Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Heresy Of Open Theism (Part 2 - The Atonement)

The other day I began a series of posts dealing with the teachings of Open Theism and I want to continue that today by taking about the Open Theist's view of the Atonement. This is essential to the issue of whether or not Open Theism is a heretical belief system, or if it is just another acceptable form of orthodox, historic Christianity. I will show here that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ died in our place as substitutionary Atonement for our sins and that the Open Theism denies this and replaces it with a governmental model of the Atonement that obliterates the true meaning of the cross.

As we begin the first question we must answer is this, what does the Bible teach about the death of Christ? Was it a sacrificial atoning death, or was it just an example for us to see how God feels about sin? To answer this question we must look at to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and the picture that was being painted there, because as we see in Hebrews, and the Mosaic law, the temple (or tabernacle) and the Old Testament sacrificial system were set up as a picture of what was to come and to point us to Christ (see Hebrews 8:1-6 & 10:1).

We see throughout the Old Testament that when someone sinned, the sin could not merely be forgiven and forgotten as if it had never happened. When sin occurred a sacrifice had to be made and that sin had to be atoned for. The Hebrew word that for Atonement is kāp̱ar, which The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament defines as a word of "supreme theological importance in the Old Testament..." It then goes on to say:
At its most basic level, the word conveys the notion of covering but not in the sense of merely concealing. Rather, it suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature. It is therefore employed to signify the cancellation or “writing over” of a contract; the appeasing of anger... The word also communicates God’s covering of sin. Persons made reconciliation with God for their sins by imposing something that would appease the offended party (in this case the Lord) and cover the sinners with righteousness. In the Old Testament, the blood of sacrifices was most notably imposed. By this imposition, sin was purged and forgiven. The offenses were removed, leaving the sinners clothed in righteousness. Of course, the imposition of the blood of bulls and of goats could never fully cover our sin, but with the coming of Christ and the imposition of His shed blood, a perfect atonement was made.
According to this definition, what Jesus did on the cross was take upon Himself the wrath of God that our sin deserved. Notice that the definition includes "the appeasing of anger" in connection with the forgiveness of sin. The Open Theist teaches something completely different, however, Open Theism teaches that God never demands a payment for sin and that the death of Christ did not absorb the wrath that we were due but that it merely shows Christ as a partaker with us in the human problem of pain and suffering.

So the next question that we must ask then is this, is there any Biblical basis for saying that Jesus appeased the wrath of God, or even that God expresses anger and/or wrath towards sinners?

To answer this question we need go no further than Psalm 5, where we read:
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness, evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes, you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies, the Lord abhors the blood thirsty and deceitful man.
Psalm 5:4-6 (emphasis added)
From this passage, and many others, we can see that the Bible teaches that God hates "all who do iniquity" (Psalm 5:5 NASB). This passage also tells us that He abhors violent and deceitful men (v6). Anyone who has looked honestly at themselves knows this description fits each and every one of us since we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Romans also tells us that the penalty for our sin is death (Romans 6:23), which is exactly what God told Adam in the Garden when He warned him not to eat of the tree (Genesis 2:17). God is good to His word, in fact it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18), and Galatians 6:7 warns us:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that he will also reap.
So we have a problem; God hates sin, and He hates those who practice sin. He also said the the result of our sin would be death, and He cannot lie. But our problem is even worse than that; according to Proverbs 17:15 we are told that it is an abomination to the Lord to forgive the guilty, therefore, if you have sinned even once God cannot just forgive you - you must pay for your sin. And the price of sin is death.

This concept is repeated all throughout Scripture as we can see from the following verses:
...I will not acquit the wicked (Exodus 23:7)
... the Lord will by no means clear the guilty (Nahum 1:3)
And in Romans chapter 1 we read:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
This is the problem that we all face, and this is the reason for the death of Christ. His death was the payment for our sin; He took the wrath that was meant for us upon Himself so that in exchange He could give us the righteousness that is His. His death was an Atonement that appeased the wrath of God and paid the penalty for our sin. Again, you cannot read the Bible without this being clear:

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us...
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness...
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God...
He is the propitiation for our sins...
Writing on this subject in his book The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness, John MacArthur said:
The Atonement was a full payment of the price of sins, to satisfy both the wrath and the righteousness of God, so that He could forgive sins without compromising His own holy standard.
And A.A. Hodge wrote:
With few exceptions the whole church from the beginning has held the doctrine of Redemption in the sense of a literal propitiation of God by means of the expiation of sin.
In other words, it has been a core belief of the Church, from the very beginning, that the death of Christ was a substitutionary death; that He purchased with His blood people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).

This is clearly what the Bible teaches about the death of Christ, but as I said above this is completely different from the governmental theory of the Atonement taught by Open Theism.

The Open Theist believes that the death of Christ was necessary only to salvage God's reputation, and not an actual substitution in which He literally took the sinners' place. This view of the atonement originated with Hugh Grotius, a Dutch theologian in the sixteen hundreds. His theology grew out of the Socinian view, which stated that the Atonement accomplished nothing objective on the sinners behalf; it was merely a symbolic gesture.

The problem with this view is that it alters the Gospel by making the message of the cross not about what God has done for sinners, but what the sinner must do for God. The governmental theory therefore leaves the sinner responsible for his own salvation, with is just another form of works salvation.

So how does the Open Theist come to this conclusion? George Otis who is an advocate of the governmental theory described it this way in a sermon he gave in 1981:
God loves man, He loves him so much, He wants this intimate fellowship with him. But He also recognizes that sin is a horrible, powerful thing and He doesn’t want it to start spreading out of control in the universe. And to allow man, to help man to understand how He viewed sin and how terrible sin really was, He attached a sanction to it and that sanction was death.
So what is God going to do? Is He going to, in effect, condone sin? And say “Okay, I know I said, ‘The soul that sinneth it shall surely die’—but in this case, the soul that sinneth it shall live, because I really like you and I really don’t want you to die”?

But then what’s going to happen when the next person sins? God really likes him too. And the same with the next one and pretty soon nobody’s going to die for their sin. But the other alternative, of course, is that everybody dies. And that’s not too hot an alternative either. So this is God’s government problem. How can God, as the righteous moral governor of the universe, whose responsibility it is to uphold the law of the universe and to uphold righteousness and to protect society. How is He going to get out of this dilemma? This is God’s governmental problem.
George Otis, Jr.
So what does God do? According to George Otis, God makes a dramatic display of divine justice in the death of Christ and he uses Romans 3:21-26 as his proof text; this verses says:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Mr. Otis places the emphasis on verse 25 and the word demonstrate. He completely misses, however, the word propitiation which means "a sacrifice of atonement." It is not the public display that removes our guilt and our sin, it is the propitiatory death of Jesus Christ. But Otis completely misses this and he states:
Christ did not pay the debt or literally suffer the penalty of the law for His people. He prepared the way for our debt to be remitted. Or in plain language, dispensing with all metaphor, He made it consistent and proper and honorable for sin to be forgiven according to the prescribed terms of the Gospel.
The truth is Christ paid no man’s debt.
Then he goes on to say:
On a personal basis God could say the second after a sin is committed, “hey, I forgive you.” He doesn’t hold any grudges or bitterness. He doesn’t need to be paid back before He can forgive. There are no strings attached to His love. But He’s got to be careful in His role, not as our father, but in His role as righteous, moral governor of the universe, that He’s not careless in extending forgiveness so that it encourages others to sin. He can’t do that.
George Otis, Jr.
According to the governmental view of the Atonement then, the death of Christ was necessary only to salvage God's reputation, and it had no actual value as a substitutionary Atonement on the sinners' behalf. This emasculated view of the death of Christ and the Atonement that He made completely obliterates the true meaning of the cross. According to the Open Theist the cross is merely a demonstration of Christ's willingness to suffer but it in no way appeased the wrath of God, nor did Jesus suffer for the sinner in his place. This view completely ignores verses like:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
The language used in these verses deliberately evokes images of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the concept of expiation upon which that system was built - shed blood was the required payment for sin.

This concept is completely foreign to the Open Theist because they teach that sin may be forgiven, or it may be paid for, but it cannot be both - the mere idea of sin being paid for makes forgiveness impossible in the Open Theist's mind. They also believe that neither sin, nor righteousness can be imputed from one person to another and go as far as to say that to do so would be unjust and would therefore make God unjust. They do this by ignoring verses like Romans 4:5 and Philippians 3:9, which both teach that the Righteousness that the Christian possesses is not his own, but Christ's.

To make the point, Charles Finney (a nineteenth century Theologian often quoted by Open Theists) denied that justification was by faith and actually taught that the sinner must become perfectly righteous in order to be saved, he wrote:
There can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim, that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed for us. To this I reply: … His obedience could no more than justify Himself. It can never be imputed to us. … It was naturally impossible, then, for Him to obey on our behalf.
This then is the Gospel of Open Theism - it is a Gospel of works. You cannot have it any other way; if Christ's righteousness is not imputed to the sinner then the sinner must make himself perfect - and any way you look at it this it is a doctrine of works. The Apostle Paul warned us:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Galatians 1:8
And that is what Open Theism teaches - another Gospel.

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