God pouring out what we deserve in Jesus). Isaiah 53, among other places, makes it pretty clear to me that this sacrifice was at the hand of the Father, which instead of questioning this approach in comparison to what I would do, I humbly acknowledge and gasp in amazement at it, knowing it was for me! And God is God.

    The problem here, I think, is that I can’t fully explain the wonder of what I see in the gospel because of my own weakness, and because I am distracted by the defensiveness towards traditionally understood Christian truths. Sure, Gamache portrays the concept of Jesus becoming sin and absorbing the Father’s wrath very vividly, and of course if you don’t believe Jesus literally became sin for us, and drank the cup of the Father’s wrath, than that narrative would be pretty crazy. Even disgusting I guess. But to miss the fact that it is just a vivid picture (perhaps too vivid) of what Christians have believed for centuries, is just naive. I say that carefully because, DRT, what I found condescending in your post was telling me what was right. Here, I am simply stating what has been believed, not what is necessarily right. And Luke, I will not subject myself to a pop quiz about historic church councils. Maybe if you can explain the point of the question in more detail, I can follow that trail.

    I realize that what I believe, once seen on the full scale, is a “reformed hermeneutic”. And I realize that many on here can and will gladly pick apart that hermeneutic, assuming they have seen the exact same thing before, and are convinced it is flawed. Instead, what if you graciously considered that it actually fits together, and makes good sense of the entire Bible and the gospel, both the story of Israel fulfilled in Jesus, and then flowing from that, the salvation of sinners? When I say “consider” I don’t mean “believe” or “agree with”. Just acknowledge that is a rational and reasonable approach to, and comprehensive understanding of, the Bible, and not a flawed hermeneutic that misrepresents the nature of God and the narrative of Scripture.

    I acknowledge and confess that I have not done this with the hermeneutic most clearly presented here. I have not considered that the points presented here, in large part in response to my comments, represent a reasonable and cohesive approach to, and understanding of, the Bible, the nature of God, the narrative of Scripture, and the plan of redemption. I am sorry and I ask for forgiveness.

    My struggle has been threefold: first, my own inability to adequately explain the extent of my own hermeneutic; second, the apparent lack of clarity from others on the cohesiveness of it all anyway; and third, the implications of thoughts and ideas that go outside even of what I see as the non-reformed hermeneutic: i.e. unwillingness to admit and confess indwelling sin, and undersized views of the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the love of God in pardoning our sin.

    Take for instance, this part from the Gamache narrative (perhaps the most objectionable part to some):

    “Son of Man! Why have you sinned against me and heaped scorn on my great glory? You are self-sufficient and self-righteous—consumed with yourself and puffed up and selfishly ambitious. You rob me of my glory and worship what’s inside of you instead of looking out to the One who created you. You are a greedy, lazy, gluttonous slanderer and gossip. You are a lying, conceited, ungrateful, cruel adulterer. You practice sexual immorality; you make pornography, and fill you mind with vulgarity. You exchange my truth for a lie and worship the creature instead of the Creator. And so you are given up to your homosexual passions, dressing immodestly, and lusting after what is forbidden. With all your heart you love perverse pleasure. You hate your brother and murder him with the bullets of anger fired from your own heart. You kill babies for your convenience. You oppress the poor and deal slaves and ignore the needy. You persecute my people. You love money and prestige and honor. You put on a cloak of outward piety, but inside you are filled with dead men’s bones—you hypocrite! You are lukewarm and easily enticed by the world. You covet and can’t have so you murder. You are filled with envy and rage and bitterness and unforgiveness. You blame others for your sin and are too proud to even call it sin. You are never slow to speak. And you have a razor tongue that lashes and cuts with its criticism and sinful judgment. Your words do not impart grace. Instead your mouth is a fountain of condemnation and guilt and obscene talk. You are a false prophet leading people astray. You mock your parents. You have no self-control. You are a betrayer who stirs up division and factions. You’re a drunkard and a thief. You’re an anxious coward. You do not trust me. You blaspheme against me. You are an un-submissive wife. And you are a lazy, disengaged husband. You file for divorce and crush the parable of my love for the church. You’re a pimp and a drug dealer. You practice divination and worship demons. The list of your sins goes on and on and on and on. And I hate these things inside of you. I’m filled with disgust, and indignation for your sin consumes me.

    Ok. Take a deep breath. Before we “debate” whether God the Father looked to Jesus and saw, and was punishing, these manifestations of sin, lets first ask the question, does this represent us? Individually (not just corporately). If you say no, I don’t think I can continue. I’ve never interacted with a Christian before who has even implied, “no, I am not that bad, or at least, maybe I am in sum corporately with other sinners”. How am I supposed to respond to that? I can’t call you prideful or ignorant or blind-sided, as that would imply that I am not. And I am! I am the worst sinner I know. But I can’t ignore it, because as a brother in Christ I can’t pretend that such lack of concern for personal sin is a good thing. I would hope you would say the same to me.

    But if you say yes, that description does describe me, individually, not just before Christ, but presently, which by the Spirit is being mortified – than I would ask: what is the deserved punishment for that kind of sin? Even if Jesus did not “become” sin, he did “bear” them in some form, right? What form would that be exactly, if not him accepting them as His own and facing the punishment for them?

    Do you see why this one point can at least appear to be a departure from traditional Christianity? We are sinful, Jesus died for our sins. If you dig into what the sin is, and then dig into what the punishment would need to be, and then dig into what it means that Jesus died for them, I don’t think coming up with something similar to what Gamache articulates is far off at all. In fact, coming up with anything different after digging into those three basic truths would be to me a mispresentation of those three truths. All of that is even before you take literally the fact that Jesus became sin on the cross, or that the cup was specifically the Father’s wrath (as it is in Isaiah 51, Jeremiah 25, Revelation 14, etc.), which would make Gamache’s portrayal obvious.

    Does that make sense? I’ll keep talking here as much as time will allow. Obligations at work are piling up and I am travelling today, but seeing as how I’m alone here, I would love to help present the “Reformed hermeneutic” more cohesively, so at least it can be considered relevant and not dismissed as flawed from the get-go. I think that will help you better communicate with people like me?

  • Luke Allison


    The question about church councils comes from your statement that you are defending historic Christian teaching on the atonement. If historic means “happened at some point in history”, then you are correct: this particular understanding of the atonement has been believed by many Christians throughout history.
    If “historic” means “what we’ve always believed” however, then you are wrong. The answer to the question about councils and atonement theories is “none.”

    This sort of forum is probably not the best way to converse like this.

    There are many variables to our disagreement. One of them is our understanding of Romans and Pauline thought. I am attempting to grasp the New Perspective teaching of Dunn, Sanders, Wright, and others, and largely discard the traditional Lutheran viewpoint on Paul.
    Another would probably be on our lens for reading Scripture. I am attempting at this point in my life to read Scripture (particularly the gospel narratives) with an ear to history and context. Piper and Rainer call this “putting the background in the foreground, and the plain sense in the background.” I call this studying as though the people who wrote the thing were real human beings.

    I would encourage you to read outside of the Reformed circle. Because there is such a little YRR subset, it can be very easy to read nothing but Reformed thinking on a variety of subjects to the point where that hermeneutic begins to “feel” as though it’s just plain truth, obvious to anyone who is truly saved. We owe it to ourselves to change our mind when confronted with compelling or beautiful evidence that contradicts what we have always believed.

    I was in the Army for 5 years. The first day of Basic Training, the drill sergeants scream at us to “tow the line.” No one knows what that means. The floor is set up in square tiles, so eventually we figured out that they meant one of those lines. Then we proceeded to all struggle and shuffle around for 10 minutes trying to figure out which line was the right one. Eventually, enough people got on one line that it was safe to call that “the line.”
    But the line didn’t mean anything until we lined up on it. Then we spent the rest of basic training “towing” that line. That’s how most theology is, I think. It doesn’t mean anything until we give it meaning or come up with it, then we spend the rest of our lives towing it as if it’s existed all alone. I don’t want that anymore.

    The Reformed hermeneutic is relevant. Defending the Reformed hermeneutic as though it’s the only orthodox means of understanding the Scripture will get my dander up.

  • Bev Mitchell

    I could say you are forgiven but that would mean I have been offended by your comments, when there has been no offense. As you say though, we all could chose to hang in there long enough to fully understand what makes everyone tick. But to do that, we would have to be very open in our theology as well as thoughtful and careful in our choice of words and expressions. And, up front, we all need to agree that winning means really understanding someone, not convincing them. Since I am not competent to provide a detailed account of what you believe, I will tell you what I believe. This has been revised over the years, and is undoubtedly still in need of revision. But it is my best shot, for now. I write this in the conviction that the kind of discussions we have been having would be more fruitful if we knew where our interlocutors stand, in their words

    I am Wesleyan, Baptist, Pentecostal leaning toward open theology. As such, I believe that the love of God is paramount in God’s self-revelation to us. Furthermore, I see love as part of who God is, part of his eternal being – much more than simply an attribute. I am struggling with the difference between love being part of God vs love being an essential part of God (if there is indeed a difference between these). On the other side, I am completely put off and in disagreement with strong five-point Calvinism, particularly repulsive ideas like double pre-destination, limited atonement and misplaced ideas like irresistible grace. I understand total depravity to mean our total inability to reach out to God on our own and our utter need of his self-revelation to us and the work of his Spirit in us, at all times. 

    The idea of divine determinism does not comfort me but makes me cringe. I believe in a God who knows all that happened in the past, all things occurring at the moment and all possibilities for the future – in short, a God who knows all that can be known, and all the probabilities for all the possibilities for the future. This God makes possible our being and our becoming, offers us his guidance and his real help through his Holy Spirit. Without determining the outcome, God, in ways beyond my ken,  is able to have all come to him, when the time has fully come. I am not a universalist, but I hope God is. Every knee will bow when they see his love as it will be revealed at the parousia, and many will do so willingly. It may well be possible to so harden our hearts against God in this life that, even then, we will not accept his love. To me it is true that we can have as much hell as we want and that yells gates are locked on the inside (Bell and Lewis). That said, my favorite theologian, at the moment, is the late T.F. Torrance, a Scottish Presbyterian – his Reformed credentials are about as good as it gets. 

    There may well be other theological themes that should be put on the table for this specific discussion of how one should view the awfulness of sin, and some of those mentioned may not directly apply. However, it seems we have in our discussion a clash between some Reformed views and others. Your views are well stated and clear, some others are less clear. I hope mine are now at least a bit clearer.


  • Joey Elliott


    Ok, wait. I never said, or at least never meant to imply, that “this particular understanding of the atonement” is the only one!! But it is one (of others) that has been believed for a long time, “historic councils” or not. Otherwise, the question in this post is irrelevant, and I am wrong and should go home.

    Furthermore, I do read outside Reformed. Do you want me to take a picture of my library? Jump slower to conclusions, brother. Maybe you should read more reformed, so you’d understand the entire framework. I am doing a terrible job presenting it, hence my last post and the apology. But I bet you have, just maybe with preconceptions?

    Finally, my last post was to state that I am not attempting to defend the “reformed hermeneutic” as the only orthodox understanding of Scripture. Your stating this apparently was your attempt to ignore my questions about the non-reformed hermeneutic that, if I understand correctly as presented in many of these comments, has serious issues. And perhaps it was your attempt to not answer my question as to whether Gamache’s description of sin is yours (ours!).

    How do you reconcile our sin (personal and individual!), God’s holiness, and the fact that Jesus died for our sins? Why is Gamache’s description so appalling or different than much of church understanding of propitiation? There needs to be more explanation here for me to accept your approach as fair. Maybe that’s more for DRT.

  • Joey Elliott


    Thanks for that. Clarity is good!

  • CGC

    Hi all,
    Bev, thanks for the book recommendation (Schmelzer).

    Luke, I was thinking that if the historic councils did not deal with atonement theories, these are certainly not worth fighting, dividing, and dying on the hill for.

    Joey, I appreciate your humilty in #94 (I have not really been following the discussion because it seems like this issue has become like an ever-growing snowball rolling down hill and some of the debates or discussions also go along with the down hill metaphor).

    I do want to recommend one book that I found helpful many years ago in putting some of these issues in perspective (more indirectly than directly). The book is by William Klein called “The New Chosen People: A Corporate view of Election.”


  • Joey Elliott


    If the “Calvinist” claims that make you cringe were true, would they be less repulsive? Not trying to get you to accept them as true, but just giving you my perspective. True is true, regardless of what we think about it. Do you at least agree with that in theory?

  • Luke Allison


    I’m sort of in a “been there, done that” stage when it comes to Reformed stuff. I saturated myself with it for the large part of my late twenties (I live in Minneapolis and attended all the Desiring God events you can imagine), and argued passionately for the same thing you are arguing about for a long time.

    Part of maturity, in my own experience, is recognizing that no matter how passionately I believe something, I am still largely a slave to my own cognitive failings, my own biases, my own experiences. We are always interpreting. Our ability to recognize the validity of others’ interpretations (and in turn the flaws in our own) is the measure of our intellectual growth.

    Reformed theology has many things going for it, but an all-encompassing grasp of the Truth is not one of them.

    The beginning of my slow falling out of love with Reformed theology was reading Roland R Bainton’s “The Reformation of the 16th Century” for class. This was a masterpiece, not fawning, not overly-critical. But all I had heard about the Reformation had come through the google-eyed lens of the New Reformed movement. This was an example of the cognitive dissonance I would come to undergo for the next few years.

    At stake in our argument, Joey, is not whether you or I believe in the right definition of sin (which is an English translation of a German translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of a Hebrew concept), but our perspective on how God reacts to that thing we call “sin”. That’s the difference.

    I was a sexual addict for about ten years all through my early twenties, both with real-live people and intensive pornography usage. I’ve done a lot of work in impoverished areas and with victims of abuse. I know the horror that occurs through the fracturing of God’s shalom. I understand what happens when knowledge is used without the fear of God.

    But I see no evidence that what Gamache has spoken is true. Regardless of how deeply your own spirit resonates with the idea, I don’t think the Scripture is telling that story. Much like Augustine equated sin with his own predilection toward sexual deviancy (among other things), we tend to project our own experience of sin onto the narrative of Scripture.

    God’s holiness is not in question. The question is: what does that mean? And what does the Bible actually say about it?

    I’ll ask you one more time: How many times do the Hebrew Scriptures bring the argument back to Adam and “the Fall”? What is their primary focus? Is the main message of the Hebrew Bible “the impossibility of keeping the law before a holy God”? Or is it something different? These are the big questions of the day. An entire hermeneutic rests on them.

  • Bev Mitchell

    It depends on which “Calvinist” claims we are considering. But, if it is true that God irrevocably chose some human beings for an eternal life with him while irrevocably choosing other human beings for an eternal life in hell – if it is true that God uses his sovereignty in an all controlling manner with all resistance, in this life, being futile – if it is true that we are so depraved that I cannot recognize the kindness and love shown by my atheist friends as goodness whose ultimate source is a Creator who declared his creation good and very good – if these things are true, then  we are far worse off than I thought and I simply would not follow such a god, and  would probably work against such beliefs. If god is like this, atheists have a very good case. Fortunately, I can deny these things without being checked by the Holy Spirit.

    It seems to me that the following simple formula, still under construction, provides a helpful and biblical orientation that we often fail to follow. I would love to receive comments on this and suggestions for additional pairings.

    Apprehending God, not comprehending him
    John 1 before Genesis 1 
    Love then speech
    Jesus the Son of God, then Jesus the Saviour
    God the Father, then God the Creator
    God is love, then God is sovereign
    The Incarnation then the Cross

  • Percival

    Bev #102,

    I am interested in your pairings that you listed here. It seems what they all have in common is that you are reading your Bible from back to front. I think that is a very good thing. Jesus is the lens. However, the one that seems to be in the opposite direction is the Son of God, then Jesus the Savior. I think that the term Son of God was an OT idea that got reinterpreted by Jesus. Adam, David, and Solomon were the prototypes of the Son of God – a messianic royalty term. On the other hand, Jesus as Savior is defined by the cross. The cross should be the lens for his royalty.
    As I understand your purpose with these doublets, it is interpretive. Which lens do we look through first in order to avoid distortion? I like it! Here are two more to consider: His presence before his intervention. His servanthood before his coronation.

    I am reminded of John Wesley’s words on “A Scrupulous Conscience”, which I have copied below. But first, a lengthy introduction to reflect upon.

    Luther and John Wesley both struggled with this kind of over-scrupulous conscience. It seems to me that a focus on our “depravity” is often more motivated by a self-hatred than a love of God. I don’t know that to be the case for you, but it is not unheard of among believers. When you have your own children, I think it is easier to see this. My children were beautiful the day they were born, though like all of us, they had a bent to selfishness. Even if they rebelled, I still loved them. Even if they reject me and despise me, I will still love them. Even if they want nothing to do with me and falsely accuse me of being abusive, I will long for their return. I would not dream of reminding them daily about how awful they have been to me. I wouldn’t constantly bring it up in our conversations. I would not try to convince them that they were in fact much worse than they think. Instead, I would build our trust and security and warmth and I would know that as they got to know me more and more they would see how much I love them. There is no need to revisit their rebellion or hold it over their heads. Love covers it. If I, in my limited capacity as a human father, can love this way, I can also understand that while my Father’s love surpasses my father-love in measure and in passion, it is not a love of a different type. One of my most precious memories is the day I heard God tell me, “I like you.” I’m sure your Father likes you too; rest in that.

    Wesley: “But sometimes this excellent quality, tenderness of conscience, is carried to an extreme. We find some who fear where no fear is; who are continually condemning themselves without cause; imagining some things to be sinful, which the Scripture nowhere condemns; and supposing other things to be their duty, which the Scripture nowhere enjoins. This is properly termed a scrupulous conscience, and is a sore evil. It is highly expedient to yield to it as little as possible; rather it is a matter of earnest prayer, that you may be delivered from this sore evil, and may recover a sound mind; to which nothing would contribute more, than the converse of a pious and judicious friend.

    But the extreme which is opposite to this is far more dangerous.”

  • DRT

    Joey, and others (I believe CGC …)

    FYI – over time now I still am just getting used to people believing something like what Gamache said. I was playing part of it for my wife and she almost threw up and I was becoming physically ill too. To me and her it actually feels like someone is doing that to one of our children. She held her hand over her mouth and left the room yelling at me….

    That may seem strange to all of you, but although I am 50 years old I never have seen reformed christianity and it is still difficult to wrap my head around. I was raised Catholic and I was so put off by the sexism and mysogony there that I had to leave and find another faith. But the catholics pale in comparison to the reformed…I can’t imagine still.

    So, Joey, I actually think it is worth you knowing that there are people like me, entire faith communities that have the exact same reaction as I had. If everyone here were like me then I would be approaching this much more diplomatically like CGC is doing, but he (she?) is doing that, so I can tell it like it is for me. I like being able to do that.

    You see, I think that there are many out there who grow up with certain thoughts, and they are immune to them. But to see that those are actually repulsive to some people is something that an adult needs to learn. I don’t fault you for believing it, I think you live in your context and that is all there is to it. I was not reacting to you, I was reacting to Gamache and that religion. There is a difference.

    I also put a much greater level of responsibility on people with a microphone. Hopefully I did not say any sort of thing about you in particular, but Gamache has a microphone and is leading other people into something that is against pretty much everything I believe.

    And so you know, I have listened to Piper and Mohler and Driscoll and some others on the reformed side, but nothing like Gamache. That was quite over the top.

    So the point of this post is to help bridge the gap so you understand me a bit. I don’t fault you. But I do fault those leaders.

    I will write a bit more about my view of personal and corporate sin since that seems like a big divide, and Bev wrote some good words on this too….

  • Bev Mitchell

    Percival (103)
    Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I’ll add them to the list. You have nicely interpreted the overall intention of this exercise. 🙂 I found “God the Father, then God the Creator” as argued by T. F. Torrance to be very compelling. The others sort of built on that. I was not specifically thinking about the “read it backwards” (as all good Baptists should) argument, but that is how it turned out. Interesting.

     It’s ironic that “Jesus the Son of God, then Jesus the Saviour” seemed the other way ’round to you. It was my attempt to capture a main point of Scot’s theses in “King Jesus Gospel” and see Jesus first then his coming to save us. What would be a better way of stating this? 

    Here is the expanded list. What do other’s think? Does the order matter?  (for effective use).

    Apprehending God, not comprehending him
    John 1 before Genesis 1 
    Love then speech
    Jesus the Son of God, then Jesus the Saviour
    God the Father, then God the Creator
    God is love, then God is sovereign
    The Incarnation then the Cross
    God’s presence before his intervention
    Jesus the servant before Christ the King

  • DRT

    Here is my fundamental problem with the reformed perspective.

    My BS degree is in Mechanical Engineering, and one of the big things you learn to do as an engineer is to understand the big picture. Engineering is much like systematic theology since both are trying to take pieces and predict/compute the whole.

    When we are given an engineering problem, like – A saturated steam at one atmosphere pressure is exposed to vertical plate 1 meter in height and 0.5 meter in width having a uniform surface temperature of 70 degrees C. Estimate the heat trander rate to the plate and the steam condensation rate. the first step is to fit this into a model that we have developed and what we get is a big long equation, actually a few equations, that we need to apply math to to solve. Broadly speaking we are abstracting the problem and the physics into a different language to make it solvable.

    But once we solve the problem the engineer needs to go back and say “Does this answer makes sense?” Through experience I can have a guess at just how much thermal transfer there should be when I step back and look at it, so I must use that as a check on my method. I need to know if what I came up with makes sense.

    I think reformed theology passes the test of being, pretty much, internally consistent. It has a logic that is based in the bible and it can be supported. But when we step back and look at the big picture of the bible, the gospels, the STORY, the nature of god, the motives of god, etc it becomes quite clear to me that the calvinists have come up with something that is inherently an incorrect theology. It is against the Story of the bible, the nature of reality as I see, and the revelation of god that is Jesus. That’s what’s wrong with it.

  • DRT

    Joey and Percival,

    I think this post is useful.


    Piper would excommunicate his 19 year old son to save his own job. Now this is wrong on many levels when one steps back and looks at it in the context of the entire story of the bible, the bible of god pursuing us, giving us second chances, sacrificing ourselves for others and on and on and on.

    The big picture makes no sense.

  • DRT

    Regarding the subject and Scot posting on this subject. We should not read too much into who supports what when it is posted here unless Scot or RJS or one of the other more occassional posters actually say it is their view. I consider this a very good topic because I know that it is relevant to discussions going on in the church. You cannot assume that Scot thinks one way or the other given posts in general, but I don’t think it takes too much intuition to think that Scot is arguing that we should consider expiation in this context.

  • DRT

    Bev Mitchell, I want to tell you that I think your pursuit has legs behind it, though I will need more time to contribute. Good job.

  • DRT


    Here is where I am regarding damnation and sinning.

    The big picture is that god knew that people would sin when he created them. This is irrespective of your belief in evolution or YEC, he had to know that. Of course there is doubt about predestination, but let’s leave this simple. God is not stupid. He knew people would sin.

    Therefore, he created them and called them good. Did he create them and call them good to then change his mind to consider people unworthy of his stare? Of course not. That would be incredibly inconsistent. I held each of my babies up with they were born and declared them to be good too. Did that mean they were going to be perfect, no. They are going to break my heart and yell at me and think bad things of me but they are good.

    Now all the time in the OT when god comes back around and helps his people etc, did they suddenly become worthy of his gaze? No. They were the same, sinners, etc.

    So how is the stage set when Jesus comes? We have a ruling religious party that demands perfection to rules, we have an outside government that demands obedience, we have grossly conflicting views of god in the old testament from him being a baby killer to a lover that will never leave.

    Jesus enters the stage as the image of god in human form. If you read the gospels, the actual accounts of his life you develop a picture of what this man was like. OK, once he turned over some tables and spilled their money(righteous indignation), and he did level with people about his feedback for their behavior occassionally. But those are not the big picture of what Jesus was about. Jesus was about LOVE. Jesus was about helping people, the sermon on the mount and everything. The big picture is of a loving loving loving person who is hear to serve rather than be served. That is what god showed us!

    Pope Benedict has a book an Jesus from the time of his baptism through the resurrection, I believe. I believe it is called Jesus of Nazareth. And in one point in that book he goes through and argument to try and lay out what the “glory of god” means to Jesus. It becomes pretty clear that Jesus felt his glory, the glory of god, is as he was giving himself up to us and dying on the cross. That his being a servant is his glory. This is not the glory that is discussed in Calvinism, correct me if I am wrong, but I have not seen that.

    So, back to sin, individual and corporate, I come away with a god who is willing to pursue us, pursue me, and continue to pursue me. He is not judging me for my sin, he asking me to follow him, to realize that he is the true Lord of the world and the true one that is the image that I must mold myself after. When I decide to follow him in that way it is no longer an intellectual attestation or some absolute event, it is a decision at that point in time to say that I will follow him. And when I follow him more, and I fall, I need to get back up and follow him some more and I will be justified (not the reformed notion) for following him because he is the rightful ruler.

    Notice that I did not say a single thing about being saved in that. If you met the person with the highest integrity ever, and can help you to become like them, and they can impact many people’s lives, would you then sit back and say “well are you going to raise me from the dead or send me to hell?” No! You will ally yourself with them because you recognize that good things will come from this both individually and corporately.

    And if bad befalls me because of following this person, well, that is ok for me because I have been taught that laying my life down for others is a good thing and I have made that part of my internal being. I am willing to lay my life down for others.

    Where does forgiveness of sin come in? That leader is not going to reject me from following him if I tell him I want to follow. He knows that I will not always be able to do it,but I will follow. He will say to me that I am accepted (justified) into his followers (kingdom). I am now saved. I have a purpose that goes beyond me and beyond the ways of man. I am found. I have joy.

    Do I know if I will be in heaven. no. Do I know I will be resurrected. no. Am I doing this to avoid hell. no. So where does sin fit into this? It is a secondary issue. Sin is not the point. Forgiveness of sins means that we will not be rejected by him for coming into his kingdom!

    Is that dangerous?

  • DRT

    Sorry for writing so much, but I think the whole cat and dog theology really comes into play here.

    I take good care of my cats and my dog. My dog looks at me feeding her and caring for her and say “wow, you are great”. My cat sees me feeding her and caring for her and says “wow, I must be great”. Calvinism seems to assume that people are cats.

  • Bev Mitchell

    DRT (104)
    I’m so sorry that you and your good wife had to see the performance that you describe. Being a bit longer in the evangelical tooth than you, I avoided it, but fully understand what you mean and would completely share your reaction, I am sure. 

    As you have discerned, our evangelical in house diversity of views does not get much greater than this one, IMO. Despite the well known fact that Calvinists and Wesleyans share many views (for example, the “United” in the United Baptist Convention of Canada” specifically refers to a functional union between Calvinists and Arminians) the full blown expression of the extreme Calvinist view would destroy any union. Mild disagreement on eternal security, and Calvinists espousing their views while living and praying like Arminians (or even like open theists), or Arminians misunderstanding prevenient grace to the edge of semi-Pelagianism are not even on the same planet when it comes to challenges to unity.

    Don’t get bogged down in this old swamp. It’s enough to know how to recognize it. Not with much originality, I liken it to the extremism that exists in all groups, but particularly prevalent in political, environmentalist and religious ones. The moderates have great difficulty in finding the best ways to deal with extremists. Part of what extremists say is always true. They always have a zeal that moderates wish were more evident among moderates. The kid glove, brotherly love approach can go a long way, but its success really depends on the extremes to which the extremists are willing to go. We can point to moderate Muslims and moderate US Republicans as groups that may have reached the limit on the soft glove approach. We hope and pray that North American evangelicalism will not be numbered among them. But on more days than not, I think a firmer approach with our extremists will eventually be necessary.

    P.S. Love the cat-dog theology! Now you have me wondering if Garfield the cat would be a bishop or an archbishop – and what about Calvin, Hobbes’ good buddy? For starters, I’m considering Calvin a Wesleyan, because he is not terribly up tight. 🙂

  • DRT

    More horse beating here. (almost literally)…

    I live on a gentleman’s farm and one of my hobbies is to fly radio controlled airplanes. The problem with this is that we have (spoiled) horses and due to evolution they are afraid of the big thing flying in the sky around them. My wife started to restrict my airspace, but then I started to desensitize the horses by flying my planes by them when she is not looking (is that sin?). Eventually I desensitized them enough that I have to almost hit them to get them to move.

    The point is that I think sermons like that particularly disgusting one tends to desensitize people to true evil. Instead of making them afraid of evil, they become accustomed to the evil that their god is doing and start doing evil to others. This plays out in the hate for gays, people of other faiths, women etc in reformed churches. I believe that is a clear and potent element to reformed theology and I believe that is exactly the wrong approach.

  • Luke Allison

    DRT and Bev,

    Having listened to the piece as well, I was struck by how much Gamache’s voice changed towards the end. There was a quality in his tone that I’m sure everyone would like to think is grief/conviction/horror, but I tend to hear as joy/glee/hatred.

    The only thing we have as a church to control peoples’ behavior and attempt to stop the things we see as morally repugnant before God is the wrath of God. Take away smiting, take away traditional views of hell, take away the fear of the afterlife, and what do we have?

    We have a complex, nuanced, and beautiful story about a particular God working in a particular way with a particular people and revealing himself in a particular time period through a particular person. We have everything this entails. And we have the hope and the vision of his renewing, restoring, sin-purging world-fixing project right here and now echoing off into eternity.

    But we can’t hold this story over peoples’ heads. We can’t use it to strike fear into their hearts. We can’t delineate “us and them” so clearly.

    My biggest complaint with the form of theology in that message is that most sane, articulate people don’t buy it. So we communicate something in such a way that people are turned off and sickened, and then we say, “Well, their loss! The Gospel, after all, is offensive.”

    The Gospel is offensive, not disgusting. The Gospel is world-tilting, not repulsive.
    Having come out of sexual addiction (and still battling the proclivities every day with the help of my wife/partner/better person than me), I’m fascinated by how easy it is to pull an Augustine and turn everybody into the kind of internally tormented guilt-ridden mess that I was.

    Here is where Krister Stendahl’s seminal work “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” is so helpful: http://www.dburnett.com/?p=453
    Honestly, that’s where my entire theological viewpoint started to crumble.

  • Darrin W Snyder Belousek

    To the extent that the debate over translating the Greek ‘hilasterion’ is “propitiation” v. “expiation,” Dodd and Moule win easily, and for precisely the reasons that Scot lays out. As I show in my book–Atonement, Justice, and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church (Eerdmans 2012), careful examination of the textual evidence in the NT uniformly favors “expiation” (i.e., an action initiated by God and directed toward sin and sinners).

    Yet, as Dana (@60) has rightly pointed out, this whole debate is constructed within certain presuppositions that may not–and, I would agree with her and have argued in my book–do not in fact reflect what Paul meant to say when he called Jesus the new “hilasterion” (Rom 3:25). The Greek OT (Septuagint) consistently uses “hilasterion” in the Torah to refer to the lid of the ark of covenant–and thus the KJV-RSV-NRSV lineage of translations renders the term “mercy seat.” If we want to understand what Paul means, we need to begin by examining the significance of the “mercy seat” in the Torah. On this, see chap 14 in my book, Atonement, Justice, and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church (Eerdmans 2012).

  • Joey Elliott

    First, thanks for the personal testimonies. Those are very powerful, encouraging, and helpful. Perhaps, if nothing else, it helps us get to know each other better! Though it is not entirely a testimony (it is meant to primarily be), this link is probably the best way to open up a little of my background (please don’t get bogged down in the topic of inerrancy at the cost of not seeing my experience):


    Second, what happened to Cal? I think he was the only one who even partly sympathized with me. I have felt like I’m in the middle of a firing squad here, and somehow, I don’t think that’s what should happen to someone who disagrees with the most prevalent beliefs represented on this blog.

    Third, why is reformed theology on the stand here? I will formally give it permission to be removed from the stand, rather than face this onslaught. My first comment was simply to say that I think both propitiation and expiation are in mind with the texts in question. All I have been talking about since is penal subsitutionary atonement. Last time I checked, this is not one of the five points. And while you may argue that the five points is how you get there, it is clear that not only Calvinists have believed and supported the penal substitutionary nature of the atonement as one (not the only one!!) of the things that was happening on the cross. Did John Stott identify himself as reformed? I truly don’t know, but didn’t think so. Even if he did, his approach was clearly shared and supported by more than reformed Christians (Tony Jones endorsed Cross of Christ?). I went back and read Morgan Guyton’s post that Scot highlighted, and while I don’t personally land where he does, it was at least a fair critique of the historical doctrine of penal subsitutionary atonement. This has not been.

    And so I ask again, with this doctrine on the table, and not with intention to change anyone’s mind about it, I need more help seeing why Rick Gamache’s narrative was not a logical adaptation to the traditional doctrine. Again I will say, I clearly have no problem with people disagreeing with the doctrine, but to say this narrative is objectionable or somehow more repulsive than what Piper, or Mohler, or even John Stott would say, just doesn’t make sense to me. Even Scot in A Community Called Atonement, embraces the concept that Jesus “absorbed the wrath of God” (page 69). If you think about what this means, the explanations in the comments above about sin and wrath are further off than Gamache’s description. Certainly Scot’s description in the book, while different than Gamache, is not as resistant to it as the above (he mostly accomplishes this by highlighting the other important aspects of the atonement, which in the context of Gamache’s narrative, was just not necessary). For example, in DRT’s comment #110, I see more of a self-made definition of sin and wrath than what is in the Bible. I am really sorry if that is offensive. But, you imply that once we say we will follow Him, that is the extent of our accountability? Sin is secondary? How is not the definition of complacency? What about Colossians 3:5-10? Romans 2:1-11? 1 Timothy 6:11-12? Romans 8:13? Galatians 5:16-24? 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8? Romans 7? Who among us cannot say with Paul, O wretched man that I am? Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Is the charge, “O, man of God, flee these things!” not for us? This is not passive, this is active. I just don’t see active repentance (turning away from sin, turning towards God, consistently) in some of these descriptions. That is what I meant by dangerous.

    Furthermore, please try to understand my heart in sharing that narrative. I almost regretted sharing it after re-reading all this, but I stand by it. My heart was to lead people to Jesus through repentance. I always welcome being led there, because my nature is prone to wonder. I don’t know how anyone lives the Christian life without daily repentance, and so I thought such a vivid description of the grace of God in light of our sin would lead some to repentance, which would lead them to the cross, which would lead them to Jesus. I know I need this leading, so I’m truly sorry my intentions were not experienced. But what of repentance? Why is everything I’m hearing so far from repentance? Theology of penal subtitutionary atonement and the expression of the wrath of God aside, do reminders that we are sinners, and that we were once alienated, but not are reconciled, though not yet completely free from sin, not lead us to repentance? Are we going to nitpick descriptions of our sin instead of confess them and re-unite to Jesus? Is the repulsion that many are feeling from this narrative (even to the point of physical sickness) not helping us see God’s repulsion to sin? Even our present sin? I just can’t fathom the resistance to repentance after the powerful reminder that we are sinful, yet God took the punishment for that sin, and made us clean from it, and is presenting us blameless on the last day!

    I wholeheartedly don’t mean to foster despondency or obsession with our sin. Perhaps the biggest mistake in sharing that narrative was that I did so out of context. It was originally delivered on a Good Friday. It ended with Jesus dead on the cross, the Father’s cup (whatever it was, wrath or not) emptied. But that is not the end of the story! Its only Friday! Sunday is a-coming! So my intention, of course, was not to leave us at Good Friday, at our sins. I am not a crux-sola Christian. He is Risen! Our sins are gone! We are forgiven! We will raise with him! I don’t know any way to get to the cross, which gets us to the new life, without repentance. So my sharing that narrative was meant to bring people back to the cross, (which for me at least, needs to happen every day!) so that they could re-celebrate new life. I am truly, truly, truly, truly sorry that is not what happened. I certainly underestimated the resistance and abhorrence of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, which is, and will always be, so precious to me. I underestimated the “different interpretations” of 2 Corinthians 5:21 and even Isaiah 53, which allow people to consider them less central to the Christian faith. I don’t know the way to more common ground in this discussion, but I am desperate for it. I don’t personally know Rick Gamache or others who would be scorned on here, but I think I stand with them in love as we just try to show the Person and Work of Jesus the way we understand Him from Scripture. I am sorry if that is so far off from your understanding that even the good intention is not welcomed. Certainly you are not obligated to listen or agree.

    Just please don’t make this about reformed theology. Maybe that is for another day!

    Peace and Love,


  • Percival

    Thanks for hanging in there. Sorry it feels like you were facing a gang. Those Jesus Creed people are tough!

    I don’t know how reformed theology became the focus except that Penal Substitution (PS) is central to many Reformed folks these days. Some, like me, think of it as one picture of Atonement as long as it is not the only picture and as long as it is held in tension with the other faces of atonement. Others here would like to do away with PS altogether. Personally, you have prompted me to examine 2 Corinthians 5:21 again so don’t think we aren’t listening to you. Your responses have stirred my heart because more and more I have been asked to mentor new missionaries from your theological tribe and my heart is struggling with that right now.

    One last word about something you brought up here. Don’t assume that all evangelicals see themselves as sinners. I am a saint. That’s my identity in Christ. That is the identity that matters. I don’t believe saints are ever calls sinners in the NT. If I screw up or act against that identity, it does not make me a sinner. It means I sinned. There is a completely different interpretation of the rhetoric in Romans 7 that you seem to not be aware of. Paul is not describing who he is. He is describing who he was. There is much more to it than that, but your comments indicate that you expected all of us to acknowledge that this was our current state as believers. Every day I pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ Is that repentance? Not exactly, I consider it part of discipleship. When I ask the Lord to examine me, I do it, not to rediscover that I am a sinner, but to keep the holy temple clean and my heart directed toward God. That seems to me to be very different than the dynamic you are describing. We are able to live in Romans 8. This is the normal Christian life ( a Watchman Nee phrase).

    I won’t recommend a book to read since people have already thrown a lot of titles at you. However, I will give you a link to my old defunct blog that talks about these kinds of things. This is the first entry of several in a series. http://lamaronlife.blogspot.co.uk/2006/04/peter-lord-writer-and-pastor-from.html

  • DRT

    Joey, thanks for sharing, and not sure how much time I will have to write today, but I think the key difference really is in the difference between a soteriological gospel and the King Jesus gospel just as Scot discusses in his book. Not to put you on the spot, but have you read his book yet? It seems that your focus is on sins and repentance to be saved and that is not the focus of the Gospel.

  • Joey Elliott


    Thanks for the grace. I am aware of the different interpretation of Romans 7 and partly anticipated it as the reason for such disconnect with what I am saying. I have studied both sides fervently. Perhaps discussion on that needs to be elsewhere, but I think it would be important. Looking at Romans 7 as Paul’s experience before Christ only, I think, at least from personal experience, is devestating. It makes my current situation unexplainable and hopeless. The only way to Romans 8 for me is repentance in light of Romans 7. If I pretended that Romans 7 was not my testimony, my presence in Romans 8 would led directly to spiritual pride. Apparently, others are less confronted with their remaining sin nature and the experience of “regressive” sanctification. But thanks for highlighting that clarification.

    Do you not agree with the “simultaneously saint and sinner” concept coined by Luther? Again, that is one thing I didn’t think was debatable, but this is helpful to see the diversity in belief.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Good morning Joey,

    And another day begins. 🙂 

    This discussion is so very important. Glad you are not giving up! You refer to a “resistance to repentance”. Reading the comments, I don’t feel that resistance as strongly as you do. I do see a strong reaction against an over the top, dramatic presentation if our depravity. Sometimes, attempts to decry this form of expression lead to an apparent “resistance to repentance” that may not be real at all – just a failure to mention repentance in the heat of battle. I would never say that repentance is not essential before a holy and loving God. But neither would I say that the great good I often see in my friends who don’t claim to be Christians is not from God – they are not so depraved they cannot act, at times, like Christians should. This too needs to be respected. On the other hand, I react against the extreme expressions of atheists when they speak against God the same way I react against extreme expressions of our depravity. 

    My Arminian bias (we can call it that) still sees my repentant attitude as originating in a conviction of not being unable to stand before Almighty God in my own strength. Yes, I am sharpen in iniquity and must repent, but God’s love is so bright that my repentance is at least as much in recognition of his perfection as it is in recognition of my sin. How can my sin compete with God’s love as a motivation to repentance? This stance leads to a moderation in the presentation of our need for God that is attractive to many. 

    Not trying to convince here. I still consider winning in this discussion to be defeating misunderstanding. I too am pleased that others have chosen to put their theological cards on the table, so to speak.

  • Joey Elliott


    No I have not read King Jesus Gospel yet, but I bought the Kindle version! I defintely hope to.

    Actually, I am talking about consistent repentance for the Christian (already saved) in light of remaining sin nature, which my recent comments with Pervical help indicate the disconnect. Nothing of what I am saying has to do with the story gospel vs. the salvation gospel, which I have been very convicted from Scot is a first/second concept (not either/or!)

  • CGC

    Hi Joey,
    One of the Eastern Orthodox prayers is “have mercy on me a sinner.” I have no problem saying the prayer but I will say when it comes to our spiritual life, and our indentity in Christ, God has a way of saying “I see you as a saint my child” and the Devil has a way of saying “I see you as a sinner so why try?”

  • CGC

    Hi Joey and all,
    I resonate with a much of what Percival says and I am probably more in a similar place theologically. But after saying that, there was a kind of disconnect for me also in regards to praying for forgiveness is not exactly repentance but discipleship. He can unpack that some more but I for one don’t really see the need to separate them (maybe that is not what is going on, just simply nuancing it more?). Repentance and true “change” is what is missing from much of Christian discipleship that I see in today’s church.

  • DRT

    …and even more concretely, Joey, I believe you are arguing for the proper reading to be propitiate instead of expiate. This post at the top of the page makes a very clear and compelling argument that propitiate is not correct. And there are many responders to the post that further support the reading as expiate.

    If you agree that the proper reading is expiate, and I urge you to dig into it yourself armed with the information in this post, then Gamanche’s sermon is just plain wrong and an insult to the narrative.

  • Luke Allison


    This has everything to do with the major split in the church that’s occurring right this very moment.

    For one, John Stott was a Calvinist straight out of the box. His book “Basic Christianity” essentially says, “What most people call Calvinism is basic Biblical Christianity.” Stott was a great teacher and thinker, but he was an evangelical Calvinist through and through.
    I get the sense that many of the ideas and doctrinal points you are assuming “all Christians believe” are primarily Reformed or Lutheran concepts (for instance, the first of the 95 theses involving the whole life being one of repentance/the very Lutheran perspective on Romans 7 you are espousing).

    The issue is one of emphasis. Tony Jones did give a favorable blurb on Stott’s book defending PSA, but Tony Jones also just wrote a fantastic book called “A Better Atonement” where he seeks to “dethrone” PSA as the de facto atonement theory of Christians. It’s not that substitution isn’t all over the Scripture…it is. But that particular way of talking about substitution is a theological import. I don’t know how many more ways I can articulate that.

    Here’s where I stand right now:
    1. I think “inerrancy” is a modernist construct fighting a battle that doesn’t need to be fought anymore
    2. I think “original sin” should be questioned and pried and picked apart at every turn, because it came from Augustine and really has no reason to be the “unquestionable” doctrine.
    3. I think the New Perspective on Paul has effectively shown the traditional perspective to be more concerned with towing a theological line than understanding what Paul was saying
    4. I think that “hell” in the traditional sense has been a means of oppressing and fearmongering, and you can add some of the conceptions of “the wrath of god” in there too.
    5. I think that any hermeneutic that relativizes the witness (life, death, and resurrection, as well as the ongoing work of the Spirit) of Jesus is a warped and dangerous hermeneutic.
    6. I’m increasingly realizing the need to embrace a theology of peace (compassionate eschatology) before I affirm any other theologies….for the sake of my sanity.

    None of this negates sin. None of this diminishes Jesus’ death or resurrection, and none of this calls God’s holiness into question.

    I’ll ask again: what is the focus of the Hebrew Scriptures (which Jesus knew and breathed, and Paul referenced countless times) when it comes to humanity’s “problem”? How often are Adam and Eve mentioned? How often is the Fall referred to? Is the primary question in the Scripture “how can sinful men stand before a holy God?”, or something else? Are the prophets primarily worried about the “impossibility of keeping the law”, or different things?

    Those are the questions I will continue to ask anyone who articulates the theology you are articulating. Sorry if it feels like ganging…if I go to TGC and comment, I get called a heretic and get asked the “Have you ever told a lie” questions….so I think you’re doing pretty well, actually!

  • Joey Elliott


    I agree the lack of misunderstanding is the goal! I also like what you said about God’s love (I would call it grace in this context) being equal as a motivator compared to realization of our sin, when looking at repentance. Of course returning to the cross in humble repentance (and dependence on His grace) is coupled with the hope and assurance that we have already been forgiven and he has counted us righteous in Christ, and we have new life! We by his grace never come to the cross unaware of the reality of the resurrection! I never meant to imply that our sin only would lead us to repentance. It is His kindness that leads us there! But his kindness only, if we do not actively acknowledge our sin, will surely not lead us there.

  • DRT


    Perhaps it is my language that confuses you with regard to what I am saying. I simply find the whole sinner and repentance language to be over used and leads to places that the bible does not want us to go. In #110 I say:

    I come away with a god who is willing to pursue us, pursue me, and continue to pursue me. He is not judging me for my sin, he asking me to follow him, to realize that he is the true Lord of the world and the true one that is the image that I must mold myself after. When I decide to follow him in that way it is no longer an intellectual attestation or some absolute event, it is a decision at that point in time to say that I will follow him. And when I follow him more, and I fall, I need to get back up and follow him some more and I will be justified (not the reformed notion) for following him because he is the rightful ruler.

    Clearly, another way of saying I am a sinner and must repent is what I said here but with a different emphasis. Saying that I must mold myself after Jesus is by definition repentance. Repentance does not mean to beat myself up but to change. When I decide to follow him I am saying that the way I was behaving before was not up to the way he behaves, again, by definition, this is sin. And then I say that as I follow him I will fall, in other words sin, and I need to get back up and follow again, that is repentance, and he will take me back, that is being saved.

    But the language I am using puts the emphasis on Jesus and not on my sin. I am showing the target I am going after and not wallowing in my guilt and shame. Does that make sense?

  • CGC

    Hi DRT,
    Yes, that makes sense!

    Luke, I loved the way you put all this . . .

    The problem with some of this discussion is we are saying similar things but from different angles. Then there are real differences that need to be further examined. And lastly, we need to be trekkies and not be afraid to explore areas or look at things in ways we have never done before 🙂

  • Luke Allison

    CGC # 128

    “The problem with some of this discussion is we are saying similar things but from different angles. Then there are real differences that need to be further examined. And lastly, we need to be trekkies and not be afraid to explore areas or look at things in ways we have never done before”

    I’m trying constantly in my church experience to find common ground where common ground is necessary: Jesus.
    But even Jesus doesn’t necessarily create this kind of unity, because:
    1. What was the purpose of his life? Was he primarily on earth just to fulfill God’s standard so that he could become a perfect sacrifice? Or was there more to him than that? Was he primarily trying to prove his deity? What about his non-violent critique of the religious structures and imperial system of his day?
    2. What was his death accomplishing? That would be the question of this post.
    3. What did his resurrection accomplish?

    In my mind, as long as a person expresses a belief in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, they are my sibling. But evangelicals are excellent at hedging in their beliefs with plenty of other add-ons.

  • DRT

    Joey and CGC, I think one of the areas where there are real differences is in the definition and idea behind penal substitution.

    If I could put words in Joey’s mouth, I would say that he believes that god punished Jesus for our sins as a substitute for us. But that is not how I view penal substitution.

    Penal substitution in my book is more along the lines that I have tried to learn from NT Wright in JVG. My interpretation of that is that he views PSA as a subcategory, so to speak, of Chritus Victor. So that the overarching atonement narrative is that Jesus became victorious, he overcame the punishment that was put on him by us, the Romans and the Jews, as a substitute for us and he defeated everything that evil could throw at him, even death itself. He won!

    So I view this form of PSA to be the correct one, and it is not god that is smiting Jesus from on high as he is hanging on the cross, it is us.

  • DRT

    …and with a quick search I found something in Wright’s own words:


    I think this problem, actually, goes back to the Reformation itself, though that is another, and much longer, story. But let me put it like this, as a proposition whose proof is, once more, Jesus and the Victory of God chapter 12, Evil and the Justice of God chapter 3, and the sundry other things listed in the Bibliography at the end of this piece. The gospels, as whole narratives, are deliberately telling the story of Jesus and his kingdom-inauguration in such a way as to say, on the one hand, that this is how the long story of Israel (which is, remember, the story of how the creator God is redeeming the whole world) is reaching its God-ordained climax, and in such a way as to say, on the other hand, that it is this story to which the crucifixion of Jesus is itself the climax. The understanding of the cross offered by the four canonical gospels, in other words, is not to be reduced to a handful of prooftexts taken here and there. These are merely the tips of the iceberg. The evangelists’ understanding of the cross is that it means what it means as the climax of this story – the story of Israel compressed into the story of its representative, the Messiah, whose task was precisely to draw the threads of that narrative together. Read in this way, the multiple strands of idolatry, sin, evil, wickedness, oppression, violence, judgment and all the rest throughout the Old Testament come rushing together and do their worst to Jesus. He takes their full force, and does so because that was God’s purpose all along. That is why, though I have argued here and in many other places for something that can be called ‘penal substitution’, I regard the ‘Christus Victor’ theme as the overarching one within which substitution makes its proper point, though that would take a lot longer to demonstrate. And it ought to be quite clear, if we read the gospels in this way, that what many have seen (and dismissed!) as the mere ‘political’ or ‘historical’ reasons for Jesus’ death – Pilate’s duplicitous vacillation, the Chief Priest’s cynical scheming, and so on – are themselves part of the ‘theological’ interpretation of the cross offered by the evangelists.

    You see, the idea of Jesus death is very much tied up in our view of the bible and the way that Jesus works in that context. If we view the bible as a soteriological story that has our sins as the problem and Jesus as the solution so we can have salvation that we are left with a rather shallow and wrong founded faith. We end up doing things like saying that god tortured Jesus on the cross.

    But the context is that Jesus came as the Messiah, the King of Israel, the perfect Israelite that can be sent into battle for his country. Imagine that Israel is at war with another country, it is conceivable back then that the leaders of each country would ride into battle and face each other. The whole idea of the country was wrapped up in the identity of the leader.

    Jesus showed that he was that leader, the true King of the Jews. And he rode into battle to face the enemy, sin. Sin and the final enemy, the most difficult enemy, death itself.

    So the battle begins, he was a substitute for the nation. The leader. He will bear the penalty of the battle against the foe and come out the other side victorious.

    To think that god exacted revenge on Jesus totally misses the point!

  • DRT

    My next to last paragraph could be much more clear. Try this.

    So the battle begins, he was a substitute for the nation. The leader. He will bear the penalty of the battle against the foe [our sinful nature shown by torturing and killing an innocent man, and the final enemy death itself] and come out the other side victorious.

  • Luke Allison


    It is this unification of the historical/contextual reasons for Jesus’ death with the theological reasons that forms the foundation for my view as well. This is why Wright is so important, because very few people get 2nd Temple Judaism like he does.

  • CGC

    Hi Luke #129
    I have been reading Robin Meyers book “The Underground Church.” He is a self-described liberal who actually challenges both conservatives and liberals in his book. I am only about half way through his book but I am not sure he believes in a historical or actual bodily resurrection of Jesus?

    I will say I have read enough to see he is a follower of Jesus who has the indwelling Holy Spirit inside of him. I will see if he answers this question but I suppose people could believe in a spiritual resurrection of Jesus (and be profoundly wrong like some in the Corinthian Church who Paul deals with as brothers and sisters in Christ’s body the church) and someone can believe intellectually in a real bodily resurrection of Jesus and not have the Holy Spirit indwelling in them (I’m sorry if this is opening up a new can of worms for some) but all I can say is Meyers is kicking my proverbial butt all over the place even though I theologically think he is reductionistic or dichotomous in his thinking at times.

  • DRT


    Now, I hope that I have laid enough contextual ground that my assertion that our sin is secondary can be seen a bit more clearly.

    The primary consideration is that Jesus is the ruler of Israel and the rightful ruler of the world. If you believe in that, and that he is the Messiah, the annointed one, the Christ, the King, then you will follow him. That is the primary thing. That is what this is all about. It is about Jesus being shown to be the rightful ruler, the King, the one that I must follow.

    One of my gripes about Calvinism is that it takes all of the good stuff about Jesus and makes it about us. Instead of putting Jesus as the ruler and saying we need to follow and emulate him, it says that we are sinners and need to believe in Jesus so he forgives our sins so we are saved. That is quite a bit different.

    Sure, I realize that there are plenty of people out there that are going to respond to punishment as a threat and then conform, but I ain’t one of them. I will fight against that because I feel any authority that uses punishment to rule is not a true authority and they need to be defeated. Frankly, when I thought that was the message of Christianity and the bible I decided that I would rather not be a Christian.

    I think it is a shame that the people whom I would consider to be the most moral, those that would object to a ruler using intimidation to rule, would be turned off by Calvinism and that is part of the problem I have with it. It takes the good in people and tries to reduce it to bad motives.

    I now think Christianity has a chance, and it started with NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God for me. Finally, there was a theology that we worthy of a good god. It changed my life.

  • DRT

    Luke Allison, yes! My 135 gives even more for those who have not gone there yet…

  • Joey Elliott

    Sorry in advance for picking and choosing what to respond to. This is too much to keep up with.

    Luke #125,

    Thanks for the support, and I apologize on behalf of TGC for any mistreatment you have received.

    I will respectfully say that I disagree on all almost all of your points in post #125 (maybe not #6? Would need more clarification). Sorry! But I wonder, where does that leave us? We obviously would not attend the same church, which is ok. That is part of the benefit of different denominations I think. Would we be able to minister together in the context of missions or something else? Maybe. But maybe better not to? What if we were both in the same conversation with an unbeliever? That would be interesting, but possible, of course. The bottom line is “the split in the church” you mentioned, what do we make of it? If our conversations here represent even on a small scale what is going on, do we expect theological resolution? Do we need it? I don’t know, but somehow we have to at least not be fearful about it. God knows what he is doing.

    I didn’t hear much personal perspective on repentance from you, which is where I think this conversation is ultimately going – CGC’s connection of repentance to discipleship is very important. What do you think of that? Is or has repentance for you been helpful in your own discipleship? If not, how not?

    I apologize I have never answered your question:

    “I’ll ask again: what is the focus of the Hebrew Scriptures (which Jesus knew and breathed, and Paul referenced countless times) when it comes to humanity’s “problem”? How often are Adam and Eve mentioned? How often is the Fall referred to? Is the primary question in the Scripture “how can sinful men stand before a holy God?”, or something else? Are the prophets primarily worried about the “impossibility of keeping the law”, or different things?”

    I think you are trying to pin me into a corner, or even at worst make this about the historic nature of Adam, which God knows there have been enough posts about on this blog. But assuming the best in your intentions, I think the Hebrew Scriptures are Christ concealed, and the New Testament is Christ revealed. The entire Bible is ultimately about Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Second Person of the Trinity, the image of the invisible God, who came to earth as a human baby, and in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and was and is the Messiah and King waited for by the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. He is the Creator and Sustainer of life, and by his word, the universe came to be, and in him, all things hold together. Further, as Paul said to Timothy, the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (of whom I am the foremost, by the way!). As the author of Hebrews says, for by a single offering he perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. As Paul said in Ephesians, the mystery of the gospel is that this salvation from this sacrifice has been opened to the Gentiles, the entire world! Rebellion from God is clearly everywhere, in the OT, and from what Jesus said, and Paul, it is clear whether Adam was mentioned throughout the OT or not, our sin came from him. And even if not, we have it. Do you not? It is a problem, if not the problem. Is it not?

    So, salvation from sin is one of the accomplishments of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Victory over Satan and evil is another. There are more. I don’t see how PSA can only be a subset, but I won’t obsess over that point. But in addition to all this salvation language, which if not prominent, is close to prominent, otherwise many texts in Scripture are unintelligible (see above), the eternal purpose of God is that his glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. How is this accomplished? Through the gospel seen in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Person of Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, and in whom we have the righteousness of God despite our sin, and in whom God became the just and the justifier of those who believe, and who is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will establish the new heaven and the new earth forever, making all things new, in fulfillment of prophecy and the great narrative of Scripture originally revealed through Israel. Does that answer your question? If so, why does any of that blur the need for repentance from remaining sin, as a Christian, to be confirmed into his likeness? Is that automatic, if we are “following” Jesus? What does following Jesus mean if we aren’t daily dying to ourselves? Why does the single offering confuse the concept of “being sanctified” which is active on our part but also “by the spirit”, as explained in other texts.

    In response to you post #129, I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and consider you a brother.

    DRT #135,

    I said not to make this about Calvinism. But you mentioned it again, so I will go there long enough to respond to this comment:

    “One of my gripes about Calvinism is that it takes all of the good stuff about Jesus and makes it about us. Instead of putting Jesus as the ruler and saying we need to follow and emulate him, it says that we are sinners and need to believe in Jesus so he forgives our sins so we are saved.”

    You don’t understand Calvinism. Sorry, but you don’t. That is not Calvinism. Nothing about Calvinism reduces the significance of Jesus as King, or creates a man-centeredness. You are making it to be a worldview, and distorting it in the process to something that you can reject. “Calvinism” is simply a theology of soteriology. It is the “doctrines of grace”; clearly stated, because they were originally disputed. Please stop misrepresenting it and throwing all who humbly hold to it under the bus. Of course you blame “Calvinists” for talking only about soteriology, that it what it is. If “Calvinists” talked about other things, they would no longer be “Calvinists”. I would ask you to remove the label from people you associate with those doctrines for just a minute, and listen to their presentation of the whole counsel of God, and watch their life. If you disagree with their interpretations of Scripture, or the way they manage their church or family that is fine. But don’t assume they are man-centered because you have heard them talk about individual salvation only, and ignored when they talk about King Jesus, or never had a conversation with them other than through your computer. For those who have misrepresented it to you, please accept my apology on their behalf.

    And you miss the point in my understanding (and many others’ understanding) of PSA. You are quick to criticize my explanation of “God torturing Jesus” (which I never used those words), but slow to explain how to understand verses in Isaiah like “it was the will of God to crush Him”, or in Acts, “this Jesus, who was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”. And you are slow to reconcile how God “allowing” us to crucify him, could in any way satisfy any of his attributes (if not wrath, or justice, than even love – he loved us enough to let us accomplish our own salvation?). And in the meantime you reduce the significance of repentance in the Christian life, or at best redefine it.

    And by the way, if you define Romans 7 as Paul’s experience before Christ, we will never be on the same page with the topic of repentance. Somehow if we gain common ground anywhere, we need to there.

  • CGC

    Hi Joey,
    I have never really interacted with the TGC folks before but I do hear horror stories by some others so you are obviously a humble and less combative than what I so often hear.

    In that respect, I hope your tribe increases! 🙂

    I will add one frustrating conversation I had with someone more coming from that position who is finishing his doctorate on this issue. I aksed him two questions (1) Are there not multiple images of atonement in the NT, why should PSA trump all the others? His response was basically, none of the others had the power of the PSA model? Again, for one who believes in the all sufficiency of Scripture, God’s Word may have a problem being treated like this? and (2) I said, the whole focus seems to be on Romans and Galatians? Why not Colossians and Ephesians? Would not the focus of those two books look different than the focus simply being on Galatians and Romans? Again, he basically said that Romans and Galatians are more important to the gospel than Ephesians and Colossians? Since I know you do take a high view of Scripture, don’t these kind of privileging certain texts or books of the Bible over other ones create not only its own problems but short changes the canonical Scripture as a whole in the end?

  • Joey Elliott


    I don’t know the entire context of your conversation, but YES! That creates massive problems. Who is this person and who is giving him a doctorate?

    By the way, I and 3 others from my church are starting to memorize and meditate on Colossians next month, so Colossians will soon be very close to my heart. But of course I could never consider it more “important” than other texts.

    In my view, the Bible is 66 books of truth revealing, through one meta-narrative, the Person of Jesus who is the way, truth, and life – or it is all a lie. It is either all equally the Word of God, or it is all made up. Romans without Colossians is incoherent. Colossians without Romans is not going to tell the whole story either (Romans is my favorite actually!). The Epistles without the Gospels are crazy talk. The Gospels without the Epistles are incomplete and maybe not very applicable to Christian life. The OT without the NT is hopeless. The NT without the OT is out of context and weird.

    Thanks for the encouragement and I hope I can continue to bridge the gap.

  • CGC

    Hi Joey,
    Well, the school where he is getting the doctorate is Sourthen Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville Kentucky.

  • CGC

    PS – We need a lot more bridge makers or people who help bridge gaps! 🙂

  • Joey Elliott

    I will alert Albert Mohler.


    Can you send a link to the conversation?

  • Luke Allison


    I think we probably could get along better than you think, especially if we were ever put in a situation where we had nothing left but Jesus and each other.

    You say you disagree with everything I’ve written…can I ask why?

    For instance, why do you agree with the doctrine of original sin? Do you really believe it? How far do you take it? As far as Augustine? As far as Edwards? As far as Piper? If you don’t take it that far, why not? And what’s keeping you from throwing it out altogether? I start with this foundation: Jews didn’t believe in it. Because a 4th century clergyman believed in it (no matter how brilliant he may have been), are we bound to believe in it?

    Do you disagree that our hermeneutic should not relativize the witness of Jesus? Do you believe that Jesus is merely a part of the bigger whole? You’ve articulated that the whole Bible is “about” Jesus…. so in a sense you’ve made half of this leap already…I just take it one step further and say that Jesus is the definitive revelation of what God is like. I don’t believe in a “flat” reading of Scripture that makes Jesus’ teaching either mechanistic (the Sermon on the Mount teaches us we need a Savior), or tries to shove it into a framework(Jesus is the sovereign God of Calvinism in disguise). Jesus either is the definitive picture of what God is like, or he isn’t.

    Which leads me to a compassionate eschatology and a belief in nonviolence as a way of life and lens through which to interact with the world. There are plenty of good scholarly interpretations of Revelation that make this work.

    Repentance is a Hebrew concept of returning. Returning to the covenant life in God, both in an individual sense (perhaps, I’m not sold on this), and a corporate sense (this makes more sense in the Hebrew Scripture: Israel, come back to Yahweh and leave these false gods!)
    When Jesus said “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent therefore and believe the good news”, I don’t believe he was talking about the kind of moral confession and apology that you are talking about. Which is why Luther is wrong when he says that this indicates that “the whole life should be one of repentance”….this is where reading Stendahl’s “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” is so helpful. Jesus was using a very common statement for that time period, used in a political and social way to call people away from one leader and towards another. Jews wouldn’t have heard “turn from your personal moral failure and start living a life based on my teaching”, they would have heard “stop following this system and start living as if this good news is true!” It’s all about the kingdom of God. NT Wright has pointed out the the roots of repentance are always in Israel’s “return from exile”, which is not some kind of spiritual esoteric metaphor, but an actual physical state that the nation of Israel had been enduring. The only way they can “return” is to “return to YHWH.”

    In Paul’s writing, repentance is mostly used to refer to pagans and Gentiles turning from idols to serve the true God, and for Christians who have fallen away to return to Jesus.

    There’s my understanding of repentance.

  • DRT

    Joey, a quick note here, I think you are confusing my use of Calvinism and Calvinists with people who follow people in the reformed tradition. When I am speaking here I am generally referring to the people who know what they are talking about and the nuance of reformed thinking, not the pew sitters. So when I say that they make it all about us and not god, then I mean the theology is that way, not the way people follow it.

    There are wonderful, good, godly people who are calvinists. I have no issue with them.

    It is the people like Piper, Mohler, Gamache, Driscoll etc that I have the problem with, and in different ways with each of them.

    And you can’t simply say this is not about Calvinism and refuse to discuss it because that is the root of this problem. But, I will substitute another word for the theology if you like. How about soteriologist?

  • Joey Elliott


    Why do I believe in original sin?? Well, actually that is one thing that I think can be known without the Bible. I believe in it because I have it. Romans 7 is my personal testimony. How do I know it is “sin”? Because God, by his grace, gave me a conscience that testifies to the fact that I fall short of his glory. That is why those who have never heard of Jesus are still accountable. Sorry, I didn’t mean to go there. Please don’t respond to that point. 🙂

    Then, I see the world. Interpreting evil and suffering without original sin is going to be tough, but I won’t die on that hill because I don’t believe the “world” or human experience to be authoritative.

    So then you have the Bible. I’m not sure what you mean by “as far” as Augustine or Edwards or Piper. I believe in it. It’s all over the Bible. I don’t have time to quote the whole thing. Didn’t know the extent was relevant. My question for you is, why on earth do you not believe in it? Even from the testimony of conscience and the world I can’t fathom not believing in original sin. Do you believe you have sin some other way, or that you don’t have it at all?

    You mentioned Paul’s descriptions of repentance. But what about his exhortations to put sin to death, or flee from it? I already referenced dozens of passages on this.

    I am trying to be patient, but I need A LOT of convincing to understand how attributing sin to a community of people only, and defining repentance as turning away from a system instead of individual sin, is not just a way to ignore or downplay present sin in your life. And I promise I’m just trying to be helpful. I believe in community, and I even believe that sanctification is a community project. But that doesn’t mean we throw all of our sins into a hat and share them, and repent from them, and from the system that fuels them, corporately, and expect them to individually work themselves out. If by the spirit, you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live!


    Did you even know Gamache before I mentioned him? You need to be more patient with these men and not form judgments from their sermons or articles online. They are actual people not computers. They have children and families and pray for the poor and sacrifice for the nations and love Jesus. You might have much in common with them.

    I don’t think you understood my point about Calvinism. It’s not a worldview. Disagree with the doctrines of grace. Don’t throw the people that hold them under the bus. Much of the other doctrines they believe in you might share. And if not, they are still your brothers and we are in this together.

  • DRT


    I appreciate you hanging in here and talking with us very much. I am learning a great deal in our converstation, and I mean all of us and your responses to all of us. I guess you realize that I have a difficult time understanding your perpective and I am in this conversation to try and relate to it. Ultimately I would either like to have mine or yours changed. But I at least appreciate that you are willing to talk.

    In you last response, you had a paragraph that discussed “salvation from sin”. What do you think that is? Does it mean that we will not sin anymore? Does it mean that we can sin and it does not matter? Does it mean something inbetween those, or perhaps, something totallly different like we no longer have to worship idols and instead know the true god to worhip?

    And you are right to NOT be paranoid about Luke. He is not trying to trap you into anything as far as I can tell. He is simply asking if there exists a standard theory of atonement and the answer is “No”. There is no standard theory in any of the creeds. And how much is Adam discussed in the bible outside of Genesis 2? Almost not at all. A quick search http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=adam&qs_version=NIV shows that there are 25 occurrances, and several of those are not even about Adam. That brings it down to 22 and outside of Genesis it leaves only 1!

    So you see, in the OT they are not really all that concerned about this sin being carried on from the generations from Adam, this original sin. I think it is important to understand that since it is true.

    So if you really believe that the whole bible is about Jesus and the Story, then you need to look long and hard at some dogma that says the fall of Adam is why Jesus is here. The story does not seem to be about that at its core.

    You have to ask yourself, “what is the real meaning of sin” at the time of Jesus and then of Paul. And “what does it really mean to be saved” at that same time.

    If you think that sin is being bad morally, and that saved means that god will send you to heaven even if you are morally bad then you have missed the boat! Though that too is important.

    As far as me understanding Calvinism, I may not understand it the way you do, but I have some understanding of it. I hear all the Calvinists say that it is all about the glory of god, and that it is all about god, and it is all about elevating god etc. But that seems like a poor reason to do anything if you ask me. God does not need us to have his glory upheld! He is not going to get upset when we sin, as if we can attack him or something? No, he is upset when we sin because he loves us, not because we have offended him. I am upset when my son gets a speeding ticket because it is making life difficult for him, not because I am offended that he got the ticket (or two in one day, as happened, arghhhh).

    As far as me being slow to reconcile those verses, I will gladly interpret any of them that you would like!

    Please just tell me which one you think is at odds with what I am saying and I will put it in context! For instance, in the Acts2 23 verse you leave the second half off. The full verse is ” this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles” Now, who does it say executed him? Not god!

  • DRT

    Joey, as far as Gamache, no, I did not know him before this and that audio is the only thing that I know by him. You should know that I am not condemning him, as a person, he may be a great guy. But what he is teaching is wrong and I can condemn that without condemning him as a person.

  • DRT

    Joey, one more comment is in order.

    This blog is about “exploring the significance of Jesus and the Orthodox faith for the 21st century”. That is the context for me in this blog and the things we are discussing are right in the the fairway as far as I can see.

    Now if I was saying that someone or other should be dismissed, or something like that, then that would be off course.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hello all,

    I’m learning loads here. Though my upbringing was thoroughly Arminian and I have never had any truck with Calvinism, I was taught the doctrine of original sin, so where Joey is coming from is not at all new to me. In living, observing, listening and reading, I have come much closer to the estrangement from God perspective and lately to the God’s universe is a work in progress, including us view. We are not finished (as in complete) nor is the universe. The resurrected Christ is our first clear evidence of what ‘complete’ means. He is already what we can become, beginning now and lasting who knows how long. Our repentance is recognizing that fact and turning toward it, by the grace of God. Then, also by the grace of God (Holy Spirit) we must ‘get with the program’, God’s program – from the inside out – in us, our community and in a lost world that needs to know about this possibility of being completed.

    And Joey, you are correct. There is a mixture of truth, half-truth and even perceptions mistaken for truth, not to mention assumptions mixed together in this otherwise good and important conversation. This is why I suggested that we put our foundational positions on the table, and many have.

    In your latest post, you say Calvinism all about soteriology, and not much more (if I understood you correctly). We know, however, that people who call themselves Calvinists emphasize and/or play down a broad range of important perspectives. We also know that Calvinism puts forth a well worked out view of God, and claims copious scriptural support. (Some would say it reads a preexisting view of God into Scripture). You imply, in response to DRT I think, that Calvinism is not a worldview. In my understanding, if it is not a world view it is surely based on one.

    The best, often heartwarming presentation of Calvinism I have ever read is “For Calvinism” by Michael Horton. I don’t agree with numbers two and three of the doctrines of grace in part because their logical extension leads to awful conclusions about God that do not match up with Christ. And, I would modify the first, fourth and last doctrines enough to get me benched in most Calvinist congregations. However, Horton shows that these doctrines can be presented with great sensitivity and grace (as long as they are not taken to their logical conclusions). Why is it that many who hold fast to these doctrines seem unable to be as gracious? (not referring to Joey or Horton). What is it about the people, their experience or the doctrines themselves that lead to the kinds of experiences that Luke and DRT have had on GTC and elsewhere? Why have they received, as you say Joey, such a poor understanding of Calvinism? These are smart, thoughtful, trekkies – what gives? Of course, you don’t have to account for the behaviour of others, or apologize for it either, and these questions are largely rhetorical. But, for many I’m sorry to say, the doctrines of grace don’t appear to be working very well.

    Maybe Luke is correct, “Jesus either is the definitive picture of what God is like, or he isn’t.” For some reason, his fine description of repentance reminded me of Ezekiel’s boneyard. In this section, repentance is clear – they recognize that they are nothing without God.

    “This is what the sovereign Lord says to the bones…..’I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”
    “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ”
    “They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone, we are cut off.’ ”
    “….the sovereign Lord says, ‘O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them.’ ”
    “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.”
    “Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”

    We can have a little Pentecostal moment right here and now 🙂

    Ref: Ezekiel 37: 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 14 NIV 2005

    Sorry if this is a double post. Working on a different computer.

  • Luke Allison


    Sorry, but you’re actually acting out my primary problem with theology: You say: “It’s all over the Bible” as if you would have come to that conclusion without first having an understanding of the “doctrine” of original sin. That’s what I’m trying to say: not that humanity is not sinful, but that the formulation that Irenaeus began and Augustine essentially finished (to death) is not accurate to the context of the writers of Scripture.

    f Jews didn’t believe in “the doctrine of original sin”, what makes us think that Paul did? What makes us think that Jesus did? It is nowhere in the Hebrew Scripture. It gets forced onto David’s conviction that his mother conceived him “in sin”, but I find that tremulous at best.

    So there’s an issue here: I think it goes back to the debate between the NPP and the traditional perspective. How is Romans 5 to be understood? And more personally, how is Romans 7 to be understood? If Romans 7 isn’t a description of the normal Christian life, than millions of believers who have resonated with this passage in the midst of their personal struggles (myself included) are wrong on some level.

    I lean toward the idea that Paul is not being autobiographical, but that he is using a rhetorical device known as “speech-in-character”, speaking to his Gentile audience as if he is one of them. I have many reasons for believing this. I cannot accept the traditional view, because I believe it was born out of a hostile perspective towards Jews that led to many ignorant assertions. I also believe that the traditional view is more of a projection onto the text based on the experience of Luther and others (the introspective conscience of the West).

    This goes back to Scot’s initial post. Very good language and contextual work on the word groupings frequently translated “propitiation” (a word loaded with all kinds of theology) has concluded that this is a theological construct potentially foreign to the writers.

    Hear me on this: I believe that Jesus bore the wrath of God on his shoulders in place of me. I believe that God wouldn’t be much of a God if he didn’t bear righteous anger against the things that destroy his good creation and mar the humanity of his people.
    But I don’t believe that God’s primary disposition to humanity is one of anger, hatred, fury, smiting, slaughter, execution, or whatever other thing gets promoted.
    I believe the primary message of the Hebrew Scripture is Israel’s failure to carry out the mission that God had chosen them for: to be a light to the nations, a blessing to the world.
    A massive secondary theme is exile and idolatry, which are both the result of this failure and the reason for it.

    So I would couch atonement more in the historical setting in which it happened and attempt to tie it in with the story of Israel and see it as a fulfillment and completion of this larger narrative.

  • Joey Elliott


    Phrases like the following are slowly drawing me away from this conversation (it has to end sometime):

    “He is upset at us because he loves us, not because we have offended him.”

    I am not ignoring the love of God in saying that of course it offends him! What a ridiculous approach to Christian living. You are presuming upon the grace of God. You can believe both you know. God loves us and the Spirit grieves when we sin, but to not acknowledge the offense of sin misunderstands God’s holiness and makes both propitiation an expiation a nice favor at best.

    Was God not offended in pronouncing judgment on Israel throughout history? Was Jesus not offended when he said woe to you! Hypocrites! Was he not offended when the man thanked God that he was not like the tax collector? Is He not offended in Revelation when he judges the world?

    Yes, there is grace. But it is so amazing because he pardons us in his love in light of his offense, because of Jesus. I know it sounds like this train of thought implies that Gid is swats mad at us. That’s not what I’m saying. Sin is offensive to Gid. But in his great love he forgives us, and demands us to repent daily and to pursue holiness by actively fleeing from sin.

    And the passage in Acts is one of many I love to use when showing that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are perfectly compatible, though a paradox, and usually even show up together in the same passage. Thanks for highlighting that.

  • DRT

    Joey, you are right, it has to end sometime, but as a favor, will you answer what I posed in this paragraph:

    In you last response, you had a paragraph that discussed “salvation from sin”. What do you think that is? Does it mean that we will not sin anymore? Does it mean that we can sin and it does not matter? Does it mean something inbetween those, or perhaps, something totallly different like we no longer have to worship idols and instead know the true god to worhip?



  • Bev Mitchell

    Hello again all,

    Scanning an old book by Jacques Ellul, I stumbled on a wonderful paragraph that fits perfectly in our discussion. The book is the English translation of Ellul’s “La Foi au Prix du Doute” in English dubbed “Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World” Harper & Row, 1983. Chapter 16 entitled “Religion and Revelation” is a masterpiece, the general theme of which  is “Religion goes up, revelation comes down”. Here, finally, is the quote:

    “Now this downward movement of revelation entails a number of radical consequences, which are precisely the opposite of those brought on by the ascending movement of religion. Revelation leads to the affirmation of powerlessness ……….. In that religion ascends, it always expresses itself in a show of power; and when religion has God enter the scene, it’s always for the purpose of having a little more power. On the contrary …………….. the revelation of God ………. guides humankind in the direction of powerlessness, toward the choice to abandon human means of domination in order to become a people that entrusts itself to God’s hands, to the free decision – and the free grace – of that God.”

    Many arguments among Christians, unfortunately, are at the level of religion. Practically all of the arguments between the secular world and Christianity are at this same level. We would be far better of sticking to revelation. This is, I think, what Torrance is also on about practically everywhere, but especially when insisting on a strong Trinitarian focus.

  • DRT

    Bev Mitchell, I agree, and I bet everyone else does.

    One of the things this reminds me of is a pastor who would say to the people, “this is not a head game, this is a heart game!” The problem with that is that everyone who heard it thought that they were part of those who were reading and learning with the heart in addition to the head, and the ones they disagreed with were the ones that just looked at it as a head game.

    The only winner in that conversation was the Pastor because everyone thought “wow, he understands the way I feel about his!”

  • Joey Elliott


    Can I call you by your first name? That would be awesome. Thanks for that grace.

    The easiest way I can answer your questions is perhaps a description you’ve heard. I believe Jesus once for all paid the penalty of our sin,

  • Joey Elliott

    Sorry, got cut off.

    I believe Scripture teaches that Christ paid the penalty for sin once for all on the cross, through the Spirit we are being gradually freed from the power of sin, and eventually He is leading us to be saved forever from the presence of sin. Justification, sanctification, glorification. I believe repentance to be a necessary element in our justification once for all, but also frequently in our sanctification which is gradual (progressive).

  • Bev Mitchell


    Good point, I see where you’re coming from. People in churches with mixed company are experts at putting things in such a way that there are different take home messages, sometimes diametrically opposed. This is the essence of diplomacy. Sometimes it serves a good purpose, sometimes it just kicks the can down the road.

    In the chapter quoted, Ellul did not leave it at that. He clearly assigned religion (Christian or otherwise) to the kingdom of humankind, useful, sometimes very useful there, but useless for finding God. For that it’s revelation or nothing. Not sure everyone would agree with that. 🙂

  • Joey Elliott

    Luke #150,

    When I said its all over the Bible I meant that. And that is why I believe in (I’ll call it inherited sin), on top of the fact that I have it and my conscience is proof enough. Still curious why this is not enough for you.

    But at risk of you explaining away all of my “interpretations”, which I’m sure you have done with these verses, here are some key passages, that to me, make inherited sin more obvious than any alternative view of how we have sin (if you agree we have it):

    “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

    “The wicked are estranged from the womb;
    they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
    They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
    like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
    so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
    or of the cunning enchanter.

    The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
    “I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,[a]
    to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.”

    “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[e] because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

    “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

    As far as Romans 7 is concerned, I think the burden of explanation is on those that think Paul is talking either about his past life, or not even talking about himself at all. The interpretation (and practical application by the way) of him talking about his present life as a Christian has been well established.

    Lastly, your last 3 paragraphs of post #150 I agree with. Seriously. We could get along! Maybe we have just been miscommunicating this whole time!

  • Luke Allison


    It’s all most likely a matter of emphasis and semantics. Probably also a rather large hermeneutic gap. You see, there’s this chasm, and I am on one side, and you are on the other. And the only way you can cross over to me is if there was a bridge……

    Despite what seems to be a “plain reading” of Scripture, if you really research the history of the “original sin” concept, (read Alan Jacobs’ wonderful book “Original Sin: A Cultural History”… he writes in defense of the doctrine but does a great job of showing where it comes from), I don’t think those verses mean what past interpreters say they mean. I believe everybody will sin, no question. But I don’t believe infants inherit some kind of genetic or spiritual “infection” known as sin. All those verses you cited can also just mean that people seem to sin no matter what. Which is the point we can agree on. Again: original sin is not a Jewish concept….so the texts you cite from the Hebrew Scriptures don’t mean that. The Scripture can’t mean now what it didn’t mean then.

    Joey, the burden of explanation lies on those who do “plain readings” of Scripture without any thought to context, history, or the thought process of the writer. That’s the whole point of this NPP discussion: the interpretation of Paul traditionally taught has been well-established but it’s wrong.
    I sense that you give historical interpretation lots of weight. Maybe that’s a difference too between us. Origen saw Paul through the lens I’m discussing, and recognized his use of “speech in character”, since it was an incredibly common technique at the time.

    If you want a Reformed perspective, read Doug Moo’s Romans commentary: he lays out the three common interpretations of the passage. I think he comes down on your side, but he does the other interpretations justice. Nobody’s perfect. 🙂

  • Joey Elliott


    I appreciate what you are saying, and appreciate the recommendation on reading Alan Jacobs and Doug Moo. I have been aware of Jacobs book but just not gotten to it. It sounds like though, both of these men come away with a view that you disagree with, yet you still respect, and even recommend. All I ask is that you put me in that same category, and not assume that “plain reading” of Scripture, “without any thought to context, history, or the thought process of the writer”, is even CLOSE to how I approach these things.

    I can’t possibly weigh in on the NPP quagmire here, but I caution you from saying things like, “the interpretation Paul traditionally taught has been well-established but its wrong”. That is everything you don’t want people like me to say. You can’t say its wrong. It might be, but there are people you respect that disagree with you on other topics, but do so from extensive, unbiased study. It should be obvious that this is possible on this topic also. You have to understand the arrogance that comes across saying a traditional understanding is “wrong”. Again, it might be, and the study to clarify this is not in vain. But just because it is a hot topic with some convincing arguments (maybe) and some high profile endorsements does not mean the alternative is all of a sudden wrong. More time is neeeded for such boldness.

  • CGC

    Hi Joey, Luke and all,
    All doctrines have a history and we have the strong tendency as Protestants and Evangelicals to proof text any doctrine we have from the Bible without looking at its historical development through the centuries. If a doctrine has a very early foundation, its more likely from Scripture which the early doctrine is gounded in. If it is a later phenomenon, then it is likely it does not go back to the earliest church fathers or scripture.

    The reformed doctrine of inherited sin goes back to Augustine who also believed in inherited guilt (I’m not sure sure you are saying the same thing as Augustine, we all receive Adam’s guilt and are therefore guilty before God for Adam’s sin and not just our sin?). Augustine based his understanding from Scripture (the Latin Vulgate Bible) which had a mistranslation of the Romans 5 text. It’s been intereseting to see how the whole history of the church has often canonized this view and sytematized it. At least in the western church, also note that the whole Eastern Orthodox tradition that goes all the way back to the earliest fathers say the earliest fathers never taught this doctrine of original sin as the Western church developed it.

    So Joey, if we inherit sin through genetics (?) and sin is universal (whichit is) and others say that we all sin like Adam because we live in a fallen world (a sinful environment), is not the point of Rom.5 that we all sin like Adam rather than we receive Adam’s sin inherently?
    Actually, Reformed people think Karl Barth believed in universalism because he was liberal. Actually, Karl Barth believed in univeralism because his Reformed hermeneutics led him in that direction. The parallelism of Rom.5:18 & 19 (which they are parallel) shows that we all became sinners (inherently) through Adams’s disobedience (notice “inherited” is not in the text), then Barth correctly interpreted that all men are made righteous through Christ’s (inherited) righteousness. If sin was inherited then so was salvation. Now I know you don’t believe in Barth’s universalism but Barth is actually trying to be a good exegete if one reads inherited into one verse, then one has to read inherited into the parallel verse.

  • Luke Allison


    I’ll qualify this: “In my opinion, they are wrong.”

    The NPP is hardly new. There’s been tons and tons and tons of scholarship invested in it.

    I respect those people who agree with the traditional interpretation but I also wish they would kick away from the spaceship a little bit (to follow the trekkie theme) and stop worrying about towing a line. There is a tremendous amount at stake for a Lutheran or Reformed person to concede to a different interpretation of Romans 7: In my experience, the entire Christian life is primarily filtered through that chapter, mainly because Luther resonated with it so well.

    But Luther was wrong about so much! Seeing legalistic Catholics in all the places where Jews are mentioned was just the beginning. If we know (and I think we can say we know this to a certain extent) that the Jews weren’t like Luther characterized them (which largely informs his understanding of Paul), how can we continuously hold his interpretation up as authoritative? I’m very interested in perspectives that privilege 16th century scholarship over 21st century scholarship. Your worldview is nothing like Luther’s. You don’t believe that rats spontaneously generate from manure. Why should we privilege his interpretation just because it’s historically significant?

    On another note, we have a whole segment of the church body who have historical precedent and come to completely different conclusions from us on almost everything (the Eastern Orthodox). What about them?

    One last note: You say “more time is needed for such boldness”. I say, “The Reformation is still occurring, so boldness is the word of the day.”

  • Joey Elliott


    Good points. Especially the parallel logic in Romans 5:18-19. I get what you are saying, but obviously the Bible is more than one verse, so the argument would go that since several other passages show that salvation is only is Jesus and requires belief in him, and is not universal, than you can’t make the universalism argument from Romans 5, as you can’t really make any argument from only one verse. Scripture has to confirm Scripture. So, I’m not attempting to explain inherited sin from Romans only.

    But, for the purpose of this conversation, I am not altogether concerned whether our sin is “inherited” from Adam or just shared with him. Keep in mind we got on the track of original sin because I was highlighting the importance of repentance for the Christian (as you mentioned is important in discipleship), and I felt a lot of pushback to this concept, specifically as it related to Christians really having to deal with their sin and actively repent, and all that. So I was addressing what I saw as a complacent view of sin in the Christian life, which connecting the original post, explains why some are less willing to accept the view of God’s wrath and specifically that this wrath was poured out on Jesus on our behalf.

    One thing you have to understand about me is that my theology in incredibly practical. What I hate is when I try to helpfully offer an application for a particular theology, and instead of acknowledge or even discuss that application, there is disagreement with that theology and we just argue about that, missing the part that matters. Perhaps this is why its so hard to be in ministry with someone who does not share your theology; you’ll never get to life application because you’ll always be arguing the theological points that create that application. On this point though, no matter your view of sin and where it come from, I am still shocked there is so little acknowledgment as to the importance of repentance and actively fleeing from sin for the Christian.

  • Joey Elliott


    I could say all the same things I’m saying without mentioning Martin Luther. He is not the only one that these ideas and interpretations are based on. Forget Luther.

    And I agree the interpretation of Romans 7 is crucial for Christian living. Which is why I’m so passionate about getting it right (which, in my opinion, is that its Paul referring to his life as a Christian)!

  • CGC

    Hi Joey,
    I have to go but I do like your practical approach. I really like your approach or concern on repentance but I think the contention with others (I was not part of that conversation) was the framework which it was being conducted in (?). If sin is not inherited from Adam then where is it inherited from? If it is shared with him, which I have no problem of, that is neither the Reformed view much less how you originally defined original sin as inherited sin. So this is either progress or confusion 🙂

  • Joey Elliott


    Well of course I believe sin is inherited from Adam. But I would rather acknowledge that it comes to us some other way for the purpose of practical conversation of how to deal with it, than to argue all day about whether it is inherited or not. You can see though, why even I have trouble moving from the theological basis. In this case, all the practical implications I’m saying make a lot more sense if sin was inherited from Adam. I just hope those that don’t think so still have a coherent application of repentance and putting sin to death.

    Many conversations and theological points I would not stray from, even for the purpose of conversation. This one is important enough that I’m trying to do whatever I can to get common ground.

  • DRT

    I have stayed away from the Luke/Joey Roman’s 7/8 conversation, but would like to weigh in a bit. As I understand it, there is indeed good rationale for controversy in 7 about who the “I” is that people is using. Different people come up with different arguments and it is difficult to come up with a killer argument.

    But I have settled on the “I” being a reference to Israel, and not to Paul at all. The reason for this has been show by NT Wright and it is multi-faceted, but I will state a couple of the facets.

    First, it seems, per Wright, “that people often wrote in the first person singular (‘I’) when they wanted to say something more general.”[Paul for Everyone, romans Part 1, page 123] Similar to the way we would say “we” or “one” in English. Given Wright’s credentials as a historian, I think that makes a lot of sense.

    The other point that I would like to make is that this reading allows us to make the best sense of the argument Paul is putting forth throughout 7 and into 8. He is explaining the role of the Torah, the Law in the purposes of God’s plan to defeat sin through the Messiah. As we discussed earlier in this thread, or at least I stated, Jesus defeated the best that sin and death can throw at him. He defeated them at their worst.

    Imagine that I am a boxer and I competed in a tournament where one of my fights was against the champ of the world, but he had pneumonia and a broken jaw when I fought him. Now I could be him, and still win the tournament, but it would hardly be compelling to say that I was the best. That is similar to what Paul is doing in 7 and into 8.

    For Jesus to summarily defeat sin and death he had to go against the worst sin and worst death has to offer and win. So Paul, using the “I” in 7 as Israel, shows how Israel was given the Law specifically to highlight the sin that was out there. To magnify the sin, and make it the worst form of that sin so that when Jesus won the battle we can truly say that he was the champion.

    And to make sure that it was indeed sin that Jesus was defeating, and not people and not the Law, he goes through all these arguments to show that the people are not to blame, and the Law was not to blame in and of themselves. It is the effect of the sins committed that is to blame.

    And Joey, notice when we get to 8:3 “8:3 For God achieved what the law could not do because 1 it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,”, that Paul is not saying that god condemned Jesus, far from it, he condemned sin. That’s is a big part of what is so wrong with Gamache. God did not condemn Jesus, we did, sin did. But then, god condemned sin and defeated it. AMEN!

  • Joey Elliott


    I appreciate your sharing of your opinion on the Romans 7 controversy. But I can tell you, you have about as much chance casting a spell on me through your computer as you do convincing me that Romans 7 is not Paul talking about himself as a Christian. But I do acknowledge this interpretation is not the only one.

    Do you not relate to Romans 7 as your own individual Christian testimony? If not, you are exceptional in my opinion, and perhaps an angel of some kind.

    Finally, on Gamache, if you can bear it, listen to it again with the perspective that he is talking about God condemning sin, not God condemning Jesus. I’m not sure where you got the idea that those words were to Jesus only, unless you created it yourself as a reason to dismiss the narrative as disgusting just because you didn’t like it. Jesus becoming sin, does not mean that God condemned anything in His Son but the sin that he bore on our behalf. This of course is the mystery and the wonder. Jesus became sin, yet remained fully God, and faced our penalty, for us! God the Father turned his back on Jesus, because of the sin he bore, not because of who he was, for us! And he raised him from the dead to confirm the sacrifice was acceptable, and will raise us also! If we believe.

    As with Jesus, if we had no sin, God would not automatically condemn us just cuz. I have never said that. It is sin that stores up his wrath. It just so happens that we all have sin, so are “children of wrath”, as Paul says in Ephesians.

  • Luke Allison


    Are you saying that your interpretation of a 1st century letter is based largely on your experience?
    Because the traditional interpretation doesn’t make sense of Paul’s earlier statement that Christians have been freed from sin in Romans 6:6-7; 17-18; 22. In 7:14, the “I” is described as “sold under sin.” The subject of this diatribe (the “I”) struggles to obey the law (Romans 7:22-25), while Christians have earlier been described by Paul as being free from the law (Romans 6:14-15; 7:6). I just don’t see any evidence in the text itself (regardless of my experience) that this is what Paul is discussing.

    Speaking of experience, I see no evidence whatsoever that God is in control. I see nothing to suggest to me that a loving creator God is governing the universe justly. I often don’t see anything to suggest that this God cares about me as an individual.

    I also haven’t experienced anything that would indicate to me that human beings are born evil and gravitate towards evil. I see much more complexity in life than that. And yet you believe in original sin, not based on the experience of inherited sin in newborn infants, but on texts that teach it to you. So how far does our experience go in determining the meaning of a text?

    Let me ask you: Do you subscribe to John Piper’s viewpoint that the righteousness of God is God’s concern for his own glory? This has something to do with what we are arguing about.

  • Joey Elliott


    I can’t keep clarifying. I do not believe anything primarily because of experience. I could lay out for you my belief in Romans 7 based on Scripture very extensively, I just don’t have time, and don’t really think it matters as long as it is acknowledged that it is a reasonable approach to the text, even if you disagree. I think you already said it was (via Doug Moo). I’m not hoping to convince you.

    All I’m saying with the experience part of it, is to ask what I just asked DRT: is Romans 7 not also your personal Christian testimony? If its not, you might be an angel. That’s all I’m saying. I would never use experience to make any Biblical or theological truth claim. In this case, I’m just curious because so much of what I’m hearing is that the struggle overcoming the POWER of sin (by the Spirit) is a minor concern in the Christian life (while agreeing that we are freed from the PENALTY of sin). I think it is major. I also believe we will overcome it, but it is not automatic, and I believe we will eventually be freed from even the PRESENCE of it, but coasting or downplaying the danger is not the way to get there.

    While John Piper’s viewpoint may have something to do with our discussion, I’m not sure it has enough to do with it to warrant a response at this juncture.

  • Phil Miller

    I’m late in jumping in here, and I will admit that I haven’t read all the comments in detail, but I’m interested in the conversation on Romans 7. Someone brought up “speech-in-character”, and I think that’s a good description of what Paul is doing in this portion, but I’d take it a step further. He isn’t simply impersonating a gentile, but rather, he’s impersonating Adam. This passage has to be tied back to Romans 5.

    Why does Paul bring up the command “you shall not covet” out of blue in chapter 7? He’s not referring to the 10 commandments, but rather the original command that God gave Adam. There is plenty of rabbinical commentary saying that the first commandment that Adam and Eve broke was that of not coveting the fruit from the tree of knowledge. That is what Paul is getting at. He is taking Adam’s experience of getting the command and breaking it, and using it to make his case that all humanity is in a similar place.

  • Luke Allison

    I agree with everything in your second paragraph. Still doesn’t mean that’s what Paul is talking about. 🙂

    The reason I bring up Piper’s viewpoint is because it’s a relatively novel one within the world of biblical scholarship. He uses biblical texts to back it up, of course, but very few people agree with him in that world. And yet he has a substantial following who all think his interpretation is best. And, he tries to paint himself as the true “Bible guy” while Wright is off in left field somewhere. This is all confusing to me, since Piper’s viewpoint is actually far more “liberal” (in the purest sense of the word) than Wright’s. And yet the consistent picture painted by Piper’s camp is that Wright is a modernist enlightenment liberal seeking to lead the church astray with his novel theories (just like Paul warned Timothy about!!).

    Maybe the core of this whole argument, outside of all the biblical conflict, is the question of what God is like and how he responds to sin.
    We both acknowledge the reality of sin. We both acknowledge the gravity of sin.
    You choose to believe that God sees your sexual thoughts or anger towards your brother or a host of other standard human behaviors as worthy of slaughtering you over….IF NOT for Jesus’ blood covering you. That may be a caricature, but it’s what you’re saying: everything and everyone is deserving of death. That is a classic Reformed posture towards humanity.

    I don’t think that’s God’s stance towards humanity as seen in the narrative of Scripture. It may be his stance toward his people when they oppress the widow, hold down the poor, and worship false gods. But it doesn’t seem like it’s his stance toward all of humanity. If anything, the New Testament reinforces this perspective: God is ridiculously soft and gentle with Gentiles and pagans.

    Remember, if God can’t look upon sin, he’s doing a poor job of showing it, since he pursued the man and woman in the garden, pursued Cain, pursued Abraham and covenanted with him/blessed him, and spent almost the rest of the Hebrew Bible pursuing his covenant people. So the entire basis of the “soterian gospel”, the “first spiritual law” that makes the “bridge illustration” necessary, has no basis. That’s all I’m trying to say.

    Perhaps this conversation needs to be put down like a 22 year old cat. I wonder if Scot knows this is still carrying on?

  • Joey Elliott


    You’re running around my question: Is Romans 7 your personal Christian testimony or are you an angel?

  • Phil Miller

    I think Romans 7 is Adam’s personal testimony (or, rather story), and therefore every human’s story. Luckily, though, it doesn’t end there. Paul’s argument all hinges on the all-important “therefore” in Romans 8:

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering.

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil Miller #174. Agreed.


    Here’s what it would take for me to put closure to this epic dialogue:

    1. Agree to disagree on what Paul is talking about in Romans 7.
    2. Agree to disagree with propitiation vs. expiation vs. both as correct translation of original texts mentioned.
    3. Agree to disagree on nature and truth of Reformed Theology.
    4. Assume motives are pure and scholarship of John Piper, Rick Gamache, etc. is sound, even if wrong.
    5. Acknowledgement of the present power of sin in the believer’s life, and the priority of repentance away from it, and active fighting of it, by the power of the Spirit, as a crucial and necessary component of Christian living and discipleship.

    Who is with me?!

  • Luke Allison


    To a certain extent. I don’t strive to follow the law like the “I” in Romans 7, because I grew up learning that Christians are free from it. I can say that I’ve experienced all kinds of anguish because I believed Romans 7 was the sum of the Christian experience.

    I have an introspective conscience, because I grew up in an Augustinian, Lutheran, western world.

    Does the fact that you experience something close to the text mean that’s what Paul was writing about? You’re employing a little Scottish common sense thinking here.

    I, like Augustine and Luther before me, find myself frequently struggling with sexual temptation. And this creates an intense internal struggle. But I know some people who don’t struggle to nearly the same level that I do. So I can’t project my personal proclivities onto them. My brother, for instance, has seemed to coast through life without much sexual struggle. He got his doctorate in aeronautical engineering at a young age. Had he struggled to the level that I have, achievement would have been impossible.

    That doesn’t change anything about Paul’s point. But let’s look at other things Paul said.
    In Acts 23:1, Paul says that he has “lived before God in all good conscience until this day.” Is that your Christian experience? Shouldn’t it be? Or are you going to pull the Apostle card? In which case, why would you project your own personal experience onto Paul in Romans 7?

    Here’s a big difference in my interpretation of Scripture: I see Paul telling Timothy that he is the chief of sinners because he was a persecutor of the church (and consequently of Jesus) and a murderer. I don’t see this is the standard blueprint for the way Christians should see themselves, as if all Christians should be in competition as to who is the worst of sinners.
    But Paul did not languish in guilt. He seems to have accepted it and then embraced his newfound state, because God’s “grace to him was not without effect” (1 Cor 15:9-10)

    In my opinion, Romans 7 shouldn’t be any more authoritative for the believers’ experience than Acts 23:1 or Acts 24:16. But then again, I don’t think Paul’s experience is authoritative for believers in the first place. That’s not what his letters are “for”.

  • DRT

    Joey, I simply don’t see Romans 7 to be about me. I see it as the story of how Israel was, well, used in our history and how sin works versus us versus the Law.

    I also find it interesting that you regularly quote Paul with something about how you are such a great sinner, but remember, Paul was killing Christians. He really was a great sinner, and in the context of Chapter 7 it is a prime example of how Law leads to sin. I doubt that your sin is even remotely close to that of Paul, right? So I think it is worth reading Paul not as bravado, but with the context of him actually having done what he did under the Law. To lessen it simply takes away from his message.

    Now certainly we can all use his example to recognize where we are obeying Law in our lives to the point where we are sinning under it instead of looking at the actual commands that Jesus gave us, but that is secondary.

    And I am no angel. I just think all the bravado of people saying how big of a sinner they are is a fundamentally wrong approach. We are not to primarily identify ourselves as sinners. Yes, we sin, but part of the point of this passage is that we should not identify ourselves as sinners.

  • DRT

    Luke, just got done burying a 10 year old cat that we had since a kitten. He was mean, diabetic, would crap all around, was ugly and not clean himself, smelled, but I still shed a tear as he went under in my arms…..

    Only 2 to go! (just kidding…)

  • DRT

    ..and not to add another chapter to this epic, but if you read Romans 7 as your own personal story and not about Adam (everyman) or Israel, then you miss another perspective relating to corporate guilt. Isn’t the Law, Torah, also extended to laws that we make. And here I am thinking about the right wing persecution of gay people. They are righteous in their own self made law, and I fear that their law is magnifying sin instead of decreasing it. There are many lessons to be learned from Paul in Roman’s 7.

  • Phil Miller

    Joey, I simply don’t see Romans 7 to be about me. I see it as the story of how Israel was, well, used in our history and how sin works versus us versus the Law.

    That’s pretty much what I would say, too. I don’t it’s about anyone, per se, but I think Paul is using this argument to make a broader point how neither Jews nor Gentiles can claim superiority over one another. I don’t think Paul is talking about some sort of personal existenstial crisis here. There’s not evidence that he actually felt inadequate to meet the law’s demands himself, actually. In Philippians he says he considered himself “blameless” or “faultless”in regards to the law.

    I’m OK with someone reading this passage and identifying with it to a degree, but I think the bigger picture in how it plays in the entire rhetorical flow of the book of Romans is much more important.

  • DRT

    Phil Joey and Luke,

    I really appreciate that Phil brought up the beginning to Romans 8, and specifically went as far as including the last two words, a “sin offering”.

    A sin offering in the OT is something that you do when you did not mean to commit a sin. When you feel you had good intentions and yet you did do something that is intrinsically bad. This is quite important in our conversation because it places the proper emphasis on how we should view ourselves. Are we to view ourselves as terrible people who only sin and deserve death? I don’t think so. I think Paul is letting us know that people, even when they are doing things under good conscious still sin, and the persecution of Christians is a great example. I think persecuting gays is a good example too.

    Jesus is a sin offering. Not an offering for those who have intentional guilt.

  • Joey Elliott

    So what of my closure points in #175?

    Romans 7, Acts 23, Acts 24 all explain my experience. And so do about 1000 other verses. I was not saying that one is more authoritative than another. I was not saying that my battle with the power of sin contradicts my striving for a good conscience. I was not saying that my acknowledgement of my sinfulness rules out my identification with Christ and my union with him. I was not saying that I, and we, should identify ourselves primarily as sinners. But we are that, or we’re liars. I was not saying that people don’t also have intrinsic good, and that even unrepentant sinners can contribute to society and human flourishing (common grace). I was not saying we should view ourselves as terrible people who deserve death, especially as Christians who have received eternal life through Jesus, and the sting of death is gone.

    I was saying what I think we should be doing about the power of sin which is still a reality, and the internal sin nature we still have. Don’t you know the Bible is full of paradoxical things such as this (but which are not contradictions)? You can’t always pick one and assume the other is wrong. And you can’t always assume if someone is saying one thing, that means he thinks such and such about another thing. Balance people. This is the whole problem with people who believe only divine sovereignty at the expense of human responsibility, and vice versa, as one example.

    I was not saying that I know truth by my experience. I was saying my experience confirms the truth I know from Scripture. My mention of my experience in Romans 7 was just to get admission that none of us personally are above this struggle, even as Christians. Sure, it could represent Israel, and perhaps an extensive study of history, context, language, etc., would identify it as such. But I don’t care for this point, I’m not talking about Israel, I’m talking about us. I’m not talking about theology as much as I’m talking about application.

    So yes, the power of sin is active in my life but I also hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. I am holding faith and a good conscience so as not to make shipwreck of my faith.


    Your mention of Paul as truly a worse sinner than me or you, or anyone, is such a misunderstanding of sin that I can’t even believe it. I am the worst sinner I know. What do you even think Jesus was talking about when he described murder as hatred and adultery as lust? It was to even the playing field. All our sinners. There is not a degree of falling short. We all just do. If you are not the worst sinner you know, I’m not sure how even to talk to you. Whether you know it or not, you are looking down on other people as worst sinners than you. Don’t you see the danger here? If there are degrees of sinfulness, how does the Christian life even work? Freedom to sin up to the point we become just short of the “worst”? Who is where on the spectrum? Can only some be saved? If all can be saved, does it happen differently? Is God’s forgiveness in degrees? Where is that idea in Scripture? Help me out here. Sure, sanctification happens at different degrees for different people, but sin is sin. I’m not talking about sins, I’m talking about sin. Do you see the difference? The power of sin is present, even in Christians, and though in manifests itself differently as sins in different people, it originates from the same source. Sin. Original or inherited or however you want to explain where it comes from. Indwelling. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

    I stand by everything I have been saying. I still see a dramatic lack of attention to the power and danger of sin in our lives, and a lot of explanation about theological interpretations and identification with Israel in place of simple agreement on an obvious reality. And now a lot of assumptions are being made about my opinions or interpretations on other points, but all the while this point remains on the table, and no one seems concerned.

    What of my closure points? Specifically #5?

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    There has been so much dancing around biblical texts that it reminds me why the early church had the rule of faith and drew lines with apostolic teaching historically because people can interpret and make biblical texts on their own say just about anything they want. I notice the Eastern Orthodox typically don’t jump into the fray of these discussions? Why? Maybe because the Eangelical/Protestant biblicism is more the problem than the solution. Without looking at the long history of tradition and doctrinal development, people end up doing solo or shadow dancing some moves they learned from somebody else rather than reallly entering into the fray of history or the context where various ideas developed in the first place. Unless we learn more dance moves from the early tradition and first biblical scholars, I think we will continue to dance in circles when it comes to discussion like these rather than actually dancing as partners.

  • Luke Allison


    You’re making my point: I think that the New Reformed movement in the United States have set themselves up as theological gatekeepers. Their perspective is one of many. But as soon as the “heresy” word starts getting thrown around for people denying penal substitutionary atonement (not saying Joey has thrown this word out, quite the contrary!), I have to muddy the waters by pointing to the thousands of interpretations that exist.
    There are some things on which there is no Christian consensus. Atonement theories are one.

    Earlier I mentioned that the EO have historical precedent and disagree with Protestantism on many points. What of them?

    My point in arguing these passages like a pitbull isn’t so much to try and convince Joey of my viewpoint, but to show that other viewpoints are viable and not attempts to weasel out from under the “plain reading” of Scripture. He wants me to acknowledge the same thing. So we’re making progress, I think!


    I don’t understand where you get the perspective that all Christians should regard themselves as the worst sinner they know. I’ve offered why I think Paul isn’t setting some universal Christian blueprint when he says that he is the chief of sinners. I think he is speaking to the reality of what he was.
    Saying that my 95 year old grandmother is every bit as guilty and worthy of death outside of Christ as a rapist or murderer or an oppressive dictator is morally confused and morally confusing to the average person. I don’t think it’s a biblical idea.
    This is one of the things we’ve heard so many times we almost have come to regard it as inspired truth. I’m just as bad as Hitler. I’m not. But I have my struggles that separate me from the covenant family of God. But let’s not create false pictures of God’s justice.

    Joey, I’ll give you the last word.

  • Bev Mitchell

    I’ll try to sneak in here before Joey.

    I know better than to get involved in this old argument, and I won’t. But while my spirit is willing (to remain silent), my flesh is indeed weak, so I will make an observation from the cheap seats where our theology is a bit less rigidly framed. The poor cousins, if you will. 🙂

    Whether the  “I” in Romans 7 is Israel, Paul or us, in any case there is no Holy Spirit there – just knowledge of the demands of the law (knowledge of good and evil) and human beings trying to obey using only human resources – our inherited moral dilemma,  if you will. This is exactly what Ellul was getting at in my reference above (153) when he says religion won’t get the job done, it is useless for the purpose. One might say the same thing for theology.

    The contrast in Romans 8 couldn’t be greater. The same law exists (as interpreted by Jesus), the struggling moral person still exists, but what makes it all work now is an entirely new relationship with the Giver of the fulfilled law, mediated through Christ and revealed in the person of the Holy Spirit. Compare the number of times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Romans 7:15-25 with Romans 8:1-11. It’s 0 to 11 by a quick count.

    I’ve seen people skip over these references to the Holy Spirit as if they were blind, yet he makes all the difference. Paul is comparing here (7 vs. 8) his, Israel’s and, by extension our lives before and after the Holy Spirit. We can, and do, get bogged down with ‘religious’ discussions, sometimes to the point of missing the revelation. I realize this is the ‘simple Wesleyan/Pentecostal view of things, but I do think it is also the heart of the matter. To follow the line of another of my pet themes, it’s another example if getting bogged down in the ‘how’ of things at the risk of missing what God is doing.

    CRC has a point when he says “maybe the Evangelical/Protestant biblicism is more the problem than the solution”. I get closer every book I read to leaving out the maybe in that sentence. I am there for sure if by biblicism we mean what Christian Smith is talking about in “The Bible Made Impossible”. 

  • CGC

    Hi Joey and all,
    We say we are getting our theology from the Bible but my question is still, where in the Bible is this doctrine we call original sin? I don’t want to look at a thousand verses, I just wanted to look at Romans 5 because that is where Augustine got it and that got us to the place where we find ourselves today.

    1. Where in Rom.5 does it say we inherit Adam’s sin or Adam’s guilt?

    2. If we inherit Adam’s original sin and guilt, why don’t babies then go to Hell? If they don’t go to hell, why not? If there is a special grace that takes away original sin, where in the Bible is that?

    3. Many of our churches teach and practice a kind of age of accountability for people to own their faith or personalize it. Where in the Bible is this? (if Rom.5 is about salvation in Christ and often children come to Christ, is the age of accountability in there some where?).

    What boggles my mind is none of the earliest Christians believed any of this stuff we believe today who were the closest Christians to the time of Jesus and and his disciples. And please understand Joey, this doesn’t just challenge your tradition but the last point even challenges my own tradition.

    Lastly, you keep suggesting that the universality of sin must be inherited. If Romans 8 says all of creation is tainted by sin, why can’t this universality, this experience you talk about be just as connected to a sin-filled environment than to Adam? Adam represents the fallen world (corrupt) sphere we live in. Christ represents the perfect-obedience sphere to live in. And you can’t write off Barth’s argument because other scriptures don’t teach universalism (I agree). But the main point was Rom.5 does not teach inherited sin (that was the point!). It either cuts both ways or it doesn’t cut it at all.

  • CGC

    Hi Luke,
    I had a discussion with an EO priest not that long ago that was both humbling and illuminating. We were talking about infant baptism and household baptisms in the book of Acts and I wanted to make an argument against infant baptism based off of one verse at the end of the text in regards to a household baptism in the book of Acts. This was the first time I had actually tried to “what about this verse?” apologetic and I felt pretty sheepish afterwards.

    He was patient with me and started saying we (EO or ‘the church’) don’t do theology by throwing out a verse here or there. We go to the Fathers. We study the whole history of the church teaching on the matter. We look at the theology and the reasons they gave. We look at context and archaelogy and the like and they all point to the ancient and earliest tradition of infant baptism and even baptismal fonts for infants as well as very small children partaking of the eucharist from the earliest Christian tradition. My whole theological tradition has staked a huge claim in restoring believer’s baptism back into the church which didn’t happen till the Anabaptist Reformation. But what if what some of these early Christians were willing to die for was actually a theological innovation or novel practice and not how the earliest Christians did things from the beginning? What if on a multitude of issues, the EO’s are right and Protestants are wrong?

    What then????

  • DRT

    I like with my fellow writers said in response to Joey, and will let him have the last word too, but need to at least respond to my sin and relative sin since that was clearly directed to at least me.

    Joey, I totally get the idea that all sin and all fall short so we have no basis to say one is better than the other in Christ. But that does not take away from the idea that some may have a more difficult time staying in Christ than others. It does not take away from the reality that Jesus will accept each of us on our return to him. But we each need to return to him. There is a difference in what we do.

    I am not the worst sinner I know. I know people who fall more short of the ideal before god than me. But I also do not think I am any better than them. That is the key point because all of that gets rooting in the reality of bragging rights and positioning of one person above another.

    If I not only not reject my much more sinful brother, but would be willing to place myself under them to help them, then I think I have accomplished what is going on here. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that the reason that we dwell on all falling short and all being sinners is because we should not consider one of us to be better or above another. Either truly believing it or a least it leading to bragging.

    I honestly believe that mature Christians inculcated into the lifetime attitude of love for other will have an easy time with this. As proof, the most “Christian” people I have known have been some of the most meek, the ones that would give their coat to anyone, including the murderer and thief.

    Believe it or not, I have met saintly people who are, objectively, less sinful, yet more meek, more supportive, and more loving than anyone else. The rhetoric is to prove the point that one of us should not consider themselves above the other, as well as to let us know that all can be accepted (justified) for their desire to follow Jesus. Does that make any sense?

    You get the last word.

  • Joey Elliott


    You would sneak in! Haha. To your points, I would say I agree we can’t leave out the Holy Spirit. Any lack of inclusion of the Holy Spirit on my part was lack of time. I hope you can believe that. All the exhortations I’m giving to fight the power of sin is all nothing without the Holy Spirit. If this post was about sanctification I’d go there, but I was only ever trying to get people to see sin somewhat close to how I do so that the PSA view of propitiation, and even expiation, would be more coherent.


    I feel like you are getting me to define doctrine from individual verses, and I said I can’t do that. Besides, in my closure points, I’m willing to agree to disagree with various interpretations to find common ground on my point #5 (among other things that you may want common ground in). I’ve already said for the purpose of this the latter part of this conversation I could care less if sin is actually inherited. I care that we have it, even after we are saved. What do we do about it?? That is what I care about here.


    Thanks for giving me the last word, although at this point why stop? Haha, is this a record? I would love to know if Scot is even aware of the length of this. Maybe this happens all the time? The most comments I had seen before this was just over 100.

    The “worst sinner I know” idea for me comes from 1 Timothy 1 as referenced, but for the sake of common ground I am willing to concede that this is a practical concept for me (and my church, where I heard it first) that isn’t necessarily how others have to articulate it. But the reason I think it’s important for you and maybe others to consider is that it’s kind of built-in accountability and humility. If I am the worst sinner I know, than I can never look down on someone else as worse than me, puffing up my spiritual pride and derailing my trajectory within the grace of God, and reducing my ability to love them as more important than myself (1 John). God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So that’s where I try to be, and it’s not easy. But if I wasn’t the worst sinner I know, and I know my sin (I don’t know anyone else’s), than it would be really hard!

    And don’t take this concept to the extreme, comparing to Hitler or serial killers or what not. I never took it there. I’m trying to live where I am. I don’t interact with the Hitlers of the world. But if Paul, converted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and conformed into the likeness of Christ to the point where God commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and inspired him to write much of the NT, giving clarification and perspective on the Christian life, and encouragement and rebuke to churches, if this man considered himself the chief of sinners, what does that make me? If I were to compare, I clearly would fall short of even the standard he sets, not to mention Jesus!

    So considering myself the worst of sinners is just perspective for me that the sin I have, and have been freed from the penalty of, yet still subjected to the power and presence of, is the same sin as the next guy. Not Hitler (although theologically I would argue it is), but my neighbor who lets his dog poop on my lawn, or my friend from college who struggled with sexual temptation 2 times a week more than me. If I didn’t consider myself the “worst”, what would stop my prideful heart from ranking those people “less godly” than me because all observable evidence shows I am slightly better? The internal, unobservable evidence is more significant.

    But when I say “worst sinner”, I don’t mean “commit the worst sins”, even though in some cases that may be true. I mean I have indwelling sin that is capable of the worst sins, and since I know my sin and what I’ve done (I don’t know what you’ve done), than logically I am the worst sinner I know.

    I just think this is helpful for the Christian life, and frankly the alternative is unimaginable to me. Just something to consider.

    Hope I can continue to participate and present reformed theology and things like PSA, and other things I won’t mention to avoid 200 more comments, as viable Biblical interpretations. Obviously I consider Scot McKnight and Jesus Creed viable or I wouldn’t waste my time. Have a great night everyone!

  • Joey Elliott


    My post (which was completed before I saw yours!) compared to yours, presents as much unity between the two of us, at least, as anything so far. Praise God!

    Peace and Love,


  • Jeremy Forbing

    Thank for this post. It seems like such minutia to argue whether an old Greek word group signifies expiation or propitiation, but in that tiny difference is a massive question about the most important event in human history. I am following this discussion with interest.

  • CGC

    God bless you Joey,
    from one chief of sinner to the next 🙂

  • DRT

    CGC, I know that you wrote that to Luke, but I want to pitch my 2 cents.

    I was raised RC, left for about 15 years and in that time sampled nearly every religion on the planet as well as delving quite deeply into psychology. About the only thing I did not do during that time was research Christianity again. Frankly protestants seemed even further off the map than the RC to me.

    My experience says that there is truth everywhere. Everywhere. All over the place. The world is immersed in truth. It is obvious to many many people throughout the world who are not Christians.

    We need to claim truth where we find it! The Buddhists have a rich history of meditation and operate under a rubric of easing suffering. There is great truth in that. I bet Jesus would stand up and say that we should all study some Buddhism.

    I am hoping that one of the things going on in this new great emergence is a coalescence of the sects to unite in a way that puts god’s truth higher than our petty differences. That is the only reason I am even here right now because without that conversation I would be a practicing Buddhist that also believes Jesus is the rightful Lord.

    I think Christians have a long way to go to get the practices and cooperation up to snuff. But at least I see the beginnings of it in people and approaches like what Scot and NT Wright and many others are doing.

    Shalom ya’all!

  • CGC

    Hi Dave,
    Your right, truth is every where and in people outside of what circles we tend to draw as Christian or otherwise. Some of us who talk the most maybe get the loudest, most passionate, and ride the truth wagon the farthest. But maybe after our many words, God *sighs* (a Scot Mcknight sigh 🙂 and says, “They still don’t get it!”

  • Luke Allison

    I want to get it to 200.

    So I’ll put this down for Bev, CGC, DRT and Joey.
    Here’s where I think the church needs to shift in terms of its interaction with the world. The mentalities on the left is where I think we currently tend to sit. The mentalities on the right are where I think we need to go. This is a whole new topic, but…wrath…..so there.

    1. Decision Mentality vs. Journey Mentality
    2. Immediate Change vs. Incremental Growth
    3. Absolute Clarity vs. Humble Trust
    4. Saving the World vs. Following Jesus
    5. Pessimistic Fear vs. Optimistic Hope
    6. Evil World vs. Good, yet Fallen World (Escapism vs Engagement)
    7. Bounded set vs Centered set (stolen from Paul Hiebert)

  • CGC

    Hi Luke,
    Well-thought-out summary! 🙂 The only one I am not sure about is #7? I certainly agree that it should be bounded set vs. something? (but I am not sure ‘centered set’ is the best set or only option?). Some day I will have to look into this some more but I remember when I first read about these two views, it’s like jutraposing conservative vs. progressive. If N. T. Wright and some others scholars don’t neatly fit into some of these modes, I am not sure if that is true for bounded vs. centered either? There needs to be both boundaries and a center but certainly things should flow from the center (Christ). Of course, there are a whole host of new scholars who think that Christian theology should flow from the margins 🙂

  • DRT

    I won’t steal number 200, but I am a big fan of centered set.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Your last one (centered set faith) is such a powerful concept. You may know that it’s a focus for the Blue Ocean Faith group http://blueoceanfaith.org/ who are connected in some way to Dave Schmelzer the author of “Not the Religious Type”. Blue Ocean also talks about what they call Stage 4 faith (covered on the site given above). This provides another pairing for your list: Faith with answers vs. Faith with questions

    They have started using Facebook, so I don’t follow them as much as I might. I refuse to use Facebook on something like philosophical grounds – but this stance is probably maladaptive  if not a lethal mutation.

    Among other good things, the centered set view is completely inclusive in that everyone is some distance from Jesus and moving in some direction relative to him. Someone 1000 miles out may be moving dramatically toward him while someone 10 miles out may have been circling there for years or decades. It also allows for one of my favorite ways to think of the exclusive reality of Christian faith: Jesus is the only way to God, but there are seven billion ways to Jesus.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Oh, oh, another one – this from Roger Olson: God is in charge vs. God is in control

  • Joey Elliott

    200! It is an honor to be #200. Thanks for allowing the opportunity.

    Of course, now Luke, we’re going to go another 200.

    These all could go a hundred directions, but I’ll try to throw my two cents in, and keep in mind, you know where I stand on things, so hopefully you can see my heart to get common ground here. I don’t think “shifts” are by nature a great thing, but I also would be naive to think that the Church never loses focus and needs some change. I also promise this isn’t sarcastic.

    1. Decision Mentality (conversion) AND Journey Mentality (Christian life)!
    2. Immediate change (justification) AND incremental growth (sanctification)!
    3. Absolute clarity (on essentials) AND Humble trust!
    4. Saving the world (missions / great commission) AND following Jesus!
    5. Optimistic Hope! Yes!
    6. Good, yet Fallen World! Yes!
    7. Centered Set! (if center is Jesus) Yes!

    I might change my name on here to Both / And. So often that is my ultimate response to things.

    I will miss this conversation. Thanks everyone!

  • CGC

    #201# I just wanted to be in the 200 and up club 🙂 God loves you all and has a difficult plan for your life.

    Notice I did not say wonderful, I said difficult 🙂

  • Bev Mitchell

    Correction on 199

    God is in charge vs. God is in control is the wrong way ’round to be consistent with Luke’s list. It’s surely:

    “God is in charge vs. God is in Control”

    And nobody caught it! I’m shocked, I say, shocked! 


    I like these kinds of lists. Together the items speak a powerful message and they help greatly in organizing our thinking. In theological/biblical interpretation, as with any multi- faceted endeavor, it’s hard to be consistent – such lists help. It seems that a good number of misunderstandings come from inconsistencies in our thinking. This is the value of a well thought out and inter-linked system. But, keeping such a system dynamic and open to new interpretations is a greater challenge than being consistent in the first place.

    No answers here – just musings.

    Blessings all and Happy Canada weekend!