Thinking Anglicans

The Mystery of Salvation

The Church Times reports in Dean stands by Radio 4 talk on cross by Pat Ashworth that:

Dr John writes in his letter that the teaching of his talk was exactly in line with the guidance given by the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission in its 1995 report The Mystery of Salvation. He quotes the report: “The notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian.”

What he said in full on this point was :

The most recent statement by the Church of England on the meaning of the Cross is the Doctrine Commission’s report The Mystery of Salvation (1995).

It restates the view of the 1938 Commission that “the notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian” (p. 213). It also observes that “the traditional vocabulary of atonement with its central themes of law, wrath, guilt, punishment and acquittal, leave many Christians cold and signally fail to move many people, young and old, who wish to take steps towards faith. These images do not correspond to the spiritual search of many people today and therefore hamper the Church’s mission.”

Instead, it recommends that the Cross should be presented “as revealing the heart of a fellow-suffering God” (p. 113).

The Church Times also reports that:

The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, reportedly also criticised the BBC for allowing such a prominent slot to be given to such a “provocative argument”.

The Sunday Telegraph report quoted him as saying: “[Dr John] is denying the way in which we understand Christ’s sacrifice. It is right to stress that he is a God of love, but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry at everything that distorts human life.”

But it doesn’t mention that Dr Wright was himself a member of the Doctrine Commission.

The full text of the letter is at the bottom of the news report linked above.

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Etheldreda
Guest

Splendid posting! Well done Dean John and editor for presenting the contradictions around this issue.

NP
Guest
NP

The problem is overstatement of his case and words like “pyscopath”, “insane” etc.

The exclusion of PSA is not credible.

John Richardson
Guest
John Richardson

The problem with ‘The Mystery of Salvation’ was that salvation was more of a mystery by the end than at the beginning. The Report states on page 1, “if we are to speak of salvation in a Christian sense we have also to seek more clarity about the peril in which the world is believed to stand”. To this, we should add we must also seek more clarity about how the cross addresses that danger. This, however, is something the Report singularly failed to do. On the question of propitiation, in referring to the 1938 Doctrine Commission, the Report notes… Read more »

Anglicanus
Guest
Anglicanus

The comment of the Bishop of Willesden could and should be applied to himself. Why did not he, and the Rt. Reverend the Bishop of Lewes, use measured language in their response? There are a variety of theories used to interpret the atonement, Penal Substitution being ONE of them. But from what these clerics presented people would be forgiven for thinking that it was the only one, an essential to salvation, and that it must be whole-heartedly believed. How very sad it is that, given a second chance to comment, the Bishop of Willesden did not begin with an apology… Read more »

Anglicanus
Guest
Anglicanus

I have just read the entry on ‘Anglican Mainstream’ relating to this. The Very Rev’d Dr John is called upon once more to ‘repent’ by those who hold that Penal Substitution is the only way to understand the Sacrifice of Christ. At the risk of bringing the wrath of the Evangelical co-horts upon myself, I’d would like to say that I consider salvation to be won through the Incarnation, the Passion, the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This, as a whole, is the saving action of our God. And if they cannot ‘repent’ of asking for Dr. John… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘Behold I show you a mystery!’ But it sure aint the mystery of salvation ! It is a mystery to me that members of the C of E, including establishment figures like a bishop of Durham, feel the need constantly to criticise the attempts of others to live or to articulate their faith. The more creative, imaginative or thoughtful the thinking or acting the worse for them. They used to love to do this to John Robinson, of course, and beat him back into their comfort zone, Honest to God abandoned rather than lived out and taken forward. David Jenkins… Read more »

Tim
Guest

“but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry “

Only if you’re abusing God to exert your own power, locked in the middle ages.

Although funnily enough, I do think it’s a bit of a shame that only soundbites make their way out – the public media is not the best way to learn about the various doctrinal options. You want peer-groups with educated folks and good research material for that. And a population more receptive either to new ideas, or the fact that other folks have different ideas. But then that’s what the media plays upon anyway.

Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest
Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)

John Richardson seems to have found the TMoS unhelpful in not finding a clear answer to the question ‘from what are we saved?’ As one of the group which produced the study guide, I have to say I found the report’s raising of this important issue, and the honest acknowledgement that it was difficult to tie down what ‘salvation’ might mean to have been one of its strongest points, and a good place to start real thought about these carelessly flung terms whose content in terms of meaning to many folk is nil.

Neil Barber
Guest
Neil Barber

“The notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian.” Mmm. Jeffrey John deliberately misunderstands penal substitution. Propitiation is not about man placating an angry God. It is about God responding to His own anger. It is the Trinity UNITED in action. And Anglicanus I’m afraid you are right: penal substitution * is * essential to salvation. The other Scriptural models relating to what happens at the Cross are all incomplete without the core: penal substitution. So deny penal substitution and you indeed have no salvation. So the Bishop of Lewes and the Bishop… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

This just proves the point that traditionalists actually know nothing of the Tradition but seek to justify their own particular beliefs. If indeed Dr. John is in line with statements going back to the 1930s, one would expect bishops who presume to comment on the matter to know this, no? And I have to ask again, why, of all the various ways of looking at the Atonement is this relatively new interpretation so attractive to Fundamentalists that they would even deny the evidence of history to claim for it some sort of historical authority, and, worse, why do they love… Read more »

Hugh of Lincoln
Guest

Jack Spong said a few years ago: “The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.” “…Charles Darwin … related human life to the world of biology more significantly than anyone had heretofore imagined. He also confronted the human consciousness with concepts diametrically opposed to the traditional Christian world view. The Bible began with the assumption that God had created a finished and perfect world from which human beings had fallen away in an act of cosmic rebellion. Original sin was… Read more »

BobinWashPA
Guest
BobinWashPA

These people only know their way. They’re not interested in another way. This is why the broad church is in jeopardy. I think we expect them to do something they can’t which is to acknowledge that other people see things differently and that’s ok: for them it’s not ok!

Pluralist
Guest

Back in 1962 and 1963 Bishop John Robinson was criticised for his questioning of God, and the metaphors used that did affect understanding of prayer. Then in 1984 came Bishop David Jenkins being criticised for denying the virgin birth and possibly the bodily resurrection whilst affirming the incarnation and resurrection. His God was very God. Now we have a would have been bishop criticised for denying penal substitution theory. Jeffrey John in this talk inhabits the whole supernatural framework and cannot be called anything but orthodox. You get the distinct feeling of going backwards. As for Tom Wright, he just… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Dr John’s letter was good but questionable in three ways: (1) It is irrelevant what people want to hear in this day and age: the question is whether it is true or not. Anyone can tell the people what they want to hear. The Sun newspaper does that and so do charismatic (small c, even sometimes big C) orators. That is demagoguery. (2) Who told him that God is centrally love? Why should he believe that this is true? Is this information something he deduced or is the fact that it appears in 1 John not wholly irrelevant? In that… Read more »

Awdry Ely
Guest

I have been thinking further on this. I feel it relates to other questions facing the Anglican Communion. It seems we are in danger of over defining Anglican belief and practice. Instead we could consider the tensions and questions being raised as creative space in which to explore, listen and pray, without necessarily rushing to condemn. I appreciate this may seem pietistic, but I do see some hope in the wrangling in which the Anglican Communion seems to be engaged, providing we keep open and keep wide a space for expolration.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

When you think of it, per PSA we are saved from the wrath of God. Therefor God is the enemy. The ancient Christian “Oh Thou who lovest mankind” is thus made a lie, since how can the enemy love us? And what is there to love in such a God? I’m still waiting for an Evo to tell me why this is in any way attractive, let alone not a slander of the character of God.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Lawrence
your lovely posting made me realise yet again that there is an almost unbridgable gap between those whose faith compels them to diver deeper and deeper into the Christian mysteries and the mystries of faith and life, and those who need their faith to be a tight set of rules and easy answers to keep them safe from all uncertainty, and who will do everything precisely in order to keep the mysteries at bay.
No wonder we’re forever talking cross purposes.

Cheryl Clough
Guest

This is an interesting discussion and as it has been evolving I have found myself asking some questions. Let’s just say that Jesus was an atoning sacrifice (although it was really more a consental suicide). The latter is important, a sacrifice that is made that does not come from the heart does not count before God. There is the whole discussion about God and God’s character which others in this thread are handling nicely. I won’t trounce further over that ground at this stage. My question to the penal substitution camps is “who did Jesus’ sacrifice cover?” We have started… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

No so, Mr. Shell. The roots of our emergent believer doubts about penal substitution atonement have slowly grown up over long eras. Some of us began to doubt when we read about the alternative views of past saints and holy people in past ages, so the whole matter became open ended for that reason. Some of us began to doubt PSA when we saw that, strictly on earthly terms, punitive approaches do not save or heal or set right anything, for any one. The parents of the murdered victim are just as bereft before the lethal injection of the assailant… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

Some of you may be interested in this Unitarian view of substitutionary atonement given in a sermon in Hull by the late Rev. Ernest Penn, followed by my criticism of it (link at the bottom of that page).

http://www.change.freeuk.com/learning/relthink/epennpassion.html

http://www.change.freeuk.com/learning/relthink/eppasscrit.html

Fr Joseph O'Leary
Guest

For once I agree with NP: “The problem is overstatement of his case and words like “psychopath”, “insane” etc.”

In fact the distortions he is aiming at need to be focused far more precisely. Otherwise he would seem to be dismissing such great theologies of the Atonement as those of Calvin, Barth and even St. Paul himself. If the alleged distortions have arisen, they have done so on a high theological plane, not as crude heresies or fits of irrationalism. This ill-judged polemic shows a lack of the theological tact and justesse that we expect from Anglicanism.

Fr Joseph O'Leary
Guest

“When you think of it, per PSA we are saved from the wrath of God. Therefore God is the enemy.” Actually, God is the judge of sinful humankind; this is what Luther called the opus alienum Dei. But God’s proper work is to redeem, save, forgive. This is what Luther calls the opus proprium Dei. In the Law God is the judge of sin; in the Gospel he forgives sin. Christ bears the condemnation of the Law on our behalf in his death on the Cross; he becomes accursed and “sin” for our sakes. ” The ancient Christian “Oh Thou… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

“Who told him that God is centrally love? Why should he believe that this is true?” It’s (rhetorical) questions like this, Mr. Shell, which lead me to wonder if you’ve ever really be EVANGELIZED (in any meaningful sense of the terms “Good News”)? “In fact, the more he loves, the more angry he will be at this, in direct proportion, if we use the analogy of a good parent.” Oh brother: now you’re giving *evidence* of psychopathology?! (love = good . . . = anger? WTF???) “This point has however been made thousands of times – just it has not… Read more »

John Richardson
Guest
John Richardson

Mynsterpreost wrote, “I found the report’s raising of this important issue, and the honest acknowledgement that it was difficult to tie down what ‘salvation’ might mean to have been one of its strongest points”.

And here we are, twelve years on and still no clearer, it would seem.

Here’s the challenge the Report posed: “What is the danger in which we stood until God chose to act as saviour through the life and self-offering of Jesus Christ?” (p2).

Any answers, anyone?

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

“What is the danger in which we stood until God chose to act as saviour through the life and self-offering of Jesus Christ?”

The danger of falling prey to the anti Cosmic attitudes of hierarchically de-valuing Alexandrian Philosophy/Gnosticism.

The affirmation of God’s very good Creation in the Incarnation and Resurrection saved us for ever from believing Alexandrian philosophy.

(well, some of us ;=)

John Richardson
Guest
John Richardson

Dear Göran

Haven’t got a clue what you’re on about. 🙂

John

Pluralist
Guest

As one who has little belief in original sin and all that (though I do see people making a mess of things) I have no idea in what danger we have stood (John Richardson’s question). And let’s look at this, Fr Joseph O’Leary. Suppose there is a God angry at me (I’m sorry to hear this), and then says well I won’t kill you but I’ll kill my human mainfestation instead, though it won’t kill me, but the human being who for the time will be feeling much pain. Am I supposed to respond by saying, how I love you?… Read more »

LaurenceRoberts
Guest
LaurenceRoberts

But is there a key in the roots and meanings of the word ‘salvation’ do you reckon ? salve healing health wholeness wholistic holism The English takes just a little rooting around to get to it. (But do we always?) In Welsh this is completely clear. Whether saying : savation & saviour in worship; or the National Health (Service); or “Good health” in the pub, the root of ‘health ‘ (iach; iechyd) is the same in each case. THAT is how down to earth salvation or wholeness is or could be. Seems incarnational, relational, rational-emotional-spiritual to me — and far… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“In fact, the more he loves, the more angry he will be at this, in direct proportion, if we use the analogy of a good parent”. This is one of the saddest most profoundly shocking comments I’ve read on TA and it betrays much more about the writer’s experience of parenting than about an understanding of the God the Bible is talking about. Do you have children? Do you know, however fleetingly, that there are moments when you can see they are doing wrong and have to be corrected, but you understand perfectly why they’re doing wrong and you’re full… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi JCF I think you misunderstood my original point. I too think God is centrally love – but I don’t think this because I am myself a fan of love, even though I am. God is perfectly entitled to have qualities I may not like, and even if he does there is nothing you or I can do about it. To deny this is more or less to admit that God is made in our own image. He does not exist – he is the sum of our own ideals. His precise coincidence with our ideals would be deeply suspicious.… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Erika I think if you read what I said I never once mentioned being angry at a child, but rather being angry at whatever would harm that child, ie the reverse of the other option. Are you telling me you would not be angry at a drug-pusher, or even a creeping ideology, that would harm your own child? E.g. my own baby 11 months. This confusion of issues with persons is at the root of a lot of the current disagreements. I feel the root of it is that many people are not used to talking about issues but… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Christ bears the condemnation of the Law on our behalf in his death on the Cross; he becomes accursed and “sin” for our sakes.” Father, I don’t disagree, neither do I disagree with “God’s mercy triumphs, not through dismissing the stern demands of righteousness but by having Christ fulfil them on our behalf and then clothe us with his own righteousness.” I do have a problem with PSA as the only way of understanding atonement, and I don’t agree with the conflating of “sacrifice FOR sin” with “punishment by proxy OF sinners”. I’ve emailed you through your blog with a… Read more »

dave williams
Guest
dave williams

Most Penal Substitutionists (for want of a better description) that I know wouldn’t want to treat PSA as the only explanation of the Atonement. They would probably see it as the central explanation that holds them all together -how did Jesus win the victory, what was the nature of his ransom. It’s not a case of choose your favourite model of atonement as see how the Bible uses a number of descriptions of what Christ did. To ignore the victory over Satan and death would be silly but so too would be to play down the way that Christ takes… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Christopher Of course I would be angry with a drug pusher, but I’m not the drug pusher’s parent. What I have talked about is the love that a parent feels for a child, which, when it is most perfect, includes no anger just sadness, patience and love. I know that we find it hard to love each other like that (your drug pusher is a good example of that). But my analogy was about a parent-child relationship. There can be no doubt that God loves him as much as he loves you or me or the child the pusher potentiall… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Most Penal Substitutionists (for want of a better description) that I know wouldn’t want to treat PSA as the only explanation of the Atonement.”

From what I understand, if you don’t sign on to PSA, you can’t be a priest in Sydney. Then again, I doubt many in Sydney would want to be priests anyway. I stand to be corrected on both points.

dave williams
Guest
dave williams

There are some important questions about love and wrath here. Is God centrally love -John Frame says yes and no in that a a number of attributes must take centre stage to inform each other in turn. God is love but also light and a consuming fire. Are conservatives unable to imagine a love that is wide enough to exclude anger etc. Yes-sure we are able to imagine that -but is that the love that the authors of the Bible “imagine” indeed is an angerless love any kind of love at all to the victims of rape, genocide etc. I… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Dave, “But I must be ready for the possibility that God might disagree with me in terms of my ideals, plans and actions” I fully agree with this! If we’re attentive to God we become very aware of this in our own lives and try to purify our own lives as much as we are capable. Not to obey rules out of fear, but because it’s the only appropriate response to Love. But returning to my analogy of human parenting, you can perfectly disagree with your child’s ideals, plans and actions and do everything in your power to influence her… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Erika- Yes, but that is not the point. We doubtless believe exactly the same as each other about the love of God – I have for over 30 years. The issue I raised was a different one: namely, if someone loves a person, they hate and are angry at whatever would harm that person to preceisely the degree of their love. That is: the more they love, the more thay are angry/hostile towards whatever would wilfully and evilly harm. Jeffrey John seemed to be saying that one could have the love without the hatred of evil. As a parent… Read more »

NP
Guest
NP

Ford – I hope you are aware of the wonderful growth and strength seen in Sydney Diocese for decades now

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

NP, What does that have to do with anything? What is it people are being attracted to? A bishop that refers to Roman Catholics as sub-Christians, who is actively hostile towards and plots to destroy non-Evangelical congregations under his care, and who denies some of the basic teachings of the faith with regard to the sacraments. Yeah, that’s just great. So the pews are full, you know what I’m going to say about that. NP, is your belief that “liberals” are seeking the approval of the world based on the fact that you obviously think that popularity with the world… Read more »

dave williams
Guest
dave williams

Erika, I think there is a risk in trying to define God’s love and God’s anger in terms of human parenting. Firstly because God’s fathership is first and foremost in relation to the Son. So he is our father by adoption. The parent child relationship is perhaps not a good analogy then for dealing with God’s attitudes to activities outside of his family. The reality is that parents do get angry with their children. Even if they do -is it the right sort of anger? Is it comparable to God. We are better to start with how the Bible talks… Read more »

dave williams
Guest
dave williams

Ford, I’m not sure if Sydney Anglicans would use the word “priest” to describe pastors/presbyters in their churches -if not that is a good thing. I hope all Sydney Anglicans consider themselves “priests” as part of a nation of royal priests. I also am encouraged to hear that you have to agree with Penal Substitution to be a Sydney Presbyter. I hope that you also have to beleive in Christus Victor as well. Atonement isn’t a buffet lunch where you pick and mix. Christ wins the victory by paying the penalty. Without paying the penalty he doesn’t win the victory,… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

First of all, Dave, the priesthood of the believer in no way negates the ordained priesthood. If they refuse to use the word, it is NOT a good thing, since it reveals a number of beliefs about Holy Order and Eucharist, for starters, that are not part of the catholic faith. I also understand, though again, I may be wrong, and stand to be corrected, that the requirement for PSA is exclusive. And I don’t necessarily agree that the way to win the battle is to pay the penalty. A sacrifice for sin is quite different from a victim punished… Read more »

NP
Guest
NP

But Ford, you do realise that Archbishop Jensen is not deviating from Anglican teaching or tradition….. you speak of him as if he is leading some heretical sect in the AC but he clearly is not out of step with the Primates or most of the AC – is he?

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

In supporting lay presidency he most certainly IS deviating from Anglican tradition. He and his brother certainly have an unrecognizably, from this Anglican’s perspective, low understanding of Eucharist. That’s just for starters. From what I have been able to read about Sydney Anglicans, and most of the ones I have run into would style themselves Sydney Evangelicals with little or no interest in the Anglican connection, what is going on there bears little resemblance to any Anglicanism I am familiar with. He seems to me to be just another fundamentalist, an intelligent one, no doubt, but not all that closely… Read more »

dave williams
Guest
dave williams

Ford,

We don’t have to talk past each other. My experience of Anglicanism is probably as much as many people on parish electoral rolls!

On priesthood -within Anglicanism there is a rich tradition of not referring to the presbyter as priest

As per my previous post -and as per the booked just published “Pierced for our transgressions” PSA does not have to be held exclusively

So we can choose to disagree on views -but I think there was a factual clarification needed here

NP
Guest
NP

But Ford, as you know, lay presidency does not at all contradict the bible – where does it say that only “priests” should preside?

(Smart move by the National Union of Priests to get this exclusive deal for themselves!)

FOrd ELms
Guest
FOrd ELms

Dave Williams, Anglicanism has many rich traditions. It’s a complicated history. The basic rich Anglican tadition is of trying to be a place where everyone can come to God. Actually, it was about finding a place where everyone would agree to be loyal to the Crown in the religious politics of the day, but the idea is that if we could put aside our differences for the sake of domestic peace, and keeping our heads on our shoulders, then surely we can do it now for the sake of a much greater Kingdom. I think God led us through that… Read more »

dave williams
Guest
dave williams

Ford, I think the issue is – and I think that is perfectly Anglican in the true tradition of Cranmer and others – that Anglicanism isn’t simply unity for unity’s sake. So it isn’t a question of do you break communion by an activity, rather are there things that are right and wrong and what then is the basis for that right and wrongness. It is worth noting that some of us are excluded from the Anglican Communion even though we agree with plenty within it because of some things at the moment – lay presidency may for example make… Read more »

dave williams
Guest
dave williams

Ford,

I’m also interested -is there a link between rejecting penal substitution and an insistance on the presbyter acting as priest?

Dave