Comments: bishops attack a talk they have not read

Just like a bunch of evangelicals—to attack a talk they have not even heard or read yet!

Posted by Kurt at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 8:43pm BST

Giles Fraser creates a paper tiger - in this case God the Father 'murdering' his son, 'cosmic child abuse', &c to set out what he imagines the case for Substitutionary Atonement to be (although I suspect he knows better) in such a way as to provoke an emotional reaction from his readers. I'm so tired of bullies from the 'right' and from the 'left' and the regrettable use of language as a weapon.

Posted by Raspberry Rabbit at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 9:01pm BST

On reading the account on Ekklesia, I was amused to see that the paragraph quoted from Bishop Benn was one which even Anglican Mainstream hadn't the gall to include:

"The Rt Revd Wallace Benn added that 'the truth that Jesus died as our sin-bearing substitute carrying the punishment for our sins on the cross is the glorious heart of the Gospel. It displays the love of God: Father, Son and Spirit, for us. To deny or vilify that is a tragic denial of the power and heart of the Gospel. I hope Jeffrey John will speedily reconsider and repent of his attack on apostolic Christianity.'"

The theology of the atonement I learned was INFINITELY richer than that - a mystery which draws on a wealth of biblical categories, and other non-biblical (patristic and scholastic) expressions too. And in the end, I think I'm rather more concerned that people find reconcilation through the crucified and risen Lord than with the minutiae of how it works.

Posted by cryptogram at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 9:04pm BST

Here's the finale of Jeffrey John's talk, for those that haven't read the transcript. Judge it's hereticalness for yourself:

"On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it's like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It's a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it's one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God's given is simply himself; to show that, so far from inflicting suffering as a punishment, he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow. From Good Friday on, God is no longer "God up there", inscrutably allotting rewards and retributions. On the Cross, even more than in the crib, he is Immanuel, God down here, God with us."

Posted by Patrick Bridges at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 9:06pm BST

When people of the calibre of Broadbent are chosen as bishops, then the CofE must be in serious trouble.

This, just to remind you, is the Bishop who used to be a red-hot left-winger, an Islington councillor no less - he and people like him is exactly what is wrong with the CofE

Ita about time liberals got the gloves off and made it clear that they do not believe in the conservative version of Christianity. It is a totally different belief. The sooner liberals are in a separate organisation to people like Broadbent, the better.

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 9:14pm BST

Tom Wright also said he was fed up with the BBC for airing such views, so he also jumped in with both feet - not looking where he was going.

These bishops produce their own red rag and then also do the charge. It is a spectacle for the rest of us - but one with a victim who has actually written a careful, reasoned, piece.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 9:29pm BST

"in the end, I think I'm rather more concerned that people find reconcilation through the crucified and risen Lord than with the minutiae of how it works."

Well that's all very well and to a point I agree - but only to a point.

To totally reject the idea of penal substitionary atonement is another matter completely. And JJ is hardly the poor, innocent victim being suggested by Giles Fraser. Anyone who publicly denies penal substitutionary atonement as "..pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical" is inviting challenge and yes outcry.

For any Thinking Anglicans who would like to consider for themselves why denial of penal substitionary atonement is incompatible with biblical faith, I would heartily recommend a short and very readable recent response to the likes of JJ's arguments: 'The Jesus gospel' by Liam Goligher [ISBN 1850786984].

Posted by Neil Barber at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 9:59pm BST

This is one of those times that there is a need to attack a theological position - which is the cornerstone of some dioceses' theology and justifies all sorts of atrocities. e.g women attempting reforms are automatically evil and can be charged, trialled and judged; without her knowledge nor natural justice. Having cast judgement they can then act with impunity blockade her attempts at communication, commit slander about her and any who are hospitable, and proceed to rape and pillage her home and resources. We have seen this happen at varying levels with individuals, parishes and even the bigger fractal pattern in the treatment of the US Episcopalian church.

The bats might have swung against the wrong ball, but the bats do need to be swung so that the violent ball is knocked out of play.

Jesus might have been the atoning sacrifice for all humanity for all time, but that was his dream and vision, to put an end for the need for sacrifices. It is a vision that Sarah would have desired too.

The irony is that when you read the Old Testament/Hebrew bible, you see that God rejects sacrifices that are done for the wrong reasons. God rejects wasteful shepherds who honor the letter of the law whilst abusing the intent of the law. God promises an end to the need for sacrifices, an end to violence, an end to suffering. This is meant to be made manifest in this world.

The camps that advocate substition theology often will have a strong overlap with embracing apocalyptic theology and renunciating making manifest dignity and abundance in this reality. Personally, I consider these people to be sociopathic, murders and/or suicidal.

If they wish to collude with global euthanasia on this planet that is their choice, but no one who truly honors the God of gods will cooperate with their suicidal/murderous attempt.

Further those who are prepared to collude with the attempted global euthansia or sponsorship of rampant poverty and violence have voided their right to represent the flocks of this planet. They have no right to speak on behalf of women or anyone else for that matter. Their credibility is bankrupt. I invoke the principles of Ezekiel 18 to apply to all humanity, not just "pure" males. We will all live or die according to our own deeds and God's grace: not others of our geneology or marriages.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 10:16pm BST

Nothing about the Evangelical Right surprises me much anymore. Again and again they show that they are less interested in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ (true evangelism) and more interested being promoting their own narrow world view. Thank God for people like Jeffrey John who are courageous in making Christ's love known in our day.

Posted by garth at Wednesday, 4 April 2007 at 10:37pm BST

It is very sad to see how low the calibre of the Bishops' Bench has sunk in our generation.

Posted by badman at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 12:04am BST

Neil; perhaps, then 'biblical faith' is so revolting it is very well worth rejecting.

I think repulsive is an understatement - morbid, blood-lust fantasy is more appropriate.

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 12:56am BST

"Anyone who publicly denies penal substitutionary atonement as "..pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical" is inviting challenge and yes outcry."

I'll chime in here. Penal substitutionary atonement is pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical. It does not describe God as Jesus testifies to the Father. The crucifixion was a massive injustice perpetrated by men on an innocent man. The resurrection is the victory over death, not the crucifixion.

Posted by ruidh at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 12:59am BST

There is a phrase in Jeffrey John's talk where I don't understand his meaning. I wonder if anyone can elucidate. It occurs in this sentence:

"Not sending a substitute to vent his punishment on, but going himself to the bitter end, sharing in the worst of suffering and grief that life can throw at us, and finally sharing our death, so that he can bring us through death to life in him."

The phrase is "so that". I might say, for example, I obtained a passport "so that" I could travel abroad, or I took a tablet "so that" my headache would go away.

What does John mean when he says Christ went to the cross "so that" he can bring us life?

Posted by John Richardson at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 1:04am BST

Paper tigers ?

Steve Chalke, the well-known Baptist minister and broadaster has written something similar to Jeffrey John and Giles Fraser, also speaking of 'divine child abuse'. Chalke was heavily critizied by the Evangelical Alliance for his pains.

Non-Evangelicals do not subscribe to penal substitution -- and clearly neither do all Evangelicals.

I thought 'the glorious message' of Jesus is love for God and neighbour, or should I say God in neighbour.

No wonder Churchianity is in decline throught Britain, inclduing Evangelcialism.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 1:39am BST

Condemning what they had not even read!

Broadbent and Benn must be pathetic excuses for Christians, and it is shocking to think of them as bishops of the Church universal.

Posted by Jerry Hannon at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 1:48am BST

I deny penal substitionary atonement, and also many authors steeped in biblical study do so.

Posted by Pluralist at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 1:56am BST

surprise! surprise!
Evangelical bishops talking before thinking.
I think we've seen this sort of thing before.

Posted by Dennis at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 1:59am BST

If Christ bore wrath, it wasn't from God, it was from us.

Posted by counterlight at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 2:25am BST

Doing an internet browse in my lunchbreak, I came across some scathing articles from Virtue Online

One of their core concerns is that there is no "safe haven" for orthodox Christians. Yet the top article opens with prayers for the demise of the US church, is that a "safe" proposition/prayer that they are offering for "the others"?

Similarly this kind of theology is not satisfied to swim in their own waters. I remember when EMU (website )was set up to go into the Uniting Church: it was to reclaim the church for their kind of theology.

Whenever they are on the defensive they cry repression and take on victim posturing. Yet they are repeatedly blind to the repression and stone casting they do against those that are different.

Our call is not to remove citizens' rights or desecrate the environment or societies. Our call is a call for reverence and a request that all souls be given the opportunity to participate with dignity and respect.

The Church of England was founded to stop bloodshed. The Christian church was founded on the basis of a promise and a plea for an end to violence and desecration. If we can not renounce violencee and repression within our own ranks, what hope is there for faiths and societies that do not have our absolutionist history? If we can not develop and model successful cohabitation with diversity and tolerance, then what hope is there for the world?

You are either for God's vision of peace and reverence, or you are against it. You can not be both. Peace will not come when we are all alike, peace will come when we accept our differences. We can nitpick each others' weaknesses or we can build on each others' strengths.

One set of choices leads to loving constructive peace, the other leads to violence and destruction.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 3:17am BST

It's not just English bishops who attacked what they hadn't read; American theocons in and out of the Episcopal Church did the same thing. All from one little sermon on the BBC delivered by a... faithful priest.

God said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifices." But the Gay-hating crowd keeps gathering bundles of sticks.

Posted by Josh Thomas at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 3:58am BST

The Calvinist bent of the English Evangelicals is so antithetical to the gospels it is painful to read. As has been discussed at Fr. Jake's place, these gents need an emergency crash course in reading the Scriptures by Rene Girard & Co. Dean John is quite right. God is not/was not angry. The Incarnate One embraces us in love from the cross, and the veil of the temple of our religiosity (the belief in an angry deity who requires sacrifice) is rent revealing that it is we who are angry. We require sacrifice. Furthermore, the sacrifice of calvary has exposed all sacrificial systems as empty and ineffectual - has put an end to the efficacy of sacrifice once for all.

Posted by Burl Stoutmack at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 4:27am BST

So amusing - people here are obviously trying hard to be outraged, acting as if JJ did not challenge / reject penal substitution and use words like "insane" and "nonsensical"!

I am sure some enjoy the outrage and playing the victim.... but please don't pretend he did not deliberately and publicly take on the teaching of the church (again)

I am sure a bouquet is on its way to JJ from the ABC who must be very grateful for this latest bit of help from his old friend.

But, I agree with Merseymike, it is time for liberals to stand and be counted,saying what they believe and do not believe, even if that means joining TEC in the realignment which is coming. We have had too many years of both sides coexisting with little trust and faith in each other or the message being preached by each other. The house has been divided for decades - that is why it is so dysfunctional. So, I am pleased JJ does make public his views - at least he is honest and open about what he believes.

Posted by NP at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 7:27am BST

Any normal person would hide in shame after performing the kind of gaffe the 3 bishops have.

But I do not see anyone covering themselves in dust and ashes here...

On the contrary, they are as unrepentant as if nothing happened - or rather, as if Dean John was the one who had been telling lies and slander to defend a very late sectarian position, blasphemous to Christians and non christians alike.

I don't get it, I just don't get it.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 7:37am BST

To me, the $64,000 (or its equivalent in Euros) Question is: will those (especially +N.T. Wright, who stands out because of his prominence as a theologian and spokesman for a traditional understanding of Christianity) who denounced John+, based on incomplete words taken out of context, now apologize for having spoken out before knowing what was being said? Or will they avoid their own error by, instead, expressing righteous anger at the media that allowed those out-of-context clips to be presented as the entire story?

I suspect the latter, although, particularly knowing how the media generally simplifies and/or confuses matters of religion, I can't see how one could avoid at least a little blame for reacting to such an obviously-incomplete account as if it faithfully contained the whole story.

And +Wright deserves at least some degree of censure for dismissing John+'s comments with "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," which has little to do with John+'s views (after all, being angry at what distorts human life isn't the same as demanding blood -- anyone's blood -- to relieve that anger), and much to do with John+'s own sexual orientation. It strikes me as saying little more than "well, you could expect Jeffery John+ to hold these views, since he would have a vested interest in avoiding thinking of God as being angry at his 'alternate lifestyle'," as a substitute for actually engaging on the issue itself.

Posted by James David Walley at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 8:19am BST

In the Penal Substitution link the NRSV renders Rom 3:25-26 as:

“… whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.
He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;
it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus."

This “translation” is false. Paul does not say either “sacrifice of atonement”, or “propitiation” as does the KJV.

Paul says Hilasterion; the Seat of Grace (= or God’s Shekina). The Hilasterion was the substructure to the Ark in the Holiest of Holy in the Temple which the High Priest sprinkled with blod on the yearly Atonement Day of Ezdraic Judaism.

However, sacrifices were not made in the Holiest of Holy but in the courtyard outside. Translating the Hilasterion as “sacrifice” is inadmissible, even translating the Seat/place of Grace as “propitiation” or “atonement” as some do, is misleading. It's the place, not the doing.

Christ is the place to go.

Translating like this is most obviously done to give a narrow sectarian specimen of late 2nd Millennium theology an appearance of legitimacy it does not have.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 8:36am BST

I find the caricaturing of penal atonement ill-judged and bound to produce the usual knee-jerk reaction. The New Testament interprets the death of Jesus in terms of Old Testament representations of Sacrifice, even if it be a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The binding of Abraham is traditionally interpreted as a type of the atonement. These traditions need to be interpreted sensitively, not scoffed at.

Posted by Fr Joe O'Leary at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 8:36am BST

Hands up all those who have criticized Pete Broadbent and Wallace Benn here and have read their actual statement in full, not just the report of it on the Ekklesia website.

Posted by John Richardson at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 8:46am BST

NP - I don't think people are denying JJs challenging of penal substitution - in fact I hope they are rightly proud of it.
The point is that Jesus' death on the cross was an OFFERING by him for the sins of the world - and was an inevitable consequence of the incarnation. Nothing to do with anger, appeasement, punishment and the like dear brother.
I don't even read the Older Testament with all the sacrifices there as calming an angry God. Scratch beneath the surface and you'll notice how many people need liberating from a gospel based on fear rather than love.

Posted by Neil at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 8:47am BST

The Ekklesia report at
contains the full text of the two bishops' press release.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:03am BST

Three comments. Firstly the Bishop's reacted to a fairly plain story on the Today programme. I heard part of it, and the attack on "penal substitution" was clear. Whatever John said in his broadcast, the Bishop's reaction was to what was said on air and thus far from being a reaction based on ignorance and prejudice. Secondly, whether Thinking Anglicans like it or not, this theory of the atonement is one that finds major support in scripture (although I agree other explanations of the atonement are also found there), and to react so vehemently against it is, to some degree, to deny the validity of those scriptures. Thus the question comes down to a question of scriptural authority - as on so many issues these days. This theory of the atonement is of course also embedded in the Prayer Book in Cramners Communion Service, and thus firmly embedded in the Anglican tradition. Finally I find the tone of some of the above comments simply depressing - including a scorn for evangelicals, which hardly identifies those writing as "Thinking Anglicans" and a questioning of the intellectual abilities of the Bishops; the rather silly identification of support for penal substitution with support for all sorts of other doctrines and practices; and in the use of the phrase "cosmic child abuse", a specific desire to cause offence, which in tapping into one of the taboos of the age, indicates a captivity to prevailing culture that Christianity should transcend.

Posted by Chris Baker at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:06am BST

Fr Joe. I agree. Things have gotten so bitter on either side that there appears to be no attempt to grapple with the reality of another side's position on anything - we are satisfied to throw stones at a caricature. We've certainly seen enough of that coming from the conservative end of the debate for a few years now. Increasingly it is becoming difficult to find a reasonable voice on the liberal end of the spectrum as well. If PSA has been the predominant or even majority view of the work of Christ on the cross - in the west - since the Reformation - then the best motivation for western Protestant Christians to begin to take on board any alternate way of understanding the relevant texts and older traditions would be their interest, their curiosity and their imagination - not their capacity to 'join the battle', be outraged or to heap venom on their opponents.

Sensitivity. I like that. Where has it gone in the heat of the battle.


Posted by Raspberry Rabbit at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:15am BST

Simon wrote, "The Ekklesia report at
contains the full text of the two bishops' press release."

But the full text of the press release is evidently not the "full text" of what the bishops themselves said, as indicated by this quotation: "Jeffrey John ... is saying that the cross is not about anger or wrath or sin or atonement, but only about God's unconditional love."

An omission is indicated by "...".

I know this is a quibble, but the fact is we all depend on reports which edit statements. I've tried to find what Broadbent and Benn actually said, in full, and can't. It doesn't mean I can't comment on anything they are reported to have said, even if it is incomplete.

Ipso facto, the spleen being vented against them in these columns is a bit OTT, in my view.

PS, anyone got any comment about my question on John's "so that" phrase?

Posted by John Richardson at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:26am BST

Having read through most of the American Wikipeda article linked to (now, who comments on the un-read and un-seen ;=), I must say, that it is extraordinarily (that is ordinarily) in-reading.

Quoting various platonizing academics of the 1st Millennium Wiki proudly announces that they proclaim late 2nd Millennium penal substitution! But the article itself makes clear, that the 1st Millennium saw atonement as Mercenary, as an exchange; the exchange of Death for Life, of Sin for Freedom – and that any kind of Anselmic substitutionary whatever is in stead of; a replacement, not an exchange.

So Wiki makes 1st Millennium fathers speak of things they never heard of – indeed its latest and most arguable form!

Wiki also uncritically refers to several contemporary evangelical authors, who all protest that critics of PS misunderstand/distort it.

All this is interestingly reminicent of how the 6 misogynic NT passages (all 2nd century pseudo epigraphical) are treated in a number of Modern and late modern commentaries…

The authors apart, who defend misogyny reading the 6 places as m o r e misogynic than they in fact are (and more than anyone would have thought of before anti modernism)… otherwise well known and respected theologians vehemently protest that the 6 passages are not as bad as claimed.

Oh, its not what you think! It is radical! It’s a great step forward! – and so on, and so on…

(all the way while the 6 misogynic passages are what they always were and remain what they are – in contrast to the 6 so called anti gay ones, who are not ;=)

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:29am BST

"Whatever John said in his broadcast, the Bishop's reaction was to what was said on air and thus far from being a reaction based on ignorance and prejudice."

Sure looks to me as the definition of ignorance and pre-judice.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:32am BST

"If PSA has been the predominant or even majority view of the work of Christ on the cross - in the west - since the Reformation - ..."

No it wasn't.

This is just an empty political claim, as always.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:36am BST

John Richardson wrote: "PS, anyone got any comment about my question on John's "so that" phrase?"

What is it that you don't understand?

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:40am BST

"Jeffrey John ... is saying that the cross is not about anger or wrath or sin or atonement, but only about God's unconditional love."

An omission is indicated by "..."

The "..." also indicates that the omission is of 3 words in that same phrase.

In this case, the "..." is preceded by the name of the person referred to (Dean Jeffrey John) and followed by a verb “is”.

This probably means that the "..." is some kind of determinant to the “Jeffrey John”…

In short: the "..." is without importance. It probably says no more than “the Dean of Saint Albans” or “the Dean of Saint Albans who had to decline his appointment as Suffragan Bishop of Reading” or "who was so shamefully betrayed by his friend" or “the well known bugger rightly taken down by a well orchestrated campaign from Oxford evangelicals” ;=)

Chose whichever you prefer.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 9:57am BST


You prove there is hope for humanity. The concept of the shekina has not been completely lost. Nor her correlation to the art. Hallelujah.

What has become confused is her masculine component to the ark. Also, the deaths that were accidents because she became too excited and did not realise the limitation of the human vessels until it was too late. Now leading to the latter conundrum of not testing any human vessel lest she lead to another inadvertantly create another Boaz disaster due to human inadequacy.

The ABC himself is complicit in this confusion when he refused to discuss the divinity of Christ last year. In refusing to discuss the divinity of Christ, ABC and his counterparts closed the discussions on the Ark and its male and female consciousnesses and humanity/Gaia/Edens' guardians.

Do not look for advice amongst the "pure" Christians, their arrogance and complacency means they have lost sight of the meaning of passover, let alone anything else beyond Christ's death.

Instead, seek out what Jesus would have been seeking to heal in the passover. If you understand what Jesus was seeking to heal, you will find the same tools to heal humanity it this time and age.

Jesus was never mean to be a revenue raising cardboard cutout popstar. He was meant to be a beacon of light for healing - both Jew and gentile, pure and afflicted, male and female, young and old, wise and foolish.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 10:56am BST

RR ; the time for compromise has passed - it should have never existed in the first place.

I very much want to see the CofE split ; nothing worthwhile can ever come out of an organisation which incorporates conservative evangelicalism.

There really are two entirely different world views - lets stop pretending otherwise.

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 11:19am BST

Neil / Counterlight / Pluralist - you seem to be happy to ignore the many references to PSA in the OT and this another example of picking and choosing verses you like and ignoring those you do not?

It does not help your position to write off so easily a well-established biblical idea.

It is good to see a more "Thinking" approach from RR and FrJoe: one does not have to say that PSA is the only way to understand the cross in order to admit that it is certainly in the Bible and the Anglican Prayer Book.

Posted by NP at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 12:32pm BST

_to react so vehemently against it is, to some degree, to deny the validity of those scriptures._ Chris Baker

On that basis, there are parts of the scriptures that, to some degree, deny the validity of the scriptures. All the way through, on many topics, the scriptures contain varieties and contradictions of explanations due to sources, traditions and communities they were written for. The argument against penal substitution has long been made as contradictory to other parts and the overall message. No one has to sign up to penal substitution, nor to any particular mechanical exchange.

That the argument has been made so many times shows that these bishops are involving themselves in a media circus. They jump in when someone is preaching about a matter long understood. Instead of having a debate, it's rather as if they are trying to button up people's mouths, or at least go for the usual victims at this time of year.

Posted by Pluralist at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 1:17pm BST

Dr. Jeffrey has brought many bright people to the table of theological wonder and debate over the meaning and interpretation of the crucifixion. He deserves our thanks--regardless of whether we find ourselves in agreement with him. Importantly, I don't hear him pounding the pulpit insisting that we get in line behind his theology "or else." If only we could use nicer words and be a little more polite in expressing our beliefs on the meaning of Jesus death and resurection...we might actually learn something and, who knows, end up loving each other in a way that Jesus would applaud!

Posted by Robert at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 1:30pm BST

“The Calvinist bent of the English Evangelicals is so antithetical to the gospels it is painful to read.” Bill Stoutmack.

Amen, amen, amen!

Posted by Kurt at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 2:02pm BST

"nothing worthwhile can ever come out of an organisation which incorporates conservative evangelicalism"

At which point you reveal yourself as part of the problem. One looks high and low for partners who don't seem to be intent on remaking the Church in the model of their particular sect. One suspects that the offensive language used in this dispute is as much about 'raiding the goods' of an opponent as it is about coming to a better understanding of the work of Christ on the Cross.

Posted by Raspberry Rabbit at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 2:17pm BST

Goran wrote, "An omission is indicated by "..." The "..." also indicates that the omission is of 3 words in that same phrase."

This is not actually so. The three dots are simply an ellipsis, which conventionally is "three evenly spaced dots (periods) with spaces between the ellipsis and surrounding letters or other marks". There is no necessary correlation between the number of dots and the omitted number of words.

However, it is true to say that precisely what is omitted is irrelevant to my point, which is that without knowing exactly and everything that Benn and Broadbent said, commentators on this blog were happy to be very critical of them for criticizing John without knowing exactly and everything that he said. Of course, that can be risky, but my point is most of us rely on limited reporting all the time, eg of politicians speeches. It is not in itself morally wrong or a sign of stupidity or obtuseness as some comments seem to suggest.

The more important point is that we should not throw vitriol in the faces even of our enemies, let alone our fellow believers (if such they are, and if they are not, see part 1 of this sentence).

Any takers on "so that"?

Posted by John Richardson at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 2:26pm BST

God also commands killing in the OT. We read that and do not ignore it, but we put it in the larger sweep of other scriptural witness, mainly about love of God and love of neighbor as equal - so we do not literally commit ourselves to killing in God's name now do we? (Except of course when we do.)

One interesting element that is scriptural involves what is meant, even in OT, by sacrifice in connection with Yahweh. Fr. James Alison argues that we fall into the PSA errors when we begin with an incomplete or inadequate understanding of Yahweh and OT sacrifice. I find his remarks helpful in explaining how I can understand Yahweh/sacrifice and still not yet expect to end up where all the other ancient near eastern gods/goddesses will necessarily be in connection with sacrifice.


To hear too many conservative believers tell it, every time they just try to see what loving their neighbor is, they immediately get lost in all manner of their own self-induglent briar patches and completely fail to accurately recall who their neighbor is and what he/she needs. Then only the wrath of God brings them back to their senses.

All I hear is that neither a wrathful deity, nor a conservative follower of a wrathful deity, can entirely be trusted to be swayed by any real standards of love. So love is innately corrupting unless it be discplined and made real by wrath. Such an odd, odd, odd reversal of what I read in the scriptural witness about God and love and love of neighbor.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 2:35pm BST

No, RR, I think the unity of the Church is a myth, and so I welcome separation. I see that as entirely beneficial an outcome.

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 2:52pm BST

Exactly so, RR. None of us can say whether PSA is "correct" or not, nor can any of say whether JJ's theory of the Atonment is "correct." (I read the text of his talk and found it very thoughtful and helpful and worth meditating on.) I suspect they are both correct and they are both incorrect and incomplete. God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. We cannot hope to be right. We can only hope to learn from one another and to grow as much as we can. When we throw stones at one another -- and throw one another out of the church -- we only hurt ourselves. When we re-make the church into a mutual admiration society we have lost much. More's the pity because judging from the state of affairs in the AC now, we have much, indeed, to learn.

Posted by Ruth at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 2:57pm BST

“One looks high and low for partners who don't seem to be intent on remaking the Church in the model of their particular sect.”—Raspberry Rabbit

Actually, I think that part of the problem is that some people don’t realize that the ideal of a state church which encompasses a broad, national spectrum, is a dead idea in the 21st century. It’s time that the CofE was disestablished, and that its disparate parts go their own way. It may have served a purpose in limiting religious conflict in the 16th century, but today it’s an anachronism.

Believe me, everyone will be better off for it.

Posted by Kurt at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 3:00pm BST

Mercy! I post barely a sentence here, and I find myself singled out.

Well, since you asked, here is my limited contribution to the atonement discussion over at Fr. Jake's blog:

"I've always felt that if God was so wrathful, that if He was so angry, to the point of murder, with His creation so often, then why not destroy the whole thing once and for all and either start over again, or go back to the solitude of primordial chaos. Indeed, He is God. He's all powerful. He could wave his hand and all this death and suffering could be done in an instant and He would never have cause to be angry again. So why all this trouble?

The revelation of Christ is certainly not that kind of wrathful God, not like those many local deities of the ancient world who always had to be placated and bribed with blood, not like that angry figure created in human imagination that a Southern writer once described as "a mean old granddaddy home from a three day drunk."

The God revealed by Christ is the God who loves absolutely, unconditionally, and inexhaustibly; the one who makes far more of the best wine than the wedding guests at Cana can possibly drink; the one who sends 3000 people away full and satisfied with only 2 fish and a few loaves of bread; the one who is not content to know what we endure in life and death, but insists on sharing our joys and sorrows with us, finally dying our death with us."

[comment continues later, ed.]

Posted by counterlight at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 3:24pm BST

No less a "heretic" than Karl Barth opposed a penal subtitutionary theology. Moreover, the entire Eastern Church, following Athanasius, spoke of the event of Resurrection as demonstrating God's victory over death and corruption. They did not see sin simply as a "misdemeanor" (Athanasius) needing sopme legal erasure but as a structure founded on death and holding humans in bondage Against this Christ struggled and was victorious (which is why we can say that the onslaught against homosexuals is a form of bondage from which Christ has freed us). In these discussions one might more profitably advert to a wider understanding of theology than than proposed either by Calvin or some right wing English bishops.

Posted by William R. Coats at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 3:43pm BST

In response to Goran and others, I just thought it worth pointing out that the press release that was sent out by the two bishops is reproduced at the end of the Ekklesia report mentioned above exactly as it was received from the two bishops.

The "..." is what the bishops inserted in their own quote. Nothing was doctored or changed. If anyone wants to email me I would be very happy to send them the email as I received it from their PR person. If you want to know what the "..." represents, then best to ask the bishops themselves!

Posted by Jonathan Bartley at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 3:47pm BST

John Richardson wrote: "It is not in itself morally wrong or a sign of stupidity or obtuseness as some comments seem to suggest."

It's not the "orientation", they say, but what you do with it...

No one has said anything about "stupidity or obtuseness", but about making accusations on the basis of false witness made up by no less than 3 Bishops - who had not read what they butchered, because it wasn't broadast for several days - and a Journalist into "journalism".

That's vitriol to me.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 3:55pm BST

John Richardson reiterated: "The phrase is "so that". I might say, for example, I obtained a passport "so that" I could travel abroad, or I took a tablet "so that" my headache would go away.

What does John mean when he says Christ went to the cross "so that" he can bring us life?"

I still don't understand what your difficulty is, but I would suggest that it might be your reading.

Dean John does not say "so that he can bring us life", he says "so that he can bring us THROUGH DEATH to Life in him.

"... so that he can bring us through death to life in him."

Any better?

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 4:06pm BST

To reflect on the place of penal substitution in the early church, thinking Anglicans may want to consider the citations given at

Posted by Thomas Renz at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 4:13pm BST

[continued from above, ed.]
I should point out that I am not a theologian, nor do I have any seminary experience (I walked across the lawn of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis once). I am but a pewsitter.
I understand that Paul Tillich (of dreaded memory in consev circles) did embrace a form of Penal Substitution Atonement, though certainly far more nuanced and qualified than the more popular conception that I grew up with.
I see the language of the Old Testament, and much of the language on this issue in the New Testament, to be very much couched in the experience of the ancient world, where religion was a far more prosaic business than it is now. Religion in so much of the ancient world was a very practical matter of keeping the gods happy and trying to influence them. A sacrifice was both a bribe and a way of demonstrating fidelity; an animal sacrifice was a very great expense of money and property.
The Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the decisive repudiation and end of that whole ancient religious culture.

The problem so many of us living on the other side of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution have with some of these earlier Old Testament depictions of God is that they make Him look too much like the rest of the irritable thunderbolt hurlers of the ancient world from Baal to Zeus.

Posted by counterlight at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 4:19pm BST

Not since David Jenkins retired as Bishop of Durham have we had a theological issue to the fore at Easter time.

Whether we agree with Jeffrey John or not we must be grateful that he has raised a serious theological issue for our attention.

The conservative evangelical/fundamentalist heavy weight bishops sound off, some apparently without reading the article, and others condemning but without answering the issues raised in the article. They condemn the BBC for giving Jeffrey John time on the air.

Thank God for Jeffrey John giving us something serious to think over. If he is that wrong, let us have a thought out response from someone who has fully come to grips with the original talk.

Posted by Jeff at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 4:23pm BST

John Richardson is still perplexed by "so that". I imagine it is an echo of Irenaeus.

Posted by cryptogram at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 4:29pm BST

The Oak Hill College link is very interesting…

Tracing the “pedigree” of Penal Substitution theory it gives the names of 11 1st Millennium academics who only knew of exchange modes; Christus Victor, Christus Mercator, Saint Tomas ab Aquino who according to recieved wisdom was against it, Dr Johannes Calvinus who according to same wisdom invented it, and some lesser stars including The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship Doctrinal Basis.

But its ancestor ABC Anselmo di Aosta is nowhere to be seen ;=)

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 5:13pm BST

Thanks for bringing up this issue. I think we must explore it together. I have started a discussion over at my blog about the Atonement. I would love for you or your readers to join in.

Posted by Adrian Warnock at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 5:15pm BST

There are interesting discussions also on Father Jake Stops the World

and on Stand Firm.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 6:34pm BST

Göran - "exchange" can cover a number of conceptualisations of the atonement (which need not exclude each other, by the way) - something more specific can be said about the view of the church fathers in question.

Anselm's (honour) satisfaction theory is usually distinguished from penal substitution although it is closer to it than the ransom theory. For Aquinas, see, e.g.,

When Jeffrey John writes "the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God but by God", he leaves unstated to whom the price is paid or in what sense death can pay for life. Is this a return to the ransom theory, in which case Anselm's questions (Why should God the Son have to become a human to pay a ransom? Why should God owe anything at all to Satan?) remain to be answered, or is this the point where he would want to plead "mystery", in which case the question is what precisely did the metaphor "price" contribute to our appreciation of the mystery?

Posted by Thomas Renz at Thursday, 5 April 2007 at 6:46pm BST

Penal Substitution is not the same as Anselmo’s Forensic Substitution, which isn’t penal. But that is not what I wrote.

There are perhaps 20 Exchange theories and 2 Substitution ones, both 2nd Millennium, the difference being that in the exchange theories Christ is active, doing the Exchange, whereas he under Substitution is reduced to a mere instrument, an object.

Penal substitution is a novelty; a new and strange teaching – sect. It was invented by Dr Calvin; it exists only within Calvinism and in Calvinist parts of British Evangelicalism (Political Calvinism + Anti-political Pietism).

Other Pietists strongly deny Substitution altogether (Dippel, Laestadius, Waldenström).

Point is that the “how” of Atonement is only important for Calvinists. It seems at times the centre of their teaching.

As always, it is not so much the (pretended) answers as the questions that are amiss. The Church has never taken more than a remote interest. The Byzantine churches, the Swedish church and others simply say (as they do on the Eucharist): We don’t need to understand this.

None of the many theories have ever been dogma – except Penal Substitution within Calvinism. But what is really interesting is the violent reaction. If anyone even attempts to even speak about the Atonement – not to mention saying there are more theories than one – all the furies of Hell are summoned – as we see before us. The BBC talk will only bee broadcast tonight, yet there has been high yellings around for days. False witness, slander, accusations.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Friday, 6 April 2007 at 7:29am BST

Chris Baker wrote "...theory of the atonement is one that finds major support in scripture..."

I agree. I then call the conservatives bluff. If Jesus is the atonement for all humanity for all time, then why is there a need for second class citizenry?

They claim that beasts are not covered by God's covenant, but we see they are in the Sabbath in Deuteronomy 5:14. We say the rebellious aren't covered, but David acknowledges they are in Psalms 68:18.

What we are dealing with is small men trying to diminish God to their capacity of understanding.

God must be part feminine, because God is capable of multi-tasking. If Jesus' sacrifice is valid, then it covers the magnitude of grace promised in the Old Testament. If anyone tries to deny grace to anyone who would acknowledge Jesus and the one who sent Jesus, then they are in error and deny both Jesus, the one who sent him, and all the other souls covered by God's grace.

This is no longer an issue of only acknowledging one branch of Christian theology, it is to do with acknowledging whether God has the right to enter into covenants with any humans or any other level or location in Creation. Those who deny God's forgiving and redeeming grace have forgotten who is the Potter and who are the clay.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Friday, 6 April 2007 at 10:27am BST

While on the subject of myth correction.
Evangelicals don't believe in Penal Substitution as a model of what happened on the cross.
We believe it IS what happened on the cross, not just a way to describe it.
We also believe in Christus Victor, Redemption, Reconciliation, Justification as well as the cross being an example to us and how we should leave.
These aren't all competing models that you can just choose, but the way the Bible speaks about what happened on the cross.

Also as evangelicals we love the resurrection! The resurrection shows that Satan and death have been defeated and that Jesus has gone before us blazing a trail that we can follow into heaven.
The crucifixion and the resurrection are inextricably linked. Sometimes evangelical preaching may give the illusion that this isn't the case, but if you asked the preachers, they would tell you of the wonder and importance of the resurrection.
Without the resurrection, Jesus' death would be shown to be meaningless. But he rose again showing that he was victorious, mission accomplished, and that can give us confidence in our faith and the certainty that our sins are forgiven and that one day we shall be united with God in the new heavens and the the new earth.

Posted by Alex Freeman at Friday, 6 April 2007 at 11:19pm BST

We already knew that's what you think, Alex.

But we are not evangelicals here: so why should we be expected to agree with you, and why the outrage when we don't?

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 6 April 2007 at 11:34pm BST

Also, if you consider the criticism being metered out to harsh, then maybe it would be helpful to read:
Jesus’ words in Matthew 23
Peter’s words in 2 Peter 2
Paul’s words in Galatians 1:6-10 and 5:1-12

Oh, and if the Jesus Gospel (which is an excellent book, a great example of good theology leading to doxology. It tells the gospel on every page, and is easy to read to boot) is to light for you, then consider the more scholarly tome ‘Pierced for our Transgressions’ (sort of already mentioned) ISBN 1844741788

Grace and Peace


Posted by Alex Freeman at Friday, 6 April 2007 at 11:39pm BST

The root of this issue is the following presupposition:
'God must fit my criteria'. Or: 'I can make God in my own image, and/or the image of my own ideals'.
God must 'measure up'.

Once one has realised how crazy such a presupposition is, one can begin properly. The truth is that God is completely independent of our wishes or ideals. If God is, or is not, a certain way, there is nothing you or I can do to change that.

It follows that, however much one might like or hate the idea of penal substitution, these are purely emotional reactions. They have no bearing whatever on whether it is true or false. That is a quite separate question.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 1:09pm BST

'But is there anyone, whose reasoning faculty is enlightened and made whole by the reading of the Word, who cannot see that God is mercy and clemency itself, since he is love itself and good itself, and these qualities are His essence? And that it is therefore a contradiction to say that mercy itself or good itself could look upon man in anger, and pass sentence of damnation on him, and still remain what he is in His Divine Essence?' Emanuel Swedenborg, 'True Christian Religion' (1771)

Posted by Richard Lines at Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 6:26pm BST

Penal substitution is hardly a new concept. It is at the heart of the Old Testament sacrifical system : a spotless lamb slain in order to atone for the sin of the people. It was the God-ordained way for anyone to enjoy a right relationship with God.
Consequently, the New Testament writers unanimously comment that the old way of atonement (old covenant) pointed forward to the final and complete sacrifice of atonement that was Jesus' death on the cross. It is the new God-ordained way whereby sinners can be made right with God that the old was a shadow of. Only a spotless one could bring about this dealing with sin, taking its due punishment and the subsequent restoration that is therefore possible. That is why God himself came to be the Lamb par excellence : "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
This is orthodox Christianity and has been so for 2000 years (the Apostles weren't ignorant of the Hebrew scriptures!). The Church of England's basis of faith and creeds are founded upon it. All C of E ministers must promise to hold to it and remain holding to it when they are "priested."
Sadly, therefore, it is those, like Jeffery John, who have departed from what they promised on oath to maintain and serve that are the untruthful ones.

Posted by Mark Pinney at Tuesday, 10 April 2007 at 4:05pm BST

"This is orthodox Christianity and has been so for 2000 years (the Apostles weren't ignorant of the Hebrew scriptures!)"

I wouldn't be so sure of that. Granted, there is penal imagery in Scripture concerning the Atonement. Granted the Fathers used it too. But it has never been the only way of understanding the Atonement, unlike the situation in many Consevo circles today. I will search my Triodion again, but I do not think I'll find too much of it there. Thus I find your use of the word "orthodox" odd, the Orthodox Paschal Liturgies contain much more of Christus Victor than PSA, and I have at least one reference to an Orthodox theologian who considers it near blasphemy and blames it for the decline in religion in Western society! If it is so solid a part of the Tradition, why did it take till the Reformation to spell it out? Why did it not occur to Anselm, on whose work it is based?

More importantly, why is it so attractive to Consevos? While it perhaps has a place among the many ways of understanding the Atonement, why eliminate the rest and claim a historicity for it that is simply not there and an exclusivity for it that it never enjoyed and does not deserve? Why, when one questions PSA, do Consevos accuse one of not believing in Atonement at all, as though Atonement MUST be about someone being punished? I find it hard to equate the sacrifice of a spotless lamb with PSA. How is the lamb being punished? You seem to be equating a "sacrifice for sin" with "a victim being punished for sin" and the two are certainly NOT the same thing.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 10 April 2007 at 6:23pm BST

I would want nothing to do with such a vicious god or its acolytes.

There are 'creative fictions' and there are destructive fictions. This one has led to terrible miguided policies and cruelties -- and still does.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Thursday, 12 April 2007 at 12:44am BST

Ford - You are right. They are not necessarily the same thing. But on this particular occasion they are the same thing. Think of - for example - 'the chastisement of (which brought us) peace was upon him' in Isa 53.
How else do you understand the logic of the principle 'without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin'?

What must be avoided at all costs is the idea that if we do not like something (some theory etc) that makes it untrue. I don't like AIDS or TB - but that doesn't make them cease to exist.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Wednesday, 18 April 2007 at 12:29pm BST

'without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin'

You're not asking the question "How does the shedding of blood remit sin?" Is it in order to appease an angry and vengeful God? Might it be something else? Christ is the Paschal Lamb, the lamb of the Passover was not being punished for the sins of Israel, yet it's blood on the lintels was the sign for the Angel of Death to Passover. I repeat, I do not deny the penal imagery. I do reject the idea that PSA, as we understand it today goes back beyond the Reformation, that it is the key, in some schools the only, way of understanding atonement. There are older ways of understanding it. Anything so complex must of necessity have different ways of understanding it. The Divine Economia is such that God would give us numerous different ways of understanding it. Some will respond best to the idea that they are pardoned criminals, others to the idea that we are rescued from captivity. We all then come to know and love God. We all then come to experience His presence in our lives, to serve and follow Him. Why cut some people off when there is no need?

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 19 April 2007 at 6:32pm BST

Aren't all Christians supposed to be Evangelical? I thought that this was a clear instruction from Jesus?

There seems to be an awful lot of sneering at Christians who are evangelical in this thread - which I find a little strange as we are all supposed to spread Gods word.

Posted by Spence at Monday, 21 May 2007 at 3:41pm BST
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