Substitutionary Atonement: It Doesn’t Get Any More Personal

Why evangelicals give pride of place to penal substitutionary understandings of the Cross.

.. Evangelicals more than most are deeply moved by the notion that Christ died for us on a cross, that he was a substitute who suffered in our stead, that he endured a punishment we deserved.

.. To be sure, it has been framed sometimes in crude and even pathological ways. But it remains a way of looking at the atonement that deeply moves millions and draws them in grateful love to the one who hung on that cross.

.. reminding us of the many models of atonement alluded to in Scripture. Like the ransom model: We are held in the power of the devil until Christ died and freed us from his grip. And Christus Victor: The malevolent principalities and rulers of this age have been defeated by Christ on the cross. And the moral model: Seeing the lengths to which Christ went to demonstrate his love by dying on the cross, we respond in love.

Still, evangelical Christians believe there are persuasive theological reasons for privileging penal substitution among these and other models

.. The main reason is simply this: It makes intuitive sense to men and women of an evangelical disposition.

.. But they are not sophisticated theologians when they first find themselves astonished at hearing about what Christ has done for them on the cross.

.. They are grateful because they have, as we have noted in earlier essays, “an urgent sense of man’s predicament … a mood so deep that it could never be completely articulated.” The mood is despair, and the urgency comes from a foreboding: If the reason for this despair isn’t addressed, one is doomed. The despair is grounded by guilt and shame for transgressions against divine law, which evangelicals recognize not as an impersonal and arbitrary law, but one that is a direct expression of the Personality behind the law.

.. When we sin, we are keenly aware of the connection between the law of God and person of God. We have not merely violated a law but a person, and as such we are subject not just to punishment but also wrath, not merely just consequences but also rejection.

..  Many argue such notions are more akin to primitive religion that seeks to appease angry gods

.. The biggest problem is the sabotaging of trust; the teen has failed to respect, honor, and love his mother.

..  “The wages of sin is death”

.. What type of universe is this in which every day and relatively harmless behavior—lying, greed, pride, lust, and so forth—deserves eternal and irreversible damnation? Evangelicals respond, “This type of universe,” and point to common experiences with very much the same dynamic—relatively insignificant actions that result in horrific and lasting consequences.

.. A woodworker thoughtlessly moves his hand too close to the table saw blade, and in an instant, his hand is lost forever to him. A jogger glances at her cell phone and momentarily wanders onto a busy street; she is hit by a passing car, and after multiple operations, she is told she’ll never be able to run again. Why the world is built this way

.. where small lapses in physical laws can have such devastating consequences

.. evangelical Christians are also more comfortable than most in calling such consequences a form of punishment. To talk only about consequences drains the blood from the dynamic and moves us in the direction of deism, into a world where God sets up the moral and physical laws and steps away.

.. thus in Scripture, God reacts to sin less like a judge who impassively metes out justice, but more like a wounded lover who has been rejected. It’s very personal.

.. This personal dynamic is what gives substitutionary atonement such homiletic force, and why it is a staple of evangelical preaching, teaching, and devotion. Of all the models of atonement, it best reflects the personal God of the Bible

.. The punishment that results is not an arbitrary expression of a rejected lover’s wrath, but also an act that somehow balances the moral books. That is why forgiveness as a mere act of the will is not sufficient

.. Sins must be paid for, as a debt must be paid for. Why this is the case, why the moral universe operates in this way, is hard to say, another deep mystery of life.

.. An apology from her is all well and good, but you are not satisfied until your father adds that your sister can’t watch TV for a week. Punishment is part of the solution to this problem, and if there is no punishment, you feel like justice has been cheated.

.. Or take the trope that Hollywood regularly relies on in revenge movies. The screenwriters are appealing to something deep and basic in the human heart: When a great injustice has been done, retribution is due.

.. The villain rapes and murders a series of teenage girls; all through the movie, the viewer wants the villain not merely caught but punished, usually in some violent scene that leads to the villain’s death. In spite of the predictable fireworks and excessive violence, we keep coming to such movies precisely because we are deeply satisfied by the punishment of offenders.

.. Again, evangelicals see this dynamic at work at a spiritual level. Our sins cannot be swept away by the wave of a hand. They deserve death, and only by death can they be adequately paid for.

.. Again we’re tempted to think we’ve regressed to primitive religion, but once more, we look around to see this phenomenon all around us. It’s another regular trope of storytellers, who create “Christ figures” whose deaths liberate others.

.. This is a powerful motif not merely because it mimics the crucifixion but because we recognize a mysterious law of the universe in play: Sometimes the suffering and death of one key person—who is perceived as good and loving—transforms the lives and situations of others for the good, as the deaths of activists like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. suggest.

.. evangelical preachers have proven themselves more open-minded and ecumenical than their liberal brothers and sisters. Whereas the latter insist on completely eliminating substitutionary atonement—and especially penal substitution—as primitive and unworthy of the modern mind, evangelicals simply will not eliminate any of the other models, no matter their weaknesses (which each model has).

.. evangelicals give priority to substitutionary atonement; they see it as the one model that holds all the others together, making sense of each one. And many agree with Packer who, in the essay noted above, suggests that substitutionary atonement is not a theory as much as a model, not an ironclad explanation of the mysterious ways of God but a dramatic narrative

.. is not in any sense to “solve” or dissipate the mystery

.. the effect is simply to define that work with precision, and thus to evoke faith, hope, praise and responsive love to Jesus Christ.

.. Yes, the model has been abused. Some have explained it as if Jesus appeased the wrath of an angry Father who gleefully watched his Son tortured to death—as if the Father and the Son had two different wills about what was going on. Not quite. Substitutionary atonement grounded in good Trinitarian theology insists on the unity of purpose of the Father and the Son, since “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19, NASB). That is, God was enduring in his own self the divine wrath that we deserved—that I deserved.

.. Where Christus Victor, for example, is a wonderful model to describe cosmic redemption, substitutionary atonement is about my salvation: Christ died for me. It doesn’t get any more personal than that. And evangelical religion is nothing if not personal.

Coreligionists in Kleptocracy

What Russia and Iran have in common is someday their people will say ‘enough.’

.. Vladimir Putin must get a clammy feeling from the logic of Iranians taking to the streets against a corrupt government conducting costly adventures in places like Syria.

.. The average Iranian in the street doesn’t think the benefits of the nuclear deal failed to materialize. He thinks they were hijacked and hoarded by regime cronies.

.. Widely reported was the Obama administration’s shipment of $1.7 billion in untraceable cash, via cargo plane, directly to Iran’s leaders. Of 110 international business deals touted in the Iranian press as the fruit of sanctions relief, a Reuters accounting showed that 90 went to companies controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or other top officials.

.. the average Russian has seen his real income continue to shrink, no end to sanctions

.. Nor can the Kremlin shield him from the growing phenomenon of internet-based reporting on the absurd luxuries enjoyed by such regime favorites as Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, much less the astonishing offshore wealth of Mr. Putin’s personal “friend,” the cellist Sergei Roldugin.

.. In both countries, normal, patriotic feeling has clearly begun leaching away from leaders whose defining quality is hypocrisy.

.. Under current leadership, 100% of everything is gobbled up in the corrupt power rivalries and overseas adventures of the leadership class (e.g., the Syrian war).

.. Nobody predicted the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian revolution that overthrew his ally Viktor Yanukovych, or the roadside execution of Gadhafi, an omen that Mr. Putin reportedly dwells on.

.. He was angry at Hillary Clinton for what he considers her efforts to foment a coup against him personally.

.. What the U.S. has over such countries is stable institutions in which to contain unpredictable events and forces.

Trump attacks Corker, who responds by calling the White House ‘adult day care’

President Trump instigated an extraordinary feud Sunday with Sen. Bob Corker, a senior Republican who holds sway over the administration’s foreign and domestic policy agenda, prompting the Tennessean to charge that the White House had devolved into “an adult day care center.”

.. The trash talk not only breaches what had been one of Trump’s few personal relationships on Capitol Hill, but also jeopardizes the president’s legislative priorities. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker will help determine the future of the Iran nuclear deal, and his support will be critical in passing sweeping tax cuts.

.. Corker tweeted a biting retort: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.

.. Corker told reporters that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly “are those people that help separate our country from chaos.”

.. Trump, who has little tolerance for public criticism and prides himself on counterpunching those who cross him, took to Twitter on Sunday to attack Corker.

.. Womack said Trump has repeatedly offered to support Corker, and as recently as last week asked the senator to change his mind and run for reelection.

“The president called Senator Corker on Monday afternoon and asked him to reconsider his decision not to seek reelection and reaffirmed that he would have endorsed him, as he has said many times,” Womack said in a statement.

.. Corker has been one of Tillerson’s few allies and staunch defenders in Washington, working closely on such issues as toughening sanctions on Russia and engaging North Korea diplomatically — two issues on which Trump has disagreed with Corker.

.. Corker also looks to play a key role in the upcoming debate over taxes. One of the Senate’s most committed deficit hawks and outspoken members on budgetary issues, Corker already has expressed concerns with the Trump administration’s proposal on tax cuts, and his vote will be key to any deal getting done.

.. In recent months, Trump has also gone after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) with cutting and sometimes personal insults.

.. Republican lawmakers and operatives have voiced exasperation that Trump is spending his time attacking senators he will need as allies if he hopes to sign any signature legislation.

.. Corker was a prominent supporter of Trump’s 2016 campaign and one of the few Republicans with gravitas willing to embrace the reality television star’s candidacy before he won the GOP nomination.

.. Corker also helped tutor Trump on foreign affairs, and he in turn considered the senator as a possible running mate and secretary of state.

.. In August, Corker criticized Trump’s handling of the deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, saying, “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

.. Corker urged Trump to visit Alabama and campaign alongside Strange in the closing days of the runoff campaign, and the president now partly blames Corker for encouraging him to get involved in a contest that has hurt his political standing

.. thinks Corker feels free to speak his mind now that he is not seeking reelection.

Aides warned Trump not to attack North Korea’s leader personally before his fiery U.N. address

Senior aides to President Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea’s leader at the United Nations this week, saying insulting the young despot in such a prominent venue could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis.

.. Some of Trump’s top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea’s leader personal, warning it could backfire.

But Trump, who relishes belittling his rivals and enemies with crude nicknames, felt compelled to make a dramatic splash in the global forum.

.. A detailed CIA psychological profile of Kim, who is in his early 30s and took power in late 2011, assesses that Kim has a massive ego and reacts harshly and sometimes lethally to insults and perceived slights.

It also says that the dynastic leader — Kim is the grandson of the communist country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and son of its next leader, Kim Jong Il — views himself as inseparable from the North Korean state.

.. As predicted, Kim took Trump’s jibes personally and especially chafed at the fact that Trump mocked him in front of 200 presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and diplomats at the U.N.

.. John Park, a specialist on Northeast Asia at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said the tit-for-tat insults have created a “new reality” and probably have shut off any chance of starting talks to curb North Korea’s fast-growing nuclear arms program.
.. U.S. experts assess that North Korea is six to eight months away from building a small nuclear warhead robust enough to survive the intense heat and vibrations of an intercontinental ballistic missile crossing the Pacific and reaching the continental United States.
.. “There is no one on the North Korean side who is going to entertain or pursue discussion about a diplomatic off-ramp, because that individual would be contradicting the leader, which is lethal,” Park said.
.. Trump has returned to rhetoric he’d used during the campaign, when he called Kim a “madman playing around with nukes” and a “total nut job.”
.. But Trump also praised Kim at the time, saying during a Fox News interview last year that Kim’s “gotta have something going for him, because he kept control, which is amazing for a young person to do.”