Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hot Anger, Cold Blood

(Almost) every time I post a critique of someone else's blog listing, I get in trouble. But sometimes I just have to comment - they stir up something that I have to work out in my own mind.

The latest Paul Owen post at Communio Sanctorum fits this bill. Instead of Mary, now it's the idea of "Penal Substitution" - or rather, in Owen's case, the strong link between the Atonement and the appeasement of God's anger. He doesn't specifically say what he's writing against, except to call it "a foreign theological framework which emphasizes the anger of God, and the legal demand of just punishment, in a way that is (in my view) foreign to the Bible." That kind of wording will get him into really hot water with some of his Internet foes. What I hope to do here is to ask some questions of Owen's arguments, in a (hopefully) less "hot" tone (pun intended).

1. Owen's first point is that there is no specific mention of the appeasement of God's anger in the passages detailing the sacrificial system, only that the pollution of sin is transfered to the animal sacrifice. Well, OK. But are we to assume *no* connection between our sin and God's anger? That connection is made abundantly clear throughout the Old Testament - just type "anger" or "wrath" into the ESV Search Engine and look up all the verses where these words are attributed to God. Does it also have to be mentioned in the specific sacrificial accounts to be taken into consideration? His treatments of Isaiah 53 and Romans 3 also depend on severing anger from sin, and are flawed to that extent.

2. Owen then claims that God's anger cannot ultimately be satisfied with the destruction of animals, but with the sinners themselves. Just so. But then he goes on to say that Jesus was *not* punished in our place, because the NT does not specifically say so in that language! I think Owen here is making the same mistake that some of those he would castigate does - he's asking for dogmatic/systematic statements from the Bible like our systematic theologies would make. If God does and must punish sin, and our sins were upon Christ, and He died though living a blameless life Himself, does the conclusion that He bore our punishment not follow?

I think that the severing of the connection between our sin and God's anger is the key flaw in Owen's argument. If some sort of link between human sin and divine anger can be drawn - and there is ample biblical evidence that this can be done - then the whole discussion is moot. I'm sure that there *are* people who have overemphasized God's anger, but that is no excuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Surely the appeasement of divine wrath is one of the many benefits that we have received from the Cross of Christ. And it is one for which I, myself, am profoundly greatful.


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