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October 29, 2014


Florian Berndt

Brilliant! When I first encountered Father's love, the idea of penal substituion was the first one that flew out of the window as it simply didn't make any sense anymorea and I couldn't find it in Scripture anymore. It's so great to see how the early church confirms these deep spiritual instincts and how more and more people come into an understanding of Father's unfailing mercy...

Rene Lafaut

Oh Yes I forgot. I like the idea of substitution mentioned above: what comes to mind is the analogy of a football player being injured and needing a substitute to take his/her place to finish the game... Only Jesus can finish the game for us (He is our substitute)...and He already has won the game for us! Praise be His Name!

Rene Lafaut

I think that this article by Brad Jersak is very good. But lacking one thing: Jesus also came to heal us of our sins because the Bible tell us "By His stripes we are healed". Interesting thing is that evil and good are not defined in the popular sense... but evil is defined as spiritual sickness; and goodness or holiness is defined as spiritual healthiness and that involves healthy relationships (Jesus calls Himself a Physician and wants to heal us from the wounds in our hearts/minds/actions/relationships). Fact is that Jesus came to heal "us" and that means healing our relationships too since by His stripes "we" are healed...! I'd also like to say that people most of the time believe what they are taught in their churches... and bring their own baggages to Scripture both good and bad... we all do... no sense in getting angry with those who hold the incorrect Penal Substitution view of Salvation... none of us have it all together...we all have blind spots...we are all on journeys...Jesus taught us to not judge or condemn...but to be merciful... it's OK to be "angry" but lets not let the sun go down on our anger...let's not have a chips on our shoulders! The Good News that God is not like pagan deities and thirsty for revenge means He is not a mean God...but a loving God...He is slow to anger...and because He is not mean, capricious, fickle, and annal... we can be like Him when it comes to others crossing our boundaries...and kind to ourselves too for having crossed other people's boundaries...It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance...not threats, fears, or a heavy hand...let's act likewise!!! Thanks Brad Jersak!


It's hard for me, honestly, to read this good news and not get fired up and angry still: to want to take it and throw it in the face of so many teachers/friends/conservativebullies in my past and life (and even yesterday, this guy who came to TN accompanying a man out of prison and grilled me about TN doctrine and started with hell and God sending us to hell as his primary point and narrative for doctrine). This--what Brad summarized in the Fathers--is, honestly, what I believed since I was a boy, intuitively, as I read the scriptures. This is what I believed and articulated in college, too, having read little theology. And in my time at TN, with only Bob's angle on the scriptures, but no atonement training or patristics.

So to see that what I believed my whole life, and what I thought were my own lonely interpretations of NT teaching, were right there in the Fathers--it's a mixed feeling. Relief. Thrill. Vindication. Gratitude to God. Fury, pure fury. And an arming, a rehearsing, of these points, to go back to battle with those who tell a mean, pagan, sad story of salvation and tell me it's Biblical and that I'm going "light" on scripture.

I probably need to go deeper into dialogical prayer with this, and sit with Jesus, and let him put his hand on my heart, look into his eyes, and let the truth of all this burn with glory into my heart until it glows there and the anger is gone. I might need help doing that. Because I"m still so so angry, brother.

Like people told me my whole life that my father was someone else. And I deep down knew a different father. And they still tell me my father is someone else. It's disorienting. I want to take my real father by the hand, knock on the doors of all the people that confused my heart in my life, introduce them to my real father, and tell them they were wrong, they hurt me, they're hurting other people, they were never right, and they're hurting/confusing more people out there. Including themselves.

I can see why Jesus wasn't a sweetheart to religious leaders. He had fiery words that stung and cut at religious teachers that misrepresented God and thought they had the scriptures on their side in their smug study. I feel so bad for not having a compassionate/evangelizing heart towards my evangelical/heretical teachers, that I feel anger towards them. So it's odd that me, a guy very against warped/violent atonement narratives, is comforted by Jesus' anger here.

Brad Jersak

Dear Kent,

Thanks for the good question. I'll do my best to represent what I see in the NT and the fathers here. There are a number of issues in play.

1. First, there is of course the obvious problem of physical death as a result of our spiritual rebellion, which is why Jesus literally had to engage and overcome death through his resurrection. We know this is usually what the the fathers are referring to because they apply the results of Christ's victory over death to their lack of fear of death in the face of potential martyrdom. This was a BIG deal to them, such that fearlessness re: death was one of the chief proofs of authentic faith.

2. Second, while there is no doubt a spiritual estrangement from God through sin that requires reconciliation, this estrangement is not envisioned on God's side. While we, like Adam and Eve, have hidden from him in our shame and run from him in our rebellion, He has never separated himself from us. Rather, from the very beginning, he has graciously come looking for us, the Good Shepherd looking for and finding and rescuing lost sheep.

3. Thus, Christ did not have to (and could not, ontologically) experience the death of spiritual separation from God, for at least three reasons: a. in his love, God has never abandoned humanity, b. in his humanity, Christ never hid from his Father or abandoned his mission, and c. because the Trinity lives as One God, the three persons are indivisible. Thus, in both the NT and the fathers thereafter, any talk of the Son being less than or separated from perfect union with the Father is [formally] regarded as heresy.

3. So if only that which Christ assumed could be healed, and if Christ thus assumed the entire human condition, then the human condition must never be beyond (cut off) from God, even in spiritual death. Remember the Psalmist's words, 'even if I make my bed in sheol, thou art there.' So while there is a spiritual death attributable to sin, apparently we ought not equate it with 'separation from God,' in any ultimate way.

4. The verse used to identify a spiritual death defined as separation and experienced by Christ is typically Jesus' quote from Psalm 22:1 - My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? - In this case, Christ does identify with the human experience of despairing of God's rescue, but in the full context of the Psalm he is quoting and proclaiming, we hear the fulness of his experience in verse. 22-24, where he continues:

Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
he has been right there, listening.

Jesus entered the dark place of knowing he would indeed face death and neither his Father nor 10,000 angels would pull him from the Cross ... but he also says in the clearest terms (at the last supper), "You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me." (John 16:32)


What are your thoughts on death being spiritual in nature instead of physical? For instance, when Paul writes, "the wages of sin is death," wouldn't it make more sense that he was saying spiritual separation from the Father instead of physical separation from this life? If so, did the early church fathers see it this way or did they understand it as physical or possibly both?

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