Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

(Ephesians 2:12-13)

(Related article Depiction and Argument in C. S. Lewis: The formula of Blood atonement and the Blessed sacrament).

C S Lewis is one of the most influential Christian writers of modern times. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity” (correction: a reader pointed out that the source is “God in the Dock), I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

What is the most uncomfortable doctrine of modern Christianity? The bloody substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Lewis doesn’t put much weight on this glorious doctrine. So, perhaps Lewis should’ve added (to his quote above):

“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. But not to worry, it won’t make you feel too uncomfortable.”

In October 2007, The Sydney Doctrine Commission produced its report on penal substitutionary atonement. Here is part of the conclusion:

“Penal substitution is an indispensable element in the Christian proclamation of the cross. It does not say everything about the atonement but it says a crucial thing, one which also helps to illumine every other facet of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. It has been treasured all through Christian history because it enables us to see how the atonement which reconciles us to God can be at one time an act of love, an act of justice and an act of triumphant redemptive power. What has been done for us was truly, morally done. What was done for us was complete and entire, addressing every dimension of the predicament we have created for ourselves. What was done for us secures our freedom and gives us a solid ground for assurance and hope. Precisely because in this penal substitution the consequences of human sin have been dealt with for those who belong to Christ, the words of Jesus from the cross are cherished above all others: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) (§45).

In his “Ch r i s t i a n a p o l o g e t i c s,” Lewis writes (my italics and underlining):

“Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them.”

Here is what the Apostle Paul says about “winds of doctrine”:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

“14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (doctrine) and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15):

“We are not at all likely to be hidebound: we are very likely indeed to be the slaves of fashion. If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are  necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times.We serve One who said, “Heaven and Earth shall move with the times, but my words shall not move with the times” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). (In Lewis’ “ESSAY COLLECTION and other shorter pieces. Harper Collins, London” ).

Lewis says:

With regard to the substitutionary sacrifice/atonement of Christ, Lewis, in his “Mere Christianity,” has fallen into the temptation of ignoring what should be a one of the core doctrines of “permanent Christianity.” Lewis says (in “Mere Christianity”; my italics and underlining):

“You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

No narrow formulas, says Lewis. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis, of course, indicates throughout his theological writings that this is the last thing he would desire. I wonder, however, whether this is exactly what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that substitutionary sacrifice (Lewis’ “washed in the blood of the lamb”) is merely an optional way of understanding the plan of salvation.

Lewis acknowledges the great influence of George MacDonald: “MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as developed by John Calvin, which argues that Christ has taken the place of sinners and is punished by God in their place, believing that in turn it raised serious questions about the character and nature of God. Instead, he taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, and not from a Divine penalty for their sins.’ (Wikipedia).

Contrary to Wikipedia, the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ is not peculiar to Calvin; the New Testament is drenched in the blood of Christ that was shed for sin.

“When we say, said MacDonald, that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless?” He replied, “No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. … The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.”

The rejection of blood atonement is common among “men of the cloth.” They believe that the idea that God (the Son) would sacrifice Himself and in such a bloody manner is a barbaric. The idea that the Father would plan – even if with the Son’s cooperation – that His Son would suffer such cruelty and anguish to propitiate the Father’s wrath against sinners who purportedly deserve eternal damnation. This is something that not even Old Testament “barbarism” (in their view) ever conceived.

For Lewis, MacDonald and many others, what does it matter whether a Christian believes in the “formula” (Lewis) that he is washed in Christ’s blood? It’s no better than believing that “the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” (Lewis) But this bloodless salvation through Christ’s life (or through what we! ought to have done) rather than through His Cross is, according to scripture, no salvation at all. The New Testament mentions the “blood” at least 90 times: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission ( of sin)” (Heb. 9:22). “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).

Modern Jews think that “blood atonement” is a Christian mishigas (craziness). Jews say that blood sacrifices in the Torah are only for unintentional sins. The Jewish view is that Jesus’ death could not possibly have atoned for anyone else’s sins. (See discussion on unintentional sins that follows “The Lion dug the nail into my hand” at the RoshPinaproject).

“To return to Lewis. He says in “Mere Christianity” (my emphasis):

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. … Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all of this are, in my view, quite secondary…”

“When Clive Staples Lewis was tempted to say: “our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine,” (above) that was one time that he should’ve, perhaps, stapled his mouth shut.<

Lewis’ pallid treatment of blood sacrifice in his “Mere Christianity” brings the Lutheran theologian, Daniel M Bell, to mind. In Bell’s book “God does not”, there is a chapter entitled “God does not demand blood”. He says in the opening  paragraph of the chapter: “Christians have never embraced blood sacrifice. We have not offered chickens or slain goats, let alone sacrificed our firstborn children to God. Indeed, the very idea of blood sacrifice is abhorrent to us evoking in us an almost involuntary visceral reaction. it sends chills down our spines and stirs deep within us a strong impulse to act against such a horrific practice.” (My emphasis).

Who is this “us”? Certainly not those who believe their Bibles. In the New Testament, there are more than 35 or more biblical references to the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:12-14

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit r offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Romans 5:9

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.<

Bell clangs on: “Christ is our substitute not in the sense that he takes our place in the execution chamber and suffers our punishment for us, but in the sense that he offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have and did not, and subsequently could not.”  Bell’s idea that “(Christ) offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have” must be at least as old as CS Lewis, who mentions the same idea above, namely, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” Recall that for Lewis it is just as “true” to say that “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” as to say “we are washed in the blood of the Lamb”. But what does Isaiah’s prophecy say? “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was he chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

The above passage contains three of Lewis’ four instances of “you can say”:

  1. Christ died for our sins.

  2. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

  3. Christ has defeated death (read more of Isaiah 53 to see this clearly).

Lewis says these are three alternate ways of saying the same thing. Not true. They are three aspects of the same thing, namely, Christ’s bloody sacrifice.

Lewis’ other alternate way, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” (the second way mentioned in Lewis’ passage), is  logically and chronologically related to the other three of his “ways”. Here is the chronological and logical progression:

We sinned. We are thus dead in sin. We deserve eternal punishment God’s justice demands this punishment. The Son takes on flesh and pays the ultimate price, namely, the horror of a bloody death on the cross. We are saved through faith in the blood of Christ. If you balk at the Blood, you’re not a basic Christian (as John Stott could very well have said in his “Basic Christianity”), but merely a “mere” one.

At the end of his Sermon (No. 23) “Curses and the Blessings” based on Deuteronomy 27:1 – 29:1, Dan Duncan closes with the following prayer:

“Father we thank you for the time this evening as we looked at a rather unpleasant passage in many respects, the curses of the law, and yet, Father, we can rejoice that those curses have all fallen on another, your Son whom you sent into the world to die for your people. Thank you for the grace that sent Him, grace that drew up a plan of salvation from all eternity, grace that chose for yourself a people, an elect people, a vast number, Father, and Christ shed His blood to purchase us for Himself. We confess that we don’t deserve that. We thank you for the grace that sent Him to do that for us and what we have; in His name we pray, amen.”

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

(Ephesians 2:12-13)

(Related article Depiction and Argument in C. S. Lewis: The formula of Blood atonement and the Blessed sacrament)

CS Lewis is one of the most influential Christian writers of modern times. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

What is the most uncomfortable doctrine of modern Christianity? The bloody substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Lewis doesn’t put much weight on this glorious doctrine. So, perhaps Lewis should’ve added (to his quote above):

“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. But not to worry, it won’t make you feel too uncomfortable.”

In October 2007, The Sydney Doctrine Commission produced its report on penal substitutionary atonement. Here is part of the conclusion:

Penal substitution is an indispensable element in the Christian proclamation of the cross. It does not say everything about the atonement but it says a crucial thing, one which also helps to illumine every other facet of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. It has been treasured all through Christian history because it enables us to see how the atonement which reconciles us to God can be at one time an act of love, an act of justice and an act of triumphant redemptive power. What has been done for us was truly, morally done. What was done for us was complete and entire, addressing every dimension of the predicament we have created for ourselves. What was done for us secures our freedom and gives us a solid ground for assurance and hope. Precisely because in this penal substitution the consequences of human sin have been dealt with for those who belong to Christ, the words of Jesus from the cross are cherished above all others: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) (§45)

In his “Ch r i s t i a n a p o l o g e t i c s,” Lewis writes (my italics and underlining):

“Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in
make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to
winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them.”

Here is what the Apostle Paul says about “winds of doctrine”:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (doctrine) and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15)

Lewis continues (in his “Ch r i s t i a n a p o l o g e t i c s”; my underlining):

“We are not at all likely to be hidebound: we are very likely indeed to be the slaves of
fashion. If one has to choose between reading the new books and
reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are
necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of
which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times.We serve One who said, “Heaven and Earth shall move with the times, but my words shall not move with the times” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). (In Lewis’ “ESSAY COLLECTION and other shorter pieces. Harper Collins, London” ).

With regard to the substitutionary sacrifice/atonement of Christ, Lewis, in his “Mere Christianity,” has fallen into the temptation of ignoring what should be a one of the core doctrines of “permanent Christianity.” Lewis says (in “Mere Christianity”; my italics and underlining):

“You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from years.”

No narrow formulas. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis, of course, indicates throughout his theological writings that this is the last thing he would desire. I wonder, however, whether this is exactly what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that substitutionary sacrifice (Lewis’ “washed in the blood of the lamb”) is merely an optional way of understanding the plan of salvation.

Lewis acknowledges the great influence of George MacDonald. In Wikipedia (one cannot ignore Wikipedia because for many that is a main source of their knowledge), we read:

“MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as developed by John Calvin, which argues that Christ has taken the place of sinners and is punished by God in their place, believing that in turn it raised serious questions about the character and nature of God. Instead, he taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, and not from a Divine penalty for their sins.’

Contrary to Wikipedia, the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ is not peculiar to Calvin; the New Testament is drenched in the blood of Christ shed for sin.

“When we say, said MacDonald, that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless?” He replied, “No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. … The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.”

The rejection of blood atonement is common among “men of the cloth.” They believe that the idea that God (the Son) would sacrifice Himself and in such a bloody manner is a barbaric. The idea that the Father would plan – even if with the Son’s cooperation – that His Son would suffer such cruelty and anguish to propitiate the Father’s wrath against sinners who purportedly deserve eternal damnation. This is something that not even Old Testament “barbarism” (in their view) ever conceived.

For Lewis, MacDonald and many others, what does it matter whether a Christian believes in the “formula” (Lewis) that he is washed in Christ’s blood? It’s no better than believing that “the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” (Lewis) But this bloodless salvation through Christ’s life (or through what we! ought to have done) rather than through His Cross is, according to scripture, no salvation at all. The New Testament mentions the “blood” at least 90 times: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission ( of sin)” (Heb. 9:22). “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).

Modern Jews think that “blood atonement” is a Christian mishigas (craziness). Jews say that blood sacrifices in the Torah are only for unintentional sins. The Jewish view is that Jesus’ death could not possibly have atoned for anyone else’s sins. (See discussion on unintentional sins that follows “The Lion dug the nail into my hand” at the RoshPinaproject).

To return to Lewis. He says in “Mere Christianity” (my emphasis):

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. … Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all of this are, in my view, quite secondary…”

When Clive Staples Lewis was tempted to say: “our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine,” (above) that was one time that he should’ve, perhaps, stapled his mouth shut.

Lewis’ pallid treatment of blood sacrifice in his “Mere Christianity” brings the Lutheran theologian, Daniel M Bell, to mind.

In Bell’s book “God does not”, there is a chapter entitled “God does not demand blood”. He says in the opening  paragraph of the chapter:

“Christians have never embraced blood sacrifice. We have not offered chickens or slain goats, let alone sacrificed our firstborn children to God. Indeed, the very idea of blood sacrifice is abhorrent to us evoking in us an almost involuntary visceral reaction. it sends chills down our spines and stirs deep within us a strong impulse to act against such a horrific practice.” (My emphasis).

Who is this “us”? Certainly not those who believe their Bibles. In the New Testament, there are more than 35 or more biblical references to the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:12-14

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit r offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Romans 5:9

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.


Bell clangs on:

“Christ is our substitute not in the sense that he takes our place in the execution chamber and suffers our punishment for us, but in the sense that he offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have and did not, and subsequently could not” (My emphasis).

Bell’s idea that “(Christ) offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have” must be at least as old as CS Lewis, who mentions the same idea above, namely, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” Recall that for Lewis it is just as “true” to say that “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” as to say “we are washed in the blood of the Lamb”. But what does Isaiah’s prophecy say?

What Christ did/was going to do Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But
he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was he chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

The above passage contains three of Lewis’ four “you can say”:

  1. Christ died for our sins.

  2. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

  3. Christ has defeated death (read more of Isaiah 53 to see this clearly).

Lewis says that these are three alternate ways of saying the same thing. Not true. They are three aspects of the same thing, namely, Christ’s sacrifice.

Lewis’ other alternate way, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” (the second way mentioned in Lewis’ passage), is  logically and chronologically related to the other three of his “ways”. Here is the chronological and logical progression:

We sinned. We are thus dead in sin. We deserve eternal punishment God’s justice demands this punishment. The Son takes on flesh and pays the ultimate price, namely, the horror of a bloody death on the cross. We are saved through faith in the blood of Christ. If you balk at the Blood, you’re not a basic Christian (as John Stott could very well have said in his “Basic Christianity”), but merely a mere one.

At the end of his Sermon (No. 23) “Curses and the Blessings” based on Deuteronomy 27:1 – 29:1, Dan Duncan closes with the following prayer:

Father we thank you for the time this evening as we looked at a rather unpleasant passage in many respects, the curses of the law, and yet, Father, we can rejoice that those curses have all fallen on another, your Son whom you sent into the world to die for your people. Thank you for the grace that sent Him, grace that drew up a plan of salvation from all eternity, grace that chose for yourself a people, an elect people, a vast number, Father, and Christ shed His blood to purchase us for Himself. We confess that we don’t deserve that. We thank you for the grace that sent Him to do that for us and what we have; in His name we pray, amen.”

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins

  1. The comment about “I didn’t go to Christanity to make me happy” is not in _Mere Christianity_. It’s in _God in the Dock_. It’s from a transcript of a Q&A session at one of Lewis’s talks, where someone asked which Christian denomination is most likely to make someone happy, and Lewis replies that no where does Christianity promise worldly happiness–that’s what a bottle of port is for–but if he is interested in a religion to make him happy, there’s “probably some patent American variety out there for you.”

    • Ye Godsgadfly, a little while ago my eyes fell on one of my shelves – no not into one of my jars of fruit preserves – and there it was the purple (hmmm) and white binding of William B, Eerdmans softcover 1970 edition of you know what.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s