Jesus Did Not Die As A Third Party Substitute image

Jesus Did Not Die As A Third Party Substitute

Here’s a striking reason to affirm that the atonement is monotheistic, not polytheistic. Jesus, Miroslav Volf insists, is not a third party substitute for sins, but the divine agent himself:

Let us beware that some accounts of what it means for Christ to have died on behalf of the ungodly—what theologians sometimes call his “substitutionary” death—are deeply problematic. If we view Christ on the cross as a third party being punished for the sins of transgressors, we have widely missed the mark. For unlike a financial debt, moral liability is non-transferable. But Christ is not a third party. On account of his divinity, Christ is one with God to whom the “debt” is owed. It is therefore God who through Christ’s death shoulders the burden of our transgressions against God and frees us from just retribution. But since on account of Christ’s humanity he is also one with us, the debtors, it is we who die in Christ and are thus freed from guilt. Christ’s oneness with both creditor and debtors leaves only two categories of “actors” and thus negates the notion of his involvement as a third party. (Miroslav Volf, “The End of Memory”, p.117)

The interesting thing is, though, that if Volf is right, then Steve Chalke’s infamous statement eight years ago is actually true:

The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed.

Do you see what I mean? If Volf is correct, then this sentence is actually accurate, in and of itself: the cross is not about one angry divine being bashing around a weaker innocent one, but about God, in Christ, taking the punishment upon himself. That’s why Paul says that God demonstrated his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Steve was clearly completely wrong in identifying penal substitution (as a model of the atonement) with this particular description (cosmic child abuse), and his view was rightly rejected. But the notorious comment, taken on its own, is true. (Nobody I know has yet affirmed that the cross is a form of cosmic child abuse, you see). The triune God does not hand the punishment for human sinfulness to a third party with whom he is not connected. He takes on flesh in order to carry it himself.
Thank God for the Trinity!

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