Please note title change – the original title “False Advertising For God” went with a quote by McLaren that I didn’t end up using.

One issue that I’ve had with some of the emerging church leadership is how they want to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus.  For instance consider what Brian McLaren said during a 2006 podcast interview:

And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who – I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation.  Cause some people would use this against him.  But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself.  God asks us to forgive people.  But God is incapable of forgiving.  God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive.  God doesn’t say things to you – Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger.  God asks you to actually forgive.  And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving.  Unless He kicks somebody else.

But that view doesn’t gel with scripture for instance the author of Hebrews states, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” (Hebrews 9:22, NIV).

The main mistake with many who have problems with this view of the atonement is that they try to separate the love of God from His wrath.  They want to isolate His attributes and character traits.  God is love, but God is holy.  He is just and He is merciful.  He is all of that at the same time!

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God, (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, ESV).

If Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t vicarious – if He didn’t need to die in our place, why die?  What was the point? 

His death was necessary sacrifice in order to atone for our sin.  This wasn’t an act of pettiness on God’s part, but an act of love – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV).

19 comments
  1. I would also add that we are able to forgive without kicking the dog because of the forgiveness that comes to us through the substitutionary atonement in Christ’s death.

  2. I would also add that we are able to forgive without kicking the dog because of the forgiveness that comes to us through the substitutionary atonement in Christ’s death.

  3. I certainly can’t speak to what those in the Emerging Church movements believe, but the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church has gotten on just fine for 2000 years without this particular interpretation of scripture. I am not qualified to really get into a discussion here, but there is plenty of copy written on the subject. Orthodox Christian podcaster, Matthew Gallatin, has been discussing the Orthodox view of some of these post-Augustinian Christian ideas for a few months now. The home page for his podcast is http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/pilgrims Just scroll back through and read the summaries to see which ones address this concept specifically, or just go back to the beginning and listen to the whole “Sola Scriptura” series. It would take few hours, but would be worth it.

  4. I certainly can’t speak to what those in the Emerging Church movements believe, but the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church has gotten on just fine for 2000 years without this particular interpretation of scripture. I am not qualified to really get into a discussion here, but there is plenty of copy written on the subject. Orthodox Christian podcaster, Matthew Gallatin, has been discussing the Orthodox view of some of these post-Augustinian Christian ideas for a few months now. The home page for his podcast is http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/pilgrims Just scroll back through and read the summaries to see which ones address this concept specifically, or just go back to the beginning and listen to the whole “Sola Scriptura” series. It would take few hours, but would be worth it.

  5. Also I think this problem results from our failure to really understand the implication of a Trinitarian understanding of God. In Jesus, God didn’t punish someone else and then forgive. Rather he took the punishment himself for our sin, which gives him the right and ability to forgive sin.

  6. Also I think this problem results from our failure to really understand the implication of a Trinitarian understanding of God. In Jesus, God didn’t punish someone else and then forgive. Rather he took the punishment himself for our sin, which gives him the right and ability to forgive sin.

  7. Hey, Shane

    McLaren makes me nuts! He counts on the average Christian’s ignorance of Scripture and basic theology and makes outrageous and disingenuous statements. You quoted one of his whoppers: “God doesn’t say things to you – Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.”

    I saw that podcast. He says the Cross is false advertising because God in essence asks us to do something He’s not willing to do, namely, simply forgive.

    Actually God asks us to do precisely what He did – He didn’t “kick the dog to forgive his wife”, but rather He kicked Himself. And that is the essence of how we are to forgive. We take the hit when we’re wronged.

    Either Brian is completley ignorant of basic soteriology, or he’s deliberately trying to mislead people.

    God help him.

    As for the Orthodox doing “just fine” for 1000 years, I would wonder what “fine” means. If denying the substitutionary atonement (A Pauline and, I would argue, biblical idea) is fine, I want no part of their state.

  8. Hey, Shane

    McLaren makes me nuts! He counts on the average Christian’s ignorance of Scripture and basic theology and makes outrageous and disingenuous statements. You quoted one of his whoppers: “God doesn’t say things to you – Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.”

    I saw that podcast. He says the Cross is false advertising because God in essence asks us to do something He’s not willing to do, namely, simply forgive.

    Actually God asks us to do precisely what He did – He didn’t “kick the dog to forgive his wife”, but rather He kicked Himself. And that is the essence of how we are to forgive. We take the hit when we’re wronged.

    Either Brian is completley ignorant of basic soteriology, or he’s deliberately trying to mislead people.

    God help him.

    As for the Orthodox doing “just fine” for 1000 years, I would wonder what “fine” means. If denying the substitutionary atonement (A Pauline and, I would argue, biblical idea) is fine, I want no part of their state.

  9. If Jesus death on the cross wasn’t vicarious-if he didn’t need to die in our place, why die? What was the point?
    Thanks and a good question.
    The only correct reason for Jesus’ crucifixion to answer, what is the point, is that his crucifixion by causing his death by bloodshed was basis by a prior fact for it to be reasonable to make a change to God’s law corresponding to God’s oath in Gen. 9:5b.
    “and from EACH man too I
    will demand an accounting
    for the life of your fellow man.”
    In other words Jesus BY his death, actually as to the truth his crucifixion is the sin of murder caused BY bloodshed, has perfected the only WAY each man might approach God to receive a pardon from God regarding that there cannot be forgiveness without the shedding of blood. What you don’t understand is that the law was given to make a sin accountable. “But (for) sin is NOT taken into account when there is no law.” Rom.5:13b NIV. Therefore it is by Jesus’ crucifixion. His death caused by bloodshed. That he having been granted all authority in heaven and on earth, BY his authority has added one word to the law making atonement to the law. So that each man must by faith in the Lord’s command given through the apostles confess directly to God that he is sorry Jesus was crucified to account for Jesus’ life having been taken by bloodshed. However not obeying Jesus this Way is a sin for it is the law. For the man who does not by faith beleive God’s only begotten son and obey his command to save himself from eternal death looses his life forever since there is no more sacrifice for sin. All men ought to obey God to save themselves.
    So now that you know the point why Jesus was crucified you are also without excuse, if you get the point. Amen.

  10. If Jesus death on the cross wasn’t vicarious-if he didn’t need to die in our place, why die? What was the point?
    Thanks and a good question.
    The only correct reason for Jesus’ crucifixion to answer, what is the point, is that his crucifixion by causing his death by bloodshed was basis by a prior fact for it to be reasonable to make a change to God’s law corresponding to God’s oath in Gen. 9:5b.
    “and from EACH man too I
    will demand an accounting
    for the life of your fellow man.”
    In other words Jesus BY his death, actually as to the truth his crucifixion is the sin of murder caused BY bloodshed, has perfected the only WAY each man might approach God to receive a pardon from God regarding that there cannot be forgiveness without the shedding of blood. What you don’t understand is that the law was given to make a sin accountable. “But (for) sin is NOT taken into account when there is no law.” Rom.5:13b NIV. Therefore it is by Jesus’ crucifixion. His death caused by bloodshed. That he having been granted all authority in heaven and on earth, BY his authority has added one word to the law making atonement to the law. So that each man must by faith in the Lord’s command given through the apostles confess directly to God that he is sorry Jesus was crucified to account for Jesus’ life having been taken by bloodshed. However not obeying Jesus this Way is a sin for it is the law. For the man who does not by faith beleive God’s only begotten son and obey his command to save himself from eternal death looses his life forever since there is no more sacrifice for sin. All men ought to obey God to save themselves.
    So now that you know the point why Jesus was crucified you are also without excuse, if you get the point. Amen.

  11. God puoring out His wrath upon sin is not an anger induced temper tantrum on His part. His punishment of sin is a legal issue and speaks to His being our righteous and holy Judge. He would be an unjust judge if He ignored the sin of transgrssing His Law. I think the emergents themselves would have an issue with an appointed or elected judge releasing murderers, rapists, and child molesters, without penalty. A judge does not pass sentences out of emotion but rather what the law requires. God can offer forgivness only because the penalty has been paid for our transgression of His Law through the penal substitutionary sacrifice of His Son.

  12. Shane, your title caught my attention so I thought I would comment. One of the central tensions within the emerging church conversation has always been the atonement. It is the linchpin of the Gospel. It provides us with meaning for what is happening in both the Garden and the cross. The biggest problem within the emerging church has been the illogical components of the traditional theories. They just don’t reconcile in a way that makes sense.

    I actually just finished a book, Discovering the God Imagination: Reconstructing A Whole New Christianity that tackles this idea, and suggests that our traditional reformed position of Penal Substitution is a natural extension of the problem created in the Garden. But it is not God’s problem. In other words, our penal approach, and the earlier ransom theories locate the problem incorrectly. When we understand the problem God is solving, it reconciles the Gospel in a way that informs the original concepts of ransom and substitution.

    If you’d like a review copy, let me know.

  13. Jonathan wrote:

    “the traditional theories. They just don’t reconcile in a way that makes sense.”

    They are not theories, they are God’s Word. You don’t see it because your eyes are blind. You’ve never come to know the Christ of the Bible. I have read your blog posts. You are angel of darkness, masquerading as an angel of light. Come to Christ, as a sinner deserving of hell, throwing yourself down at his mercy. Then believe God’s word, abandning all pretense that you know more than God’s word.

    We don’t need to reconstruct the church. Christ is building His Church. The problem in the garden is not that we think we are alienated but we are not, but that we are enemies in God’s eyes and our own. Only through the reconciliation of the penal substitute Christ can we be saved. You are preaching a damnable heresy. The lie itself will go down into hell with all who believe it. God is not solving anything. You blaspheme Him as if he had a problem needing solved. You make an idol of God, thinking him as yourself. He is not.

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