In a comment, Pastor John Roop challenges me on my post, “Speaking of Parables…”. My response is below:
John, thanks for visiting and commenting. With all due respect, however, I wonder how much this retold parable, while not presenting a perfect analogy, really is a caricature, and I think your comment illustrates a problem that Western culture has been living with for at least the last millenium. We immediately identify the idea of sacrifice with Anselmian concepts, and then we read these concepts into the Bible. Consider, for example, the word "atonement". Originally, when the word was coined, apparently by Wycliffe, it really did simply mean "at-one-ment": reconciliation, union, communion. But when we hear it, or read it, we generally think, "make satisfaction" or "make reparation" or something similar. However, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is not propitiatory in that sense, it is not about “making satisfaction,”; it is expiatory when it comes to sin: the application of the blood is to REMOVE or "cover" the sin, not to make satisfaction for it. “Blessed is he whose sin is forgiven, whose iniquity is covered.” Consider also the fact that “Yom Kippur” literally means “day of covering” or “day of wiping away”. What God is interested in, first and foremost, is healing (“saving”) humanity, restoring human persons to communion with the Divine Community that is the Holy Trinity. Sin prevents that, not because God “cannot stand to be in the presence of sin,” but because sin, and sinful persons, cannot survive being in the presence of God. “No one shall see my face and live.”
We also, as your comment illustrates, reflexively connect "substitutionary" with "penal" or "satisfaction". Now, there is no question that Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. However, beyond defeating sin, death, and Satan, to what end? Or, to put it another way, in what sense is Christ’s death a sacrifice which fulfills the sacrifices of the Old Testament? Is this propitiation in the Anselmian sense? Or is it expiation, reconciliation? "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." “Behold the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sins of the world.”
Of course, this is far from a complete analysis, and the parable I quote is simply a preface to a long paper in which the author offers his own theory, which seems to be a recapitulation of Ireneus’ work. I think the bottom line is that Anselm, first, missed the point in critiquing what had come before him, in that “justice” is really not the issue. Of course the devil has no rights! However, because of the fall, Satan was de facto the dominant spiritual force on earth, and because humanity, given vice-regency of creation, had put the Enemy in that position, a human had to be the one to dethrone him. But this is something that only God could do. Further, as history has shown, Anselm’s work has largely served to distort our understanding of God’s goodness and love, something which was already an issue, going back to the Fall.
Again, therefore, I have to recommend "The River of Fire". While I wish it were less polemical, perhaps it cannot be, because the points it makes are so true with regard to the distortions in Western theology, going back, not only to Anselm, but, farther, to Augustine and even Tertullian, distortions which are grounded, not only in the defective soteriology of Anselm, but also in a high view of original sin and a misunderstanding of Divine sovereignty, and because it presents the only view of human damnation which is compatible with an understanding of God as philanthropos, the lover of humanity.
In any event, I am interested in the book you mention. Would you post a review/discussion of it on your blog?