Book Plunge: Atonement and the Death of Christ

What do I think of William Lane Craig’s book published by Baylor University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

William Lane Craig is often said to be the #1 apologist alive today. I consider him a friend personally, and yet I honestly haven’t read many of his books at this point. It’s not because I am opposed to him in some way. It’s just that for whatever reason, I haven’t. When I got this book in the mail though, I figured I should see what it was like. Most of Craig’s works I know of have been apologetics works. While there is apologetics in this to a degree, this one is more theological.

I was also curious because I am a fan of N.T Wright and I couldn’t help but think of this being a response in part to his book on the atonement. Thus, I dove in. I will be giving a brief summary of what the book is about and then listing things I liked about it followed by areas that I had some questions about.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is the biblical data, which makes sense. When forming a doctrine from the Bible, the Bible is usually seen as a good place to go to. Craig actually begins in the Old Testament, which I also thought proper, and looks at topics like sacrifice and the suffering servant before proceeding to how this is fleshed out in the new.

From there, he goes to history. What do the Fathers of the church say about the atonement? What was said in the medieval period? What happened after the time of the Reformation?

Finally, we get into probably what is the most unusual part of the book, though interesting and helpful, and that is the philosophy of the atonement. In this, there is not only a look at the philosophy surrounding justice and mercy, but also around law courts. There are several instances of American law cited and questions of topics such as how do pardons work.

So for positives here, Craig is indeed very thorough. Most people would not think of including something like this last section in a book on the atonement, but Craig does. He also does include some words on the New Perspective on Paul. It’s food for thought, but at this point, I am not ready to say the NPP doesn’t work.

On page 206, there is a wonderful paragraph on the necessity of the crucifixion and the resurrection. This helps show the connection between God dealing out justice and God being merciful on us. There is too little of this in Christian thinking today in that we don’t see the difference the resurrection makes beyond “Christianity is true.”

As I said earlier, I appreciate Craig going to the Old Testament. The Old Testament is where our faith begins and too often we dispense of it. Most Christians I meet who are biblical scholars are New Testament scholars. Nothing wrong with being one, but we need specialists in the Old Testament as well.

I also did appreciate the final section. It was interesting looking at the atonement through the eyes of jurisprudence and seeing how modern notions of law can help us see the way the doctrine works. I also appreciate the philosophical objections being dealt with such as penal substitution being immoral.

However, there are some points I wish to raise that I would like to see addressed.

First, when we get to the New Testament data, I think there is an overemphasis on Paul. I am not opposed to Paul, but when you look in the references, you will find more references to Romans than you will to all the Gospels combined. While I do not consider it Pauline, at least exclusively, the same applies to Hebrews as well. On this point, I think Wright does come out ahead since he does spend more time in the Gospels with the direct words of Jesus.

On p. 167, Craig says it seems odd that someone can be forgiven for their sins and punished for their sins. It does, but I immediately remembered King David’s first son with Bathsheba. David was explicitly said he was forgiven, but he was also told immediately that the child born to him would die. It looks like then that David was forgiven and still punished. I would like to see this fleshed out.

I would have liked to have seen more interaction with N.T. Wright. Wright is the most prolific writer who has put out something on the doctrine and while he was cited at times, I would have liked to have seen an extensive interaction with him.

Finally, I thought the discussions of modern law were interesting, but I kept being struck by a concern in that. If we were in England, would we see English law? Would we see German law in Germany? American law is the category we think in, but does it follow that it’s applicable to the biblical doctrine?

I would have liked to have seen interaction with law in the world of Jesus, such as the law of Caesar or the law of the Sanhedrin. How did justice work in those courts? How did Caesar dole out justice and mercy both? Could Caesar give a pardon and how would that work? After all, these are the categories the biblical world was set in. I am not saying that there is no correspondence to modern law, but I can be skeptical. In a future work, I would prefer to see law in the ancient world look at.

That being said, Craig’s work is a great defense of penal substitution in particular, but I think also rightly recognizing there are some elements of other atonement theories. It is quite likely one will not cover everything. Those wanting a good resource on the doctrine of the atonement owe it to themselves to read Craig’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Struggle of Forgiveness

Is the way of Christ sometimes what you don’t want to do? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s no secret I’m a Christian. I think the claims of Christ are true and that He did rise from the dead. I think His way is the way of Wisdom. I uphold all that I believe that the Bible teaches. I try to be as staunch as I can in my moral stances on issues. If you follow the Christian path, you are following the right path.

And sometimes, I don’t want to follow it.

You see, I’ve written before on forgiveness such as will your murderer be in Heaven, a view on justice, and just forgiveness in general. We all think forgiveness is a really great idea. We do. The problem is we think it’s a really great idea for everyone else. It’s not so great when we have to do it ourselves.

I’m going to be a bit revealing in this blog, but I will not give names or details on the people involved and please do not ask for them. These are my struggles though I welcome you coming alongside of me in them. Generally, I tend to be an easy-going guy. If you say something that is hurtful to me, oh well. It doesn’t really bother me. I can take it. I can handle it. In fact, I will often take it as a compliment in the long run. Go ahead and try to say your worst. It really doesn’t get to me.

If you say something about my wife Allie, well that’s something different.

My wife does happen to be a very sensitive person to what people say. Of course, this is something she needs to work on, but it does not change the reality. The biggest way someone can hurt me honestly is to do something to hurt her. It doesn’t matter if the person intends it or not. If they hurt her, you can find my rage immediately increasing. Allie, a Dragonball fan, would tell you that she thinks I go Super Saiyan at that point.

You see, my wife is the most precious human being in my life. She is the one I have built my life with. She is the one I sleep next to every night. She is my confidante, my companion, my fellow traveler on this journey. There is no human being on this Earth that I have a better relationship with than my wife and there is no person on the planet who means more to me than she does. When I see in Scripture that we are one flesh, I think it includes what happens in the bedroom, but it goes beyond. Marriage has been described as one soul in two bodies. I can relate to that.

So to go after Allie is to go after me. Some of you have seen that happen on Facebook. Some of you have seen that when someone insults her, that I immediately jump in and start to deal with the problem. This is one time I break my rule about not posting on Facebook on Sundays.

As it stands right now, I have been thinking about some people who have done things to hurt Allie. This hurt has been severe and it is hurt that Allie is carrying with her to this day and when I see Allie in pain, I am tempted to enter my rage state once again. My Princess is in pain after all and she does not deserve that pain. I am not going to say my wife does everything perfectly. Of course not. I am going to say that I hate seeing her carry pain from other people in the past that she should not have to carry.

When this happens and I’m her husband and protector and the one who is supposed to take care of her, my tendency is to go out and rain down justice on the people who hurt her. I think this is the natural way men think and while I know that’s not really doable, the anger is still there. What happens then when I open my Bible? I see Jesus telling me I ought to forgive, and the standards are serious.

Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

1 John 4: 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Matthew 18: 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

These are serious passages.

Mark Twain said years ago that it wasn’t the passages in the Bible that he didn’t understand that bothered him. It’s the passages that he did understand. This is the same situation. In many ways, I honestly wish that these texts were not in the Bible right now. I wish I could pull a Thomas Jefferson in some ways and remove them. These texts go against everything that I experience when I’m angry at someone hurting Allie and challenge me on a route that I do not want to go down really.

Which means in some cases that no, I don’t want the way of Christ in my life.

And I think it’s important we be honest and admit that.

Anyone of us who says he always wants the way of Christ I think is a liar. They’re a liar because they go against it quite regularly in their own lives. We have all manner of sins in our lives that we struggle with. Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, pride, etc. Sometimes we do want the way of Christ in those. Sometimes we don’t.

So let’s get honest. Intellectually I do know the way of Christ is the best way. I do know His way works the better for my life and He works everything to my good. I know that everything that He does is meant to work towards my good. The intellectual awareness is there, but the emotional longing and the will to do so are not. In some ways, the anger is enjoyable to hold on to. Anger can be like a drug in that way. What am I to do on this case? This is my resolve.

First off, I wish to thank my friend Dr. Clay Jones for his advice in this area when I talked to him. One of the things to remember is that it’s not really bad to want justice. We should all want justice. Yet I am to think “What if I was the person in the situation? Would I want God to whack me upside the head and get my attention?” If it meant getting on good terms with God, yes I would. What’s wrong with praying that about the persons I have anger against? What’s wrong with praying that God gets their attention?

Second, the more you pray this kind of prayer, the more you will start to have some sort of empathy for the person. Even though I do not want to, I have to pray that God blesses the people who have hurt my wife in this way and in turn hurt me through their actions. Does that mean I am being insincere with my prayers? I don’t think so. It’s praying something and saying “God, my heart is not here right now, but I know that this is where it needs to be. Please help me to get my heart where it needs to be.” If we waited to do the right thing that was very difficult for us to do when we felt like it or when we wanted to, we would never do it. Part of the process of walking rightly is learning to do things when we don’t want to do them. It is denying our wants for the greater good that we know we ought to pursue.

Third, to forgive does not mean to forget. It does not mean that I treat things like they never happened. It could be that I might want to keep people that hurt Allie far away from her until they prove themselves worthy of her and earn my trust there again. If they do not, I won’t let them near her any more.

Fourth, I have to learn to really deny my own feelings and experiences on the matter. This is also where I have to trust in those who are outside of me. I mentioned Dr. Clay Jones earlier in this post. There have been others who have been friends in this journey and know all that is going on and have provided the advice. My wife and I have found that Celebrate Recovery has been quite helpful. Allie gets the help she needs from a group and I get to go to a family support group.

Fifth, I do have to realize the place Jesus is to have in my life. When I am caught in the vortex, what I am dealing with is more present in my thoughts than Christ is. This is something that I have to change in order to get past what I deal with. I have said before that one of the greatest helpers you can have when you are going through a crisis is to have good theology. If we could all realize how we are seen through the eyes of God for just one moment of time, we would never see our lives the same way.

Forgiveness is the better way however despite what I feel at the time because forgiveness releases me from the anger. The anger can be like a cancer tearing away at one’s soul ripping out some of the humanity that is there. The people involved that I am angry with don’t even have to know about the situation, but they are getting free rent space in my head and they are getting a power over me that they do not deserve to have.

And you know what? This also works out better for Allie. Allie has her own emotional turmoil. How is it going to help her to know she can handle hers if I do not handle mine? How am I going to tell her to stop giving people free rent space in her head if I don’t stop giving them free rent space in mine? How am I going to tell her to not listen to her emotions and feelings if all I do is listen to my emotions and feelings?

Ultimately, this is the way of Christ. It is to die to ourselves. Many of us would rather do anything, including go through death itself, rather than to die to ourselves. It is a constant struggle to bow down to Jesus and say He is Lord and say that come what may, we are going to follow Him.

It is a struggle, but it is not optional.

And if this is also you right now, you’re not alone. I’m a fellow traveler. If you ever read this blog and think I’m a super Christian who never has these struggles, well you’re just wrong. I have flesh and blood like you do and if you cut me, I will bleed like you will. I have to learn to walk the better way. It is better for myself, better for my Princess, and most honoring to my Lord Christ.

The Kingdom is worth everything.

In Christ,
Nick Peters