Posted by: rogermitchell | February 22, 2022

Thinking about the cross

I have been planning a series of blogs about Jesus and the cross for some time. Just recently my friend Keith Wilkinson asked for some greater clarity on my thinking about this, and although I’m still busy with my novel, I decided to make a start. As he put it in his email to me “I was very impressed by your attitude to Penal Substitution as came out in those Martin Scott interviews and I asked about it before, I think.” (You can find those conversations here: https://wordpress.com/post/rogerhaydonmitchell.wordpress.com/6665).

Keith continued, “But I am not sure where the line falls. After all it is an article of faith that Christ died for our sins. Is it the why? Or is it the implication that God is angry at us and takes his anger out on Jesus? I am just not clear. It is not a problem to me personally. I can accept the Kenarchy concept and its implication in the way we should live our lives but the Theology is a bit murky. I hope you can see my concern in the light of Romans.”

In order to understand why I have such a negative attitude to penal substitution I need us to take a step back and remember the key assumption of kenarchy, which is the gospel statement of Jesus’ testimony “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14: 9). This statement does not of course mean that God is male, the scripture is quite clear that human beings are created male and female in God’s image (Genesis 1: 27; 5: 3), and so God is both father and mother. In declaring that he reveals God as Father means that the affirming voice and character of the Godhead is heard and seen in the words, character and actions of Jesus. Nowhere in the words, character and actions of Jesus is any suggestion that he, and therefore God, is a judge inflicting a penalty on the human race which only a substitutionary blood sacrifice can appease. Far from it, “for God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3: 17). Some people cite Mark’s testimony to refute this, “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). However, I suggest that it does the opposite, for there is a world of difference between a penalty and a ransom. A penalty is due to the victim themself, whereas a ransom is paid to a person holding a victim captive in order to secure their release. If this is what the Father does then it is a completely different and positive intervention that we will look at in a further post.

Jesus’ approach to those who were stumbling in the dark, lost, perishing, unable to find a way through was to meet them where they were and reveal himself to them. As John’s gospel immediately previously and famously puts it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him, should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16). Nothing less than that explains his initial encounter with his fisher disciples who simply left their nets and followed him. Probably the most explicit encounter was the one with the outcast woman at the well who in the space of a brief conversation became the first person to fully realise who he was and take on the men of her village, persuading them to recognise him too.

It follows that the Father’s desire is to meet us in a transcendent loving encounter and invite us to enter into a lifelong relationship with him. This is the good news that I encountered personally at the age of sixteen and has remained my experience in the proceeding fifty-eight years. This is the good news that the apostle Paul encountered on the road to Damascus and never forgot (Acts 9: 4-18; 22: 6-21; 26: 12-18). This was the assumed unshakeable basis of his life and ministry and his theology of the cross needs to be read through this lens, something which we will attempt to provide some examples of in the next post.

Suffice it to say at this point, that as any other father, mother, brother, sister, or friend can surely affirm, the very idea that a loving father would place his child under a legal obligation to obey him under penalty of death is unthinkable. To add to this the idea that deciding that his older son would be killed as a penal substitute for the life of his brother who broke the father’s law is quite simply wicked. Such a father would fit the image of the dreadful person who causes “the least of these little ones to stumble” in the gospel narrative (Matthew 18: 6), and such a god would be banished from the kingdom of heaven on Jesus’ own testimony.

Enough to be going on with. More to follow in a day or two!


Responses

  1. Thank you for your thoughts Roger. So helpful!

  2. Thank you, Roger. Looking forward to the next post.

    Lorrie


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