It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 8: Realistic Substitution

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

Leon Morris, in The Cross in the New Testament, was not optimistic regarding the possibility of a “full and final theory of atonement:”

…Our survey of the doctrine throughout the New Testament has uncovered a bewildering variety of ways of looking at Christ’s work. Redemption, for example, is a figure derived from the slave market or the freeing of prisoners of war. It has to do with setting the captive free on payment of the price. Justification is a legal metaphor. It interprets salvation through the law court and sees it as a verdict of acquittal. Reconciliation refers to the making up after a quarrel, the doing away of a state of hostilities. Propitiation has to do with anger. It reminds us of the wrath of God exercised towards every evil thing and also of the fact that Christ has removed that wrath. How are these figures to be gathered together under one theory? It cannot be done. […The] mind of man is not able to comprehend all the various facets of New Testament teaching on the atonement simultaneously. […The] fact is that it is too great in extent and too complex in character for us to comprehend it all in one theory…[47]

Though Morris does not think it is possible for the many sides of the atonement to be comprehended in a single theory, he does see it imperfectly gathered together by substitution:

[…While] the many-sidedness of the atonement must be borne in mind, substitution is at the heart of it. I do not mean that when we have said ‘substitution’ we have solved all our problems. […] But I do not think that we can escape substitution if we proceed on biblical premises. Thus, if we revert to the metaphors we were referring to a short while back, redemption is substitutionary, for it means that Christ paid that price that we could not pay, paid it in our stead, and we go free. Justification interprets our salvation judicially, and as the New Testament sees it Christ took our legal liability, took it in our stead. Reconciliation means the making of people to be at one by the taking away of the cause of hostility. In this case the cause is sin, and Christ removed that cause for us. We could not deal with sin. He could and did, and did it in such a way that it is reckoned to us. Propitiation points us to the removal of the divine wrath, and Christ has done this by bearing the wrath for us. It was our sin which drew it down; it was He who bore it. […Again] and again the key to the understanding of a particular way of viewing the cross is to see that Christ has stood in our place. […] Was there a price to be paid? He paid it. Was there a victory to be won? He won it. Was there a penalty to be borne? He bore it. Was there a judgment to be faced? He faced it…[48]

Morris also recognizes an important limitation:

An objection to this view arises from the intensely personal nature of guilt. My misdeeds are my own, and all the verbal juggling in the world cannot make them belong to someone else. […] If atonement consists simply in ignoring this, and putting the punishment arising from my yesterdays upon someone else, then a grave wrong has been done. Sin is not to be regarded as a detachable entity which may be removed from the sinner, parcelled up, and given to someone else. Sin is a personal affair. My guilt is my own. What are we to say then? In the first place that no one thinks of substitution as the whole story. Salvation is an exceedingly complex process with many facets, and, while substitution is a very helpful concept for bringing out some of the truth, it must be supplemented where other aspects are in question. Thus if it is true that salvation may helpfully be described in terms of Christ’s bearing of my penalty, it is also true that it is to be described further in terms of new birth (Jn. 3:3, 5, 7), in terms of my dying with Christ and rising with Him (Rom. 6:8; Col. 3:1-3), in terms of my becoming partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), and in other ways. Substitution is not to be regarded as a magic key which unlocks all the doors. And substitution that leaves those substituted for exactly as they were, penalty apart, is not the biblical substitution.[49]

Morris’ assessment that no final theory will ever adequately comprehend all aspects is premature. The many figures by which atonement has been conveyed, when taken together, do seem to present an impossible complexity. However, the reason for this, as Morris seems to acknowledge, is because the full reality has not been understood:

…The position then is that all our theories seem to have a measure of truth in them, and none, taken by itself, is adequate. It is not unlike the situation in the world of physics where scientists are not agreed on the nature of light. The corpuscular theory and the wave theory both have their supporters. It is difficult to see how these two are to be reconciled with one another. Yet neither can be abandoned, for some of the facts support one view and some the other. The reality must transcend both, but so far we do not know what this reality is. So with the atonement…[50]

Reality has been taken out of view by the discarding of the realistic principle. By bringing reality back into view, we are able to find the missing key that transcends the complexity of atonement and gathers up into one all the various aspects—and does so with a satisfying simplicity. Continue reading

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It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 7: Traducianism

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

Traducianism is the belief that the immaterial nature (the spirit or soul) is propagated from one or both parents. Creationism is the only Christian alternative, the belief that the spirit is created out of nothing.

While one may hold an implicitly realistic view without affirming traducianism, (preferring to leave it to mystery), it is inescapably implied. A participative union implies common being in singularity of origin, and a propagation of individuals out of that common being. It is my contention that the biblical case for traducianism is strong, and it should not be avoided, as it sheds light on the Adam-Christ parallel. While no explanation of traducianism is without mystery, neither is the creationist view without equal mystery, since it is as difficult a problem to view God creating morally corrupt souls out of nothing as it is to view Him creating them out of the parents.

Traducianism from Scripture
Man was made in the likeness and image of God. Yet, God created man as a propagative being—a being that could “multiply and fill the earth.”

Genesis 2:7-8 ESV
7then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

God breathed the breath of life into Adam, and he became a living soul. Continue reading

It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 6: The Realistic View of Adam

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

The parallel between Adam and Christ is striking, as evident in Rom. 5:12-21. Inadequacies in our understanding of how Adam’s sin ruined us may impede our understanding of how Christ saves us. But, if we find new depth in our view of Adam, we may find new depth in our understanding of the cross.

We’re all born sinners, spiritually dead, mortal, subject to the pains and evils of this world. But, why? How can God hold us responsible for what some man did six thousand years ago? Why didn’t we get the same chance he did, starting life in a perfect world with an unfallen nature? You may say that life isn’t fair, but even that fact is a consequence of Adam’s sin alone. Evangelicals (Baptists included) have generally answered these questions in one of two ways.

Most are familiar with Federal (or Covenant) Headship, also known as the representative view, in which God designated Adam our representative. Accordingly, God made a covenant with Adam, stipulating that the consequences of his success or failure (in his moral probationary period) would be inherited by us. Success would have meant that humanity would be blessed and righteous forever; but alas, his failure meant that we would be held responsible as if we had sinned Adam’s sin—born sinners, alienated from God, and subject to the miseries of mortality.

Less well known is the alternative: Realistic (or Natural, or Augustinian) Headship.[15] Continue reading

It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 5: Under Wrath Until Reconciled

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

A One-Sided Reconciliation?
The logic of a one-sided reconciliation, in which God is reconciled to us but we are not yet reconciled to Him, is like the sound of one hand clapping. Reconciliation is mutual or there is no reconciliation. God is not reconciled to us until we believe. This is why elect unbelievers remain under God’s wrath.

Eph. 2:3 ESV
among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

John 3:36 ESV
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Rom. 1:18 ESV
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Rom. 2:4-5 ESV
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Rom. 4:15 ESV
For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

God’s wrath is not removed from us until our sin is removed, and we remain in sin until we believe in Christ and His blood-sacrifice is applied to us. Continue reading

It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 4: Union with the Substitute

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

Old Testament Pictures of Union with the Substitute
One vital principle of substitution is union with the substitute. How is one to justly die in the place of another, unless the two can be joined into one? We find this principle richly displayed in various themes in Scripture.

The first sacrifice was when God made clothing of animal skin to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve, whose sin incurred their nakedness.

Gen. 3:10-11 ESV
And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Gen. 3:21 ESV
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

This was such a beautiful picture of substitutionary sacrifice! Continue reading

It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 3: Unquantifiable & Nontransferable

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

The Unquantifiable Nature of Sin-Debt, Wrath, and Atonement
How many sins did Adam commit before he stood in need of a Savior? If Adam had died with just that one sin on his record, and God had intended to save Adam and no one else, would the ordeal of the cross have been abbreviated? No, even from the first sin, Adam needed the entirety of Christ’s suffering and death just to save him alone.

Sin is like that. One sin puts you under the whole wrath of God.

James 2:10 ESV
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

Rom. 6:23 ESV
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But atonement is just as immeasurable. That which is required to save the least of sinners is abundantly able to save the worst. Continue reading

It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 2: Faith is Required

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

Old Testament Requirements for Atonement
As we have rightly looked to the Old Testament to define atonement, it is important to look there also for the requirements. The concept of substitutionary sacrifice for propitiating God’s wrath runs like blood throughout the body of Scripture. The idea originated when God sacrificed an animal to clothe the sinners in Eden with skins. As early as Cain and Abel, we find the principle that, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). God required an acceptable sacrificial victim:

Gen. 4:3-5a ESV
3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard…

As God prescribed in Lev. 10:3 (NKJV), “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy…” Before we can bring any other offering, our sin before a holy God must be acknowledged and dealt with on His terms. Continue reading

It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 1: Definition

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam[1] further developed and applied to Christ.

The Traditionalist contends that Jesus died for everyone. The Calvinist counters that since not all will be saved, not all were atoned for. Both assume that when Jesus died, atonement was—right then—made for sinners. Thus, the endless debate over whose sins were atoned for, and the contradiction of separating atonement from “application.” But this is not the biblical picture. Atonement is not in the shedding of blood, but in the application of the blood to the sinner.

1 John 1:7 ESV
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Rev. 7:14b ESV
14 …And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

When were your robes “washed in the blood of the Lamb?” What a vivid picture of spiritual realities! Our human spirit as our garment—our robe—as we stand before God. The stains of our guilt were evident. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” We come by faith to Christ, and His shed blood cleanses us from sin—making our robes white. This is atonement. But let’s expound it further… Continue reading

The 3rd Rail: Can a Loving God Determine to Save So Few?

By Ken Hamrick

This is the last post in this series, and concludes my attempt to provide a compelling articulation for the middle ground on which so many Southern Baptists stand—holding that God is the ultimate Determiner of destinies and that men have free will in the matter (but without going to the lengths of Calvinism or Traditionalism).


An important question, which goes to the heart of the Calvinism debate, was asked by Dr. Eric Hankins, at the 2017 Connect 316 Banquet:

On Calvinist principles, God could have foreordained the salvation of all just as easily, just as righteously, as He foreordained the salvation of only some. What else can such an act be called except “evil”? This is not a misrepresentation of Calvinism. I see no way around this implication. If there is one, Southern Baptists are going to need to hear it.[1]

There is a Biblical solution to this supposed implication, but it’s found only in the middle view. As we’ve already seen in this series, in issue after issue, Calvinists and Traditionalists have chosen a divisive simplicity over a deeper complexity. Any time that a doctrine is stripped of an inherent complexity by two opposing arguments, the dispute will not end until the complexity is restored. This issue is no different. Continue reading

The 3rd Rail: Unconditional Election is Not Restrictive

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

The posts in this series are not in any particular order; but it may be helpful, before reading this one, to read the following posts: “The 3rd Rail: Inability of the Will is Never Literal,” and, “The 3rd Rail: The Fallacy of a Restrictive Foreknowledge.”

As we have seen in previous posts in this series, God’s knowledge of all events from outside of time does not in any way restrict man’s freedom to freely act—that, in fact, we retroactively write God’s foreknowledge with every decision we make. Many may balk at this because it sounds so foreign to our linear, temporal thinking; but we cannot expect a timeless God to interact with our world in ways that we comfortably understand. If we dare to ask tough questions, then we ought not to be satisfied with pat answers, but should strive beyond comfort to glimpse the truth, even if it be unexpected. But this is not to say that God is not in control. Middlers affirm that God determines the destinies of men—we simply deny that He does this against or in spite of their free will. Continue reading

The 3rd Rail: God Does Good, Men Do Evil

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

It is possible to put so much emphasis on one Biblical principle that another equally important Biblical principle becomes obscured in the shadow, and eventually rejected. Baptist Centrists going all the way back to Andrew Fuller have recognized this problem in the teachings of our Necessarian (Calvinist) and Libertarian (Traditionalist & Arminian) brothers. This unbalanced emphasis is evident in how either side presents their support from Scripture. Fuller stated it well:

If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency; for, on the same ground, another person might embrace that which I reject, and reject that which I embrace, and have equal Scriptural authority for his faith as I have for mine. Yet in this manner many have acted on both sides: some, taking the general precepts and invitations of Scripture for their standard, have rejected the doctrine of discriminating grace; others, taking the declarations of salvation as being a fruit of electing love for their standard, deny that sinners without distinction are called upon to believe for the salvation of their souls. Hence it is that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that it is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do not appear so to us […][1]

Southern Baptists would do well to heed such wisdom. Continue reading

The 3rd Rail: Inability of the Will is Never Literal

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

We in the middle watch with dismay as justification for the extremes of one side is claimed to be based on the extremes of the other (in the ongoing Calvinism/Traditionalism debate). Why ignore the middle position? There are more than two choices here. In fact, both sides can actually come to near agreement on some issues, with a few minor adjustments—adjustments that bring them more in line with sound, Biblical truth. The issue of the inability of sinners is one in desperate need of common sense and Biblical clarity, which will provide some common ground for both sides—that is, for those who are willing to open their eyes and consider what the middle has to offer. Continue reading

The 3rd Rail: Exegetical Problems with Corporate Election

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

Dr. Eric Hankins, the leader of the Southern Baptist Traditionalist movement, sees election as strictly corporate:

The idea that God, in eternity past, elected certain individuals to salvation is a fundamental tenet of Calvinism and Arminianism. The interpretation of this biblical concept needs to be revised. Quite simply, when the Bible speaks of election in the context of God’s saving action, it is always referring to corporate election, God’s decision to have a people for Himself. When the election of individuals is raised in Scripture, it is always election to a purpose or calling within God’s plans for His people as a whole. In the OT, the writers understood election to be God’s choice of Israel, yet they also clearly taught that the benefits of corporate election could only be experienced by the individual Israelite (or the particular generation of Israelites) who responded faithfully to the covenant that had been offered to the whole nation. This trajectory within the OT is unassailable. It is reinforced in the intertestamental literature and is the basis for the way election is treated in the NT. The Bible, therefore, does not speak of God’s choice of certain individuals and not others for salvation. When the Bible does speak of the salvation of individuals, its central concept is “faith,” never “election.”[1]

He offers further, in a footnote, the following: Continue reading

The 3rd Rail: The Call to Believe is Not Without a Promise

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

Imagine how sinners would react if the gospel offered no promise of eternal life to those who believe. If there were no amazing grace, no opportunity for forgiveness, no loving heavenly Father to welcome us into His family, no Savior who gave His life to save us, but only a proclamation that God ought to be worshipped for who He is, and that sin must be punished, would anyone come to God in faith? If only hell awaited—even for believers—would any be willing to pray, “Not my will but Thine be done?” No one would come.

Why does God always provide a promise to go with a call to believe? Continue reading

The 3rd Rail: Why the Middle View is Here to Stay

SBC Calvinianism-Arminianism Spectrum Chart Expanded

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

Calvinists and Traditionalists have been arguing, with varying degrees of amity and enmity, since the SBC was formed. But between these two (with slight overlap of both) is a less argumentative and more cooperative middle view. Because this middle view has commonalities with both Calvinism and Traditionalism, this group has little problem working with pastors and supporting missionaries from either end of the spectrum. However, this ability to cooperate leaves the middle position “out of sight and out of mind,” since we (I count myself among them) usually have little use for “in-house” theological debate*. When we encounter Calvinists who demand that God is the ultimate determiner of the destinies of men, we give a hearty, “Amen!”–and Continue reading

Unwillingness & Inability: A Summary of Andrew Fuller’s Solution

Andrew Fuller

Also published at SBC Open Forum and at SBC Voices

By Ken Hamrick

The theology of Andrew Fuller, as set out in his greatest work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, is centrally located between those Calvinists who see sinners as walking corpses—no more able to believe than a dead body is able to raise itself from the dead—and those of the other side who see sinners as fully enabled by God’s grace to choose (their will being the determining factor). To Fuller, men are able to believe, but will nonetheless remain unwilling until God does a supernatural work of grace to reverse their unwillingness.

Regeneration only causes a man to do what he otherwise could have and should have done but refused. This puts the feet of the universal gospel offer on much more Biblical ground, and removes much of the repugnance of the Calvinist doctrine. The gospel is to be preached to all men because all men do have the ability—and the warrant—to embrace it; and that gospel would save any who do—even the unelect if they would but be willing. Continue reading

Fuller & Inability: A Centrist Response to Tom Nettles

 

Andrew Fuller
Andrew Fuller

Also published at SBC Open Forum.
An Addendum, incorporating the Rejoinder, was added, 11-25-2014.

by Ken Hamrick

[13,200 words…] The focus of the debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists returns ever more often to Andrew Fuller. His theology is ideally suited to bringing the two closer together—not merely by a spirit of cooperation, but closer in doctrinal view—the usual argument over his meaning notwithstanding. There is indeed a middle ground, and it is more Biblical than either side alone. It simply needs to be well articulated, and Fuller is as articulate as they come. It is true that Fuller thought of himself as a standard Calvinist; but his arguments go well beyond Calvinism and toward the center with a Biblical depth and penetrating clarity that has given his writings great value across the last two centuries. Of course, Calvinists want to proudly include this bright light in their number, since he defeated the Hyper-Calvinism of his day and was instrumental in founding the Baptist Missionary Society. But to do so, they must paint over those differences in which he shined the brightest.

Dr. Tom Nettles, a Calvinist and professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted a series of articles on Fuller, at the Founders Ministries blog. Having “taught on Fuller for three decades,”[1] Dr. Nettles seems to have been prompted to post these latest articles by the prospect, offered by Traditionalists, that Fuller’s teachings can be used as a bridge by which Calvinists can become Non-Calvinists.[2] As a Baptist Centrist (one who holds to both unconditional election and the freedom of men to “choose otherwise”), I see Fuller as a bridge by which both sides can gain a better understanding. Continue reading

Toward Theological Reconciliation: Atonement

Also posted at SBC Open Forum and at SBC Voices.

by Ken Hamrick

What you will find below is neither an argument for the Calvinist view nor one for the Traditionalist view of atonement. Both ends of the spectrum have been asking the wrong questions, and the best perspective transcends that old debate. By emphasizing that Christ stood in our place, the debate has perpetually turned on the question of whose place Christ stood in—all or only some? But what has been missed by such an emphasis is that Christ stands in us—and until He stands within a sinner through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, nothing that He did is considered to have been in that sinner’s place. Christ’s death was not an immediate transaction of atonement regarding the sins of those for whom His death was intended to atone, but is instead a universally suitable, one-for-one substitution that must be applied through spiritual union with Him by faith. Continue reading

Who is Guilty of Adam’s Sin? A Centrist Response to Adam Harwood

Also posted at SBC Open Forum and at SBC Voices.

by Ken Hamrick

Adam Harwood spoke at the 2013 John 3:16 Conference, and the paper he presented there is available on the conference e-book at SBC Today. Like Dr. Harwood, I deny that anyone is born condemned for Adam’s sin; but unlike Dr. Harwood, I find in Scripture such a real union of mankind in Adam as to justify the inheriting of all the temporal penalties for Adam’s sin, including the spiritual death and depravity that all are born into Continue reading

Expanded SBC Calvinism-Arminianism Spectrum Chart

Expanded SBC Calvinism-Arminianism Spectrum Chart

  • The chart is intended to represent the spectrum, with those doctrines that are least likely to be held by Calvinists at the top, and those least likely to be held by Traditionalists at the bottom, but with incremental steps toward the middle mapped out. Continue reading

Beyond Traditionalism: Reclaiming Southern Baptist Soteriology

Also Posted at SBC Open Forum.

By Ken Hamrick

[15,400 words…] In May of 2012, Eric Hankins published A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation[1]. It has created quite an uproar. The statement does not provide any real depth of argument, and my initial impression was that it was strongly leaning toward Arminianism, with the exception of eternal security. However, looking more closely into the views of Dr. Hankins, one finds that his earlier paper, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology[2], is the basis for the recent Statement. Continue reading