Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bathroom Talk

If you’ve been on social media lately, then you’ve probably been inundated by bathroom talk.  Even if you haven’t – even if you’ve been living under a rock - its hard to avoid the recent storm swirling around the HB2 bathroom law.  Why this sudden explosion of controversy?  Why this recent obsession over who can relieve themselves where? 

And what are we, as Christians, to make of it?

According to the available statistics, only between 0.2 and 0.3% of the population identifies as “transgender.”  This is a very small percentage of the US population.[1]  Why then all the sudden brouhaha over bathroom laws for a fraction of a percent of our nation?  

I think the there’s a very good reason for it.  In fact, I think most people understand that this latest, cultural skirmish about gender and bathrooms is more than a political disagreement over public safety or even discrimination.  Conservatives and liberals alike recognize it, even if only intuitively, as a symbolically significant conflict of two radically opposed ideologies.   We’re watching a dramatic clash of a new order against the old.  
The old order is epitomized by the binary signage on our current bathroom doors: Men’s Room and Women’s Room.  It is either/or.  It is anything but genderfluid or genderqueer.  It is gender-discrete, gender-concrete, and gender-given.  It reinforces the traditional presupposition regarding gender as well-defined and biological sex as normative for our personal identities.  To use the modern parlance, it signifies a cisgender tyranny of heteronormativity

On the other hand, the vigorous efforts of the LGTBQA community to change the bathroom laws marks a significant step toward publically codifying a new order, which proposes a seismic shift in our conception of gender and anthropology – that is to say, what it means to be human.  This isn’t merely a move to protect the civil rights of individuals who may experience a form of gender dysphoria.  This is an ideological revolution.  This is why so many Christians have opposed these changes with such adamancy and sometimes, unfortunately, anger.  The classical and Christian conception of man as male and female is being thoroughly deconstructed in a matter of a few decades.   

But then there’s another question.  How should we as Christians respond to this new battle in the culture war?  

Do we boycott Target?  As Aaron Wilson has cogently argued, this is both a shortsighted and finally ineffectual strategy.  

Do we throw our lot in with the rest of the cultural progressives, and support the newly proposed changes to bathroom laws out of “love for neighbor”?  That too is shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating, as I hope to briefly show.  

First, we need to understand that there are many different kinds of “transgender.”  This requires patient listening (reading) and careful thinking.  

Psychologist Mark Yarhouse writes: “Transgender is an umbrella term for the many ways in which people might experience and/or present and express their gender identities differently from people whose sense of gender identity is congruent with their biological sex.”  Under this term could fall the psychological phenomena of Gender Dysphoria in its various expressions (e.g., autoandrophilia, male-to-female androphilia, autogynephilia), intersextranssexualismtransvestism, drag queens and drag kings, third gendergenderqueer, and countless forms of gender bending.  

As strange as it sounds to heteronormative ears, intersex persons are born biologically or genetically gender ambiguous.  In some cases, gender must be selected or “assigned” by parents, in concert with a team of health care professionals.   Granted intersex cases are very rare (0.1-0.2% of the population), they are real nevertheless.  We must account and care for these individuals who are no less created in the divine image.  

Similarly, we need to compassionately understand the phenomenon of Gender Dysphoria (formerly, Gender Identity Disorder).  This diagnosis represents a relatively small number of self-identified transgender individuals.  Only between 0.005 to 0.014 % of adult males and 0.002 to 0.003% of adult females have Gender Dysphoria according to the DSM-5.  And most children clinically diagnosed with this condition do not continue to meet the criteria as they enter adolescence (97.8-70% of diagnosed males and 88-50% of diagnosed females ultimately embrace their birth sex).  My own sister identified as Andrew, wearing my clothes, cutting her hair short, and adopting typically masculine role-playing and games.  This persisted for two years (age 4-6).  But in the second grade she happily embraced her “assigned gender” as Becky, while still maintaining a tomboyish bent.  If you met her today, I don’t think you’d question whether she was socially well adjusted.  Nevertheless, Gender Dysphoria is a very real and often very painful experience – particularly in cases of early-onset.  

As disciples of Jesus, who loved the perceived “misfits,” the alienated and the ashamed, are we not called to compassion, hospitality and generosity toward such persons?  

Moreover, we also need to recognize that many of the supposed gender norms of our culture are in fact social constructs.  You may be aware that the pink and blue colors that we “naturally” associate with female and male, respectively, were actually at one time reversed in American culture: pink, with its reddish hues, was considered masculine and strong, while baby blue was soft and feminine.  Typical masculine hobbies (e.g., hunting, carpentry) or feminine interests (e.g., fashion, design) are more often than not mere personal preferences.  This is to say, we as Christians are not opposed to all deconstructing of society’s gender norms.  After all, many aspects of our culture aren't only artificial but fallen and flawed.  

Consider the example of Christ.  If we acknowledge that, despite some popular depictions to the contrary, Jesus wasn’t effeminate, neither was he stereotypically masculine.  An honest look at his life and ministry challenges some of our current gender norms and expectations (as well as those of his own day).  

In short, Christians should at points be “gender benders,” as disciples of Jesus.

As we make our way through the transgender labyrinth, we need to sort through such distinctions as inter-sex individuals and those suffering from early-onset Gender Dysphoria, from, say, transvestic fetishism, or from men experiencing late-onset autogynephilia (such as Bruce Jenner appears to illustrate) or from those who simply self-identify as genderfluid for political or personal reasons.  This would significantly reduce the percentage of the transgender population we ought to be concerned to protect and honor with our public bathroom codes – as most of us are not particularly keen on changing such laws for the sake of accommodating sexual fetishes or an infinity of idiosyncrasies.  But distinguishing these differences also offers much-needed clarity on an issue where ambiguity seems to be the preference, resulting in an obfuscation of the facts.  We must make such moral distinctions in this debate.  

Secondly, we need to ask the question: how do we love our transgender neighbors like Jesus?  The answer is not (necessarily) embracing their preferred gender identities.  As John Reid writes, “when we accept people for who they want to be, we neglect the people that Jesus made them to be.”  If this is so, how do we attend to the people Jesus made transgendered individuals to be?  How do we attend to the people Jesus made us to be?  

The truth is that transgenderism in general and Gender Dysphoria in particular is a definite and severe brokenness.  As Dr. Yarhouse writes, “the desire to be the other sex is itself a reflection of distress, a conflict that resides within between one’s somatic or phenomenal self and one’s psychological or emotional experience of oneself vis-à-vis one’s gender identity.”  Though we may celebrate some of the gender-bending aspects and traits that a transgendered individual expresses, we do not celebrate their brokenness as those “uncomfortable in their own skin,” as though they were not really broken in their divinely engendered selves. As though any of us are not severely, sexually broken.     

The demand to be tolerated in the bathroom of one's opposite-assigned-gender is fundamentally a refusal to own one's brokenness (just as the fundamentalist’s holier-than-thou posture is a refusal to own their brokenness).  Instead, this human brokenness must be renamed and redefined as one’s valued uniqueness.  Transgender persons must be more than tolerated, we're told.  They must be celebrated.  The conclusion: the heteronormative gateposts must come down.  All the world must conform to our subjective sense of identity - and we must be entirely welcomed in it.  No one is allowed to turn us away or even bat an eye.

What drives this vehemence?  What provokes this passionate pursuit of acceptance?  I think the self-evident answer is shame.  And our very human cry for love.  

With our sexual brokenness comes profound shame.  No one escapes it.  We’re not the way we’re supposed to be.  We’re not comfortable in our own skin.  And no amount of affirmation or displays of self-righteousness or pride parades will prove enough.  We ache for a love that covers us – that re-integrates us.  

But there is an answer to our cry, to our demands for embrace – to graciously relieve our shame and replace it with delight.  It is found, unbelievably, in our Maker (who we’ve spurned).  It is found in God, who, in the person of Christ, has tenderly drawn near to us.  

As we read the Gospels (e.g., John 4:1-42; 8:2-11; Luke 7:36-50), we see Jesus love broken people very differently than we expect God to love.  He loves the sexual outcast, the notorious sinner, the secret pervert (you and me) - not by denying or redefining our brokenness, but by naming it, loving us compassionately nonetheless, and welcoming us to find rest and healing in Him.    

As Jesus’ church, may we follow His lead.  May we own our brokenness in His presence and receive His wholeness in exchange.  May we then offer the same to our broken world.

[1] By way of comparison consider agoraphobia, the neurotic fear of public places or situations - making use of a public bathroom potentially traumatizing.  Even with medication, this can be a debilitating condition.  Roughly 0.8% of the population suffers from this anxiety disorder. That’s nearly 4 times the number of people who identify as transgender.  But where are the protests and demands for new bathroom laws to accommodate this larger portion of our population?   

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Logic Chopping at the Flagpole

Too many times I’ve been guilty of acting like this guy. 

The ironic “fallacy fallacy” is a frequent mistake among sharp-eyed critics who tend to miss the forest for the trees.  It is the logical fallacy that presumes a claim is necessarily false because it’s been argued with faulty reasoning.  But of course arguments can be both invalid and true.  Logic-chopping isn’t enough. 

Sometimes the truth value of such invalid arguments turns out to be true by simple, dumb luck.  Sometimes they’re true because behind a badly stated argument stands a valid chain of reasoning.  This is often the case with the so-called slippery slope or consequentialist fallacy. 

The problem with decrying “slippery slopes” with impunity is that, in our helter-skelter landscape, slopes often are slippery.  Not only can Z follow A, even when it can’t be shown to follow, but sometimes, upon closer examination, we see Z coming.  The necessity of considering such consequences is of course notorious in jurisprudence; hence the significance of legal precedent.  The steep and slippery slope of redefining marriage is currently being examined by the justices of the Supreme Court - either with fear and trembling or foolhardy bravado.  But no one is intelligently denying the slope, or that a certain gravity pulls us down it.     

Having said that, Doug Wilson’s recent post on the question of “the flag” is guilty of a number of logical fallacies.  But his conclusions are not all, therefore, without merit.  As usual, Wilson makes many deft observations and draws not a few insightful connections.  For instance, Wilson is quite right to expose our barefaced, national hypocrisy in chanting “black lives matter!” as we blissfully ignore the 5,250 black lives destroyed since the Charleston shooting last week.  All forms of racial discrirmination are to be addressed; how much more so the practical genocide against black children in America through the abortion industry?  With such blatant hypocrisy among us (including, shamefully, evangelicals), one might be forgiven for wondering whether the tears shed by so many in the public square aren’t more reptilian than humane. 
In the meantime, the kind of Christian leader who gets worked up over a decal on a pick-up truck belonging to the sort of good old boy who spends half of every paycheck at Cabela’s, but who has no visceral reaction whatever to that big Planned Parenthood logo which he drives by every day, where today’s horrors are actually being perpetrated, is not, apart from repentance, going to be part of the reformation we so desperately need.
Amen, brother Wilson!  Nevertheless, the overarching bent of his argument slopes downward.  In sum, he argues: to yield to the demands of “take down the flag” will only take us further down the path of destruction.  The justification he offers for this appeal to a slippery slope is a supposed “false principle.”
If you admit a false principle into the settlement of public disputes like this one — and I hate to be the one to bring you the sorrowful tidings — the false principle does not disappear when the dispute does. It remains there, propped up in the corner, cocked and loaded, waiting for the next dispute. And because of the times we live in, there will be a next dispute, probably in about three weeks.
I find his reasoning here sound.  If “a false principle” is admitted into the settlement of a dispute, we should not be surprised to see this false principle re-applied, with perhaps greater authority, in the next dispute.  Precedent.  But the question I have is whether the premise is true.  Has a false principle been admitted into the settlement of this dispute?  What is the principle in question?
If you want me to believe that the flag in South Carolina should come down because of sins x, y, and z, then I am simply inquiring why another flag should not come down because of far more heinous sins X, Y, and Z.  
But here I think Wilson is guilty of a fallacy of ambiguity, namely equivocation. The other flag he refers to here is the American flag, under the banner of which, Wilson points out, many atrocities have been committed.  This is true enough.  But the comparison collapses at the critical point.  To equate the American flag vis-à-vis the varied sins of our republic “for which it stands,” to the peculiar significance of the Confederate flag(s) - particularly the battle flag as it’s been used in the Post-Civil War South - vis-à-vis the American institution of slavery and its attendant racism, is an equivocation.  The particular history of the flag and its use bears this out for any honest inquirer.

Later, Wilson articulates the supposed false principle in this way:
…what matters is [one’s] feelings and not the facts as understood and processed by millions of other people, and scores of subcultures…
But isn’t the case being made that the flag is so “understood and processed by millions of other people, and scores of subcultures”?  No doubt, some are arguing for the flag’s removal on what amounts to the subjective grounds of private interpretation, and this would be a poor argument, even if the conclusion were true.  However, the facts appear to justify the predominant understanding regarding the flag’s negative, racial connotations.    

But perhaps more importantly Wilson’s slippery slope argument is bound up with a significant ad hominem fallacy.  The problem isn’t primarily the flag and its placement; it’s who wants to take it down.  Though he does “want to replace the flag” – why, I am not sure – his concern is that such action will only collude with and further confirm the cultural hegemony of them. As he puts it, “to simply go along with what they are currently demanding is to help establish their authority to demonize.”  And who’s “them”? 
…the people behind all our symbol controversies are the same people. Their fellow-travelers change, as do their tools and patsies, but they are relentless about the same thing, over and over again. They say that a “heritage not hate” sticker really “is too” hate. But do you really want to put them in charge of what is “really hate”? They are the same people who say that bakers who will only put hetero-figurines on top of their cakes are driven by hate too.
It gets worse from there.  Here I cannot follow Wilson.  To throw everyone who’s making a case for the removal of the flag into one category - particularly this category - is clear guilt by association (and perhaps a bit paranoid).  But when we group together the proponents of a position into one, monolithic entity, we blur what each is actually arguing.  Moreover, when we assume such motives and agendas behind each proponent’s stance, we literally become prejudiced.       

Because Wilson carries this “conspiracy reading” of the events and their significance, he cannot avoid the slippery slope fallacy.  Give an inch to “these people,” and they’ll take a mile!  It loses the particulars of the issue at hand in zooming out to the broader issues of the culture war.  He’s missing the trees for the forest.  Wilson is not wrong about this war.  But I’m afraid he’s overlooking the battle before us.  This is a frequent mistake in ideological warfare – one that, ironically, militates against our Christian duty to stand for truth, especially when it’s found on the lips of “them.”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What's Wrong with Penal Substitution, Pt II

 In our previous post, we considered the oft-repeated charge that the PSA (Penal, or as I prefer, Piacular Substitutionary Atonement) model is something of a “Johnny-come-lately” of biblical interpretation, and peculiar to the Protestant tradition.  However, as we saw, a brief survey of the history of this doctrine exposes this claim as more overstatement than careful observation.  Neither is it particularly enlightening in comprehending the Church’s multifaceted articulation of the nature and character of God’s redemptive work in Christ, as I hope to demonstrate.

Part II: PSA is Too Narrow 

On that note, we begin our address of the second objection typically raised against PSA.  Namely, it is too narrow theologically.  By this I mean to capture three objections:
  1. PSA is too one dimensional to support the full orbed redemption Christ accomplished, which entails the three aspects of the (a) righteousness of God, (b) restoration or “deification” of mankind, and (c) removal of the Devil’s tyranny (cf. John 12:31-33).[1]
  2. PSA, as a systematic-theological development of the medieval scholastic and early modern Church, is too rationalistic. 
  3. PSA, as an explication “drawn from the world of contemporary legal and political thought [of Reformed theologians],”[2] is too legalistic and impersonal.  

PSA is too One Dimensional  

To address the first objection, we agree that, if PSA were presented as the sum-total of Christ’s work on the cross, then it would indeed be too narrow.  However, what proponents of PSA have actually done this?[3]  Despite the representation of some its critics, PSA is not an “either/or” proposition with respect to other aspects of the atonement.  A mutually exclusive relationship among the various models, rather than a fundamental complementarity, is all too often the operating prejudice.  As J.I. Packer writes,
It is a pity that books on the atonement so often take it for granted that accounts of the cross that have appeared as rivals in historical debate must be treated as intrinsically exclusive.  This is always arbitrary, and sometimes quite perverse.[4] 
So much ground would be gained in this debate if we could simply agree to lay aside this unwarranted assumption.  In fact, assuming the opposite supposition – that these various models are more correlative than exclusive – in approaching the history of this doctrine would render our reading of the Church’s varied articulations of the atonement far more coherent. Otherwise, it would appear that nearly every major theologian of the Church, from the Reformation back to the Apostolic Fathers, was thoroughly self-contradictory and confused in their understanding of Christ’s work on the cross.

John Calvin, the reformational proponent par excellence of PSA, consistently taught that Christ’s atoning death, while propitiating the wrath of God on our behalf, simultaneously conquered “the ruler of this world.”[5]  The same “classical” emphasis can be found in Luther, as Gustaf Aulén has famously pointed out.[6] Anselm of Canterbury, though seeking to address problems with the prevailing classical model with his “satisfaction theory,” nevertheless maintained that Christ’s work had as its aim the decisive defeat of Satan.[7]  As we considered, Anselm’s model does not mark the dramatic break from patristic orthodoxy regarding the work of redemption so often presumed by many of his critics (both East and West), but rather a closer inspection of its “inner logic”:
Anselm is already situated in the Christian theological tradition, he already knows that Christ has recapitulated human nature in himself and conquered evil on our behalf; it is from this narrative that Anselm has undertaken a (by no means final or exclusive) reduction of the tale, in order better to grasp the inner necessity of its sacrificial logic. He pauses for one critical moment, to contemplate the cross as the grave inner meaning … of God's condescension.[8]
And rather than resulting, finally, in a reduction or disintegration of the Church’s varied reflections on the atonement, Anselm’s achievement, “related the three parties [i.e., God, humanity, and the spiritual forces of evil] to one another,” Pelikan observes, giving “systematic form to the biblical and liturgical identification of the work of Christ as sacrifice.”  The great Thomas Aquinas well understood this compatibility and coherence of the classical model within the “satisfaction theory” of his predecessor:
By sin man contracts a twofold obligation.  First, he is bound in slavery to sin…  Because, then, the devil had overcome man by inducing him to sin, man was delivered into the bondage of the devil.  Secondly, by sin man was held to the debt of punishment according to divine justice… As therefore Christ’s passion provided adequate, and more than adequate satisfaction for man’s sin and debt, his passion was as it were the price of punishment by which we are freed from both obligations.”[9]
Moreover, such presumed compatibility is evidenced in the church fathers centuries before Anselm. Recall the three patristic “theories” of the atonement highlighted by J.N.D. Kelly, which correspond roughly to the three parties noted above: the recapitulation or physical theory (mankind), the ransom or classical theory (the Devil), and the “realist theory,” focusing on the punitive and substitutionary dimensions of Christ’s work as sacrifice (God). 

No doubt many of the varied articulations of these theories within the early church were “to all appearance unrelated and even mutually incompatible, existing side by side and sometimes sponsored by the same theologian.”[10] These represented a lack of systematic reflection.[11]  In such cases, the standards and confessions of the Church, grounded in her Scriptures and liturgical traditions, provided the boundaries within which a theology of redemption was articulated, and often balanced – over-against the peculiar emphases of various theologians.  For instance, though Clement of Alexandria can employ the conventional phrases regarding Christ’s work (i.e., ransom on our behalf, redemption through his blood, offering himself as a sacrifice, conquering the devil, interceding for us with the Father, etc.) his “most frequent and characteristic thought is that Christ is the teacher,” who, “became man so that you might learn from man how man may become God.”[12]  Similarly, though Origen could speak of Christ’s atonement in plain, substitutionary and penal terms,[13] such assertions, “if taken in their literal sense, cannot logically be harmonized with the rest of his system.”[14] 

However, the incoherence of some of the early father’s under-developed doctrinal reflections in this area does not characterize the entire patristic period.  Addressing the doctrine in the fourth and fifth centuries, Kelly writes:
These various theories, however, despite appearances, should not be regarded as in fact mutually incompatible.  They were all of them attempts to elucidate the same great truth from different angles; their superficial divergences are often due to the different Biblical images from which they started, and there is no logical reason why, carefully, stated they should not be regarded as complementary.[15]
A more developed interconnection among these various aspects is evidenced in the mature reflections of Athanasius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrystostom, Ambrose, Hilary, etc.[16] In the West, Augustine brings the reflections of the early Church to a sublime culmination, synthesizing every major model of the atonement.[17]  Cyril of Alexandria is representative in the East,[18] articulating a similarly integrated doctrine:
Now that Lamb, foreshadowed of old in types, is led to the slaughter as a spotless sacrifice for all in order to do away with the sin of the world, to overthrow the destroyer of mankind, to annihilate death by dying for all, to rid us of the curse which lay upon us… For when we were guilty of many sins, and for that reason were liable to death and corruption, the Father gave His son as a ransom, one for all…For we were all in Christ, Who died on our account and in our stead and rose again.  But sin being destroyed, how could it be that death, which springs from sin, should not be destroyed as well?[19]
Note that the redemption of mankind from death and the “destroyer” springs from Christ’s piacular sacrifice in our stead.  Likewise, Augustine “sets our emancipation from the Devil in the true perspective, regarding it as consequent upon, and thus subordinate to, the reconciliation [between God and man through Christ’s sacrifice].”[20] (Also noteworthy here is Cyril's connection between our union with Christ, as an expression of the physical or recapitulation ‘strain’ of Christian reflection on Christ’s work, and the efficacy of the cross as sacrifice - more on that below.) 

In other words, we’re seeing developed, in rudimentary form, a theological rationale correlating the various “theories” – not just a confessional regurgitation of the different models in haphazard juxtaposition.  And this rationale centers on an understanding of the atonement as sacrifice.  This of course anticipates the later work of Anselm and Aquinas in comprehending the classical model within the framework of “satisfaction.”

Though some of the fathers construed Christ’s death as a ransom paid to the Devil – while yet others[21] were sharply critical of such a notion (a criticism that would thankfully prevail in the Church) – the patristic witness was univocal in its understanding of Christ’s sacrifice as directed toward God, an offering made to the Father. To whom else would our Lord offer sacrifices?  But the larger question was what this self-offering to God effected within the divine economy.  To be sure, many of the church fathers failed to adequately appreciate the nexus between sin, death and the Devil as engendered by the Law itself (e.g., 1Cor.15:54-57; Col.2:13-15; Gal.3:10-14)[22] - and this as the express will and action of the Lawgiver Himself.[23]  However, the Church of the fourth and fifth century begins to “connect the dots.”  These dots are then explicitly charted and connected in the high and late medieval Church, and then drawn with bold and decisive lines during the Reformation.

PSA is too Rationalistic[24] 

But are these lines too sharp, too definite?  Do they represent an overly rationalizing tendency of the Western Church? In many aspects, yes, many of the ablest articulations of PSA were progressively rationalistic.[25]  J.I. Packer, noting the considerable impact of Socinus’ rationalistic critique of PSA in the 16th century, writes that,
… in trying to beat Socinian rationalism at its own game, Reformed theologians were conceding the Socinian assumption that every aspect of God’s work of reconciliation will be exhaustively explicable in terms of a natural theology of divine government, drawn from the world of contemporary legal and political thought. Thus, in their zeal to show themselves rational, they became rationalistic. Here as elsewhere, methodological rationalism became in the seventeenth century a worm in the Reformed bud, leading in the next two centuries to a large-scale withering of its theological flower.[26] 
However, such rationalistic articulations and defenses of PSA are neither its exclusive form nor inherent to it.  John Calvin, for instance, though clearly expounding the cross of Christ as a punitive and substitutionary death to propitiate the wrath of God (and thereby expiate our sins and defeat the Devil), explains:
The word propitiation (placatio; Greek, ἱλασμός) has great weight: for God, in a way that cannot be put into words (ineffabili quodam modo), at the very time when he loved us, was hostile (infensus) to us till he was reconciled in Christ.[27] 
We must keep in mind that PSA, like all interpretive models of Scripture, has an analogical character.  This means the model can never fully exhaust the (ineffable) divine realities it is constructed to represent.  In other words, the analogy always breaks down at certain points.  We therefore conclude with Packer:
If we bear in mind that all the knowledge we have of the atonement is of a mystery about which we can only think and speak by means of models, and which remains a mystery when all is said and done, it will keep us from rationalistic pitfalls and thus help our progress considerably.[28]  

PSA is too Legalistic and Impersonal 

In response to this common critique, the great champion of substitutionary atonement, James Denney, wrote:
Few things have astonished me more than to be charged with teaching a “forensic” or “legal” or “judicial’ doctrine of Atonement. . . . There is nothing that I should wish to reprobate more whole-heartedly than the conception which is expressed by these words.[29]
Denney’s adamant response, though somewhat peculiar to his distinctive articulation of the doctrine,[30] reflects the reductionistic understanding many proponents of PSA feel its critics maintain.  As the reconciliation between God and man, Christ’s atonement could be nothing short of personal.  If the forensic and legal aspects of the cross imply for some an impersonal character, then perhaps a reconsideration of the significance of these metaphors is in order.  The moral dimensions of sin, law, and death should not be emptied of their fundamentally personal import.  We recall that the law, and the forensic metaphorical domain it invokes, reflects not merely on divine statutes and sanctions, but, finally, the nature and character of the God it reveals, and our relation to Him as it is thereby mediated.  Whether in blessing or curse, God’s response to us through the law is never, “It’s nothing personal, kid.”  P.T. Forsyth notes that, in bearing the condemnation of the law,
…what Christ bore was not simply a sense of the connection between the sinner and the impersonal consequences of sin, but a sense of the sinner’s relation to the personal vis-à-vis of an angry God. God never left him, but He did refuse Him His face. The communion was not broken, but its light was withdrawn.[31]
Though we can overstate the legal or forensic dimension of Christ’s death (and resurrection), we cannot eschew or circumvent it if we are to remain faithful to the tradition of the apostles.  Far from being an idiosyncrasy of Western scholasticism or reformed theology,[32] as we’ve already seen, the understanding of Christ’s death as entailing a moral and legal penalty endured in our stead is as ancient as the Church itself.  Moreover, though these forensic metaphors of crime, sentencing, transfer of guilt, etc., are analogies, and therefore cannot be pressed at every point, they have nevertheless been profitably employed for the edification of the Church in her teaching and preaching for millennia.[33]

Finally, Christ’s work as our piacular substitute was necessarily and profoundly personal as it involved the mysterious union between “very God of very God” and fallen humanity.  Recall that the three dominant “theories” of the fathers found integration around the concept of Christ as sacrifice. Once again Cyril of Alexandria is representative here:
The Only-begotten became man…in order that, submitting to the death which threatened us as the punishment of our sins, He might thereby destroy sin and put an end to Satan’s incriminations, inasmuch as in the Person of Christ we had paid the penalty owing for our sins.[34] 
However, as we noted earlier in citing Cyril, the efficacy of Christ’s death as sacrifice is understood as presupposing our union with Him: in the Person of Christ we had paid the penalty.”  These theories, then, interpenetrate and presuppose one another - particularly the recapitulation/physical theory and realist/sacrificial theory.[35]  As we noted earlier in citing Cyril, the efficacy of Christ’ death as sacrifice was understood as presupposing our union with Him.  This is precisely how J.N.D. Kelly conceives the prevailing understanding of the atonement among the fathers:
Running through almost all the patristic attempts to explain the redemption there is one grand theme which, we suggest, provides the clue to the fathers’ understanding of the work of Christ.  This is none other than the ancient idea of recapitulation which Irenaeus derived from St. Paul, and which envisages Christ as the representative of the entire race  … Because, very God as He is, He has identified with the human race, Christ has been able to act on its behalf and in its stead; and the victory He has obtained is the victory of all who belong to Him.  All the fathers, of whatever school, reproduce this motif … The various forms of sacrificial theory frankly presuppose it, using it to explain how Christ can act for us in the ways of substitution and reconciliation.  The theory of the Devil’s rights might seem to move on a rather different plane, but it too assumes that, as the representative man, Christ is a fitting exchange for mankind held in the Devil’s grasp.[36]
So on the one hand, substitution presupposes union.  On the other hand, apart from Jesus giving His “flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51), our mystical union with Him would never be realized to any effect. The doctrine of union with Christ is inextricably bound up then with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.  Without our solidarity and union with Christ, by His humiliation and incarnation, He could not act as our representative and substitute.[37]  Without acting in our place as substitute in bearing our sin and conquering the devil and death on our behalf, our union with Christ would be ineffective to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. 

And so we see a beautiful tapestry of these major themes - recapitulation or solidarity, piacular substitution, and Christus Victor - threaded together from the apostle Paul, through Irenaeus, on through Athanasius, to Gregory of Nazianzus, to Chrysostom, to Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria, and on to Anselm and Aquinas, through Luther and Calvin … and into our own day.  What has been so painstakingly and perspicaciously weaved together, let us not then unravel.

[1] Hugo St. Victor aptly summarized the work of the atonement as involving a “transaction between these three parties: mankind, God, and the devil,” cited in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Chrisitan Tradition, Vol.3, op.cit., p.130.  
[2] J.I. Packer, regarding most especially post-reformational “scholastics,” in response of Socinus’s rationalistic critiques of PSA (In My Place Condemned He Stood, op.cit., p.56).  See more below.
[3] “We agree that a comprehensive doctrine of the atonement must include other themes beside penal substitution.  But then again, we have never read a proponent of penal substitution who claims that penal substitution is the only motif connected with the atonement in the Scriptures.  Green and Baker fail to document a single case [referring to their critique of PSA in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in the New Testament and Contemporary Contexts], and one wonders therefore whether they are not shooting a non-existent target,” Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2007), p.210.
[4] In My Place, op.cit., p.73.
[5] According to Robert Peterson, “One of Calvin’s favorite themes of the atonement was Christ as victor, who conquers the foes of His people,” (Calvin’s Doctrine of the Atonement [P&R, 1983], p. 46). 
[6] However, because he assumes an exclusivity of the models, Aulén wrongly construes Luther’s Christus Victor articulations as precluding any operative PSA model.
[7] Anselm summarizes the purpose of Christ's advent in these words: “he who was to assume humanity was to come to do battle against the devil.”
[8] David Bentley Hart, “A Gift Exceeding Every Debt,” Pro Ecclesia Vol.VII, No.3, p.344.
[9] Summa Theologiae, 3a.Q48, art.4. 
[10] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York; HaperCollins, 1978), rev.ed., p.375. 
[11] E.g., regarding Tertullian, Kelly writes, “A fresh approach might have been expected from Tertullian, whose legal outlook led him to emphasize the necessity of reparation for offenses committed, and who transferred the idea to theology.  Thus he has the theory that good deeds accumulate merit with God, while bad deeds demand 'satisfaction' - we observe the introduction of this important conception into Christian thought.  Taken in conjunction with his doctrine of original sin, it might have enabled him to deal in a fresh way of his own with the problem of the atonement.  In fact, however, while using his ideas about satisfaction to explain the restoration of relations between the individual sinner and God, he altogether fails to apply them to the mediatorial role Christ. He lays greater stress, indeed, on Christ's death than does Irenaeus,...[His] thoughts, however, while they may well contain the germ of a doctrine of substitution, are nowhere expanded or worked into a synsthesis...,” p.177.  Regarding the later fathers, he writes: “The student who seeks to understand the soteriology of the fourth and early fifth centuries will be sharply disappointed if he expects to find anything corresponding to the elaborately worked out syntheses which the contemporary theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation presents.  In both these latter developments controversy forced fairly exact definition on the Church, whereas redemption not become a battle-ground for rival schools until the twelfth century, when Anselm’s Cur deus homo (c.1097) focused attention on it,” p.375.
[12] Ibid., p.184.  Kelly concludes: “It is clear that Clement’s soteriology issues in a Christ-mysticism in which the Lord’s passion and death have little or no redemptive part to play.”
[13] Kelly writes, “Origen was prepared to interpret Christ’s death as an act of vicarious substitution or propitiatory sacrifice.  He is indeed the first of the fathers to treat this aspect of the Lord’s work in full detail, and he conceives of His death, not simply as an obedient surrender to God’s will, but as an offering which has positive influence on the Father,” Ibid., p.186.  E.g., Origen writes, echoing the language of Scripture, “[Christ] too has borne our sins and has been bruised because of our iniquities, and the punishment which was owing to us, in order that we might be chastised and might obtain peace, has fallen on Him.” 
[14] Ibid., p.187.
[15] Ibid., p.376.
[16] See Ibid., pp.377-390
[17] Namely, recapitulation, satisfaction, ransom, and even moral influence. E.g.,We could never have been delivered even by the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, had He not been God as well.  When Adam was created, he was of course righteous, and a mediator was not needed.  But when sin placed a wide gulf between mankind and God, a mediator was called for Who was unique in being born, in living and in being slain without sin, in order that we might be reconciled to God and brought by the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life.  Thus through God’s humility human pride was rebuked and healed, and man was shown how far he had departed from God, since the incarnation of God was required for his restoration.  Moreover, an example of obedience was given by the God-man; and the Only-begotten having taken the form of a servant, which previously had done nothing to deserve it, a fountain of grace was opened, and in the Redeemer Himself the resurrection of the flesh promised to the redeemed was enacted by anticipation.  The Devil was vanquished in that selfsame nature which he gleefully supposed he had deceived,” Enchiridion, 108.
[18] Kelly writes, “working on the soteriological insights of his predecessors, [Cyril] produced a synthesis which remained influential until John of Damascus published his classic reformulation of Greek theology in the eighth century,” Ibid., p.396.
[19] Ibid., p.398.
[20] Kelly, op.cit., p.395. 
[21] E.g., Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “It is worth our while to examine a point of doctrine which is overlooked by many but seems to me deserving of examination.  For whom, and with what object, was the blood shed for us, the great and famous blood of God, our high-priest and sacrifice, outpoured?  Admittedly we were held in captivity by the Devil, having been sold under sin and having abdicated our happiness in exchange for wickedness.  But if the ransom belongs exclusively to him who holds the prisoner, I ask to whom it was paid, and why.  If to the Devil, how shameful that that robber should receive not only a ransom from God, but a ransom consisting of God Himself, and that so extravagant a price should be paid to his tyranny before he could justly spare us!” Orations 45, 22.
[22] The fathers often noted these connections, but did not always reflect adequately on them.  E.g., Athanasius, connecting death to divine punishment for sin, writes: “It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die…it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon his word regarding death,” On the Incarnation, 6-7. Cf. “Have no fear, then. Now that the common Savior of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfillment of the threat of the law,” 4:21. And, “He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He “become a curse” otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written “Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree,” 4:25. 
[23] This is a connection lost on many modern theologians as well.  One Eastern Orthodox writer, for instance, dismissing PSA, simply asserts: “Christ died, not to appease God the Father, but to rescue mankind (you and me) from death! That was “to whom” he sacrificed himself – the existential/ontological reality of death.”  But of course, this totally fails to grasp the obvious point: death’s only “ontological reality” is that which God Himself has given it in decreeing death the penalty of sin. 
[24] I am heavily indebted in this section to Packer’s essay, What Did the Cross Achieve: The Logic of Penal Substitution.
[25] Gustaf Aulén, though unfairly characterizing all expositions of PSA in this way, nevertheless has a point in his comment: “[The Latin account of the atonement] concentrates its effort upon a rational attempt to explain how the Divine Love and the Divine Justice can be reconciled. The Love of God is regulated by His Justice, and is only free to act within the limits that Justice marks out. Ratio and Lex, rationality and justice, go hand in hand. . . The attempt is made by the scholastics to elaborate a theology which shall provide a comprehensive explanation of the Divine government of the world, which shall answer all questions and solve all riddles. . . .” Christus Victor, tr. A. G. Hebert, (SPCK, London; 1931, p. 173f.).  Packer responds: “What Aulén fails to note is how much of this implicitly rationalistic cast of thought was a direct reaction to Socinus’ rationalistic critique. In fact, Aulén does not mention Socinus at all; nor does he refer to Calvin, who asserts penal substitution as strongly as any, but follows an exegetical and Christocentric method which is not in the least scholastic or rationalistic. Calvin shows no interest in the reconciling of God’s love and justice as a theoretical problem; his only interest is in the mysterious but blessed fact that at the cross God did act in both love and justice to save us from our sins. Cf. P. van Buren, Christ in our Place: the substitutionary character of Calvin’s doctrine of Reconciliation, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh (1957),” In My Place, op.cit., p.56, fn.4. 
[26] Packer’s observation is worth noting at length: “Every theological question has behind it a history of study, and narrow eccentricity in handling it is unavoidable unless the history is taken into account. Adverse comment on the concept of penal substitution often betrays narrow eccentricity of this kind. The two main historical points relating to this idea are, first, that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon and their reforming contemporaries were the pioneers in stating it [which we responded to in the first post] and, second, that the arguments brought against it in 1578 by the Unitarian Pelagian, Faustus Socinus, in his brilliant polemic De Jesu Christo Servatore (Of Jesus Christ the Saviour) have been central in discussion of it ever since. …What Socinus did was to arraign this idea as irrational, incoherent, immoral and impossible. Giving pardon, he argued, does not square with taking satisfaction, nor does the transferring of punishment from the guilty to the innocent square with justice; nor is the temporary death of one a true substitute for the eternal death of many; and a perfect substitutionary satisfaction, could such a thing be, would necessarily confer on us unlimited permission to continua in sin. Socinus’ alternative account of New Testament soteriology, based on the axiom that God forgives without requiring any satisfaction save the repentance which makes us forgivable, was evasive and unconvincing, and had little influence. But his classic critique proved momentous: it held the attention of all exponents of the Reformation view for more than a century, and created a tradition of rationalistic prejudice against that view which has effectively shaped debate about it right down to our own day.  The almost mesmeric effect of Socinus’ critique on Reformed scholastics in particular was on the whole unhappy. It forced them to develop rational strength in stating and connecting up the various parts of their position, which was good, but it also led them to fight back on the challenger’s own ground, using the Socinian technique of arguing a priori about God as if he were a man — to be precise, a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century monarch, head of both the legislature and the judiciary in his own realm but bound nonetheless to respect existing law and judicial practice at every point. So the God of Calvary came to he presented in a whole series of expositions right down to that of Louis Berkhof (1938) as successfully avoiding all the moral and legal lapses which Socinus claimed to find in the Reformation view. But these demonstrations, however skillfully done (and demonstrators like Francis Turretin and Hodge, to name but two, were very skilful indeed), had built-in weaknesses. Their stance was defensive rather than declaratory, analytical and apologetic rather than doxological and kerygmatic. They made the word of the cross sound more like a conundrum than a confession of faith — more like a puzzle, we might say, than a gospel. What was happening? Just this: that in trying to beat Socinian rationalism at its own game, Reformed theologians were conceding the Socinian assumption that every aspect of God’s work of reconciliation will be exhaustively explicable in terms of a natural theology of divine government, drawn from the world of contemporary legal and political thought. Thus, in their zeal to show themselves rational, they became rationalistic. Here as elsewhere, methodological rationalism became in the seventeenth century a worm in the Reformed bud, leading in the next two centuries to a large-scale withering of its theological flower,” Packer, In My Place, op.cit., p.54-56. 
[27] Ibid., p.61, bold script added.
[28] Ibid., p.64.  Along these lines, and anticipating the next objection, A.H. Strong writes, “This substitution is unknown to mere law, and above and beyond the powers of law.  It is an operation of grace that does not suspend the law, but…fulfills it.” Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books ,1976), pp.751, 752.
[29] James Denney, The Death of Christ, 2nd ed., including The Atonement and the Modern Mind, (Hodder and Stoughtons, London; 1911) 271f.
[30] According to Packer, Denney “overstates” the matter when he continues: “To say that the relations of God and man are forensic is to say that they are regulated by statute — that sin is a breach of statute — that the sinner is a criminal — and that God adjudicates on him by interpreting the statute in its application to his case. Everybody knows that this is a travesty of the truth.”  However, he notes, Denney does affirm: “first, that ‘the relations of God and man . . . are personal, but . . . determined by (moral) law’; second, ‘that there is in the nature of things a reaction against sin which when it has had its perfect work is fatal, that this reaction is the divine punishment of sin, and that its finally fatal character is what is meant by Scripture when it says that the wages of sin is death’; third, that ‘the inevitable reactions of the divine order against evil... are the sin itself coming back in another form and finding out the sinner. They are nothing if not retributive’; and, fourth, ‘that while the agony and the Passion were not penal in the sense of coming upon Jesus through a bad conscience, or making Him the personal object of divine wrath, they were penal in the sense that in that dark hour He had to realise to the full the divine reaction against sin in the race . . . and that without doing so He could not have been the Redeemer of that race from sin’. It seems to me that these affirmations point straight to a way of formulating the penal substitution model which is both moral and personal…,” In My Place, op.cit., p.81.
[31] P.T. Forsyth The Work of Christ, (Hodder and Stoughton, London; 1910), p. 243.
[32] In their book, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Joel Green and Mark Baker write, “One important reason for the ascendency of penal substitutionary atonement in the West has been our particular view of justice with its orientation toward guilt and innocence on the one hand, and toward autobiography on the other.  In the criminal-justice system, the question of guilt is paramount, together with the infliction of punishment upon the person or entity found guilty of having transgressed the law,” op.cit., p.24.  But of course, in every justice system (East or West) “the question of guilt is paramount, together with the infliction of punishment.”  That is what justice systems do.  Their critique appears to be not against any particularly Western conceptions of justice per se, but using criminal-justice systems at all to frame the work of Christ. 
[33] Consider, for instance, John Chrysostom’s powerful illustration in his sermon on 2Corinthians 5:11-12: 
If one that was himself a king, beholding a robber and malefactor under punishment, gave his well-beloved son, his only-begotten and true to be slain; and transferred the death and the guilt as well, from him to his son, (who was himself of no such character,) that he might both save the condemned man and clear him from his evil reputation; and then if, having subsequently promoted him to great dignity, he had yet, after thus saving him and advancing him to that glory unspeakable, been outraged by the person that had received such treatment: would not that man, if he had any sense, have chosen ten thousand deaths rather than appear guilty of so great ingratitude? This then let us also now consider with ourselves, and groan bitterly for the provocations we have offered our Benefactor; nor let us therefore presume, because though outraged He bears it with long-suffering; but rather for this very reason be full of remorse.
[34] Cyril of Alexandria, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 3.
[35] As stated earlier, the ransom theory seems more consequent to and therefore subordinate to recapitulation and reconciliation via Christ’s atoning death.    
[36] Kelly, op cit., p.376-77.  As an example, he earlier notes regarding the great articulator of recapitulation theory, “There are passages in which, echoing traditional language, Irenaeus speaks of Christ’s dying for us or reconciling us to God by His passion, or of His ‘propitiating for us the Father against Whom we had sinned’, or of God’s offering His son as ‘a sacrifice for our redemption’, and these are commonly regarded as standing apart from his main theory of recapitulation.  In fact, they cohere admirably with it, suggesting as they do that the Lord’s passion and sacrificial death were the supreme and necessary expression of His obedience,” p.174.
[37] Regarding the distinction between substitute and representative that some attempt (despite all lexical considerations to the contrary) to maintain, Denney writes, “In plain English, Paul teaches less that Christ died for the ungodly, than that the ungodly in Christ died for themselves. This brings out the logic of what representative means when representative is opposed to substitute.  The representative is ours, we are in Him, and we are supposed to get over all the moral difficulties raised by the idea of substitution just because He is ours, and because we are one with Him.  But the fundamental fact of the situation is that, to begin with, Christ is not ours, and we are not one with Him … We are ‘without Christ’ … A representative not produced by us, but given to us – not chosen by us, but the elect of God – is not a representative at all in the first instance, but a substitute,” op.cit., p.304.  Earlier he writes, “If Christ died the death in which sin had involved us – if in His death He took the responsibility of our sins on Himself – no word is equal to this which falls short of what is meant by Him our substitute,” p.73.