The Evangelical Universalist Forum

"NT conception of the atonement is defeat of dark powers"


(Ok Dave this is not aimed at you) This is one of my main beefs with the evangelicalism I left… this unwitting assumption and the language used whereby those who are apparently outside any meaningful knowledge of God are labelled as “rebels” — it is IMO both crass and ungracious. Do a bible word search on ‘rebel’ and you will find the vast bulk of references speaks directly to or of believers, i.e., God’s people, NOT so-called non-believers.

The bulk of humanity who have not had a meaningful knowledge of God are simply INGNORANT… what the bible has put in terms of “sitting in darkness” — anyone in darkness is NOT by nature evil, bad or whatever, no. Someone in darkness simply doesn’t know where they’re going, i.e., they’re in the dark.

What the world doesn’t want, i.e., invariably rejects, is the bad caricature of God religion has foisted on them — I too reject the same, typically found in the them / us attitude of religianity.


Now correct me if I’m wrong - please, don’t be shy!! :slight_smile: - but I think that classifying people as ‘ignorant’ is missing the boat. I admire your optimism but I don’t see that in the Bible.
Israel was ‘chosen’ and then given Torah, with the plan of God being that Torah would enlarge, blow up, shine a big old spotlight on - sin. I know you know this but others may not. The point being an a forteriori type argument - if the chosen people continued to rebel, and they had the presence of God and the sacrifices and all - how much more the rest of the world, from whom Israel was just a sample?
So though the first covenant was brought to a climax by the sacrifice and resurrection of the Son, the diagnosis passed on Israel still stands. The world is in rebellion. God has reconciled the world to himself, but the world has not accepted that.
Now davo I most heartily agree that there is a YUGE lack of knowledge of the great goodness of God, His Fatherhood and Wisdom - all the good things we know about. But I don’t think that the knowledge of those things, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, will entice a rebel. And though that word ‘rebel’ is not used, the idea behind it is there.
Unless one takes an entirely different model, such as ‘fulfilled grace’ or some such. That would give you some wiggle room, but at what cost?
Now this thread is an atonement thread and like I said, I am working on it as best I can.
Always fun!!

Bob’s paper that I linked to is very good on this.

And if I’m wrong, I take my stand with this guy:
Calvinist Tech Guy Assures Church His Mistakes Were Ordained Before The Foundation Of The World -BabylonBee


YES indeed Dave… I am supremely optimistic in the grace of God — His grace has not failed! IF you consider Saul… he was one of God’s chosen people and indeed proactive in his insolence, and yet in his ignorant unbelief was given mercy (1Tim 1:13) — how much the more-so those without his pedigree in their own ignorant unbelief?

Actually Dave the whole reason Israel suffered as she did was because she had the knowledge… no one else did — where there was no law there was no sin — Israel had law.

yes… now back to normal programming of the thread. :slight_smile:


Well we appear to be in agreement mostly. I also - believe it or not - I am supremely optimistic in the grace of God.

Right. AND she was a sample of humankind, demonstrating that knowledge is not the answer, unless the Holy Spirit ‘quickens’ it.
Back to our previously scheduled program…


Rom 2:12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law

Rom 2:13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;

Rom 2:14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,

Rom 2:15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them )

Rom 2:16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel

Romans 13:1-2 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.

“There is in us all a tendency towards rebellion and independence from God. If you seek this independence… on purpose (by willful decision to reject God and/or His truth)… then God will let you have what you want. If you are an atheist who rejects God, He will let you have that rejection and your heart will become more and more atheistic.”

“If you were to read Romans 1:18-32, you’d see where the wrath of God’s judgment upon the unbelievers is to give them over to the depravity of their hearts and minds. God lets them have what they want.”

Psalm 10:4
In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him; in all his schemes there is no God.


Ezek 33:11 Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’


Saul was in ignorance and blameless re “the righteousness which is in the law” (Phil.3:6).

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (Acts 22:6)

OTOH he spoke of those who are “without excuse” (Rom.1:18-32).


Back to our previously scheduled program Ori…


There is an already, not yet element in the writing of Paul (as I am certain you know). Jesus already dealt with the problem of sin at the cross. According to Romans 5:9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

According to Romans 6 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

According to Romans 8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

According to Romans 2:5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

The not yet element can be seen in 1st Corinthians 15
47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man…56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

I believe that when we are fully clothed in our new humanity we will be free from the final effects of sin and death.

I read your paper and essentially agree with its critique of a lot of Evangelical theology. We are called to live like Jesus. Penal theories are wrong. Our final destination is a restored earth…


Dunscotus, you respond to my questioning your assertions in the past tense that the cross “got rid of sin,” and “got rid of the source of God’s wrath,” by, I think rightly, pointing out that Paul says these things are “not yet.” You cite e.g. Rom. 5:9f which appears to say that being " saved from God’s wrath" was not completed at the cross, but rather remains future based on Jesus’ “life” at work in us.

I think our difference here may just lie in the semantics and tenses, but in short, my impression is that none of these texts speak of “sin” or “wrath” as being already ended, or that this is achieved by the cross in itself. I see them basing the assurance of that future outcome as resting on the future work of Christ’s risen life and the work of his Spirit in us.


Here is in my view the simple ‘reality’ about God’s creation. God in giving man a choice, ‘totally free choice’ man did what man will do. We could argue why did God make man like this, but history has shown that whatever happened, man is what man is. But, we are learning and working and studying and wanting to progress. I believe that is what God wants and wanted from us. Total free choice is a miraculous gift, though the implications and responsibilities are enormous, God let us move on, and that in and of itself is priceless.


Is this what you mean? After all, it says “is defeat of dark powers” - as the thread topic!


I’m guessing that might seem logical :thinking:


Bob, I do think much of what you have brought up is semantics. I agree that Romans 5:9 speaks of God’s future wrath and our future salvation. I would still say that Jesus past act of sacrifice is what allows to escape even the future wrath and allows for our deliverance in the future. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from the stain of sin. His death allows for our death to sin. His resurrection allows for our new life, new life that allows us to live a righteous life. Much of these things affect us into the future and have to be worked out in our lives by the Holy Spirit. When I was posting earlier I was alluding to God’s wrath revealed in Romans 1 which seems to have a conclusion in Romans chapters 3 and 5. These chapter talk about Christ atonement.The mercy seat language in Romans 3 does have to do with the washing away of sin. Chapter 6 talks about dying to sin because of Jesus death. I think the Romans 8 verse I quoted ties the everything together, past present and future…How do you connect God’s wrath in Romans 1 to the discussion in chapter two and three? I don’t think God poured his wrath on his son. But I do think his death dealt with the underlying issue and removed the source of that wrath for believers who walk as Jesus walked…


I actually find the absence of any explicit connection in chapter 3 and elsewhere to the earlier problem of being turned over to God’s wrath is striking. The usual penal interpretation is that Jesus absorbed God’s wrath and thus removed the source of it by satisfying that source, and chapter 3 would be a perfect place to specify that (yet it doesn’t)!

(Rather, as I say in my paper on Penal Substitution: " Instead , it says, “ We are reconciled,” because “ while we were still enemies ,” the cross showed God’s already merciful nature. So, the cross satisfies & “ demonstrates His love,” not his wrath (Rom. 5:6-10). Change is never needed in God’s inclination toward sinners (Mal. 3:6).")

But we seem in agreement that God did not assuage his wrath upon Jesus, and that the connection more implicit here is that the need in avoiding chapter 1’s version of wrath as being turned over to sin is indeed to “walk as Jesus walked.” So if I used your own language that “his death dealt with the underlying issue” and “removed the source of it (i.e. of wrath),” I’d say that it did this not by paying for or removing inevitable wrath toward human imperfection, but by enabling a more righteous life that frees us from slavery to sin.

I’m indebted to David Brondos (Paul and the Cross) for the impression that tormenting Jesus was not necessary for God to be able to forgive. Rather the language of necessity is that the apostles saw (as in Emmaus Road narrative) that it was only recognized as necessary to fulfill the prophets words that deliverance would come out of Israel and especially Israel’s servant’s suffering.

I.e. God had simply chosen that the victory of the resurrection and the availability of Christ’s risen life and the pouring out of the Spirit would only happen historically after a Good Friday kind of event made God’s love and forgiveness graphic. And these realities subsequent to the cross are what allow us to be rescued from sin and from the wrath that goes with continuing in rebellion. As you can see from my summary of Wright on this, I thus see the upshot dynamic of the cross that delivers us from wrath is then more close to the historic atonement views of Christus Victor and of Moral Influence that to Penal Satisfaction theories.


So I continue to think we are much closer than you think… When you quoted my comments and added commentary I think you misunderstood it. “So if I used your own language that “his death dealt with the underlying issue” and “removed the source of it (i.e. of wrath),” I’d say that it did this not by paying or removing inevitable wrath toward human imperfection, but by enabling a more righteous life that frees us from slavery to sin.”

I couldn’t agree more with your last sentence. It was what I was actually alluding to in my original post…

The underlying issue for me is sin, not God’s wrath. I totally reject penal substitution because it makes God’s wrath the main problem. It makes the death of Christ a payment back to God to satisfy his wrath. It makes God’s freely given forgiveness a cold economic transaction. However, by dealing with the main problem, “sin” God reflexively deals with wrath (in other words dealing with sin has a by product). Derek Flood as a nice discussion of this issue in his book called the Healing Gospel which is a form of Christus Victor. The atonement wasn’t focused on dealing with God’s wrath but dealing with sin and new life. I very much like the idea of deification in understanding this process, especially as seen through the lens of Irenaeus’ theory of recapitulation. And yes, I see the whole process as focused on God’s love, not on his anger. I am a universalist and therefore see everything through God’s love. I think Christus Victor still rests on the expiation of sin as a means of bringing us back to God, but not bringing God back to us.

Is it possible that when you saw the word wrath in the first post you responded to, that you automatically read into it some assumptions about how I was using the word? It was probably my short comment on atonement being two sided, which wasn’t very clear! I should have said that atonement was focused on bringing us back to God, not God back to us, but that as a by product it also dealt with God’s wrath against sin which was directed at us! Feel free to quibble with this last point.

One last issue. I agree with David Brandos that God’s forgiveness is freely given. But I think cleansing us from our sins is different than God forgiving our sins. If God had just forgiven our sins, we would still sin. Forgiving my son when he acts up doesn’t stop him from being “naughty.” Jesus’ blood was a cleanser to remove the sins of the world. 1st John 1:7 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, purifies us from all sin.Therefore, the sacrifice was important. Could God have chosen a different means of cleansing our sin? Could he have chosen a different means for our deification? That is a whole other ballgame…


I’d like to briefly summarize a chapter from G.E. Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament. I bought this book in 1974! Before the interweb! There is not even an entry in the index for NT Wright. :open_mouth:
I dug this out yesterday and re-read the chapter on “The Work of Christ - Atonement” and found it useful. I’ve put together a short summary of that chapter under the following headings.

  1. The love of God - “The first thing to be said about the death of Christ is that it is the supreme revelation of the love of God.”
    At the same time that we recognize this, “we must acknowledge that the need for atonement is seen in the wrath of God against sin.” “Whatever modern (!) scholars may do with it, Paul clearly felt that there was neither contradiction nor inconguity between God’s love and his wrath.” Quoting Leon Morris: “Unless we give real content to the wrath of God, unless we hold that men really deserve to have God visit upon them the painful consequences of their wrongdoing, we empty God’s forgiveness of its meaning.”
    “The present point is that Christ’s atoning work does not change God’s wrath to love, for HIs love is itself the source of atonement.”
  2. Sacrificial. “In a number of references Paul distinctly associates the death of Christ with the OT ritual and concept of sacrifice.” As a sin offering (Ro. 8.3) As a slain Paschal lamb (1 Cor 5.7). Frequent references to Christ’s ‘blood’ - “in the NT, ‘blood’ means life violently taken away, offered in sacrifice.” We have redemption in his blood, we are justified by his blood, we are made near to God through his blooks, we have peace through his blood (Eph. 1.7, Ro. 5.9, Eph 2.13, Col. 1.20). “God has made Christ to be the propitiation by his blood” Ro. 3.25 - here he quotes work by J. Behm which I assume has to do with the translation of ‘propitiation’. More on this to follow.
  3. Vicarious. Here we go. He died ‘for us’ I Thess. 5.9 , 'while we were yet sinners Christ dies “for us” Ro. 5.8, was delivered up “for us all” Ro. 8.32, became a curse ‘for us’ Gal. 3.13, he came to give his life as a ransom ‘for many’ Mk. 10.45. (Note - I remember something CS Lewis wrote - “When he died in the wounded world, he died not for mankind but for each man”) V. Taylor: “St. Paul believed that in some (representative) way, Christ acted for men, and that what happened to him was of supreme moment for them” and “What Paul means when he says of God that he made Christ to be ‘sin on our behalf’ is the Christ voluntarily came under the blight of sin, entered into its deepest gloom, and shared with men its awful weight and penalty.”
  4. Substitutionary. “To be sure, we must avoid all crude transactional interpretations. But is it enough to say that Jesus’ death was only ‘representative’ of men? is difficult to resist the conclusion that he not only died FOR me, he died IN MY STEAD, since because of his death, I shall not die. but shall live eternally with him.” “In submitting to the judgment of God upon sin, he has delivered ME from that same judgment. The rationale for this is difficult to understand unless Christ suffered the penalty and judgment of God in stead of the sinner…” "Because Christ died for all, ‘therefore all have died’ 2 Cor. 5.14. “He died not only as my representative, but in my stead, for it is because of his death that I shall be spared that death. He has died my death in my behalf and in my place.” He goes on to a word study on the preposition huper and on some objections. He sums up that the objective fact of Christ’s work is not to be separated from the subjective work; the objective work is not the totality of the doctrine of salvation. Ro. 6.1 ff and Gal 2.20.
  5. Propitiatory. “The death of Christ…also looks Godward, and as such it is propitiary.” This argument all revolves around the difference between ‘propitiation’ and ‘expiation’ and the translations thereof. Ro. 3.24,25 : “They are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a hilasterion by His blood, to be recived by faith.” “This substantive (hilasterion) is derived from the verb exhilaskomai which in Greek literature means to propitiate or appease a person who has been offended.” “This is also true of its use in the Apostolic Fathers.” The OT Septuagint uses this sense in Zech. 7.2, 8.22, Mal. 1.9. “Most significant, while the OT does not speak of appeasing the wrath of God, it is nevertheless true that in many places where the word is used, the wrath of God provides the context for the thought. (my emphasis). In many places atonement is necessary to save life that otherwise would be foreited, apparently because of the wrath of God.” He goes on to point out the very abundant ‘dark background’ passages of God’s attitude toward sinful mankind, and the resultant threats and punishments. “Therefore it seems best to translate…as 'Whom God put forward as a propitiatory (sacrifice). In any case, the object of propitiation is the wrath of God, not merely the sin of man.” (my emphasis).
    An important conclusion “In times past God had seemed to pass over sin. This was due to the divine forbearance; but it appeared that he had not treated sin as it really deserved. In thus appearing to pass over sinm the righteousness and the justic of God seemed to be called into question. The death of Christ removed this apparent reproach against God by demonstrating his righteousness in visiting sin with the judgment it deserved. This was to prove at the present time that God is both just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus. Ro. 3.26” “By virtue of Christ’s death, the divine justice and mercy have both found their perfect realization.’
    But - " (this) must not permit us to…underemphasize the teaching is…a demonstration of divine love that is designed to kindle a loving response in the hearts of men…should result in a transformation of conduct effected by…the power of that love. The MORAL INFLUENCE of Christ’s death on the lives of men is not to be ignored.”
  6. He goes on under the headings of “Redemptive” and 'Triumphant" but I’m going too long here so I’ll leave it at that.
    What are your thoughts on those specific 5 points?


Thank you, you indeed confirm that we share all the basics here. As I put it in my third paragraph, " But we seem in agreement that God did not assuage his wrath upon Jesus, and that the connection more implicit here is that the need in avoiding chapter 1’s version of wrath as being turned over to sin is indeed to “walk as Jesus walked.”" You rightly surmise that my only difficulty was that the language of saying that God dealt with or ended the problem of wrath at the cross overlaps the semantics that Penal Satisfaction often uses, and I do appreciatively recognize that you are not affirming its’ assumptions.


It’s remarkable that I studied under Ladd from 68 to 71 and the syllabus was always chapters from this forthcoming book. And since my current focus is the atonement texts, I dug out his chapter on this last week. (Ladd, with tears, even did my ordination sermon, on the Prodigal Son text, and was a wonderful and stimulating teacher, but…)

My general impression is that Ladd essentially follows Leon Morris (whom I studied Romans with and) who clearly defended a propitiating view of penal satisfaction, and that Ladd thus assumed a view of OT sacrifice that e.g. a recent article by Fuller’s OT prof (John Goldengay) rejects, in seeing it as neither having any thing to do with wrath, nor taking away sins. Thus Ladd’s commitment to ‘hilasterion’ as assuaging divine wrath then puts Ladd in opposition to the argument of many that the better translation of ‘mercy seat’ does not imply propitiation (e.g. Judith Gundry in Evangelical Dictionary of New Testament Words).

So I agree with a lot here, including Ladd’s affirmation of Moral Influence. But fundamentally in short, I think even at a progressive evangelical school, amid reformed assumptions of a classic paradigm of damnation, Ladd promoted a traditional view of the atonement that I found troubling. I think this is part of the reason that he suffered enormous torment when mainline scholars reviews of the book you have were very critical, taking it as a kind of unscholarly fundamentalism that Dr. Ladd saw himself as moving beyond.


You had some great teachers, Bob!
In many ways I am appreciative of Ladd’s work - because in some way, I want to know that Christ died for ME - and you, and each and every person; that intimate living fact between me and what He did ‘in my place’ is a love-and-hope eliciting thing.
But the word ‘for’ in ‘Christ died for us’ turns out to be a real problem, doesn’t it? What do you think is the root cause of the scholarly reaction against Ladd’s exegesis? Is it fundamentally a distaste for the idea that God IS a God of wrath? (Though I do understand TW’s spin on the word - that we should be appreciative of the fact of God’s intentions against sin, understanding sin to be any de-humanizing actions/intentions).
In other words, do you think it is scholars qua scholars that disagree with Ladd, or scholars as people who fundamentally don’t like the idea of a wrathful God?
I may have worded that incorrectly - I hope you understand what I’m asking…