The Doctrine of Atonement

Since no one in the world of bloggernacle is defending the penal-substitutionary atonement of Christ, I thought I would pull out an old sheet given to me by a systematic theology professor in seminary.

This past month, Jacob, at the “New Cool Thang” listed a series of questions that every atonement theory needs to answer.

First, tell me what you think about these eight propositional truths:

1. God is angry with man because of sin.

Rom. 1:18, Psalm 5:5-6, Psalm 11:5, Jer. 12:8, Eph. 5:6

2. God took the initiative in providing salvation for man.

II Cor. 5:19

3. God provided an atonement because He loved mankind.

John 3:16, Rom. 5:8, I John 4:10

4. The atonement is a ransom.

Matt. 20:28

5. Christ delivered us from the power of Satan.

Heb. 2:14

6. Christ suffered vicariously.

II Cor. 5:21, Isa. 53

7. Christ’s work satisfied God’s justice completely.

Rom. 3:26

8. Christ’s active obedience (His life) is part of this atonement. (He kept the law for us.)

Phil. 2:8, Rom. 5:19, Rom. 8:3-4

Secondly, don’t you think these five English words are important for the discussion: 1. satisfaction, 2. atonement, 3. propitiation, 4. reconciliation, and 5. expiation. What do they mean as you wrestle with this all important doctrine?

Thirdly, maybe we should go even a little deeper . . . what inspired Hebrew and Greek words are important to define as you give definite answers for why you don’t like the penal-substitutionary atonement?


  1. Hi Todd,

    I am a little bit surprised because I thought you were goin to take me up on my challenge of explaining how penal-substitution can be squared with justice.

    Obviously, I am in agreement that God doesn’t like sin and that he provided an atonement because he loves us. Some of your other statements are only loosely connected to teh scriptural verses you listed. For example, 2 Cor 5:21 does not say that Christ suffered vicariously. Rather, it says that the sinless Christ was made to be sin.

    I know that the KJV and the NIV of Rom 3:26 translate Dikaioo in terms of justice, but it can simply mean /to declare righteous/ and it is translated that way in lots of other translations. So, the idea that Christ’s work satisfied God’s justice is only one possible interpretation of this verse.

    There are many different metaphors in the Bible describing the atonement (ransom, sacrifice, etc.). By definition, metaphors are a comparison between two things that are alike in some way, but not in all ways. Thus, some particular metaphor in the scriptures will never definitively explain the ultimate meaning of the atonement and the mechanism by which it works.

  2. I am not sure I know what you mean by "penel-substitutionary atonement of Christ?" I agree with the 8 points that was point out.

    I don’t see any profile on you Todd Wood?

    I was over at Pulpit Mag and saw your name.

    So do you agree with Lordship idea?


  3. Charles, welcome. In the navigate section, move back to October and click on my first entry in the calendar. That will share a little more about myself.

    Regarding the Lordship idea, I do agree with Nathan B. rather than Lou M. You can check out my review of Lou’s book on And there you will find that Lou did a response to my review. You can read all of that at SI. Nathan was much more gracious than me, so I applaud him for his tone.

    By using the phrase, the penal-substitutionary atonement, I mean to bring out some propositions: there is a penalty for sin. Christ died in my place. He became my substitute by taking the penalty of my sin upon Him. There is an exchange. He took my sin. I received His righteousness. Talk about grace.

    Jacob, I thought that first, I would place an entry of a general biblical sketch of Christ’s atonement reflecting various truths beyond just inadequate theories of atonement that are currently being discussed among LDS blogs. But let me get back with you on Monday to comment on this thread on the two verses you mentioned and then respond to how your inward sense of justice is violated by the penal-substitutionary atonement of Christ.

    I am in Pinedale, WY, today, briefly sitting in the computer section of the local library. I am a board member of Red Cliff Bible Camp, and we just had a meeting in one of the side rooms. You need to spend some time in the Wind River Range. The scenery is just stunning. Have a good weekend.

  4. Hi Jacob,

    To just make sure I understand your point of contention with the penal-substitutionary atonement of Christ, let me phrase again your argument with this supposition–God is unjust to condemn His own perfect Son to bear the sins of wayward mankind. If this common adage reflects your sentiment, it is an old thought that has tagged along in opposition to the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ throughout church history even to this day. For example, Marcus J. Borg in his 2006 book, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, writes in chapter ten on the crucifixion and why did it happen, "To be candid at the risk of being offensive, I see the notion of substitutionary atonement as bad theology and bad history . . . Being Christian is not primarily about getting our beliefs right . . . It [substitutionary atonement] is negative in that in it God demands a death–somebody must die. It implies that the death of Jesus, this immeasurably great and good man, was God’s will, God’s plan for our salvation" (270).

    But Jacob, do you wish to align yourself with Marcus Borg in believing the Bible chiefly as metaphorical narrative and through parabolic reading?

    Shouldn’t the first question in evaluating any Scripture doctrine be, how faithful is it to the Scriptural data? If you are interested, I would love to be able in a future post to load you with Scripture tracing the Greek prepositions, anti and huper. Perhaps you have heard the evangelical statment–Christ’s death was a substitution for sinners, a redemption in relation to sin, a reconciliation in relation to man, and a propitiation in relation to God. All these concepts are important.

    Here are three heart issues to consider:

    * Christ voluntarily gave His life for the penalty of our sin. There was no forced coercion.
    * The transaction (not clumsy or crude or vampirish) is the work of the Triune God. Jacob, think about the traditional, classic belief in the Trinity. The one God, because of innate Holiness, declares there is penalty for sin. This one God, in love unfathomable, bears mankind’s sin in the Passion. This one God is both just and the justifier to those that trust for salvation. Acceptance of the Triune God, manifested in three Persons, is critical for the one accusing God of injustice. Some LDS wonder why evangelicals are constantly connecting the nature of God with soteriological matters. But the two doctrines are intertwined with each other. Believing what Christ did in His work of atonement is directly attached to His oneness with the Father. Both the Father and the Son display perfect wrath (in sharp contrast to our fleshly anger) and perfect love. Neither attribute is sacrificed to the exaltation of the other.
    * Who are we to ultimately stand in judgment of God over what is just and unjust?

    In German, God is ganz anders, wholly other, in Latin, mysterium tremendum, awe inspiring mystery. Jacob do you remember Job? The poor guy is struggling with God who is sovereign and free in all His actions. In the darkness and anguish, Job pursues and demands of Deus absonditus, the hidden God.

    In all our humanness, we do expect God to explain to Job why He is going through such horrible things or, at least, bring some sort of audible comfort to the miserable guy. But no, God enters the conversation at chapter 38 with words out of a whirlwind: Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding. And God doesn’t relent. Divine questions torpedo Job until four chapters are filled.

    Does Job gain a sense of God-centeredness? If we can’t even understand the myriad of phenomena that we see, how in the world can we assume the intellectual debates with God over things that we do not see? It is Job who leads in example for all of us. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not . . . Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

    The whole book of Job is a theodicy, silencing the demands to our whys and replacing it with the humble trust of a child in the self-existent, self-sufficient, inscrutable God (all adjectives which you and I are not).

    Now Jacob, one of my friends, Scott W. would love to challenge you with a little presuppostional apologetics by saying:

    Mormonism is a species of materialism and naturalism, because in Mormonism the gods didn’t create matter and are subject to natural law. Consequently many Mormons will admit that God is not the foundation of moral law; rather, moral law is an impersonal thing that exists naturally in the material universe. God is subject to this law and is to be regarded as good to the degree that He conforms to it.

    Problem: why ought God or humans conform to an impersonal law of morality which is founded in matter (since Mormons are materialists)? In real life, we never feel moral obligations to inanimate and impersonal things: did you ever feel a moral obligation to a chair or to a rock? Rather, moral obligations exist between persons; and absolute moral obligations are rooted in the character of the absolute personal God.

    Just like philosophical material naturalism, Mormonism doesn’t provide a meaningful foundation for ethics, and it doesn’t, therefore, provide a meaningful foundation for justice.

    By the way, I appreciate you and any others taking the time to interact.

  5. So, basically you are saying that it doesn’t matter whether it seems just to me. The scriptures say it is substitutionary, and who am I to think God’s justice would make sense to my puny mind? My job is not to think about it, but to accept it. Todd, I need not align myself to Borg simply because I can tell penal-substitution is fundamentally unjust.

    Todd, your friend Scott W goes hopelessly wrong when he deduces that morality in a Mormon framework must be founded in matter. But then, Todd, how would he know if morality can spring forth from matter anyway. God’s ways are higher than Scott’s ways, Todd. What presumption, to think it will make sense to his puny mind. What basis does he have for assume logic will allow him to evaluate the plausibility of the views he attributes to Mormonism? You see, Todd, appeals to mystery don’t seem persuasive when they come from the other side.

    If I answered Scott’s question by saying morality is based on matter (which is NOT the Mormon view) and told you that you were wrong to think about it and evaluate whether or not that made sense, it would come across to you in about the same way your response to me about the atonement comes across.

  6. Hello Jacob,

    This is Scott W., the guy who originally asserted that the Mormon wordview is a species of materialistic naturalism. I asserted that ultimate moral law, according to Mormonism, is not grounded in a god, but somehow in matter. You disagree with my assertion.

    Let me clarify. The gods of Mormonism may *inforce* moral law, but are not the *ground* of moral law. Moral law is not an essential attribute of the character of the gods. And since the Mormon worldview is committed to a materialism ontology, namely, that ultimate reality consists of matter, then moral law must be grounded in the material constitution of the universe.

    Question: If I’m wrong with my assertions, what is the ultimate basis for justice? For ultimate moral law?


  7. Jacob,

    I would like to respond to another philosophical matter you raised in your response to Todd. You wrote, "The scriptures say it is substitutionary, and who am I to think God’s justice would make sense to my puny mind? My job is not to think about it, but to accept it."

    Actually, you’re correct to assert that it is our job to accept God’s Word since it is the ultimate authority–even if we don’t initially agree with God. When we disagree with God, God is right and we are wrong. Always. Job learned that God is wiser than man. Our proper posture before God’s revelation is to humbly agree with His interpretations of reality and seek to bring our thoughts in alignment with His thoughts.

    Isn’t it at this point that Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden? God gave his interpretation of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan gave his interpretation of the Tree. Adam and Eve submitted to Satan’s interpretation because it seemed right to them: "the tree looked good for food". When our autonomous reasoning is in defiant conflict with God’s Word, we are sinning in the way our first parents sinned–and this is a serious matter.

    You wrote, "how would he [Scott] know if morality can spring forth from matter anyway. God’s ways are higher than Scott’s ways." My answer is simple, God has told us in the Bible that He alone is the basis and rule of morality, and He is a Spirit. Reality consists of both material and non-material things. The Biblical view of reality is not in harmony with materialistic naturalism. With this criteria as my foundation, I can use my mind to critique non-Biblical worldviews.

    Have you read Beckwith’s essay, "Moral Law, the Mormon Universe, and the Nature of the Right We Ought to Choose," in "The New Mormon Challenge"?

    Scott W.

  8. Hi guys, this particular server requires for me to clear all responses. I will try to make sure they are all cleared each day. I access the internet with my notebook, using the wireless connections at the local library. I know . . . just call me antiquish.

    Jacob, I have been reading through your Divine Infusion Theory of the Atonement.

  9. Scott,

    Of course, if God says something then we should trust his wisdom over ours. No one would disagree with that, certainly I would not disagree. But that whole line of argument is just a red herring. The whole debate has to do with what God’s word actually means. We all agree that God is correct. We just disagree as to what the scriptures tell us about the nature of God and what God’s word claims about the atonement, or morality, or justice.

    Must I accept _your_ interpretation of the scriptures, or should I try to discover what they mean for myself? And what should we do if there is a disagreement about what they mean? The answers (for me) are clear, we should discuss our different ideas on their merits (maybe we can learn something from one another) and each of us seek the Spirit to understand the truth as God reveals it to us.

    When Todd responds to my question about squaring penal-substitution with justice by saying that penal-substitution isn’t just by human standards (he asks "who are we to question God?), he is placing the entire weight of his argument on _his own understanding_ of the scriptures (he thinks they require us to accept penal-substitution). But if I can’t trust Todd’s understanding of justice, why should I trust Todd’s understanding of the scriptures? It is a very valid concern.

    The same is true of your challenge about morality. Given what Todd has said about our sense of justice (it cannot to be trusted), why should I trust my sense of morality? Honestly, why should I?

    Now, I am not so eager to throw out our sense of justice and morality, which is why I asked how penal-substitution can be squared with our sense of justice. To me, it is an important question. After a long build up of saying he was going to respond, his answer turned out to be that I am wrong to ask the question. If that is his answer, then fine, but that is not a satisfying answer to me.

    My least favorite thing when discussing theology with members of other faiths is if the topic keeps changing out from under me. Your challenge being tacked on to a very unsatisfying response from Todd is an example of this. I am aware of the New Mormon Challenge, yes. Have you read Blake Ostler’s response to the article you recommend to me?

  10. [For those reading, Scott sent me this. I apologize Scott. And I am glad you could decipher the post, Jacob, to give your preceeding reply.]

    When I try to post a reply on your blog, I get a bunch of garbled stuff. Here is what I’m trying to post:


    I would like to respond to another philosophical matter you raised in your response to Todd. You wrote, The Scriptures say it is substitutionary, and who am I to think God’s justice would make sense to my puny mind? My job is not to think about it, but to accept it.

    Actually, you’re correct to assert that it is our job to accept God’s Word since it is the ultimate authority–even if we don’t initially agree with God. When we disagree with God, God is right and we are wrong. Always. Job learned that God is wiser than man. Our proper posture before God’s revelation is to humbly agree with His interpretations of reality and seek to bring our thoughts in alignment with His thoughts.

    Isn’t it at this point that Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden? God gave his interpretation of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan gave his interpretation of the Tree. Adam and Eve submitted to Satan’s interpretation because it seemed right to them: the tree looked good for food. When our autonomous reasoning is in defiant conflict with God’s Word, we are sinning in the way our first parents sinned–and this is a serious matter.

    You wrote, how would he [Scott] know if morality can spring forth from matter anyway. God’s ways are higher than Scott’s ways.

    My answer is simple, God has told us in the Bible that He alone is the basis and rule of morality, and He is a Spirit. Reality consists of both material and non-material things. The Biblical view of reality is not in harmony with materialistic naturalism; and with these criteria as my foundation, I can use my mind to critique non-Biblical worldviews.

    Have you read Beckwith’s essay, Moral Law, the Mormon Universe, and the Nature of the Right We Ought to Choose in The New Mormon Challenge?


  11. Jacob, now I need to figure out how to link Blake’s internet response to the New Mormon Challenge in this comment section.

    Do you have the link?

  12. Jacob, now I need to figure out how to link Blake’s internet response to the New Mormon Challenge in this comment section.

    Do you have the link?

  13. You write in your paper, The Divine-Infusion Theory: Rethinking the Atonement (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39, no. 1 [Spring 2006]: 57-81.)

    The penal substitution theory became popular during the reformation (ca. 1500), as variations of it were taught by Martin Luther and John Calvin. This theory is really just a variation of the satisfaction theory; the major difference is that the necessity of the atonement was based on satisfying justice instead of satisfying God. The penal substitution theory is based on the idea that justice demands suffering for sin and that Christ stood in as a substitute for us to satisfy this demand of suffering . . .

    From my experience of discussing the atonement in casual settings with other Latter-day Saints, some have been bothered by the injustice of the atonement, but most do not initially see the problem. The most common question is: if Christ volunteered, where is the injustice? We all readily see that it was unjust to punish Christ for sins he did not commit, but since he volunteered, this injustice is part of what makes his sacrifice so awe inspiring. I agree. The fact that Christ volunteered does answer the problem of the injustice to him.

    The more difficult problem is explaining why his suffering should allow us to be pardoned. As Amulek asked, If a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? (Alma 34:11). Likewise, Potter asked, Why should facts about what Jesus did convince God to pardon us? Justice demands that the guilty are punished and that the innocent are not punished. It is all right that Christ chose to endure suffering which justice did not demand, but why would justice accept that suffering as payment for our sins?

    1. To those wondering about Potter, which I have not read. He wrote a paper, Did Christ Pay for Our Sins? (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 32, no. 4 (Winter 1999): 73-86.)
    2. Jacob, where is the documentation that Martin Luther or John Calvin taught that penal substitution was more the idea of satisfying justice instead of satisfying God. Do you have any resources where I can further explore that contention?
    3. Looking at justice involves the seriousness of sin. What is the penalty of sin, just suffering? or eternal death because we have transgressed against an eternal God? Depending on how we see Scripture define the penalty of sin reveals our inclination to what the atonement accomplished.
    4. I think the doctrine of imputation is extremely important to the answering of the last question.
    5. Just curious. Do you believe in the death penalty for murderers?

  14. You bring up a lot of points, not all of which I have time to answer right now, but here are a few thoughts.

    It seems Martin Luther wrote one billion books, and I find it very difficult to get anything out of reading his writings, so I base what I know on things people write about his theology. From what know, he didn’t put forth a specific atonement theory, but his views, especially on justification, had a large effect on the development of the penal-substitution theory. I haven’t read John Calvin’s Institutes, but I have read various quotes in which he speaks of the atonement in terms of Christ paying our penalty, and other such language. When I was writing my paper a few years ago, I read lots of overviews of atonement theory (some more scholarly than others) and they uniformly attribute the beginnings of the penal substitution theory to Luther and Calvin. I do not claim to be an expert (or even well informed) on their theologies, but I am reporting what appears to be a well accepted fact in the history of atonement theory. As one of many many sources, you might read this paper which has a good discussion of this topic:

    As to your question on justice, I believe that the penalty of sin is alienation from God (full alienation being eternal death). I don’t have time to say much more about my view of justice. Obviously there is section in my paper trying to hit the high points of my thoughts on justice, which you may have already read.

    You are correct that the doctrine of imputation is going to be important in your explanation of the atonement. I, on the other hand, will argue that imputing guilt from one person to another is contrary to the nature of justice.

    I am in favor of the death penalty.

    By the way, I agree with Scott that Mormonism leans much farther toward materialism than you would be used to. But, we are unwaivering advocates of the personal God, which Scott argues is so crucial as a basis for morality. Many of the open theists have been picking up and running with arguments Mormons have been making for decades against the traditional evangelical God. They make a case for the fact that the influence of Greek philosophy on early Christian theology leads to a distinctly impersonal conception of God. Mormons, on the other hand, have always been willing to take criticism for holding a view of God that allows for God to be fully personal. I am planning to put up a post soon on the doctrine of impassibility (which I reject) which will make mention of this.

  15. Hello Jacob,

    Thanks for your responses to my posts. I’m glad that we agree that autonomous reasoning (that is, reasoning according to criteria that is self-stipulated and not subject to the criteria that God Himself has revealed to us) is wrong. But I think if you read afresh your original posts, you may understand why I took you to assert personal criteria of justice over revelation.

    I often dialog with people who judge God and His Word by autonomous criteria, both epistemological and ethical. A couple weeks ago I debated several people whether homosexual behavior is unnatural and therefore perverse. Those who defended homosexual behavior as natural and therefore good did so by asserting a standard of morality that comported with their their own personal ethical criteria–and they judged God’s Word as harsh, judgmental, and even bad.

    When I discern that this is happening, I like to challenge the presuppositions or foundation on which the autonomous criteria is based. I often find the foundation either to be arbitrary or to be inconsistent with other components of the person’s worldview–and this is what I expect to find. Whenever someone rejects a Biblically informed worldview and asserts another worldview out of harmony with God’s view of reality, that man’s worldview is alien and will crumble under careful scrutiny.

    I will respond later to a couple of issues you raised in response to my charge that the Mormon Worldview cannot justify their belief in rules of morality that have real existence, since they are committed to a materialistic ontology of which the gods are a part and to which the gods are subject.

    FYI, most evangelicals reject the philosophical concept of impassibility when defining how God relates with man. The open theists are not the only ones who have criticized that teaching. In fact, some of the most vocal critics of open theism also criticize the doctrine of impassibility as it was often articulated by the church fathers.

    Scott W.

  16. By the way, the key line from that link above relative to the question you asked me is here:

    What the Reformers did was to redefine satisfactio (satisfaction), the main me diaeval category for thought about the cross. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?, which largely determined the mediaeval development, saw Christ’s satisfactio for our sins as the offering of compensation or damages for dishonour done, but the Reformers saw it as the undergoing of vicarious punishment (poena) to meet the claims on us of God’s holy law and wrath (i.e. his punitive justice).

  17. Jacob, thanks for the Packer link. I will read through this.

    I do think that both Anselm and the Reformers did us a great service in moving popular conceptions of the atonement doctrine from satisfying the whims of Satan to satisfying the demands of God.

    Also, I am on page ten of your paper.

    And guys, can one of you enlighten me on the doctrine of impassibility?

  18. Jacob,

    Personally, I don’t know any living evangelical who espouses the hard-core impassibility of God doctrine. Most evangelicals don’t even know what it is! I’m sure that there are some informed evangelicals who do affirm the impassibility of God, but I don’t know of any.

    Open Theists like Pinnock not only reject the impassibility of God (as do most evangelicals), but he also rejects that God fully knows the future. Most evangelicals reject this "limited knowledge of God" view as heretical.

    Personally, I’m not comforted by the thought that God is dynamically interacting with me in such a way that He doesn’t know what turns I’ll take down the road. I’m very comfortable with God’s not only knowing the future but also ordaining all future events. If the latter is were not true, I don’t know how the former could be possible.

    To the contrary, many Mormon thinkers have posited that the Gods are radically free and are therefore capable of choosing to do evil. This teaching is the extreme reverse error of the impassibility error of the church fathers (and others).


  19. Scott,

    I am fairly radical on these issues (from a Mormon perspective) so please don’t take my opinion as standard for Mormonism. Most Mormons believe in penal-substitution, for example. But, I am one of those who believe God is radically free. I don’t believe God ever chooses evil, he is God after all. But, I don’t think it makes sense to say God is good if it is not even theoretically possible for God to do evil. The fact that he could do evil but chooses not to is the only thing that is morally laudable. Otherwise he may do something you approve of, but he is not good in any moral sense. If there is no genuine choice, then there is no genuine agence, and then you are back to describing God in deterministic ways which destroy personality and moral commendability.

  20. Jacob,

    I will give a brief reply to your post about God’s theoretical possibility to choose evil. Actually, although your view of God may be radical among many of your LDS friends, I think that you’re view is consistent with other components of the Mormon worldview. Your view harmonizes with how many Mormons define free agency and with a moral realist view of ethics as asserted by other materialistic naturalists.

    In contrast, the Bible reveals a God who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18 and Titus 1:2) and cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13). More passages could be brought into the discussion, but I’m too busy as the moment.

    The bottom line is that God cannot choose evil because He is necessarily holy and righteous and good. As I asserted earlier, God is the foundation of moral law and is not merely an example of obedience to a moral law external to Himself.

    Moreover, if it is impossible for God to do evil, and if (according to a Mormon definition of free agency) an agent can achieve holiness only of he is absolutely free to choose evil, then the Mormon definition of free agency must be called into question. It is an alien criterion that is not in accord with a Biblical Worldview. Freedom and moral accountability need to be defined in different way. (I would encourage you to visit and read The Freedom of the Will by Edwards.)

    Your post strongly suggests that the Mormon God is not the foundation of moral law because, for God to be genuinly good, he must willingly choose to do the good. But what is the good? It must be some law external to God; and since the Mormon universe consists only of matter, moral law must somehow be founded in matter. But how can moral law be founded in matter?

    I briefly looked over Ostler’s response to Beckwith. Ostler asserted that Mormons may adopt a utilitarian or a deontological system for ethics (particulary something like Kant’s Categorical Imparative). These systems of ethics are also asserted by secularists who believe that ultimate reality is impersonal matter rather that a non-material Personal God–and both kinds of ethics fail to obligate anyone to obediece. Why should I obey Kant’s Categorical Imparative? This is like asking why should I feel moral obligation to the impersonal law of entropy or gravity.


  21. Also, Scott, you are comfortable with the idea the God ordains all future events?!? This would mean you have no agency. This would mean God is responsible for all evil. How do you deal with those issues?

  22. Scott, let me just test your commitment to your assertion that God is the ground of all morality. If God were to command us to torture babies, would that make it morally right to torture babies? Would we be morally obligated to torture babies?

  23. Jacob,

    I think that it’s fair that you answer some of my questions first.

    I’ll respond to this last question by affirming that whatever God commands is good and right because He is holy. God is able to command only that which is consistent with His holy character. Therefore, I’m confident that He will not command us to torture babies as this command would be inconsistent with everything that He’s revealed about His holy nature.

    During the times of ancient Israel, God commanded his people to destroy pagan nations, women and children included (see esp. Joshua). He stated that these pagan nations had polluted the land such that He couldn’t stand it any longer. God used Israel as His sword of judgment. Therefore, had I been an Israelite during the Cannanite conquest, I would obey God and destroy the pagans, including their children.


  24. Sorry Scott, I thought I had been responding to your questions.

    Your repeated argument that we are trying to get moral obligation out of matter is wrong because we have never argued that matter is the only thing in the universe. Fundamental to Mormon theology is the idea that there are things to act and things to be acted upon. If there were only inert matter, there would be no morality. Morality requires conscious beings (things which act). In your view it seems that none of us are such beings because God, having ordained all future events, has ordained my future actions and so-called "choices." Thus, I should rightly blame or praise God for everything you do, since your actions were ordained by Him. I don’t blame a rock that hits me in the face, but the person who threw it. So, I don’t see how you can call people moral in any real sense.

    On the Mormon view, however, people are radically free in that they are presented genuine alternatives from which to choose. Thus, when they choose good we can praise them. If they had no such choice we could not praise them because they would only be doing what they must necessarily do. As you say, I don’t praise a rock for obeying gravity, but people are just like rocks on your view. They do whatever has been ordained for them to do. Since, on my view, people are radically free, the idea of judgment makes sense. They are accountable for their own choices because they are responsible for those choices.

    Now, free agents, when they interact, can either live in harmony with one another or in discord. Morality arises because of interaction between free agents. Without free agents, there can be no morality. In Mormon theology a fullness of joy can only be obtained when free agents live together in union. God exemplifies this and lives in a oneness with other beings. Jesus prays in John 17 that we might be one with him in the same way that he is at one with the Father. As Jesus said elsewhere, the whole law and the prophets rest on the concept of love. We can only live in perfect union with God if we develop perfect love, because love is what allows free agents to exist together in harmony and mutual fulfillment. Thus, rather than finding morality in inert matter, as you persist in accusing me of, I find that morality is rooted in interpersonal relations between radically free beings.

    If you read down farther in Ostler’s response you will see that he does not personally subscribe to either a utilitarian or deontological meta-ethic. However, I find it amazing that you think utilitarian ethics derive morality from matter. Utilitarianism bases morality on bringing about the most good for the most people. It declares _happiness_ to be intrinsically good. Now, how in the world do you conclude utilitarianism to be deriving morality from matter when it says _happiness_ is a fundamental good? Happiness doesn’t even exist in a purely material universe.

    You argue that there is no obligation to maximize happiness, but then, I have to wonder why we are obliged to obey God on your view. Goodness is completely arbitrary since it is whatever God happens to be. Why should his nature be the basis of goodness and not mine, or Satan’s? By saying goodness is whatever God says it is, you seal yourself off from offering any response to this. You cannot argue for any standard outside of God from which to show that he is actually Good. It seems the only response is that God is Almighty, which makes morality the whim of the most powerful dictator.

    It doesn’t even make sense to call God good if he is the arbitrary grounding of all morality. On your view, Good is God, not the other way around. Beckwith admits that in his view, God is not morally praiseworthy. He just doesn’t like the alternative of saying that God is free, and therefore, it is logically possible for God to do evil. I don’t find that possibility offensive in the slightest, since I know that God will always do good despite the logical possibility of his doing wrong. I prefer a God who is morally praiseworthy. Else, why would I praise him, which I do?

    I must admit that I am growing weary of this conversation because I don’t see any hope of progress, and I don’t see that we are covering any new ground. All of this has been hashed out a thousand times from both sides. I don’t think either of us had introduced anything beyond what was discussed by Beckwith and Ostler. You are welcome to demonstrate that all the ideas I have expressed are contrary to your interpretation of the Bible, but don’t feel obligated to repspond for my sake. I’ve heard it all before.

  25. Jacob, hang in there. There is much, much where I want to discuss Bible interpretation in upcoming blog entries. I would like to throw on this blog a review sometime of your atonement theory as well. Hey, and Geoff and any of the rest of the gang are welcome to post, too. I have so many questions, and you seem to be one of the only ones willing to engage so far. Thanks.

  26. This is what I believe the crucifixion of Jesus has perfected for the Way to be saved from the law’s penalty which is death. Since God demands an accounting whenever the life of a human male is taken by blood shed, Gen. 9:5b, the crucifixion of Jesus has made it possible for each man to become one with God if a man is willing to accept that the crucifixion of Jesus is a repentable sin. The only Way to obey the Acts 2:38 command is by the faith to repent of the one sin of Jesus’ murder and comply with God’s demand in Gen. 9:5b. for the forgiveness of all sins. “He became sin for us” cannot mean he became sin in place of us. For since his life was taken by blood shed God demands an accounting, not just from the persons involved in crucifying Jesus, but from each man too. In order for it to be a demand from each man too the command, repent, was added to the law of God. Any man failing to have the faith to obey the command of God’s only begotten son is not only guilty of disobeying a direct command of God but is also guilty of not accounting to God for his son’s death caused by blood shed. Even if it is your faith that a man might sacrificed by blood shed in your place, the sacrifice of that man is an answerable offense. But Jesus is the only man who has been sacrificed by blood shed and also given the authority to give each man too the responsibility of obeying Him only for that to save himself by the faith to obey His command.

  27. Theodore, is my response tracking with what you are saying?

    * Are you wondering if I believe the atonement does not require repentance? I believe the Bible teaches both faith and repentance. Water baptism is a public demonstration of the inward, heart (mental, emotional, volitional) change of a life that has already happened, wrought by God’s justification of a sinner by grace through faith in Jesus’ atoning work.

    * Concerning the truth, He became sin for us, I would ask you. Why did God the Father turn from His only Begotten Son at the crucifixion? Why would the Son cry, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" I would suggest to you that the climax of the Son’s agony was this "separation" from the Father. God cannot behold the wicked filth–our sins (plural, total). Jesus drank of the full cup of suffering, providing an eternal atonement for an eternal offence.

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