Thursday, February 4, 2010

Parables and Penal Substitution

On Rhology's blog we are debating a few Eastern Orthodox guys who bristle at the Penal Substitution view of the atonement (comment page found here). One of the issues brought up (as it commonly is in these debates) is that in several parables where Christ tells of forgiveness, a payment for the sin committed is not given. In the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector, all the tax collector had to do was cry out "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." He was immediately justified (Luke 18;9-14). The king freely forgave the servant without payment in Matthew 18:23-35. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father forgives the son without any punishment (Luke 15:11-24).

I have summarized three points that John Stott points out in his treatise The Cross of Christ in the comment section. I will repost it here.

A parable is not an exhaustive doctrinal formulation. Three problems with bringing up these parables to support your position.

  1. Christ is not mentioned in these parables. Does that mean Christ shouldn't have been given? Because these parables say so? Parables aren't allegories, and as such we shouldn't expect a point by point correlation between the story and its message.
  2. These parables only contain two actors who are directly contrasted with one another. They are shown to tell us what we must do, not directly what God has done for our forgiveness.
  3. The cross can be seen in all three parables, showing the self sacrificial nature of God.

Stott observes:
in his book The Cross and the Prodigal Dr. [Kenneth E.] Bailey...takes a fresh look at Luke 15 "through the eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants." He explains that the whole village would know that the returning prodigal was in disgrace, and that punishment of some kind was inevitable, if only to preserve the father's honor. But the father bears the punishment instead of inflicting it. Although, "a man of his age and position always walks in a slow, dignified fasion," and although "he has not run anywhere for any purpose for 40 years," he yet "races" down the road like a teenager to welcome his home-coming son. Thus risking the ridicule of the street urchins, "he takes upon himself the shame and humiliation due to the prodigal." "In this parable," Dr Bailey continues, "we have a father who leaves the comfort and security of his home and exposes himself in a humiliating fashion in the village street. The coming down and going out to his boy hints at the incarnation. The humiliating spectacle in the village street hints at the cross." Thus "the cross and the incarnation are implicitly yet dramatically present in the story," for "the suffering of the cross was not primarily the physical torture but rather the agony of rejected love." What was essential for the prodigal's reconciliation was a "physical demonstration of self-emptying love in suffering...Is this not the way of God with man on Golgotha?" (John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ p. 218-219)

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