getty up

The other week I mentioned my bad experience with Christian music, so I’m glad to publicly thank the Gettys who recently stood by their inspirational song—and soundtrack to the best response to Love Wins that I’ve ever read—“In Christ Alone.”

As you may have heard, the PCUSA asked them to change the line about Jesus bearing the Father’s wrath. The line that bothers me just a little is the one that says, “Till he returns, or calls us home.” I think that can be sung correctly, though I suspect that many think that means their everlasting home is somewhere else than planet Earth. I believe we must do all we can to fight the scourge of residual Platonism in our churches, so my altered hymnal would read, “Till he returns, and restores our home.” But even without the fix I’ll still joyfully sing the song, and hum that line.

The PCUSA new hymnal committee (not their official name) asked the Gettys to change the line, “Till on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied,” to “Till on the that cross, as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” Some online commenters have wondered what the Gettys have against the love of God. Isn’t that a beautiful replacement?

It is a good line, one that I would gladly sing, except that movement matters. If the previous line was, “Till on that cross, as Jesus died, an example was given, that we abide,” I’d change it to the new one in a minute. But the change here is to explicitly deny that God has wrath for our sin. And if we deny that, the cross makes no sense.

The committee said that the offending line in “In Christ Alone” means “the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.” I’m not sure what they mean by “primarily,” as the cross was equally about defeating sin, death, and Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15). But here’s the thing, penal substitution is precisely the way the cross did these things, so if we deny that Jesus was bearing the Father’s wrath, there is no way to explain how Jesus defeated sin, death, or Satan.

Read these two examples, one from a 19th century Unitarian and the other a 20th century Baptist. Both deny penal substitution, and both admit they can’t explain how Jesus’ death saves us.

1. William E. Channing, “Unitarian Christianity,” in The Works of William E. Channing (1882; reprint, New York:  Burt Franklin, 1970), 378:  “We have no desire to conceal the fact that a difference of opinion exists among us in regard to an interesting part of Christ’s mediation,–I mean, in regard to the precise influence of his death on our forgiveness.  …Many of us…think that the Scriptures ascribe the remission of sins to Christ’s death with an emphasis so peculiar that we ought to consider this event as having a special influence in removing punishment, though the Scriptures may not reveal the way in which it contributes to this end.”

2. Greg Boyd, “Christus Victor View,” in The Nature of the Atonement, ed. James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (InterVarsity, 2006), 37:  “Obviously, this account leaves unanswered a number of questions we might like answered.  E.g., precisely how did Calvary and the resurrection defeat the powers?  In my estimation, the ancient Christus Victor models of the atonement…became incredulous precisely because they too vigorously pressed for details.  …But at the end of the day we must humbly acknowledge that our understanding is severely limited.”

If taking away the wrath of God means you can’t make sense of what happened on the cross, then maybe you took away something important. Put it back, or you’ll have the Father sacrificing his Son for no apparent reason. Which ironically, would be a genuine case of divine child abuse.

7 Comments

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  1. “getty up”, LOL, didn’t figure you for bad puns.

  2. Refer you to Jason Stellman of the blog site Creed Code Cult.
    There are ways to speak of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice other than what you mentioned.
    Also Bryan Cross of the site calledtocommunion.com
    Both of these men were pastors in the Presybyterian Church before entering full communion as Catholics. Both of them you would benefit from interacting with.

  3. Who wrote that “In Christ Alone” book … and where can I get one?

  4. Rev. Z. Bartels August 6, 2013 — 10:27 am

    Don’t forget to tell everyone that your book Don’t Stop Believing has a chapter that lays out the atonement theories marvelously, and shows how Penal Substitution is needed for any of the others to make sense…

  5. Rev. Bryant J. Williams III August 6, 2013 — 11:15 am

    Dear Mike,

    I would think that Romans 1:18 would also be in the mind of those who think about the “wrath of God.” This use of “wrath” goes against the “theology” of Neo-Gnosticism and Neo-Marcionism: the God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New Testament.

    One aspect of Theology Proper is that is anathema to some is the God is Love and is also the God of Wrath. Overemphasis on the one attribute of God leads to under emphasis to another attribute of God. There is a total misunderstanding of how love and wrath co-exist. I remind believers that ALL of God’s attributes exist 100% of the time at ALL times. It is the context that determines what is attribute is being emphasized; that the other attributes are in the background. That does not mean that the other attributes do not exist.

    BTW, the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” last line of “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” is changed to something else by the LDS (Mormons). So this is not the only time people change the words of hymns to reflect their theology.

  6. Boyd’s whole theory of the atonement centers of the idea that Satan was defeated via the cross yet Boyd has no clue HOW, in his view, that happened. I find it interesting that Boyd buries that admission (your quote) in a footnote!

    On the other hand, penal substitution meshes easily with Christus Victor and even gives explanatory power as to how the death of Christ disarmed and defeated Satan. Hebrews 2:14-15 states, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Satan in his hatred against God seeks the eternal damnation of those God loves. Satan himself does not have the power or authority to damn anyone, but he can accuse God of violating his justice and holiness if God leaves sin unpunished. What Jesus came to do was to take that weapon out of Satan’s hand. By propitiating God’s wrath through the substitutionary penal atonement, God demonstrated “his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Without his ability to accuse people of unforgiven sin, or to accuse God of injustice for compromising his holiness, Satan is disarmed and defeated. Thus Penal substitution even explains Christus Victor.

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