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Steve Rives


Christ died for the sins of those that he redeemed. Our sins (actual rebellious deeds against God, done in our flesh) were exchanged, so that Christ was sacrificed for our sins, and in exchange we are counted as righteous and brought into the kingdom of God.

When I read N. T. Wright, I am reading the Christus Victor view -- and I read Aulen's book long before I read Wright. What I take from Aulen and Wright is not their view of atonement as the final work, but as another aspect of the Cross. When I read Wright, I feel that I am reading another excellent aspect of the Cross and Redemption (a more B-T view at that). Personally, I don't notice if they don't everything that can be said (or should be said). I read many other authors who fill in the gaps -- who, by the way, don't mention or seem to know about what Aulen is talking about! So Wright and Aulen are useful and wonderful to read when thinking about the Cross.

This is why I pointed back to Boersma's book, Violence, Hospitality and the Cross, since he lists all the major views. I agree with Boersma in many ways, especially his belief that all the major views are valuable and not in competition -- even some of the minor views capture major points and work with the others.

I am glad you pointed out the list of quotes as you have. I am no defender of Wright, so I can honestly say that I was not quoting him to try and show how he agrees with Boersma or Carson after all, but that I did not catch what you are trying to point out.

Honestly, I was not looking for what was missing from Wright when I read Wright, because I was so amazed at what he was saying about Christus Victor that not many others talk about! I love the Christus Victor theme -- but I don't reject Anselm.

Thanks for your follow up, I see where you are coming from better.



Let me preface this by saying that I am Dortian Reformed and personally disagree with Wright's view of imputation. However, that said, I can't help but wonder if you are over-dramatizing the issue.
Though I can understand your frustration with his refusal to be simplistic about the Gospel, I hear a consistent message from both his writing and speaking ministry. His basic argument goes like this.
God is working to restore the relationship with his creation (specifically humans) that was corrupted by the fall. Jesus was sent to defeat sin and restore the relationship of God to his creation.
I think you are allowing the different emphasis he places on the atonement to obfuscate the clear way in which he discusses a "penal substitution" view. In fact, in Norfolk, VA two years ago, I heard him make the comment that the penal substitution view was clearly demonstrable from Romans 8.
As a brother in Christ, I would caution you to be careful about questioning another brother's orthodoxy so rashly.

Lee Irons


Fair enough. Of course, the Christus Victor theme is true. It is true that through his death and resurrection Jesus defeated Satan and all evil. But in my view Christus Victor is not a theory of the atonement, because it does not explain how human sins are atoned for (which is what "atonement" means). Christ's victory over Satan and all evil, including the eschatological implications of that in the new creation, is a result of the cross, but not a theory of the atonement.

Lee Irons


Again, just because Wright claims to hold to "penal substitution" doesn't mean he holds the orthodox interpretation of that doctrine. As I pointed out in my quotes from various writings, he redefines "penal substitution" to mean something different from what orthodox evangelicals have traditionally meant by that phrase. And I'm not just claiming that he means something different; I've quoted his own words where he himself says he means something different. See my fourth point in the original post where I quoted Wright saying he holds to "a form of penal substitution," which is "quite different from other forms of penal substitution."

David Shaw


let me start by saying that i find NTW's determination to attack the caricature of penal substitution ("God is angry with sinners and casts around to find someone/anyone to punish and settles on his innocent Son") baffling because 1.the Biblical doctrine is much more nuanced than that and 2.No-one is trying to defend the caricature. But that said i wonder whether you've been overly selective in your quotes from NTW.

firstly, most commentators would agree with NTW that in Romans 5-8 sin is characterised as an archic power which the law cannot restrain because the flesh is so responsive to sin. only the defeat of sin in the flesh, Rom 8:3,(where it has held sway) will set us free from its power. But just because NTW, and i think Paul, conceives of sin as a power or force in Romans 8 doesn't mean that for him the term is limited to that meaning elsewhere.

For example, read NTW in the Interepreters commentary on Rom 3:25-26 and he's very clear that the death of Jesus has propitiated God's wrath at our sin and rejects a weaker view that only expiation is in view. here at least, in your words, he believes that sin elicits "God's punitive wrath against the sinner".

to be sure, other writings are less clear, and some as you've shown are more alarming, but we must acknowledge the best, even as we critique the worst, of what he has written.

Lee Irons

Thanks, David. I agree that we should acknowledge the best of what NTW has written. Would you provide us with the quote from his NIB commentary?

David Shaw

Writing in the NIB commentary on Romans 3:25-26 (p.476) NTW detects an allusion to Isaiah 40-55 which for him explains "why Paul should imagine that the death of Jesus, described in sacrifical terms, should be supposed not only to reveal the righteousness of God but also to deal properly, i.e. punitively, with sins..."

In the next paragraph:
"Dealing with wrath or punishment is propitiation; with sin, expiation. You propitiate a person who is angry; you expiate a sin, crime, or stain on your character. Vehement rejection of the former idea in many quarters has led some to insist that only 'expiation' is in view here. But the fact remains that in 1:18-3:20 Paul has declared that the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and wickedness and that despite God's forbearance this will finally be meted out; that in 5:8, and in the whole promise of 8:1-30, those who are Christ's are rescued from wrath..." (p.476).

In the subsequent "Reflections" section:
"Hence Paul's Gentile mission, which is already in view in 3:23-24; Jew and Gentile alike sinned, but Jew and Gentile are alike now declared to be God's people as a free gift." (p.478).

"Paul does not here note the way in which this action of Jesus impinges on each believer personally, but those with ears to hear will detect, just below the surface of the paragraph, his words in Galatians: The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20)." (p.478).

Or, lastly, from a popular level work, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1:
Commenting on the significance of hilasterion in 3:25 "the same root also refers to a propitiatory sacrifice, that is, one which not only purifies people from sin but also turns away the wrath of God which would otherwise fall on the sinner... At the heart of God's covenant justice, then, is his 'putting forth' of Jesus to take upon himself the anger of God of which Paul spoke in chapter 1." (p.58).

Again, I'm not denying that elsewhere NTW has expressed himself in ways that prefer a Christus Victor model and speaks too often of Christ as having taking upon himself the mess of the world, rather than the sins of his people. And i recognise that the quotes above are sometimes expressed in idiosyncratic ways, but when offering a survey of NTW's writings with reference to penal substitution the above material should be included if we're striving for the same sort of fair engagement that Piper modelled so brilliantly.

every blessing,

Lee Irons

Thanks, David. I appreciate you keeping me honest. Late last night I couldn't sleep, so I read the whole section in Wright's NIB commentary on Romans 3:25-26. There are some interesting things in there. Side-by-side with the more orthodox sounding statements about "propitiation," he also continues some of his strange ideas about the Maccabean martyrs explored in ch. 12 of Jesus and the Victory of God (which he cites in a footnote). What is interesting to me is that when he is doing exegesis of a specific passage, he can make orthodox statements about Jesus turning aside God's wrath. But when he is presenting his overall thought on the atonement in a book like Simply Christian the orthodox formulations fall away and he resorts to his "evil did its worst to Jesus" approach. I think we have to agree that Wright is confusing at best on this issue, an issue on which a teacher in the church ought to be crystal clear. Anyway, thanks for helping to put all the evidence on the table, no matter how confusing.

Andrew Perriman

This is an exemplary discussion, guys, in many ways. But surely the issue here is not whether Wright believes that Jesus' death can and should be explained in penal-substitutionary terms – he clearly does believe that. Rather it is: What is the story that frames and makes sense of this understanding of Jesus' death?

The traditional evangelical or Reformed view tends to assume that Paul is in the first place telling a story about personal salvation from sin, and emerging theologies have to a large extent reacted against that personalized soteriology. In practice, there is little narrative to this account other than a universal 'myth' (the quotation marks are important) of fall and redemption.

The New Perspective, on the other hand, argues that Jesus' death must first be explained as part of a historical narrative about first-century Israel, which is why the Maccabean literature is so pertinent: in historical terms it is very much a foreshadowing, albeit an imperfect foreshadowing, of the New Testament interpretation of Jesus' death as the means by which a sinful people is saved from the wrath of God manifested in the form of Gentile oppression.

It seems to me that for first-century Jews to understand Jesus' death as punishment in their place, as a consequence of the wrath of God that should destroy Israel, makes perfect sense. But I wonder how Gentiles relate to that story. Does Paul ever speak in penal terms when he is not talking about the fate of Israel – as he certainly is in Romans 3? It is interesting that in Ephesians 2:11-22, for example, where the participation of the Gentiles in the people of God is at issue, there is no reference to punishment or substitution; rather Jesus' death puts an end to the Law that had divided the two and brings reconciliation. This act of reconciliation, note, constitutes Paul's 'gospel'.

Colossians 2:8-15, which culminates in a classic Christus Victor passage, is presumably addressed to Gentiles principally. Sin is dealt with (it is not overlooked) in terms of a a putting off of the sinful body through death and burial, metaphorically speaking. There is nothing here about Jesus' death as a punishment for sins.

It seems to me, therefore, that roughly speaking Gentiles come to participate in a rather different fashion in the new life of a people that was redeemed through Jesus' death as a penal-substitutionary atonement for the sins of Israel.

Lee Irons

Andrew, I'll address your comment in a separate series of posts titled "The story that frames the atonement."

Steve Rives

Could this discussion about Wright reflect how we might differentiate the Gospels and Paul? For example, Where is the atonement theology of John? He tells us about the atonement, in some detail, but does not give us the theology of the atonement in an Anselm sort of way. For example, Jesus dies on Passover and not on the Day of Atonement.

When John the Baptist talks about the mission of Jesus, he says something N. T. Wright might prefer, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." -- John 1:29. Sin is singular, and world is, well, world!

What does "World" mean? Jesus gets specific and says, "I lay down my life for the sheep." -- John 10:15. I suppose if one could press John (and Jesus!). What does it mean, exactly, to give one's life? When we are called to lay down our lives and share in loving the Bride as Christ loves the bride, that is not atonement theology. More clarity from John could be useful if we wanted to explore exactly what all of this means.

My point: If we studied the Gospels alone, we might not have the atonement theology of Paul (as God wants us to have it!). I know we have Paul, so I know we are responsible to factor in all of Scripture. My point, is not to pit Paul against the Gospels, I am saying that one author, John, can talk about Jesus and the Cross and explore different aspects than another author, Paul.

N. T. Wright seems to be more like a Gospel writer. He tells stories, he uses broad language, he is more comfortable with tension and plot and all the rest. This is not a critique and I may be way off here -- I am simply musing-on on Lee's blog.

If we had someone who read mostly Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, would tend to see theology like N. T. Wright sees it? And if we go back to Irenaeus and the early fathers (who apparently favored the Christ Victor theme), do we find writers who quoted the Gospels more? Is that why the early fathers were not more like Anselm?

Maybe I could say this: Lee Irons emphasizes Paul and N. T. Wright is like John.


James Moon

In the audio sermon posted by Monergism,entitled 'Why the Cross' clearly states N.T. Wright does believe in penal substitution.


He states, "He's taken upon himself the complete penalty of our sin."


Your accusation that Wright did not explain the Gospel seems unfounded. Wright constantly announces and explains the Gospel that Jesus is Lord and this is one of the cornerstones of his work.

The problem is that many Reformed Evangelicals think penal substitutionary atonement and imputation (or 2 Cor 5:21) constitute the Gospel but this is neither the Gospel Jesus preached nor what Paul meant by "the Gospel". Of the 26 occurrences of "Gospel of" in the NT, only 1, in Ephesians, is "Gospel of your salvation" whereas 21 are "of Jesus Messiah" (subjective) or "of God" (genitive).

The Gospel is about Jesus, it's Christocentric, and our salvation is but one important outworking of this royal announcement. The link between the Gospel of Messiah and the soteriology many think IS the Gospel is found, as 1 Cor 15 tells us, in the Scriptures (esp. Isaiah) where Messianic prophecies and the God returning as King, the end of Exile and forgiveness of sins are linked.

The Gospel is and was "Jesus is Lord" not, "You were on the road to hell and can now get off it for free" and Wright is one of the few Calvinists to note this.

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