Sunday, July 10, 2005

Two brief reflections on Galatians

I read Galatians this morning, and two passages struck me. The first was 1:3-4 (my italics):

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

Which further confirms me in my view that the penal substitution model should be the central one when thinking about our benefit from Christ's death. Christ conquers evil, the devil etc. because he has paid for our sins, so thwarting (IMO, though it is not in this passage) the devil in his attempts to accuse us before God (e.g. Revelation 12:10), and Sin in its attempt to rule over our lives (e.g. Romans 6:12-19).

The second passage that struck me was Galatians 6. Being circumcised (and persuading others to do so) is here seen merely as an attempt to gain something which will appear good to the outside world. Paul is not criticising primarily an attempt to impress God with our works, but an attempt to impress the world. This is challenging to me, especially after reading Ian Stackhouse's book The Gospel-Driven Church, which I was surprised to find very challenging, as it criticised revivalism's concern with worldly success. A worldly success that many people would not imagine ever could be - growing the church by conversions.

However I can rest (in some senses) in the first passage which reminds me that Christ's death contains the promise of the death of my sinful, fleshly desires to impress the world as well. Soli Deo Gloria.


At 12:41 pm, Blogger Alastair said...

This is similar to the points made by Sinclair Ferguson in a lecture on Christus Victor. I do not agree with Ferguson that penal substitution is the most dominant theme. Christ’s victory over Satan is not merely accomplished by penal substitution. Such a victory would not be enough and I think that Wright appreciates this. However, I also believe that a cross that merely won a victory over Satan and accomplished penal substitution would not be enough either.

At the dawn of creation man was given the task of being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the creation. Man had to grow to true maturity and come to a position of true Lordship. When Satan fell this task could only be achieved by means of Holy War. When Adam fell this task also necessitated the deliverance of sinners from the clutches of Satan. When Israel (the people through whom God had promised to set the world to rights) fell this task further necessitated penal substitution and covenant renewal.

Christ’s death must achieve all of these things. Christ’s death accomplishes deliverance from the curse of the Law and forgiveness of sins. However, it is important that we notice that this aspect of Christ’s death focuses on His dying for the sins of the covenant people of Israel. Christ dies for the nation first and foremost (e.g. John 11:50; Galatians 3:10-14; Hebrews 9:15). He dies by extension for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). The sins of Israel under the Torah are qualitatively different to the sins of the Gentiles apart from the Torah (Romans 5:13-14). The Torah brings Israel into a particular relationship with Sin (Galatians 3:19-24). Christ suffers death for the apostasy of covenant-breaking Israel (as her Messiah). Through His death for Israel a new covenant is established. In other senses Christ dies as the representative of all humanity. The old covenant order existed as a central element of an old creation order. New covenant leads to new creation as Israel is cast away for the sins of the world.

It is also important that we notice that the focus is typically on Christ dying for sins of the past, rather than for sins in general (Romans 3:25; 5:16; Hebrews 9:15).Christ does not die directly for my sins in the same manner as He dies for the sins of covenant-breaking Israel (although He does die for my sins in a number of different ways).

Penal substitution should probably be subordinated to the theme of covenant renewal (and the establishment of a new creation order), which often gets marginalized in evangelical treatments of the cross. Christ ‘gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age.’ The cross as apocalyptic rescue operation is lost sight of when evangelicals speak of Christ dying for all sins ever committed — past, present and future — is an undifferentiated fashion.

Christ dies for the fall of Israel. Through this He rescues Gentiles from the state they fell into following the sin of Adam. We need to see the cross as the reversal of the sin of Adam (Romans 5). The cruciform pattern established in Christ’s life and death is the pattern of the new humanity formed in Christ and is deliberately contrasted to the pattern of Adamic humanity (Philippians 2). To reverse the sin of Adam Christ did not merely have to ‘pay the price’ for the sins committed by Adam and his offspring; He had to deal with the realm and power of Sin itself. Christ dies to Sin (Romans 6:1-14). Christ’s ‘dying to Sin’ means more than penal substitution.

The task of Holy War theoretically pre-existed Adam’s Fall. This should teach us that penal substitution alone is not enough. The cross must deal with the forces of Sin and Death and paying the price for the sin of human beings in order to wrest them from the control of Satan is not enough of itself. Wright argues that God concentrated the force of Sin in one place (this can be fleshed out by observations such as this). By doing this Christ was able to crush these powers at their head and also delivered sinners from their grasp by penal substitution and in other ways (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Even before the task of Holy War, there existed the task of dominion and growing to glory and maturity. The cross is one moment in Christ’s glorification as the head of humanity (this is seen on occasions in John’s gospel, for instance). Christ is made perfect through His sufferings. Death and resurrection pre-exists sin (Adam falls into a deep sleep and is torn apart in order to receive a wife to by his glory). Death and resurrection is a matter of moving from one level of glory to another. Christ gains dominion and brings the human race to full maturity through the cross. He recapitulates humanity in Himself. The cross is a ‘crucial’ part of this. The incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ would have been necessary even apart from the sin of Adam, IMHO.

For the reasons above, I do not believe that penal substitution is the central theme.

At 1:28 pm, Blogger Dave K said...

That's quite a post. It addresses several issues which I have long been aware of as being concerns of the bible writers, but which do not really fit in my (modified, but still trad. evangelical) atonement theology. I will have to digest what you have writen and before I comment again. Sadly I have to go to work, so do not have the time to think right now.

Anyway, thanks for the time you put into writing that.

At 2:29 pm, Blogger thebluefish said...

Stackhouse' book is v.challenging. Thanks for your reflections on Galatians... I wonder how that works today...

I think you're right the impressing the world theme is quite big there in Galatians...


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