Monday, 6 April 2009

Owen's challenge to the Universalist

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight:

“If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Psalm 130:3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isaiah 2:20, 21.

If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief, they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.

From Chapter 3, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ(1647) John Owen


The logic that Owen expresses above might explain why I have yet to read a universalist theory of the atonement that is also penal and/or substitutionary.

12 comments:

Nick said...

The key issue here is that Penal Substitution is wrong, it is flatly unBiblical and unhistorical.

Here is a debate on Penal Substitution:
http://catholicdefense.googlepages.com/psdebate

Given this, Owen's "challenge" falls flat because it is a non-sequitor to Scripture's teaching of the Atonement.

The notion that God poured out His Wrath on His Beloved son who was damned in place of the elect should be a red flag right there.

David Shedden said...

Nick, I don't know if you would describe yourself as a universalist when it comes to your understanding of the atonement.

But you are absolutely right: the key issue is always whether the words penal and substitution can be used. The historic Reformed tradition requires such an understanding.

Despite your protest Owen's challenge remains: will anyone be damned, and what does the atonement achieve?

JohnGreenview said...

Since death is the 'wages of sin' (Roms 6:23) and Christ died, did he die (penalty/penal) for his own sin or the sin of others (substitution)?

David Shedden said...

Yes, John, this is another question which I rarely get an answer to from those who write against penal substitution. What is death if it is not penal?

Nick said...

"Yes, John, this is another question which I rarely get an answer to from those who write against penal substitution. What is death if it is not penal?"

It's penal in the sense God took away the gift of immortality when Adam sinned. (Adam was not immortal by nature but by grace). So anyone who is human is subject to aging, pain, death, decay, etc. It is not a 'penal substitution' though, because we still die, Christians still die. If this was a legal transfer of punishment, of God turning the gun from our head onto the head of His Son, then legally we could not still suffer death.
So making that argument actually hurts your claim.

David Shedden said...

Nick, I don't think you've answered John's question. And I don't understand enough about the Roman Catholic understanding of nature and grace in Adam to know if that answers it.

The answer to your other query would be something along these lines: the physical death of a Christian is not penal because they have already died in Christ, rather it is part of the process of recreation. Those who die outside of Christ suffer "natural" or penal death.

My problem is, Nick, I think you know all this already. Why are you so passionate in writing against the Reformed doctrine of the atonement?

JohnGreenview said...

Nick

I could add as 'death' came in stages to Adam - first spiritually then physically so 'life' comes in stages - first spiritually then finally physically. But I suspect you know this.

I have had a look at your debate on penal Substitution on your website. It is detailed and becomes quite rarified at times. We could debate inductively the various texts but this has already happened on your website.

I would like to ask a few general questions. I would have thought penal substitution is part of traditional Catholic teaching, you may be able to clarify here as David asked.

Are you 'hearing' the text or robbing it of its force by what you think are good arguments. On your website, as here, you seem to avoid the apparently clear implications of some texts.

Are you genuinely interested in this issue or is it simply an enjoyment of debate or some other agenda other than humble acceptance of what God has said?

Don't get me wrong I am often guilty of the same myself. I just can't help wondering as I look at your website discussion that you are evading what is staring you in the face.

Forgive me being personal.

Phil Baiden said...

There's a great question to ask of a sermon (Willimon, I think, via WHI): "Did Jesus have to die for this to be true?"

Universalism fails this test. I heard some blatant universalism recently. It was stressing God's love for all people from the time of birth and that this life was just a brief stop before the next. No cross, no blood, no human sin.

So why did Jesus die?

Nick said...

David: The answer to your other query would be something along these lines: the physical death of a Christian is not penal because they have already died in Christ, rather it is part of the process of recreation. Those who die outside of Christ suffer "natural" or penal death.

Nick: It's still penal for Christians, but in so far as it is a consequence of sin, but it's how you deal with that penalty which makes the difference. In Christ you embrace it and die to sin, making it a step in the process of salvation rather than the end which is to be feared.

David: My problem is, Nick, I think you know all this already. Why are you so passionate in writing against the Reformed doctrine of the atonement?

Nick: Because I believe it flatly unbiblical and a dishonor to God. I say that in honesty, not as a provoke. Also, I don't think Penal Substitution was a doctrine originally derived from Scripture, but rather arose out of necessity to hold up Sola Fide, so really it's all about Sola Fide and SF hangs in the balance in all this.

Nick said...

John: I have had a look at your debate on penal Substitution on your website. It is detailed and becomes quite rarified at times. We could debate inductively the various texts but this has already happened on your website.

Nick: I'm glad you had a look.

John: I would like to ask a few general questions. I would have thought penal substitution is part of traditional Catholic teaching, you may be able to clarify here as David asked.

Nick: I'll try to answer you the best I'm able.

John: Are you 'hearing' the text or robbing it of its force by what you think are good arguments. On your website, as here, you seem to avoid the apparently clear implications of some texts.

Nick: I'm not quite sure what you're asking here. Are you saying I'm deflating certain texts into irrelevancy? I would say no, but the problem is I believe the Protestant tradition has read too much into many such texts, as I point out in my debate. For example, 2 Cor 5:21 is one of the most important Psub texts Protestants look to, but there is far too much read into it, especially the "made sin" part. The term "made sin" doesn't mean impute sin to Christ or punished in Christ, etc, etc, yet Protestants point to that as a key prooftext as if it literally spelled that out.

John: Are you genuinely interested in this issue or is it simply an enjoyment of debate or some other agenda other than humble acceptance of what God has said?

Nick: I'm genuinely interested, otherwise I wouldn't spend the time. This debate has taken about 3 months, and my credibility for the rest of my apologetics is on the line. Rest assured, this topic isn't a joke to me.

John: Don't get me wrong I am often guilty of the same myself. I just can't help wondering as I look at your website discussion that you are evading what is staring you in the face.

Nick: But my claim is simply that "what is staring you in the face" is often not what the Protestant Penal Sub proof text really is saying. FOr example, the OT sacrifices (including the Passover Lamb) did not operate in a Penal Substitution framework. That is repeatedly assumed by most, but taking a look at Leviticus is about Psub but it isn't (and I give clear evidence in my debate).

John: Forgive me being personal.

Nick: No problem, people need to be passionate about this stuff.

JohnGreenview said...

Nick

I note from an online Catholic Encyclopedia the following:

The reality of these dangers and the importance of this safeguard may be seen in the history of this doctrine since the age of Reformation. As we have seen, its earlier development owed comparatively little to the stress of controversy with the heretics. And the revolution of the sixteenth century was no exception to the rule. For the atonement was not one of the subjects directly disputed between the Reformers and their Catholic opponents. But from its close connection with the cardinal question of Justification, this doctrine assumed a very special prominence and importance in Protestant theology and practical preaching. Mark Pattison tells us in his "Memoirs" that he came to Oxford with his "home Puritan religion almost narrowed to two points, fear of God's wrath and faith in the doctrine of the Atonement". And his case was possibly no exception among Protestant religionists. In their general conception on the atonement the Reformers and their followers happily preserved the Catholic doctrine, at least in its main lines. And in their explanation of the merit of Christ's sufferings and death we may see the influence of St. Thomas and the other great Schoolmen. But, as might be expected from the isolation of the doctrine and the loss of other portions of Catholic teaching, the truth thus preserved was sometimes insensibly obscured or distorted. It will be enough to note here the presence of two mistaken tendencies.

* The first is indicated in the above words of Pattison in which the Atonement is specially connected with the thought of the wrath of God. It is true of course that sin incurs the anger of the Just Judge, and that this is averted when the debt due to Divine Justice is paid by satisfaction. But it must not be thought that God is only moved to mercy and reconciled to us as a result of this satisfaction. This false conception of the Reconciliation is expressly rejected by St. Augustine (In Joannem, Tract. cx, section 6). God's merciful love is the cause, not the result of that satisfaction.
* The second mistake is the tendency to treat the Passion of Christ as being literally a case of vicarious punishment. This is at best a distorted view of the truth that His Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment, and that He took upon Himself the sufferings and death that were due to our sins.

I am unsure how vicarious punishment is 'a distorted view of the truth that his Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment ... sins'

Nick said...

John, thank you for that quote. I have read it before, and I am glad you point out the "two mistaken tendencies," which actually are describing Penal Substitution.

John: "I am unsure how vicarious punishment is 'a distorted view of the truth that his Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment ... sins"

Nick: Because it sees the Atonement in the wrong light and with the wrong purpose. It was not about God's wrath needing to be poured out, regardless of who was the object of that wrath. When it comes to personal guilt, true justice can never transfer that guilt to another. The purpose and justice of the secular death penalty, as one key example, would be totally undermined if an innocent person could step into the electric chair in place of the guilty. Even if the innocent person was totally willing, justice by definition cannot raise the sword against the innocent.