The recent Twitter storm (it doesn’t take much) over Canon Theologian Emily Hunter McGowin’s opining on why Jesus came and died for us (the “soteriological question,” to put things more formally) and the reaction thereto got me to thinking about this. It’s tempting to pass over it as another Anglican food fight, but the question is too important to ignore. Rather than repeat the assertions and rebuttals from both sides (I’m not sure I understand completely what’s going on here) I’ll set forth my thinking on this subject, which I’m sure will not be to everyone’s taste. My years buried in Aquinas forces me to put something forth which has some intellectual coherence past proof texting. So here goes…
We have two types of beings in the universe: uncreated and created beings. God is uncreated. We are not. He is entire, self-existent, infinite and finite. We are imperfect and finite. I explain this in some detail here. His goodness, which is an integral part of his being, is likewise entire and perfect. (Remember this one? ‘”Why ask me about goodness?” answered Jesus. “There is but One who is good. If you want to enter the Life, keep the commandments.”‘ (Matthew 19:17 TCNT) Ours isn’t. Based on this difference alone, we are infinitely inferior to God and thus are unable to be acceptable to him or to even be in fellowship with him. The Fall was an inevitable product of our nature, as is the sin that follows. And that has to be accounted for too: ‘For all have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glorious ideal…’ (Romans 3:23 TCNT).
So what is to be done? God’s answer was to do the job himself, by sending his Son Jesus Christ, who is uncreated God, to come into the world as a man, die for us on the Cross, and rise for us. In doing this–which was strictly voluntary, an act of love–he accomplishes two things. The first is that he assumed to himself our sins (he has none) and thus incurred any penalty due to the breakage of God’s law. The second–and this is a point that much of Protestant doctrine misses–is that we, in accepting this assumption of sin as our own, allow Jesus Christ to come in and dwell within us, with his uncreated goodness. That last enables us to have continuing fellowship with the Father and ultimately eternal life.
This is part of the background for the gospel presentation featured on this site:
Let me make a few of comments about some of the issues associated with this.
First, if this is penal substitution, then so be it. That’s well attested in Patristic literature (not all of it, but a good deal.) I’ve never been sure about whether it is or not. I’m more inclined to look at it as the Son going on the difficult mission of reconciliation, doing what is optimal and works to bring God and people back together.
Second, penal substitution is associated with anger in God. I’ve discussed this issue elsewhere.
Third, I’ve never liked the idea that we had to be totally depraved to miss being able to have fellowship with God. I think that’s like saying that a student has to have a zero to fail a course when a 59 will do the job nicely, at my institution at least.
I could discuss other topics but, as Origen would say, this post having reached a sufficient length, we will bring it to a close.