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 Forgotten Theology of Rights & Revolution

Also published at SBC Voices.

By Ken Hamrick

Was the American Revolution a sinful undertaking? Were the “unalienable rights” written about in the Declaration of Independence not really “endowed by [our] Creator?” It seems to me that the Evangelical church may be forgetting the theological basis upon which our independent nation was established.

Triablogue featured a linked video of an interview of John MacArthur by Ben Shapiro, in which Rev. MacArthur denied that Christians ought ever to be involved in revolutions. Shapiro asks, (at 17:04), “…So, early on, you mentioned that you weren’t sure that the American Revolution is in consonance with biblical values. I was wondering if you could expound on that a little bit, ‘cause I think it’s an interesting idea.” MacArthur replied: Continue reading

Origin of the Soul: A Defense of Paternal Traducianism

Also posted at SBC Open Forum.

By Ken Hamrick

Was your soul newly created for you by God, or was it passed down to you from the previous generations, much like your DNA was, and originally came from Adam? This may seem an obscure question, but it is actually foundational to most of theology. Whether or not you have ever considered the question before, the theology that you hold has built much of its doctrinal understanding upon an assumed answer to this question—and most have assumed that the soul is newly created by God in every case. The paper that follows is an excerpt of the current draft of a much larger work in progress, entitled, Mechanics of Atonement: Restoring Reality to Imputation. There is heavy emphasis on Turretin, since I have not found a more thorough argument than his. [Note: Although early theologians, such as Turretin, refer to the “soul,” it is in a dichotomistic way that is interchangeable with “spirit.” Early tradition used the term, “soul,” almost exclusively to refer to the immaterial component of a man, reserving the term, “spirit,” for the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this was to avoid confusion between the Holy Spirit and the human spirit. The Bible does use “spirit” as well as “soul” when referring to man’s immaterial component or nature (the inner man as opposed to the outer man). Both words are used interchangeably throughout this paper, except where otherwise specified.]

[20,000 words] The spirit is what make us most like God, and makes us everlasting beings. Continue reading