30 January 2006

Shall we throw truth to the wolves?

by Phil Johnson

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

SpurgeonThe PyroManiacs devote Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

In Spurgeon's day, as in ours, certain esteemed and influential doctors of divinity insisted that evangelical theology must be overhauled and refashioned to suit the spirit of the age, or else become irrelevant. Then, like now, one of the favorite targets of their tinkering was the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Modernists desperately wanted to tone it down. They were emphatic in their demand that the offense of the cross needed to be removed in order to reach people living in those genteel and "modern" Victorian times.

Specifically, they hated the concept of propitiation—the biblical truth that Christ's atonement was a sacrifice offered to God, to appease His righteous anger against sin. Modern minds found that idea unsophisticated and harsh and therefore disagreeable. Modern theologians proposed a way around that difficulty: Why not emphasize only the self-sacrificial aspect of Christ's death and re-frame the atonement as an example for believers to follow, rather than a payment to God on their behalf?

Then, as now, some "evangelicals" were willing to consider such a compromise. Here is Spurgeon's response to that kind of thinking, taken from one of the last things he ever wrote, a little booklet titled "The Greatest Fight in the World":

On the proposal that we tone down the atonement

We are told that we ought to give up a part of our old-fashioned theology to save the rest. We are in a carriage travelling over the steppes of Russia. The horses are being driven furiously, but the wolves are close upon us! Can you not see their eyes of fire?

The danger is pressing. What must we do? It is proposed that we throw out a child or two. By the time they have eaten the baby, we shall have made a little headway; but should they again overtake us, what then? Why, brave man, throw out your wife!

'All that a man hath will he give for his life'; give up nearly every truth in hope of saving one. Throw out inspiration, and let the critics devour it. Throw out election, and all the old Calvinism; here will be a dainty feast for the wolves, and the gentlemen who give us the sage advice will be glad to see the doctrines of grace torn limb from limb. Throw out natural depravity, eternal punishment, and the efficacy of prayer.

We have lightened the carriage wonderfully. Now for another drop. Sacrifice the great sacrifice! Have done with the atonement!

Brethren, this advice is villainous, and murderous; we will escape these wolves with everything, or we will be lost with everything. It shall be 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth', or none at all. We will never attempt to save half the truth by casting any part of it away.
C. H. Spurgeon

A personal note: Sorry about my lax posting since the new bloglaunch. I do intend to post more regularly, but I have been laid low by flu symptoms this past week, and I decided to take advantage of the group-blog situation by giving myself a rest.

For those who have asked, I do remember that we left a couple of threads dangling (one on cessationism, the other on the mosaic law.) I fully intend to get back to both subjects eventually, but given my schedule between now and March 15, I'm not keen to get back into a subject that's likely to spawn a thousand comments, so I'll prolly wait till sometime after the Ides of March.

Phil's signature


BugBlaster said...

The bloodiness of the sacrifice and the substitutionary atonement that it achieved is the best part of the story. It demonstrates the love of God. He did whatever it took accomplish salvation, no matter how violent and ugly.

Steve said...

Spurgeon said, "It shall be 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth', or none at all. We will never attempt to save half the truth by casting any part of it away."

May those words spur us all to a total stand and not a toned-down one!

DJP said...

I hope I'm not expected to start writing "prolly."


Dan, Daniel, DJP... and sometimes "David"

centuri0n said...

You caught "prolly" from me, and I caught the flu from you -- from a phone call!

Gaddabout said...

I remain baffled by anyone who would want to call themselves Christian while denying the atonement. If I were a humanist, why would I want to call myself a Christian and confuse the issue?

Gordon Cloud said...

The thing that makes grace so glorious is the guilt that makes it so necessary.

Darel said...

There is no true theology except old theology.

ib.carlos said...

Huzzah, Gordon! well (and economically) said!


James Spurgeon said...

The sad thing, Phil, is that it is not the liberals who wish for a toned down atonement nowadays, it is the so-called evangelical community who is largely (a) ignorant of what the doctrine really is, and (b) cries foul when it is explained.

Substitutionary atonement is not PC. Neither is it seeker-sensitive.

Doug said...

Don't take this as a KJV-only comment, because it is definitely not that. But I find it very interesting that the most popular Bible version out today (NIV) drops the concept of propitiation (the exact subject of Spurgeon's comments) in favor of something a little more gentle.

donsands said...

I thought of these four Scripture verses after reading this post. I'd like to share.

"... there they crucified Him, ...Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do". Luke 23: 33-34

"...Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, My God My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Mark 15:34

"...Jesus cried with a loud voice, It is finished, ...Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit: and having said this He gave up the ghost." Luke 23:46 John 19:30

Here the Propitiation of His people was slain as the Holy Lamb, who would take the wrath of God for our filthy sins. He became the blasphemer, the fornicator, the sinfulness of His people. What incredible love this is! There is about another 20 or so paragraphs in my heart, but I will stop now.
Thanks for the post. And I thank the Lord for Pastor Spurgeon.

Justin said...

I think it's important to be clear about what alternatives to the penal substitution theory of atonement are really saying.

I've summarized seven theories (as described by Brian McLaren in The Story We Find Ourselves In) here on my blog. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, particularly on how/why the penal substitution theory must be completely true and the others must be completely false.

donsands said...

I read his list, and #1 is the biblical interpretation, A substitutionary death on the Cross. 1 John 2:2, 4:10; Rom. 3:25 are declare Jesus Christ is the Propitiation for our sins. Romans chapters 3 & 4 would be a good passage to study and meditate on for the purpose of understanding our Savior's atonement for our sins.
Hebrews 9:1-10:31 is also a powerful passage to exemplify and bring together the whole Word of our Lord Old & New Testaments.
2 Cor. 5:21 sums-up this teaching I would think: "For He [the Father] has made Him [the Son] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we [the Church] might be made the righteousness of God in Him [Christ]."
The passage that grips my heart the most, of what our Lord did for His Father, and us, is my earlier post of the Savior on the Cross, where He cyrs out to His Father at first, and the end He also crys out ot His Father, but in between when the sun was blotted out and darkness covered the earth, Jesus cried out, My God, My God!" This grips my heart to know that our Savior was the Holy Lamb of God bearing the blasphemies, fornications, rebellion, and all the sinfulness of His people, and bearing the wrath of His Father for us.
I would encourage you to study the Scriptures for your self, and have a wonderful time together with the Lord as you read, study, and meditate on these excellent passages, and of course it is good to go to genuine teachers of the Scriptures, but I would not go to Brian McLaren. Mr. Mclaren is a brother in the Lord, as far as I know, but his teachings of the Bible have been quite suspect as of late. With all due respect to Brian.
All for the Cross.