One Very Misleading Article About Six “Heretics” Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism If Evangelicals Were Consistent

On April 16, 2014, Tylor Standley posted an article on his blog, entitled, “6 People Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism (Or, A Lesson in Consistency).”  On May 7, the article was re-posted on Andy Gill’s blog with one change and one addition.  The change was that the word “People” was replaced with the word “Heretics” in quotation marks.   The addition was that the article was now headed up with a picture of Rob Bell.  The thrust of the article, of course, was that if evangelicals found it necessary to “excommunicate” Rob Bell, then they should also, for the sake of consistency, ban a number of other “heretics,” starting with the six people mentioned in the article: C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther, St. Augustine, William Barclay, John Stott, and Billy Graham.

I first became aware of the article early last week.  It has been “liked” and shared thousands of times, and has been reposted on other blog sites several times as well.  Unfortunately, many of those who have liked and shared it should have known better, for it is, in a number of ways, a very misleading article.  I will start off by showing how the article misleads in what it says about these six “heretics,” and then I will go on to make some other critiques about the article in general.  I encourage you to read Standley’s article before you read this critique.

1.  C. S. Lewis.  Standley starts off by saying,

Perhaps the most celebrated Christian writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis is respected by most Christians, no matter what theological corner they occupy. And that’s what confuses me. Lewis was no evangelical by the standards of modern evangelical spokespersons.

Right away, Standley makes a huge mistake with regard to those whom he refers to as the “modern evangelical spokespersons.”  Standley’s confusion comes because he misunderstands these evangelical leaders.  Standley recognizes that Lewis is respected by most Christians, “no matter what theological corner they occupy.”  But, then, for some reason, he can’t seem to understand why those who occupy the evangelical corner still respect Lewis.  There are many evangelicals who recognize that, strictly, Lewis probably does not qualify as an evangelical, but nevertheless have great respect for him.

As far as Lewis’s inclusivism is concerned, I believe that it is problematic, and that for that reason, Lewis should probably not be considered strictly as an evangelical.

When it comes to Lewis’s statements about penal substitutionary atonement, things are a bit more complicated; and not only Standley’s, but also Gregory Boyd’s statements are problematic.  First, Standley incorrectly says that the Christus Victor view of the atonement “holds that the cross is not an image of God’s wrath against us, diverted to his son, but it was the defeat of evil through an act of selfless love.”  This is incorrect because there are many evangelicals who hold to both the Christus Victor view as well as penal substitutionary atonement.  In fact, I am one of them.  The second problem here is that Gregory Boyd, in the video to which Standley refers, actually misrepresents the “deeper magic” mentioned in that first volume of the Narnia chronicles.  Here is the exact statement from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as to why Aslan died:

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge only goes back to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

Actually, Lewis combines here three different views of the atonement.  There is the ransom view, and in the form which a number of church fathers held, that the ransom was paid to the devil.  There is the Christus Victor view, with the devil being defeated by the death of the innocent victim.  But, then, there is also the substitutionary view: an innocent victim takes the place of and dies the death of the one who actually committed the treachery.  Indeed, it is the innocent one dying and bearing the penalty of the guilty one who should have died which constitutes the “deeper magic” which brings about the victory.

Now, it is true, that in other of Lewis’s writings, particularly in Mere Christianity, Lewis seems to reject the penal substitutionary view.  But, actually, I believe it is more correct to say that he hems and haws on it.  I believe, in the end, that what Lewis seems to have rejected was one particular form or expression of the penal atonement theory that he regarded to have been formulated too crassly.  So, based on what Lewis says about this deeper magic, and borrowing a page from the inclusivist playbook—that a person could be a Christian and not really know it—I would be prepared to argue that Lewis did believe in penal substitutionary atonement; he just didn’t know it!

2.  Martin Luther.  This is perhaps the most egregious of the mistakes that Standley makes in his article.  He says,

To the dismay of every evangelical Calvinist . . . I fear I must be the bearer of bad news that Martin Luther apparently didn’t believe the Bible is fully inspired, true, or trustworthy.

As proof of his assertion, the author refers to Luther talking about “inaccuracies in the books of Chronicles,” and then quotes him as saying,

When one often reads that great numbers of people were slain—for example, eighty thousand—I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed.

Here, however, is the full quotation from Luther’s Table Talk:

When one often reads [in the Bible] that great numbers of people were slain—for example, eighty thousand—I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed.  What is meant is the whole people.  Whoever strikes the king strikes everything he possesses.  So if the king of France should be defeated with ten thousand of his men, it is said that eighty thousand were defeated because he has that many in his power, etc.  Otherwise, I can’t reconcile the numbers.

This fuller quotation shows us several things.  First, Luther was not talking about “inaccuracies” in Chronicles.  Rather, he was talking about large numbers of slain reported in several places in the Bible as a whole.  Second, he by no means regards these large numbers as “inaccuracies.”  Rather, the entire statement is for the purpose of showing that the numbers are not inaccuracies, but manners of expression on the part of the authors.  His whole purpose is to “reconcile the numbers.” So, I am very happy to be the bearer of the good news that Martin Luther apparently did believe that the Bible is fully inspired, true, and trustworthy.

Now, again, with Martin Luther things are more complicated than this.  But that is just the point: one can’t prove things one way or the other with sound bites taken out of context.  In this respect, the article is not simply misleading; it is just wrong.

3.  St. Augustine.  Standley evidently thinks that evangelicals would declare Augustine a heretic because he didn’t read the creation story in Genesis 1-2 literally.  Augustine did not believe that we are given a literal seven-day account of creation in those chapters.  He regarded the seven days to be a logical literary device to present the idea of creation to human minds.  However, what Standley does not tell his readers is that Augustine thought creation was actually instantaneous. God created the universe in a single instant.  Furthermore, he also believed in a very young earth.  I imagine there would be even a number of fundamentalists who might be willing to trade a literal seven-day account for an admission of instantaneousness and young earth.  As far as evangelicals are concerned, there are, indeed a large number who don’t necessarily take Genesis 1-2 literally.  Indeed, I am one of them.  And when Standley says that “Few are the pulpits that [Augustine] would be allowed to fill among conservative churches in our day,” this is just false.

4.  William Barclay.  Standley says that he finds “it odd, however, that Rob Bell would be utterly rejected for holding essentially the same belief as this celebrated theologian.”  What Standley fails to understand, however, is that Barclay’s universalism really isn’t the problem among evangelicals.  Barclay had suspect views on a number of issues: the deity of Christ, the actuality of the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, the supernaturalness of the miracle accounts in the gospels, etc.  At some points, Barclay’s views appear to be unorthodox.  With regard to Christ’s deity, Barclay seems not to have regarded Christ as fully God, and also seems to have taken an adoptionist position.  With regard to the miracle accounts, one example would be the feeding of the five thousand.  In his Matthew commentary, Barclay lays out three options for understanding the account.  One of those options is the naturalistic explanation in which Jesus merely shamed and motivated the crowd to share their food; there was no actual multiplication of food.  He says,

If this is what happened, it was not the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes; it was the miracle of the changing of selfish people into generous people at the touch of Christ. It was the miracle of the birth of love in grudging hearts. It was the miracle of changed men and women with something of Christ in them to banish their selfishness.

Then, after laying out these three options he says, “It does not matter how we understand this miracle.”  But this way of understanding things certainly does not seem to correspond to the gospel writers’ understanding of the account.  Barclay has similar qualms about the turning of the water into wine, the stories of the raising of the dead (including the raising of Lazarus), Jesus walking on the water, the exorcisms, etc.  Over and over again, Barclay shows little interest in whether something miraculous actually occurred.  He only cares about some kind of existential, often allegorical application of the so-called miracle account for the life of the “believer” today.  This is very, very far from the understanding of the gospel authors.  And it is, correspondingly, very far from an evangelical understanding of the gospel records.

5.  John Stott.  Standley says that Stott “rejected the view that Hell is eternal conscious torment of the wicked,” and then quotes Stott as saying,

I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.

Standley is correct, to a point.  However, again, the situation is more complicated than presented.  Stott certainly did not like the idea of conscious eternal torment in hell.  But, in fact, he did not absolutely reject it.  Here is another quotation from Stott, as well as a fuller citation of the passage of which Standley gave only one sentence.  I have highlighted some parts I wish to particularly call your attention to.

But will the final destiny of the impenitent be eternal conscious torment, “for ever and ever”, or will it be a total annihilation of their being? The former has to be described as traditional orthodoxy, for most of the church fathers, the medieval theologians and the Reformers held it. And probably most Evangelical leaders hold it today. Do I hold it, however?  Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and is—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture. . . .

I am hesitant to have written these things, partly because I have a great respect for longstanding tradition which claims to be a true interpretation of Scripture, and do not lightly set it aside, and partly because the unity of the world-wide Evangelical constituency has always meant much to me. But the issue is too important to suppress, and I am grateful to you for challenging me to declare my present mind. I do not dogmatise about the position to which I have come. I hold it tentatively. But I do plead for frank dialogue among Evangelicals on the basis of Scripture. I also believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.

Frankly, as a conservative evangelical, while I do not come close to the same conclusions as Stott did, I find, however, that the sentiments Stott expresses in these two paragraphs to be eminently evangelical.  Indeed, in what Stott says here, I find the very essence of what it means to be an evangelical: submission to the authority of Jesus Christ and submission to the authority of his word.  And it is precisely this attitude of submission to the authority of the word which evangelicals find lacking in figures like the previously discussed figure, William Barclay, and in the writings of Rob Bell.

6.  Billy Graham.   Of the six examples provided by Standley, this, in my opinion, is the only one that has any real validity.  A few months ago on this blog I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article, entitled, “The Problem with Billy Graham,” in which I suggested, satirically, that the problem with Graham was that he preached this “barbarous, odious, and dangerous teaching of penal substitutionary atonement.”  Of course, I ended up actually glorying in Graham’s faithfulness in preaching this doctrine.  However, had I actually intended to write an article about a real problem with Billy Graham, there were several areas which I could have hit on, areas in which Graham has, in fact, been justifiably criticized by evangelicals over the years.  One of those areas is the unfortunate tendency to occasionally say things that go against the grain of the message that he has preached so faithfully and so strongly for so many years.  Additionally, these utterances seem to come out in front of particular audiences, and they come out in interviews—not in books and sermons, i.e., actual proclamations.

With respect to this particular statement, I would make two observations.  First, note that whatever Graham says, he nevertheless starts off by articulating that he is referring to “everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not.”  In other words, the qualification is still that the person must love Christ, must know Christ.  That, in itself, is an evangelical conviction.  The problem is that Graham goes on to say that, somehow, it is possible for someone to love Christ or know Christ, unconsciously.  I, myself, find this to be a logical impossibility.  I don’t believe it is possible to love or know someone without actually knowing them.  In essence, this actually turns into “salvation by equivalency.”  Second, note the huge problem in determining what constitutes equivalency.  Knowing that one needs something and then turning to the only light one has is just too amorphous and vague to be of any real use.  And it hardly  serves as an equivalent to loving or knowing Christ.  This was not, by any means, one of Graham’s most lucid moments.  So I concede that Standley has a bit of a point with Graham.  However, it is important to note that evangelicals have, in fact, by and large, tended to overlook these statements because they do, indeed, go against the grain of Graham’s entire preaching and writing career.

Now, I go on to make criticisms with regard to the article as a whole.

First, Standley’s article was really an apologetic for Rob Bell, and, in particular, Bell’s supposed universalism.  And as an apologetic, it does not make its case.  Of the six individuals the author uses to attempt to make his case, the only one who was a universalist, William Barclay, was not an evangelical.

Second, Standley’s article actually serves to demonstrate the opposite of what it presupposes to be the case.  This comes out right away as Standley begins his discussion of C. S. Lewis.  I quote that here again:

Perhaps the most celebrated Christian writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis is respected by most Christians, no matter what theological corner they occupy. And that’s what confuses me. Lewis was no evangelical by the standards of modern evangelical spokespersons.

As I pointed out earlier, Standley’s confusion is the result of a bad presupposition.  Evangelicals, at least the ones whom I think the article is targeting, recognize that Lewis should probably not be regarded as an evangelical by traditional evangelical standards, and yet recognize that there is much of great value in Lewis’s writings.  They do not consider him a heretic; and they have not written him off.  In other words, Standley is wrong about the mindset of evangelicals.  They are not heresy head-hunters, they are not “self-appointed gate-keepers,” and they don’t have that attitude.  Rather, they are pastors, theologians, and denominational leaders who have been given the God-appointed responsibility to guard the flock of God.  And, for the most part, they do a pretty good job in making distinctions between figures like C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther, Augustine, John Stott, and Billy Graham on the hand, versus someone like Rob Bell on the other.

Third, it is unfortunate that Standley confuses things by his use of the word “heretic.”  For an evangelical to say that someone should not really be reckoned as an evangelical is not the same as calling that person a heretic.  That can, indeed, be the case, but it is by no means a necessity.  Of course, defining “evangelical” is notoriously difficult.  There is no single evangelical denomination or statement of faith.  And there are certainly what can be referred to as “fuzzy boundaries.”  Above, when I was discussing John Stott, I suggested that one good defining criterion is the attitude of submission to the authority of Christ and to the authority of God’s word.  This criterion would rule out those who approach the Bible with a very cavalier attitude, who deny the Bible’s authority, either explicitly, or implicitly by way of very fanciful, contortionist exegesis of the biblical text, who treat the biblical texts as if it was a hermeneutical playground, and who then attempt to dismiss traditional orthodox teaching by way of their very unlikely interpretive conclusions.  Those who do this are not necessarily heretical, but they are not evangelical.

Fourth, it is also unfortunate that sometimes Standley changes targets in his article.  He starts off by focusing on evangelicals, but along the way, he narrows his target, referring to “every evangelical Calvinist,” and the “core of reformed theology.”  However, the problem here is that, again, with respect to Rob Bell, though there was an outcry from the Calvinist and Reformed community when Love Wins came out, there was also a good deal of criticism from the Arminian community as well.  Even those who might refer to themselves as “moderate evangelicals,” as Standley does, noted serious problems with the book.  Indeed, many in Bell’s own Mars Hill congregation left because they had problems with Bell’s views (evidently the people who left were neither flaming fundamentalists nor strong Calvinists).  I might also call attention to the fact that there is a great deal of diversity in the evangelical community.  There are evangelical Baptists, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Methodists, Evangelical Free, Anglicans, Christian Reformed, etc., etc., etc.  Within the evangelical community there are what might be considered polar opposites: Calvinists and Arminians, Dispensationalists and Amillennials, cessationists and non-cessationists.  Evangelicals make serious attempts to distinguish between what is central and what is peripheral.  And a cavalier attitude to Scripture is not peripheral.  I am a Reformed Baptist, a Calvinist, a covenant theologian, and a cessationist.  Yet, I would have no trouble worshiping alongside and fellowshipping with a Wesleyan Arminian who is Dispensational and speaks in tongues.   I would, however,  have a significant problem worshiping alongside and fellowshipping with a person of whatever label whose attitude was not one of submission to the authority of Christ and the authority of Scripture.

Fifth, the sound-bite character of Standley’s post is not very helpful; rather, it is misleading.  I demonstrated this above with regard to the quotation from Martin Luther.  This also applies to the link that the author provides to “a list of universalistic quotes from our early church fathers.”  Several of these figures would be quite surprised to see themselves enlisted in support of universalism.

Sixth, and finally, despite the “universalism” which stands behind the author’s article, I would argue that universalism is not really the issue.  I myself believe that, at least in theory, one could be a “hopeful” universalist and an evangelical.  I believe that one could even build an exegetical case of sorts for a hopeful universalism.  And if Standley wishes, I would be more than happy to pass these arguments along.  However, I also believe it is impossible to demonstrate exegetically that universalism is actually a teaching of Scripture, and that one can actually make the case that the belief that “God will redeem all people to himself” is supported from taking “the Bible literally.”  One could try to do so, but it would only be a sound bite argument, one that fails to take into account the entire context of the prooftexted verse or verses.

I freely admit that sometimes Christians can be way too trigger-happy.  They can be slow to listen well, but quick to speak and quick to become angry.  In this quickness they can fail to distinguish between what is central and what is peripheral.  They can too easily take for granted that their articulations of reality are identical to those of the Scriptures.  They can be too easily critical toward the other, and not sufficiently self-critical. If these were Standley’s criticisms, there would be no argument from me.

I do believe, however, that the author does not sufficiently distinguish between the fundamentalist world and the evangelical world.  I believe he has caricatured the evangelical response in these matters.  And when he refers to those who have been “tossed out of the evangelical community for their slightly-divergent-yet-still-completely-orthodox-beliefs,” apparently in defense of positions like those of Rob Bell, then in light of the criticism that has come Bell’s way from both numerous and diverse sectors of the evangelical world, I have to say that I am not convinced that the author has paid sufficient attention to what actually distinguishes “slightly divergent” from unorthodox.

The responsibility to distinguish between truth and error, between true and false teachers, between the true gospel and false gospels, between faithful doctrine and subversive doctrine, between true shepherds and savage wolves, is one that is emphasized in almost every strand of the New Testament.  It is emphasized in Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, in the apostles’ teaching in the book of Acts, in Paul’s epistles, in Hebrews, in Peter, in John’s epistles, in Jude, and in Revelation.  To be sure, Christians need to be on their guard against being over-zealous in carrying out this responsibility.  But it does need to be done, and the author of the article, to his credit, acknowledges this.  However, I don’t think the way the author frames the discussion in this article serves to advance the dialogue on how this can be done, or to give any credible guidelines as to how we can tell what is “slightly divergent” versus what is unorthodox.  That dialogue will not be advanced by sound bites, prooftexts, and misrepresentations.  More serious, better researched, and more credible discussions are necessary.

Jerry Shepherd
May 19, 2014

54 thoughts on “One Very Misleading Article About Six “Heretics” Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism If Evangelicals Were Consistent

  1. Mr. Shepherd,

    It is not my intention to quarrel, in any biblical magnitude, over the body of Lewis, but don’t you think his (quite obvious) antipathy towards Penal Substitutionary Atonement was really the least of his heterodoxies? One would imagine that his views on Prayer for the Dead, Auricular Confession, Purgatory, Scriptural Errancy, Real Presence, Episcopacy, Priestcraft, and other Romish doctrines and sentiments would do more to rattle the Evangelical cage. Also, his apotheosis of George MacDonald (a staunch anti-Calvinist) and G.K. Chesterton (an arch Roman Catholic) seem to serve as warning-signs to any fastidious Evangelical that ‘there be dragons.’ In any case, it appears there are bigger fish to fry in the Evangelical conundrum of Clive Lewis.

    • Hi Gabriel. I agree with you that are a number of things besides the inclusivism and the views of the atonement which indicate that Lewis was not really in the evangelical camp, per se. So, in some respects, Standley’s use of Lewis was a bit of a non-starter any way. And, in fact, that evangelicals know these things about Lewis, yet still avail themselves of his writings, cuts against the grain of what the author was trying to do. By the way, someone sent me a link to an article which, in my opinion, successfully explains the non-effectiveness of any attempt to push the C. S. Lewis / Rob Bell analogy:

      • Hi Jerry. Thank you very much for taking the time to respond in truth to Mr. Standley’s article, which in my opinion, is nothing more than the product of another author of confusion.

        To piggy-back on Gabriel’s comment above, and regarding C. S. Lewis, et al., first I want to point out that I grew up in a very evangelical, fundamentalist environment. My father’s father pastored a church in Virginia for over 25 years.

        I was spoon fed Christianity, introduced to the truth of the Gospel at a very young age, and accepted Christ as my personal Savior at age seven. I am saved 100% by God’s redeeming grace through His blood shed for me and the acknowledgement of my sin nature and desperate need for a Savior.

        As far as sinners go, like Paul, I consider myself the worst. Only because of His grace am I able to celebrate that He sees me as white as snow in spite of me. He does the work. Not me. And He promises to finish the work that He began in me. Philippians 1:6.

        As a side note, I denounce Catholicism and declare it nothing more than a dangerous cult.

        All that to say, I was very aware that my grandfather was a big “fan” (for lack of a better word) of C.S. Lewis, and I’m fairly certain that he read all of his books.

        About a year ago, I was reminded of the harsh reality that we live in – a time when people are not who you think they are – “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, including but not limited to “progressive” “Christians” who are spreading the enemy’s lies like Greg Boyd, performance-based Christians, “Christians” who want to write their own Bible, etc..

        With that in mind, I started searching various “Christian” leaders online including C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Paula White, Bill Johnson, Erwin McManus, Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, and others, and I have to say, I was pretty shocked at what I found.

        As far as I’m concerned, they are all adding to or taking away from the truth of the Gospel, and are misleading masses of people. Maybe Billy Graham is an exception, but I still find his comments, regardless of whether they were in “interviews” or deemed “legitimate proclamations”, to be very odd. As far as I’m concerned, it makes no difference when he says them. But maybe they were “senior” moments where he was confused and didn’t know what he was saying?

        Anyway, I read things about most of the people that I mentioned above that were clearly indicative of their involvement in NEW AGE MYSTICISM, and that includes C.S. Lewis. The things that these people clearly promote are perversions of the gospel, and not Biblical. Rick Warren might not be as off the grid as most of the others, but his teachings seem questionable as well, do they not?

        My grandfather is passed away now, but I will always wonder, how could he have not known about C.S. Lewis? Doesn’t make sense to me.

        True Believers – Buckle up. This kind of deception amongst “Christians” is only going to get worse and harder to discern. Spiritual warfare is no joke.

  2. Hi Jerry,

    Great post. Though I don’t necessarily consider myself an inclusivist, I did want to offer two challenges to the statement that you made, “I don’t believe it is possible to love or know someone without actually knowing them.”

    First, Matthew 25 seems to indicate that we can love Jesus (and offend Jesus) without knowing it.

    34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
    41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not fntake care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    Second, it seems like prior to marriage or prior to having children, we can love our future wives and love our future children even when we do not know them, by living virtuously, learning responsibility, practicing forgiveness, etc. The way we live in the present impacts the relationships we have in the future, and because of this it seems possible to love someone prior to knowing them.

    Again, I do not consider myself an inclusivist (what I would say is that a conscious profession of faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for assurance of salvation, but if a person dies without a conscious profession of faith we should not necessarily have assurance of their damnation, for God is their judge). I do think the two examples I have cited make the issue of loving someone without knowing them a bit tricky.


    • Hi Gabe, thanks for the comments and observations. For the Matthew 25 passage, there are a number of ways of understanding it. The one that I am most inclined to is that the sheep/goats are either individuals or entire nation who, at the very least, know who Christ is, and are being judged on the basis of how they treat Christ’s followers. For your second example, I think it begs all kinds of questions, inasmuch as one has no way of knowing the character of a “potential” person. So, for me, it doesn’t really work. However, I do appreciate your caution in the last paragraph regarding those who die with having made conscious professions, as far as we know. Thanks.

    • Rob Bell is a Youth Pastor with a string of very succesful books, and producer of the extremely popular ‘Nooma’ DVD range. He very much targets the Christian college student market. His literary career came to a halt a few years ago with ‘Love Wins’. This book claims that hell no longer exists after death, for anyone. He makes the valid point that people can experience hell in their lives now (miscarriages, victims of rape, etc.). But he argues that the version of hell mentioned in the Bible is no more. So therefore anyone who rejects God for their whole lives will still go to Heaven after death unconditionally.

    • Hi David. First, thanks to Roger for giving providing a bit of an answer. Here’s a few more things. You might want to take a look at the Wikipedia article on him: As Roger said, he wrote this book called Love Wins a couple of years ago, which was pretty roundly denounced by conservative evangelicals of many different denominational stripes. He has, however, written a book since then, entitled, What We Talk about When We Talk about God, which has many of the same problems. Here is a very balanced, insightful review of that book by Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Seminary: One clarification: I don’t think he has every actually declared himself a universalist, but the tires on his vehicle are sometimes riding the edge of the cliff. Another informative set of videos of him being interviewed by Oprah can be found here:, and the accompanying videos on the sidebar.

      • My namesake was referring to the final 2 paragraphs in which Standley’s comments take a sharp turn. He suggests that Christians who call for people like Rob Bell to leave evangelism should be more forgiving. Because we are all imperfect but yet God forgives us.

        However, I did take those comments into consideration when I read the article. To be honest, I did not pick up on any sincerity from Standley on the final point. It seemed like he hastily added it to stop his article seeming overly critical. If grace was Standley’s main point, then he went too far in the wrong direction to deliever it.

    • Hi Nathan. The Stott quotations are from a book entitled, Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue, by David L. Edwards and John Stott, published by Intervarsity, 1989. Hope this helps. Blessings.

  3. As to your inability to understand how someone, in Billy’s thoughts, could love Christ and not know it, let me share my insights of late. I minister in a rescue mission and prisons/jails…and have discovered quite a few people, who with minimal prodding with compassion and trust, reveal that deep down, they do believe. They’ve forgotten! They’ve stuffed it. They’ve been hurt, deeply, and sometimes by religious institutions (I will not call them churches when they preach false gospel, if there can be such a term) who move God so far from them that they can never measure up. And so they withdraw into a cave of shame.

    Until someone comes along and wakes them up to it. Now, I have NO idea if that’s what Billy means…but I can tell you that many people do love Christ and don’t know it (don’t remember/don’t know how, etc.)

    Thanks for this article.

    • Hi Jeff. Thank you for this perspective. I’m not sure this necessarily answers the question; but I certainly appreciate this different window through which to look on things. And I also pray for blessings on you as you do your work in the missions and prison. May the Lord give you rich reward for your labor.

  4. “Now, it is true, that in other of Lewis’s writings, particularly in Mere Christianity, Lewis seems to reject the penal substitutionary view. But, actually, I believe it is more correct to say that he hems and haws on it. I believe, in the end, that what Lewis seems to have rejected was one particular form or expression of the penal atonement theory that he regarded to have been formulated too crassly. So, based on what Lewis says about this deeper magic, and borrowing a page from the inclusivist playbook—that a person could be a Christian and not really know it—I would be prepared to argue that Lewis did believe in penal substitutionary atonement; he just didn’t know it!”

    I think you’ve misread the Wardrobe passage: Severely misread it, if that’s your only support for Lewis’ unknowing acceptance of penal substitutionary atonement. Otherwise, you’ve severely misunderstood PSA.

    PSA has to do with not just any “substitution”, but one to appease God in particular. In PSA, God demands legal satisfaction: His law has been broken, and that demands punishment. He finds that legal satisfaction in the death of Jesus. I trust we agree thus far.

    In LWW, though, it is neither Aslan nor his father the Emperor who demand Edmund’s death. It is the Witch. Indeed, Aslan rescues Edmund without requiring anything more of him than a willingness to be rescued. And if the Witch had not required blood, then Aslan would not have died.

    That’s crucial. That’s not something you can overlook. In PSA, there MUST be blood because God himself demands it. In LWW, it is only the Witch who demands blood. And with Aslan’s death, it is not God’s attitude towards Edmund (the traitor) that changes, but rather the power of Death (an enemy in the Christus Victor) view.

    I do not see anything here that points to PSA of any kind. Everything in it aligns with CV instead: Aslan is victorious over the Witch in redeeming Edmund (a literal “buying back”), and he breaks the power of Death. Your thoughts?

    • Hi Mackenzie. Thanks for your challenge and question. But I’ll go ahead and say that I think you are the one who is not reading the account deeply enough.

      Note that Edmund’s betrayal is not of the witch, but of the children, of Narnia, and ultimately, of Aslan and of the Emperor. His actions have placed Narnia in a very precarious position. The law about the traitor being turned over to the witch for execution — that is not the witch’s decree, that is the Emperor’s decree. It is the Emperor’s law. What the witch is doing is pointing out that Edmund has violated the Emperor’s law, and by the Emperor’s own decree, the witch has the right to play the role of the Emperor’s executioner. To be sure, she is overplaying the role; but it is nevertheless her assigned rightful role. Note also that she would not be able to carry out this role if Edmund had been innocent of the treachery. But he is indeed guilty. So Aslan takes his place, receiving the punishment that Edmund should have received. This is PSA to the core!

      I am not at all opposed to Christus Victor. In fact, I am completely for it. But what some contemporary advocates of CV need to realize is that CV depends on PSA. This shows up especially in passages like Colossians 2:13-14 and Hebrews 2:14-18. The failure of “CV-only” theory is that it completely fails to demonstrate what it is about Christ’s death that accomplished the victory. But the passages in Colossians and Hebrews demonstrate that the victory consists in doing away with the hold that Satan has on sinful human beings. He is their accuser, as demonstrated in Job 1-2, Zechariah 3, and Revelation 12. Christ dies in place of the accused, and destroys Satan’s right of accusation. And in the process, Satan himself is destroyed. This is how Christus Victor actually works and receives its power.

      In LWW, the witch plays the role of the accuser and executioner. When Aslan takes Edmund’s place, he destroys the witch’s right of accusation. And, in doing so, in accordance with the “deeper magic” the witch did not know about, she is herself destroyed. So Lewis wrote better than he knew. PSA explains how Christus Victor actually works.

      • “So Aslan takes his place, receiving the punishment that Edmund should have received. This is PSA to the core!”

        Not exactly. On PSA, the value of Jesus’ substitution is that he justly dies as a guilty party in order to satisfy the wrath of God. On CV, the value of Jesus’ substitution is that he unjustly dies as an innocent party in order to pay our debt of obedience, disarm the devil who unjustly slew him, and secure the right to reverse death. On PSA, the devil is disarmed because he has exhausted God’s just wrath on a guilty victim. On CV, the devil is disarmed because he has killed an innocent person over whom he had no right. The deep magic is, “when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” CV works based on the innocence and injustice of the substitute’s suffering, PSA works on the imputed guilt and justice of the substitute’s suffering.

        • Gabe, thanks for chiming in. Your explanation of CV, or this particular version, demonstrates why CV, alone, without a PSA foundation, utterly fails. You say that on CV, Christ dies “as an innocent party in order to pay our debt of obedience.” While this is certainly involved, it fails to do justice to the fact that the death of Christ is not simply paying our debt of obedience; it is also paying the debt incurred as a result of disobedience. Christ does not simply obey on our behalf, he also suffers the penalty for our disobedience. He is, indeed, “killed in the traitor’s stead.” He receives a punishment that a traitor should have received. It is on account of this atoning death that the slate can be wiped clean, forgiveness can be made, and the sinner can be restored to a right standing and communion with God. CV has no explanatory power here, other than which it derives from PSA as “borrowed capital.”

          Further, your account of PSA is badly nuanced. Jesus does not die simply as a guilty party, but as an innocent party who assumed another’s guilt. It is on account of that innocence that PSA works. It is on account of that innocence that Jesus does not stay dead, but is raised from the dead “according to the spirit of holiness.” PSA, no less than what you attribute to CV, regards the death of Jesus as the death of one who is “just for the unjust.” He is the just one who takes on to himself our guilt, shame, our sin, our penalty. But he does this as one who is just, not as one who is himself unjust.

          • Hi Mackenzie, I’m not dodging around anything. The debt is payed to God, not to Satan. Satan is an accuser and executor, even to some extent analogous to a prosecuting attorney, but he is by no means the payee. The debt is owed to God and God alone.

          • Correct, in the PSA view. So here’s the question: Where do you see that in LWW? Where do you see that in Aslan’s description of what has happened? Where do you see that in his dealings with the Witch?

          • I don’t have the text of LWW in front of me, so I can’t answer your question precisely. But, as I see it, the witch is playing a role that, in the storyline, she has the right to play. She is the authority in power; she is, as it were, the Emperor’s “hangman.” But, she is also overplaying her role. The decree is not hers, but the Emperor’s. Narnia is not hers, but the Emperor’s. She talks, as I recall, about being entitled to Edmund’s blood; but when she does so, she is actually rhetorically overstepping her rights. She is not entitled to Edmund’s blood. She may be involved in shedding it; but it is not hers. She is the executor, not the beneficiary.

          • “She talks, as I recall, about being entitled to Edmund’s blood; but when she does so, she is actually rhetorically overstepping her rights. She is not entitled to Edmund’s blood. She may be involved in shedding it; but it is not hers.”

            Well, let’s go directly to the text first:

            “You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. you know that ever traitor belongs to ME and MY lawful prey, and that fore every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

            Note here that the Emperor’s decree is NOT that “traitors must die” or “all transgressions must be paid for with blood.” It is not that “all creatures owe the Emperor their lives for each transgression.” Rather, it is that THE WITCH has “a right to a kill.” There is no mention here of a debt to the Emperor – legal, penal, financial, or otherwise. Not once is it even implied that it is THE EMPEROR who DEMANDS that sin be punished. Rather, the Witch demands it.

            Just a couple lines later, we have this:

            “Fool,” said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl. “Do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force? He knows the Deep Magic better than that. He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says, all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.”

            Always, the emphasis is on THE WITCH, and her rights to Edmund. Aslan’s death is a payment to HER: it is a literal ransom.

            How here’s the thing: Here we have very clear language that supports Christus Victor over and against PSA. There is no mention of a debt to Aslan or the Emperor: There is only mention of a debt to the Witch, a debt which MUST be met.

            And you are saying that the Witch “oversteps her rights.” On what grounds do you say this? Is it merely on the grounds that these statements conflict with PSA, and would invalidate your premise? Because that’s what it seems like.

            Also, your statement that she’s speaking incorrectly is invalidated by the fact that ASLAN HIMSELF ACCEPTS THE WITCH’S STATEMENT AS ACCURATE. In fact, he says, “It is very true. I do not deny it.”

            So to recap: It is “very true”, according to Aslan himself, that traitors are HERS. It is “very true” that the blood is owed to HER. And it is also very true that all of these directly contradict the main points of PSA…and directly coincide with the main points of CV.

            You can state the CV by itself is nonsensical. I think you’re very wrong, but you can state it. However, to assert that because it’s nonsensical, therefore Lewis must have been an unthinking advocate of PSA, is absurd.

          • Mackenzie, several things here:

            (1) With regard to your last paragraph, you are misrepresenting me. I am in no way saying that CV is nonsensical and that therefore Lewis must have been an unthinking advocate of PSA. I am simply arguing that Lewis, despite his problems with PSA (or a mis-caricature of it) actually incorporates PSA elements alongside CV and other elements in an allegorical story.

            (2) You are consistently failing, in your responses, to deal with the clear understanding in the story, that the decree is not the witch’s; it is the Emperor’s. If Aslan affirms the witch’s statement by saying, “It is very true. I do not deny it,” he is in effect saying, “Yes, that is the Emperor’s decree.” He affirms that this is the Emperor’s will. You need to deal with this.

            (3) Again, I need to go back and look at the larger context of the whole story in LWW, but I would not want, at this moment, to discount the possibility that the witch is speaking beyond the decree in some measure. Remember that Satan is pictured in the Scriptures not only as an accuser but also as a liar and deceiver. Is it possible that Lewis incorporated this in the story by having the witch rightly referring to the Emperor’s decree, yet going beyond the language of the decree in regarding this as her personal right? And that when Aslan affirms what she says, he is in fact only affirming part of what she says? It seems to me to be at least a possibility. Like I said, I’ll need to check.

            (4) So, I disagree with the idea that a properly constructed CV formulation conflicts with PSA. The church fathers were not univocal in their view as to whom the ransom was paid. As I said, I too believe in CV, but there are certain ways of formulating it I would reject. I would actually retain the idea of God deceiving the devil to some extent, somewhat like Lewis does in the withheld information regarding the “deeper magic.” But I think the whole idea of a ransom paid to the devil should be eliminated.


          • 1) You’ve asserted this incorrectly.

            2) This is a fundamental part of CV. Of course Satan gets his “right” to sinners from God: Where else would it come from? However, this is fundamentally different from how PSA sees it. In PSA, the death of sinners is a way to repay a debt owed TO GOD, and ONLY to God. In CV, SATAN demands the death of sinners because it is his right to do so and because it pleases him to do so, without regard for any debt owed to God. And indeed, in “Mere Christianity” Lewis expressly rejects the concept that God demands punishment, or demands that we pay a debt to him.

            3) This is utterly without basis, and it’s absurd that you’re entertaining this as an option. On what grounds would you possibly conclude that the Witch is lying, when Aslan unequivocally affirms that she is correct? When the Witch appeals directly to Aslan, and Aslan affirms that what she has said is “very true,” on what basis do you argue that she might be lying?

            4) That’s fine that you disagree. That’s fine that you claim that the early Fathers weren’t unanimous on who the ransom was paid to (which means that you at least acknowledge that many/most of them affirmed it was to the devil). HOWEVER, the way that Lewis writes it here is CLEARLY as a payment to the Witch. Edmund belongs to her. She has the right to his blood. And Aslan gives himself up TO HER.

            You have problems with views of CV that go against PSA. That’s fine. However, you then have to come to grips with the fact that EVERYTHING in LWW backs up such a view. There is NOTHING in it to support PSA, and the only support you can find is in attempting to 1) read behind the text to see something that’s not there (“The debt MUST be owed ultimately to the Emperor!”) or 2) actually accuse the book itself as being inaccurate (“The Witch must be lying!”).

          • Mackenzie, some very quick replies:

            (1) No, I did not assert this, not in the way you stated it. Please reread what you stated and you’ll see that this was not my argument.

            (2) Yes, in Mere Christianity, Lewis was just wrong on that point. Indeed, in PSA, the debt is paid only to God. He may utilize Satan to exact it, but Satan does not hold the IOU.

            (3) As I said, I need to read this section of LWW again. But it is of the very essence of Satan’s character in Scripture that he lies even when he tells the truth. Note Gen 3, where almost everything the serpent says is true, and yet employed to work deceit. It is possible that Lewis replicates in the speech of the White Witch. I’ll get back to you later with more detail on this once I’ve had a chance to review the text.

            (4) Yes, Aslan gives himself up to the witch. And God gives his Son up to the Jews and the Romans. And this accomplishes the Father’s will, the sacrifice of his Son to atone for sin.

            Sorry, this is a bit quick and short — I’ll get back to you in more detail later.

          • I hope to hear back from you regarding your take on the Witch’s statements, because I think I’ve finally figured out what’s bugging me about your approach here.

            You’ve decided that interpretations of CV that contradict PSA are wrong. Fair enough. That’s fine.

            What’s NOT fine is deciding to retcon that kind of CV out of LWW by appealing to things that A) are either not in the text, or explicitly contradicted BY the text, and B) explicitly contradicted by Lewis elsewhere as well.

            Say that Lewis had a non-workable sense of the Atonement here. That’s fine. I think it’s wrong, but it’s fine. What’s NOT fine is saying that Lewis didn’t really know what he was talking about, and was really advocating for PSA – the thing he specifically renounces – the whole time.

          • Hi Mackenzie. Part of the problem we’re having here is that continue to attribute to me positions which I have neither taken nor stated. So you need to listen/read more carefully and try to catch the nuances.

            (1) I have not by any means tried to “retcon” CV out of LWW. There is absolutely no doubt that CV is present there in the allegorical story. The only thing I ever suggested was that, whether Lewis meant to or not, the penal elements are also there. Aslan dies in the place of the traitor Edmund, and he dies in Edmund’s place to satisfy the “deep magic” which the Emperor himself decreed and put into place. Aslan’s death is substitutionary and it is penal. Lewis does this, in spite of his objections to PSA.

            (2) It is certainly true that Lewis seems to reject PSA in Mere Christianity. But as I said in the article, a more nuanced reading is that he actually hems and haws on it. On the one hand, at one point, he refers to it as a silly theory, but then later on he notes, “Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to . . .” I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Remember that Lewis got his title, Mere Christianity, from the puritan Richard Baxter, who clearly taught and believed in PSA. Remember also, that Lewis wrote a preface for an edition of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. While it can be said that Athanasius held a form of Christus Victor (minus the ransom element), he also very clearly taught PSA as well. So, despite Lewis’s characterization of PSA as silly, he also had to run up against the fact that two of his heroes clearly held to it. Furthermore, Lewis did not argue his point scripturally. Indeed, in light of 1 Cor 1:18-25, I would hold argue that it is very unwise to refer to an understanding of atonement traditionally held by the large swathes of the Christian church as “silly.” In any case, my point is that Lewis, writing “better than he knew,” actually incorporated a form of PSA in the allegory. In my opinion, what Lewis was reacting against was a crasser and illegitimate form of PSA, or a caricature of it, in which God’s attitude toward sinners is changed by Christ’s death. And this is clearly not PSA teaching, inasmuch as the Scripture pictures what God did in Christ as being motivated by his love toward sinners.

            (2) Now, as for the white witch. I want to reiterate points with which you have not satisfactorily interacted. The White Witch did not come up with or put the “deep magic” into operation. That was the Emperor. It is his law, his decree, his will. Again, in that part you quoted, note what the witch says, “He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says . . .” And then, later on, she says to Aslan, “Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased.” This is PSA language. So why does Aslan take Edmund’s place on the stone table, rather than simply killing the White Witch right off? Because the Emperor has decreed it. It is his will.

            (3) By the way, I keep answering your questions, but you still haven’t answered mine I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

          • Wow. Just…wow.

            First off: Athanasius holding to PSA? That’s going to be big news to my Eastern Orthodox friends. Care to support that?

            Second off: Is the teaching of PSA that Satan demands sacrifice and is owed it, or that God demands sacrifice and is owed it?

            Finally, last time: NOBODY IS ARGUING WHETHER ASLAN’S DEATH IS SUBSTITUTIONARY. Do you understand that?

            It’s not about whether his death is substitutionary, because it clearly is. It’s about WHO IT IS A PAYMENT TO. Period. That’s what matters in this discussion…in fact, that’s ALL that matters in this discussion.

            Who holds the rights to Edmund’s life? Who is owed a debt of blood?

            The text is clear: The White Witch. That’s what sinks your boat. Everything else you’re discussing is extraneous.

            If the White Witch is the one who holds the rights to Edumund’s life, then PSA has no foothold here.

            If the White Witch is the one who is owed blood, who has the right to a kill, the PSA has no foothold here. By the way, this is the case even if that right is derived from the Deep Magic, because even then, it is the Witch, NOT the Emperor, who demands blood and is owed a sacrifice.

            Because Penal Substitutionary Atonement means that GOD has the right to our lives, and is the one who demands it of us. It means that GOD is the one who is owed blood, and demands payment.

            That’s what PSA means. And without that crucial aspect, PSA cannot exist. Period. That’s the issue you’re dodging, because you know that if the White Witch is telling the truth, then Edmund’s death is in no way demanded by the Emperor: It is, rather, allowed, and only at the demand of the Witch. Without the Witch to accuse, Edmund would be forgiven without the death of Aslan.

            I’m done here. Just know that I see this discussion as absurd as if you wrote about Lewis endorsing Calvinism in “The Great Divorce.

          • Hi Mackenzie. I will perform the kindness of answering your questions, even though you still have not yet answered mine.

            (1) It has long been recognized that Athanasius teaches PSA alongside of CV. Indeed, it is his understanding of PSA that determines how he understands CV. I, too, have Eastern Orthodox friends, and they recognize that this is problematic for their theologians who try to explain that teaching away. Athanasius is, of course, an important part of the Orthodox heritage, and yet, quite definitely says things that I would be more than happy to let stand as definitions of PSA. Here are a few passages. I have italicized the most important portions.

            “Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection.” (On the Incarnation, ch. 4)

            “The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required.” (On the Incarnation, ch. 4)

            There was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression.” (Incarnation ch. 4)

            Formerly, the world, as guilty, was under judgment from the Law; but now the Word has taken on Himself the judgment, and having suffering in the body for all, has bestowed salvation to all.” (Four Discourses Against the Arians)

            “For, as when John says, ‘The Word was made flesh we do not conceive the whole Word Himself to be flesh, but to have put on flesh and become man, and on hearing, ‘Christ hath become a curse for us,’ and ‘He hath made Him sin for us who knew no sin,’ we do not simply conceive this, that whole Christ has become curse and sin, but that He has taken on Him the curse which lay against us (as the Apostle has said, ‘Has redeemed us from the curse,’ and ‘has carried,’ as Isaiah has said, ‘our sins,’ and as Peter has written, ‘has borne them in the body on the wood.’” (Four Discourses Against The Arians)

            (2) On PSA theory, God is the one who, as it were, propitiates himself through the death of his Son. But he utilized the actions of wicked men, even of Satan himself, to accomplish this sacrifice.

            (3) On your third question, this is the very point where I have asked you the question and you have not even attempted to answer. If, as you agree, Christ’s death on the cross was substitutionary, then how was it not penal? If, by my sin, I have incurred a penalty, i.e., death, and Christ takes that death upon himself as my substitute, how is that not penal? This is the problem you still have.

          • It’s not about who kills him. It’s not about who the action is performed “through.” It’s not about any of the things you’re using to obscure the issue.

            It’s about who, ultimately, the debt is owed to. And according to the text. the debt is owed ONLY to the Witch. That is ALL we have to go on. Everything in the text, all the dialogue, points to the debt being owed solely to the Witch.

            It literally can’t get any clearer than that.

          • Mackenzie, you’re failing to notice that in the biblical text, God is completely sovereign. He sacrifices his own Son as a propitiation to himself. He does not do this directly, but actually accomplishes it through the actions of wicked men who do not realize the part they are playing in God’s plan. So it is that Caiaphas can say, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Yet, John’s gospel goes on to say, “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation.” Caiaphas says what he says, completely unaware that he is speaking prophetically. He has certain goals he wants to accomplish by putting Jesus to death. God has different goals entirely. Similarly, in LWW, the witch intends one thing by Aslan’s death; the Emperor and Aslan himself intend quite another. Given the legal, penal, atoning language of the narrative, it is not at all out of bounds to understand that Aslan’s death atones for Edmund’s treachery, and that this atonement is toward the Emperor, and not the witch. Again, I am not saying that Lewis is doing this consciously, but in his allegorizing of the biblical narrative, he has opened the door for this understanding. The deep magic is fulfilled; the law is appeased, Edmund’s treachery is atoned for.

          • Ah, there it is.

            ” you’re failing to notice that in the biblical text, God is completely sovereign. He sacrifices his own Son as a propitiation to himself.”

            All you’re saying is that IF you come at the text with a certain set of assumptions, you CAN force those assumptions onto the text.

            IF you come at LWW with an ASSUMPTION that debt can be owed only to God, then it’s possible to form an interpretation that makes the debt owed ultimately to the Emperor – despite the fact that all of that is coming solely from your assumptions, and not from Lewis or the text.

            IF you come at LWW with an ASSUMPTION of PSA, you can form an interpretation that forces PSA into the text. Because since you’ve already assumed PSA, it’s simply not possible for you to arrive at a conclusion that DOESN’T include PSA.

            That’s all you’re really saying. And it really irritates me that you think you’re saying something more. This time, I really am done.

          • No Mackenzie, I’m not saying anything like what you’re suggesting. What I am saying is that it entirely possible for a writer to unconsciously communicate or allow for more than he or she intends. This has long been recognized in the fields of literature, hermeneutics, philosophy, theology, etc. This is simply literary studies 101. Again, Lewis is not attempting to communicate a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement in his allegorization. He has, however, incorporated elements into the allegory which could lead/permit a reader to go in that direction: law, appeasement, substitution — the elements are all there. You also have to ask the question: Why did the Emperor make that provision in the deep magic? Why did he put that in there? What did he intend by Aslan’s death that the witch did not intend?

            And by the way, you still haven’t answered my question.

          • “the death of Christ is not simply paying our debt of obedience; it is also paying the debt incurred as a result of disobedience.”

            I would like to follow the logic of Romans 6:23 to adjust the wording to: “the death of Christ is not simply paying our debt of obedience; it is also earning the wages that sin has incurred as a result of disobedience.” The debt of disobedience (by definition) is obedience, not death. Death is the wage, the earnings, of disobedience. The distinction between debts and wages matters in these metaphors just as much as in real life. If I receive a check in the mail that says I owe $3000, that is completely different than if it says I have earned $3000! Let’s take Paul at his word, rather than smuggling in our own philosophy of payment and punishment. Jesus earns the wages of death which he does not deserve, and so justice demands that these wages be returned, that death be reversed. The application of this for believers is not that we avoid earning the wages of sin, for we do die, but that through death in Christ we can be free from sin (Rom 6:7) and raised to new life. What we owe for sin is love and obedience. What we earn for sin is death. But to equate owing and earning is to confuse opposite sides of the economic metaphor, and leads us to believe that mere punishment will pay for sin, which it does not. If a father loses his daughter to a murderer, no amount of punishing the murderer is going to bring his daughter back, that is, pay for the crime.

          • Gabe, you keep trying to smuggle this nonsense into our discussions on atonement. And I mean that in all seriousness. It is absolute nonsense. Earning the wages of sin and incurring a debt on account of one’s sins are simply two different metaphors which are completely identical in their meanings and refer to exactly the same thing. Rom 6:23 can talk about earning the wages of sin. Matthew 6:12 // Luke 11:4 can refer to sin as being a debt which one incurs. They are referring to the exact same thing. You are trying to press the difference between the metaphors way beyond where it can be pressed. If I go to court and am convicted of a crime, I have earned the wages of wickedness. I have also become a debtor and must pay a penalty. These are just two metaphorical ways of expressing the same concept. As an argument, this is an absolute non-starter. Drop it.

          • So just to clarify, on PSA, our sin obligates God to exercise damning wrath on our guilty status, even if that guilty status is imputed to an innocent person. This obligation is the central reason why Jesus dies on the cross.

            Look, I understand the satisfaction of wrath. When Osama bin Laden was killed, our nation’s just wrath was satisfied. Bin Laden deserved to die. But are we really to say that God’s primary response to His Son’s unjust crucifixion is analogous to how we feel when a terrorist is justly killed? How is God’s just wrath satisfied by such gross injustice?

          • Okay, to clarify, the only thing that obligates God is God. Our sin does not obligate God to do anything. Rather, God has obligated himself by his decrees, his oath, his giving of the law, and the revelation of his just character. If God had chosen to deal with sin in some other way than punishment and the cross of Christ, well, he is sovereign and he can deal with sin in any way he chooses. But God set up the world to run within a particular order, and he gave laws and decrees within which he has chosen to administrate his justice. Imputing our guilt to his own Son is the way in which he has demonstrated his love for us (Rom 5:8). God laid our sins on his own Son as an incredible act of love.

            I am not going to get into the inner workings and emotions of the mind of God. I can only work with God has revealed; the secret things belong to him. The revealed things tell me that God has condemned sin in the flesh of his own Son (Rom 8:3). He did this in order to both (1) provide justification for those who put their faith in Jesus, and (2) to maintain his own justice in the process (Rom 3:26). In order to provide this justification, God actively orchestrated things so that this would happen. On the part of the wicked men who crucified Jesus, it was a horrible act of injustice; but on God’s part, it was an incredible act of justice which demonstrated his righteousness and provided mercy for those who believe in Jesus (Acts 2:23-24; Rom 8:32). When we confess our sins, God has mercy on us and forgives us, on account of the justice he demonstrated in the delivering up of his own Son (1 John 1:9). He is just and justifier at the same time. He is just and merciful at the same time. All glory and praise to God!

          • No one disagrees that Jesus suffered the condemnation of sin in his flesh on the cross. The disagreement is over whether he suffers that condemnation justly or unjustly. The repentant thief on the cross makes it clear to the wicked thief that Jesus is suffering unjustly: Lk 23:40, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” The centurion confirms the repentant thief’s analysis: “Certainly this man was innocent.”

            You say that CV is insufficient because “it is not simply paying our debt of obedience; it is also earning the wages as a result of disobedience.” But Jesus does earn our wages. Jesus dies! He dies unjustly, so that justice would demand the reversal of death by his resurrection. PSA advocates seem to demand that Jesus die justly, and I don’t see why. Jesus’ death is saving because it is unjust: “For this finds grace: if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly (1 Pet 2:19).”

          • Hi Gabe. Evidently, when you read my responses, you regularly forget to put your reading cap on. So, I’ll just repeat part of a previous response here. Please interact with the response, not what you incorrectly think PSA advocates think.

            “Further, your account of PSA is badly nuanced. Jesus does not die simply as a guilty party, but as an innocent party who assumed another’s guilt. It is on account of that innocence that PSA works. It is on account of that innocence that Jesus does not stay dead, but is raised from the dead “according to the spirit of holiness.” PSA, no less than what you attribute to CV, regards the death of Jesus as the death of one who is “just for the unjust.” He is the just one who takes on to himself our guilt, shame, our sin, our penalty. But he does this as one who is just, not as one who is himself unjust.”

          • First off, I am very happy with your affirmation that, “It is on account of Jesus’ innocence that he does not stay dead, but is raised from the dead “according to the spirit of holiness.”” I should have mentioned that earlier.

            But I don’t understand your statement that “CV, alone, without a PSA foundation, utterly fails.” You say that, “the death of Christ is not simply paying our debt of obedience; it is also paying the debt (or earning the wages) incurred as a result of disobedience.” But on CV, Jesus does earn the wages of our sin. He suffers death unjustly. So I don’t think you have pointed out any lack in CV that only PSA provides.

          • Hi Gabe. The knock against CV-only, and one that is deserved, is that it does not explain why Jesus had to die. If Christus Victor is about freeing us from Satan, Christ could accomplish that by simply doing away with Satan. CV does not explain what it is about Jesus’ death that provides forgiveness of sins, that moves us from a state of condemnation to a state of being declared righteous. And this explains why the church fathers were not CV-only; they took account of the sacrificial, substitutionary, forensic, penal language in Scripture and worked with that as well. CV has no explanatory power of itself; it needs PSA.

          • But Christus Victor proponents have often explained the cross in sacrificial, substitutionary, forensic, and penal language without resorting to Penal Substitution (the idea that Jesus substitutes himself to justly satisfy the wrath of God so that sinners will not have to satisfy that wrath in hell). As I said, “On CV, the value of Jesus’ substitution is that he unjustly dies as an innocent party in order to pay our debt of obedience, disarm the devil who unjustly slew him, and secure the right to reverse death.” What you said was insufficient about this analysis was that, “it fails to do justice to the fact that the death of Christ … is also paying the debt (earning the wages) incurred as a result of disobedience.” But I affirmed that Jesus earned the wages of our sin by dying unjustly. So again, what is missing that I need PSA for?

          • Gabe, several problems here. The first is you are using language in a very strange way, and in such a way that I think you would have a hard time finding another CV advocate willing to say it the same way. Jesus doesn’t earn the wages of sin. That can only be done by sinning. Rather, God puts our sins and the punishment for that sin on Jesus. He endures the penalty, so that we do not have to; our sins are atoned for, and we receive forgiveness. Specifically, my sins are imputed to Jesus, and his righteousness is imputed to me. I am forgiven for my offenses against God and declared to be righteous.

            Second, if a CV advocate is going to talk about Jesus’ death in terms that are “sacrificial, substitutionary, forensic, and penal language without resorting to Penal Substitution,” this is simply doublespeak; it uses the terms but robs them of their meaning. If a CV advocate uses the terms “forensic” and “penal” and yet goes on to say that this does not mean that Christ substitutes himself to satisfy the wrath of God, then the terms have simply been emptied of meaning.

          • You’re right. I should not say that Jesus ‘earns’ the wages of sin, but ‘receives’ or ‘suffers’ the wages of sin. The wages of sin is death. Jesus dies. He receives these wages unjustly.

            No, Jesus does not die so we wont have to. Jesus dies so that we who are dead in sin can die and rise in him. Romans 6.

            It is very easy to describe Jesus’ death as sacrificial, penal, forensic, and substitutionary without PSA. I have already done so. Jesus sacrificially offers himself as our innocent substitute, unjustly suffers the punishment of death in order to justly reverse it by his resurrection, and if we die in him, he will impute his righteousness to us and we will rise in him. No penal substitution necessary.

          • Ok Gabe, give your head a shake. On the one hand, you say that Jesus’ death is penal and substitutionary; but then you say, “No penal substitution necessary.” Sorry, this is just doublespeak.

          • Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify my terms. At no point in my analysis of the cross have I affirmed that Jesus “justly satisfies the wrath of God so that sinners will not have to satisfy this wrath in hell” which is the theory of Penal Substitution to which I am objecting. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus death “satisfies the wrath of God,” so I don’t say that either. The Bible does say that Jesus suffers unjustly on the cross, and that this unjust suffering finds grace with God (1 Peter 2), and that God fulfills his promises to the patriarchs in that He raises Jesus up from the dead (Acts 13:32). So I affirm those things.

            I am fine with affirming that Jesus’ death is “penal” in the sense that: physical death is a punishment for sin, Jesus physically dies, and therefore Jesus suffers the punishment for sin. I would just point out that (1) Jesus suffers this punishment unjustly, not justly, and (2) all sinners physically die, so it is inappropriate to put this punishment in the category of “substitution.”

            But as far as substitution goes, Jesus is certainly our substitute in that he alone suffers death unjustly, because he alone is innocent, whereas we all suffer death justly, because we have sinned. But it is inappropriate to say that Jesus dies so we wont have to, for the truth is that Jesus dies so that we who are dead in sin can die and rise in him. The content of our salvation is not avoidance of death, but resurrection from death. There is a profound distinction between the two.

            So I can easily affirm that Jesus’ death is “penal” in some sense and “substitutionary” in some sense without affirming the theory of Penal Substitution.

      • Not once did you reference how PSA figures into all of this…you’ve just again and again referenced how CV works. I’m beginning to suspect that you equate any form of “substitution” with Penal Substitutionary Atonement?

        In PSA, it is God who demands punishment, not Satan. In PSA, God must be appeased. Anselm formulates it as a kind of debt/financial transaction, and it’s now morphed into a much heavier emphasis on God’s justice and holiness. Therefore, it is ultimately God, not Satan, who condemns man for his sin and MUST punish him (or someone).

        That’s PSA. All of that is necessary to suggest that we see PSA at work here. We would NEED to see Aslan even HINT at the fact that the Emperor needs to see someone die. But we don’t.

        You are correct that Edmund is guilty of breaking the Emperor’s law. And you are also correct that the Witch is within her (Emperor-given) rights to demand judgement.

        However, that’s not PSA: That’s CV through and through. None of that figures into PSA. Because not once does Aslan bring up HIS claim against Edmund, or the Emperor’s claim – the logical implication being that neither he nor the Emperor have any interest in pursuing that claim.

        Aslan does not wish for Edmund’s debt to be called in. Aslan – and presumably the Emperor – offers forgiveness of Edmund immediately, prior to and without needing any sort of substitutionary sacrifice demanded by PSA. Aslan only dies because THE WITCH demands sacrifice.

        That’s the thing you need to answer. If the Witch hadn’t accused Edmund and demanded blood, would Aslan still have needed to die?

        PSA says yes, because in PSA God is one who demands sacrifice.

        But CV says no, because Jesus has already won the victory and rescued us from Satan.

        So which is it?

        • Mackenzie, part of the problem here is that you are looking for specific statements, whereas I am saying that according to the logic of the story, Lewis is actually opening the door for a PSA interpretation. Again, note that I am not arguing that Lewis lays this out in precise statements; rather, my argument is that the logic of the story entails a PSA understanding.

          I don’t have to point to a specific statement that the Emperor demanded that Edmund pay the penalty for this act of treachery. That statement is already there in the Emperor’s decree as contained in the “deep magic.” You cannot simply wave that decree off. It is not the witch’s decree; it is the Emperor’s. Aslan, voluntarily, takes Edward’s place. He is punished as the traitor instead of Edmund, according to the Emperor’s decree. Aslan, fulfills the decree of the Emperor in doing this. Christ, signaled that he was going to do this very thing at his baptism. He had no sins to be baptized for; yet he is baptized, as he says, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Notice that he does not say here that he is doing this in order to satisfy Satan’s desires, but to fulfill all righteousness.

          Now, beyond this, I have a question for you. You say “I’m beginning to suspect that you equate any form of ‘substitution’ with Penal Substitutionary Atonement?” My question is this: If Christ is our substitute, if he dies in our place, if he dies the death we should have died, how is that not penal? And if it is not penal, how is it really substitutionary? I realize there are those who believe Christ’s death was substitutionary but not penal, but I believe they are being incredibly illogical in trying to argue for this dichotomy.

          Finally, one more thing relating to the story line of LWW, but again using biblical text for illumination. In Acts 2, Peter says to the crowd, “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” It is important to note in this passage that God is in completely control of the situation. Wicked men put Jesus to death, yet they do so according the deliberate plan of God. God orchestrates the whole thing. Wicked men carry out the deed, but this becomes the mechanism for how “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, m through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness . . .” (Rom 3:25). Wicked men carry out the act, but the act they carry out is one decreed by God in which he offers his own Son as atonement for sin. In the same way, in the LWW, Aslan is not carrying out the witch’s desire so much as he is carrying out the decree of the Emperor, who has orchestrated the whole thing. The witch’s actions are only the mechanism that the Emperor utilizes in his putting forth Aslan as an atonement on the stone table.

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