Packer on leaving the Anglican Church of Canada

Dr JI Packer has given an interesting talk, entitled Global Realignment: Who We Are and Where We Stand: A Theological Perspective, to the national conference of the Anglican Network in Canada. See Packer’s outline of his talk (PDF); Chris Sugden’s report of this talk from which my quotes are taken (it is unclear whether this is an official transcript or Sugden’s notes – he was at the conference); a blogger’s incomplete notes. The “theological perspective” is in fact a defence of this Network’s decision to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (of South America).

As Packer says in his talk, he is not one to quit lightly. Continue reading

PS doesn't matter: hyperbole or understatement?

Lingamish, in a comment, is relieved to read that Penal Substitution just doesn’t matter. Well, in comments on his new lingalinga blog he and I were just discussing hyperbole, which he calls “my default discourse register”; I wrote

We Brits, maybe the Kiwis too, go in more for understatement.

to which he replied

Understatement on the Internet works about as well as whispering in a train station.

Maybe. Well, the Kiwi I had in mind in the above quote was not our friend Andrew, and as I can’t read his mind I’m not sure quite how literally he intended anyone to take his post Why PS just doesn’t matter. But for me, affirming what Andrew wrote was in fact a touch of hyperbole. Or is a hyperbolic statement of something negative, like this one, in fact understatement? Of course what I wrote, and probably what Andrew wrote, was intended as a reaction to the hype (this word is surely an abbreviation of “hyperbole”) about Steve Chalke’s comments and about Pierced for Our Transgressions.

Let me clarify my position. I do affirm and believe in the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, as defined for example by JI Packer in a clearly Trinitarian way, as one proper and valid description of the atonement. But this doctrine seems to be largely a theoretical one, with no practical consequences, as long as the character of God is not demeaned by presentations with connotations of pagan child sacrifice. It is not central to my faith or to my understanding of it. I am happy for theologians to debate this doctrine, as long as they heed Packer’s point that “there is here an element of transcendent mystery” and avoid presuming to tie down God’s work with detailed formulations. But these are matters for the experts, not for everyday teaching in churches, and still less for initial presentations of the Gospel to unbelievers.

In a comment here, in response to one of mine, Iyov asked:

Hmm, which is the more important doctrine in Christian thought: Junia or atonement. Tough one.

A tough one indeed! Of course the atonement has been discussed more through the ages. However, decisions on practical issues for the church, whether one accepts women in leadership, depend on a proper understanding of Junia in Romans 16:7; see the more than 30 postings about this at Better Bibles Blog. But what are the practical consequences of a precise understanding of the atonement? None, as far as I can see, except for ones artificially imposed by those who set up a particular doctrine of the atonement as a touchstone for unity.

So let’s cut the hype and move on to some understatement about penal substitutionary atonement.

Adrian claims at last to have finished his series on the atonement. We shall see if this really is the end. If so, I expect to bring my discussion of this issue to a gradual end, although I do intend to look at the second part of Reuben’s review of Pierced for Our Transgressions, and I also plan to read and review Norman McIlwain’s book The Biblical Revelation of the Cross, of which he kindly sent me a copy.

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?

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More from Packer on the Atonement

J.I. Packer has re-entered the atonement debate with an article written for UCCF, and published in full by Reformation21. Martin Downes quotes extensively from it; thanks to Justin Taylor for the tip.

UPDATE: No surprise that Adrian Warnock was also quick to post the full text of this article, on his blog which is now at this new location. Adrian’s post also includes an article by Richard Cunningham, which I will comment on separately.

Packer presents the same view of the atonement as in his 1973 lecture, which I discussed at length here; indeed, Packer quotes from this lecture and reaffirms what he wrote then.

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Is God the bad cop?

Is Jesus the good cop? is the question which Adrian Warnock asks as he continues his long series on the atonement. He argues correctly, and importantly, that we should not see the Old Testament God as the “bad cop” and Jesus as the “good cop”. Rather, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in character and purpose. But I would have liked to see less emphasis from Adrian on the shared wrath of the Father and the Son, which makes it sound like they are both bad cops, and more on their shared love; in fact not “more”, because astonishingly Adrian does not mention at all in this post God’s love or any of his related positive attributes.

But how does this relate to the penal substitutionary model of the atonement which Adrian is continuing to promote above all others?

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What is Penal Substitutionary Atonement?

Adrian Warnock has posted his definition of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA), and also the definition in the book Pierced for Our Transgressions. But these definitions are by no means the only ones; for example Bishop Tom Wright‘s understanding is quite considerably different. Much of the recent unfortunate controversy has in fact been based on misunderstandings, because different people are working from different understandings of this doctrine.

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Steve Chalke, Spring Harvest, UCCF and the Atonement

Adrian Warnock seems to have scooped the interesting news that Spring Harvest is breaking its partnership with UCCF (the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship) and the Keswick Convention because they cannot agree about Steve Chalke and what he wrote about the atonement. Dave Warnock, no relation, seems to consider this totally bad news. But in my first comment on Adrian’s post, I actually welcomed this split. So, what is happening here?

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