Cunningham: God does forgive

Sorry to keep on about the atonement, but this is important …

Previously I reported that Richard Cunningham, Director of UCCF, said that “God never forgives”, or “God doesn’t forgive sin”. I am pleased to report, courtesy of Adrian who has posted an article by him, that Cunningham now seems to have gone back on those words. For now he writes:

Forgiveness only becomes possible if God in Christ is punished for our sin and thus manages to satisfy (propitiate) God’s wrath towards human wickedness.

Presumably these printed words are to be understood as more authoritative than his words in a sermon, variously reported and not given in their full context. Since Cunningham does seem to believe in some kind of forgiveness of sins, I can now retract my accusation of heresy. I would like to apologise for the misunderstanding.

But what are we to make of this new version of Cunningham’s thinking?

My first reaction to this, seeing the words “Christ is punished”, was to think that Cunningham is putting forward the kind of description of the atonement which has been rejected as inadequate by Packer among others, because it ignores

The Trinitarian principle … that the three distinct persons within the divine unity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, always work inseparably together,

Packer’s words in the article which accompanies this one by Cunningham.

But on reading more carefully I see that the subject of “is punished” in Cunningham’s summary is not “Christ” but “God”. Cunningham’s English grammar is bad, for he writes “God’s” when he means “his own”. I almost wonder if he originally wrote “if Christ is punished for our sin”, and changed this to “if God in Christ is punished for our sin” only to make his presentation conform to Packer’s Trinitarian principle. Anyway, what he actually writes does conform to this principle, and also to Stott‘s similar principle:

We must never make Christ the object of God’s punishment or God the object of Christ’s persuasion, for both God and Christ were subjects not objects, taking the initiative together to save sinners.

See below for a PS about this quote.

So I withdraw my objections to Cunningham’s teaching.

But it seems that Cunningham wants to proclaim a “unity … [of] confessional evangelicals around the core Evangelical distinctives (such as PSA)” which excludes those who do not affirm PSA. The problem with this is that he is looking for unity between two groups which hold irreconcilably different versions of PSA, while excluding those who in fact more or less hold to one of those two versions but are vocal in rejecting the other one.

So, what would he do about people like me who can affirm Packer’s version of PSA but consider Mahaney’s version an abomination? Well, I can happily assent to the UCCF Declaration of Belief, which is presumably what Cunningham means when he refers to “UCCF’s Doctrinal Basis” and which he puts forward as the touchstone of unity, because its affirmation of some kind of PSA is specified in rather general terms:

Sinful human beings are redeemed from the guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of their representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between them and God.

Indeed, this can probably be accepted by some who would say that they rejected PSA, because it states only that our punishment was taken away and that Christ died as our substitute, not specifically that Christ was punished as our substitute which is the sticking point for many including myself.

But if I have to make a choice between fellowship with Steve Chalke and fellowship with those who preach the child sacrifice distortion of the atonement, then I will go with Chalke.

PS concerning the Stott quote (taken from a comment of my own here) which I took from this post by Adrian Warnock:

Adrian originally quoted Stott as part of a quote from an interesting article by Mark Meynell which I don’t think I have read before today [3rd July]. Here are some extracts from section IV of that article, on the Trinity:

Those who would challenge penal substitution often do so on the grounds that the doctrine both fails to do justice to and even in fact distorts classic Trinitarian belief. It is this assumption that presumably lies behind the infamous charge that it is cosmic child abuse. That is an outrageous thing to say, of course, but it is not hard to see why it is said. For at first sight, penal substitution is altogether objectionable and barbaric. After all, where is the difference between this and the violence of ancient pagan rituals? …

However, the charge of child abuse, while outrageous, is also hugely ironic – it is a rejection of a conservative distortion of penal substitution perhaps, but one that is distorted because it is not
Trinitarian enough
! It is precisely because of a fully-orbed doctrine of the Trinity that penal substitution to bring about both expiation and more importantly propitiation, ceases to be unjust and abusive.

Meynell continues his argument by looking at the role of the three persons of the Trinity in the atonement, and finishes his section with the Stott quote.

I would suggest that Mahaney’s presentation of PSA is wrong for the reasons Meynell presents, because it is not Trinitarian enough and so akin to barbaric pagan child sacrifice.

0 thoughts on “Cunningham: God does forgive

  1. Pingback: Speaker of Truth » UCCF Director contradicts the Bible and the Apostles’ Creed

  2. Pingback: Speaker of Truth » UCCF Director: “God never forgives”

  3. Did tell you that this would be the case… this is no change of direction by Richard, both the Hebrews 9 talk and this article are consistent. And in both cases fully noting the concerns of Stott and Packer. So there we go then…

  4. Surely anyone can see that Richards comment – “Forgiveness only becomes possible if God in Christ is punished for our sin and thus manages to satisfy (propitiate) God’s wrath towards human wickedness.” Is not at all inconsistant with his previous statement of “God never forgives – He punishes” in the context of the Hebrews 9 sermon? Perhaps if you had listened to the sermon first you may of realised this rather then sadly jumping to conclusions and calling Richard a heretic. I am pleased to see that you have come to your senses and withdrawn that statement!

  5. Dave and Cat, I am not really claiming any change of direction by Cunningham. But his new statement is not really compatible with the old one. If what he meant all along was that God forgives only when he is punished (note, not “when he punishes” in the new statement, in which God is the patient, not the agent, of punishment), then his original wording was unwise and confusing. He would have done better to clarify things earlier. I am glad that he has clarified them now.

    Anyway, I am still confused by what was meant by “he punishes” in the original statement. Does that mean he punishes sinners, or he punishes Christ? I note that wisely, following Packer and Stott, he does not now say the latter.

  6. Perhaps I am a little perplexed here:

    ‘Forgiveness only becomes possible if God in Christ is punished for our sin and thus manages to satisfy (propitiate) God’s wrath towards human wickedness.’

    Is he saying that to forgive, God must first punish Himself?

    Could this kind of presentation be a reason that to many the preaching of the cross appears foolishness – and rightly so?

  7. as has been said many many times, the first comment is a few words from an exposition of Hebrews 9 and when you read that i think it becomes very clear that the same meaning is overall intended in both of Richard’s comments albeit perhaps phrased in different ways. and packer and stott say the same – what stott was making clear was that we shouldn’t do chalkian smartypants stuff (i guess only packer can get away with saying that)… the Father, Son and Holy Spirit act in unity at the cross, and wonderfully that means our sin is punished as it must be but not by us being punished… it means God can forgive and pour out unnumbered blessing upon us… which includes us receiving the Spirit!

  8. No, Dave, Chalke said THE SAME as Stott, that IT IS WRONG to divide the Trinity at the cross. Those who divide the Trinity in this way (not Cunningham, perhaps Mahaney) are heretics and are rightly condemned by Stott, Packer, Carson and Chalke. You are being grossly libellous towards Chalke in attributing to him the very views which he has condemned.

  9. Norman, thanks for your comment; also for your book which arrived this morning, which I will read and review when I find time.

    Cunningham is apparently saying that someone must punish God, in his human form in Christ. He does not say who is doing the punishing. I might want to suggest that Pilate and the Jewish leaders are the ones punishing him. But I suppose Cunningham is thinking more of God punishing himself. This indeed sounds a strange doctrine, but I would want to see a more complete explanation before suggesting that it is foolish.

  10. So, I’m being libellous but you can freely call me and my boss heretics (granted you retracted both eventually). I merely cited Packer’s article.

    There is no way on earth that you can say that what Chalke says in Redeeming the Cross is the same as Stott’s The Cross of Christ. I’m sorry but it’s just not the case at all.

    As for Mahaney, yes he said that God killed Jesus. Which is true. I don’t think that means at all that he’s saying Jesus wasn’t voluntarily involved in the whole thing. Clearly God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were not divided in the plan.

  11. Dave, I accept that Chalke’s words are not the same as Stott’s. I do not defend Chalke’s words. But both of them, as well as Packer and Carson, are rejecting and refuting distorted presentations of the atonement which make God the Father into the only agent and relegate the role of Christ to the one who suffers punishment. For, as Stott says, “both God and Christ were subjects not objects”. It is odd that Cunningham avoids breaking the Trinity only by making both into objects!

  12. Pingback: The Ramblings of Hugh Bourne » Blog Archive » Does God forgive sin?

  13. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Should all Christians speak in tongues?

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