The Alabama Baptist and the Wrath of God

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Bob Terry, president and editor of The Alabama Baptist, has responded to the PCUSA’s rejection of the hymn In Christ Alone, over a lyric that sung of God’s wrath. I am going to briefly address a few items in Terry’s article Why Disagree About the Words of a Hymn? as they relate to the Holman Bible Dictionary (HBD).

Note that the HBD, published in 1991, was replaced in 2003 by the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (HIBD). Both books have the section “Expiation, Propitiation” from which Terry quotes. The HIBD more clearly explains the relationship between God’s anger and wrath, propitiation, expiation, atonement, and justice. However, those concepts are not absent from the HBD.

Terry quotes from the HBD to bolster his position that Jesus did not appease God’s wrath on the cross as he states in his article.

Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath. That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied” even though I love the song “In Christ Alone.”

After Terry reveals his positions, a few paragraphs later he twice quotes the HBD which seems the heart of his argument.

An entry in the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by LifeWay Christian Resources, under “expiation” makes this point. The author writes, “God was not waiting to be appeased (as in the pagan, Greek conception). Rather God condescended to meet us on our level to remedy the situation.”

Scholars will continue arguing about whether the sacrificial system of the Bible, of which Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, had God as its subject or its object. If He is the subject then God acted to cover and forgive sins through the sacrificial system. If He is the object then God received the offerings for sin that in some ways pacified His anger and need for justice.

Again the Holman Bible Dictionary says, “In the New Testament setting, this would mean that on the cross Jesus either dealt with the evil nature of human sin and covered it so that God forgives it (subject) or it means that Jesus satisfied God’s holy anger and justice so that forgiven sinners could freely enter the presence of the holy God” (object).

The problem is that brother Terry does not share the context of those quotes. Where is Paul Harvey when you need him? Terry’s problem is he attempts an either/or paradigm. However, even the opening paragraph in the HBD, which may be read online, explains:

Expiation emphasizes the removal of guilt through a payment of the penalty, while propitiation emphasizes the appeasement or averting of God’s wrath and justice. Both words are related to reconciliation, since it is through Christ’s death on the cross for our sins that we are reconciled to a God of holy love (Romans 5:9-11 ; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ; Colossians 1:19-23 ).

Terry’s second quote is not only taken out of its larger context, but out of its immediate context as well. The paragraph quoted is giving example positions that “some scholars” hold – not all. The concluding sentence in said paragraph reads:

Some scholars would see both ideas present in the word hilasmos , so that God in grace initiated the sacrifice of Jesus to provide covering and forgiveness for human sin but that He also received the sacrifice which satisfied His anger and justice.

The above sentence fits the opening paragraph giving the both/and position that God both provided and received the sacrifice for sins. Finally, the HBD concludes with a position contrary to the position Terry quoted it to support.

In conclusion, the doctrine of the atonement includes both the dimensions of propitiation—averting the wrath of God—and expiation—taking away or covering over human guilt. By the expiation of human guilt, the wrath of God is turned away, the holiness of God is satisfied. Yet it is God who in the person of His Son performs the sacrifice of expiation.

The HIBD explains it this way.

The effect of the atonement is directly linked to God’s wrath. If God has no wrath or anger towards sinners, there is no need for propitiation. Mere expiation will do. If there is expiation without propitiation, God is both indifferent to sin and therefore unjust. Propitiation is the only way God can offer mercy and forgiveness to sinners and, at the same time, be just. “He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26 HCSB). ~ Russell, J. H. (2003). Expiation, Propitiation. (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler, Eds.)Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers. Logos Edition.

As a fellow Southern Baptist, I do not understand Terry’s position since we profess to Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. Without Christ, believers would be punished by God for sin to satisfy His wrath and justice. But since Christ is the believer’s substitute, He, therefore takes God’s wrath and justice upon Himself on the cross.

Ironically, while the song In Christ Alone includes the verse “the wrath of God was satisfied” – the whole song is about “the love of God was magnified.”

Here I blog…

Mark

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The above article was posted on August 9, 2013 by Mark Lamprecht.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Robert Vaughn August 9, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Hi, Mark. I touched on the wrath of God and the PCUSA over at <a href=”http://baptistsearch.blogspot.com/2013/08/in-christ-alone.html”>my blog</a>, but I wasn’t aware Southern Baptists were getting in on the “anti-wrath of God” act as well. Thanks for pointing this out! Who knew that Jesus could only cover human sin OR appease God’s wrath, but He could not do both?????????

2 Mark Lamprecht August 9, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Robert, thanks for the link. I think this article was a surprise to several Baptist folks.

3 Robert Vaughn August 12, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Have you read the “Clarification to August 8 editorial”? To me it seems to try to alleviate the pressure caused by the original editorial, while still trying to “explain away” the wrath of God poured out on Christ. I think Terry also falsely caricatures the whole idea of the wrath of God.

4 Mark Lamprecht August 13, 2013 at 10:24 am

@Robert Vaughn Yes, I think he just took one general complaint and sort of addressed it. Funny that because I showed where he took the handbook he was quoting out of context.

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