mē genoito

May it never be! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (Ro 3:4)

Dembski On The Cross

I am very happy to see William Dembski is being more vocal in expressing his faith. Although I disagree strongly with Francis Collins in his views on ID and NDE; I am happy to hear of his commitment to Christ. Therefore I am even more encourage to see Dembski sharing his commitment to Christian faith. From what I can tell Dembski is certainly more conservative than Collins, even with theistic evolution aside.

Dembski certainly delivered a wonderful message at the Southwestern Seminary chapel. If there is any fly in the ointment, it would be this paragraph at the end of page 4 of his sermon. I wouldn’t even bring this up in light of his wonderful sermon. Unfortunately the point is so central to our Christian faith, I feel compelled to point it out. First let’s look at the paragraph that is in question.

Let’s be frank. If the entirety of Christ’s suffering was the physical pain he endured on the Cross, then Christ’s suffering on behalf of humanity has limited reach. Perhaps it can reach well-fed, heavily sedated, incessantly entertained westerners whose main afflictions are stress and disillusionment. But can it reach the whole of humanity and the worst of its afflictions?

I realize that Dr. Dembski was trying to answer Anna Williams’ challenge to the reach of the cross. I believe this is the flaw in Dembski’s argument. He allowed Anna Williams to frame the parameters of the efficacy of the cross. Let’s look at Williams’ argument.

Rather, she was asking about the reach of the Cross. Specifically, she was asking, How far do Christ’s sufferings on the Cross reach? Williams suggests that Christ’s sufferings have only limited reach since they are attenuated by all sorts of mitigating factors, especially their brief duration.

Dr. Dembski’s response to Williams, was to agree with the premise of her argument. Dembski then proceeds to counter her argument by presenting an additional dimension to Christ’s suffering. The additional spiritual dimension of Dembski’s argument was good, but unfortunately it missed the entire essentials of our Christian doctrine.

Williams’ argument stems from a complete misunderstanding of the cross and the imputation of sin and atonement. In short Williams’ argument is nonsensical, period. The cross was never about the extent of Christ’s suffering. The passion of Christ was a mere side effect of His atoning death. The miracle and the mystery of the atonement, that is the sin offering of Christ, is why a Holy God would die for sinful Man. The cross is the place where the imputation of the sins of humanity is transferred to a Holy God who knows NO SIN, and the righteousness of an Unblemished Offering is given to those who have sinned. That is the message of the cross and the message of the gospel. The gospel message is that Christ died so we may have live. He died for our transgressions. The gospel never emphasized the scope or the duration of the suffering as significant to the efficacy of the atonement.
Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4

The counter argument might then be what about Isaiah 53:5. This is certainly a great prophetic passage that describes the atonement in terms of suffering. Although even in this passage, Isaiah’s emphasis was not on the scope of suffering but rather on just the cause and effect. There is also the slight metaphorical nature of this verse that Isaiah is conveying. The physical stripes and healing is a type of the atonement, whereby sinful human beings gain spiritual reconciliation with God. This interpretation of Isaiah 53:5 are borne out in these NT passages. Romans 4:25; Hebrews 10:10; 1 Peter 2:24 Therefore because of these two reasons, Williams’ argument is invalid. The power and reach of the cross is not in the suffering but in the Holiness of Christ.

Dembski offers two answers to Williams’ argument against the reach of the cross. One is on God’s ability to absorb the totality of human suffering in an instance in time. The second is the uniting of human suffering to the divine. When we suffer, Christ also suffers. I don’t really have problem with his exposition for suffering here but again this misses the point of substitutionary atonement. The mystery and the majesty of God’s grace is His prepared sacrifice for the propitiation of our sins Romans 3:25. In this one verse redemption and righteousness is fulfilled. In truth the sacrifice is not required to know anything about the sin that it is atoning. The OT types such as bulls, lambs, birds and even flours certainly have no awareness of the sins they were bearing for their sinners. That agnosticism did not mitigate their efficacy as sin offerings. But of course our High Priest is much greater than these, for He is not only the sacrifice but also our Comforter and our Advocate with the Father. In that sense, He also sympathizes with us.

What we need to avoid, as Christians, is to get drawn in by people like Bertrand Russell and start believing that suffering is some great stumbling block for Christianity. While it is a stumbling block for Atheism, it is not for Christianity. We realize that suffering is a direct result of a fallen Creation and the consequences of sin. We may argue about the fairness of differential suffering between human beings. The truth is, if we were not sinners we would not need to experience suffering. I love the way my pastor explains this topic. I don’t have his exact quote but essentially he answers the critics who says “how can a loving God send people to hell?”. This is not a problem for the Bible because God is holy and Man has held God in contempt. We are guilty. The enigma is how can a holy God get sinners into heaven. The answer is in Romans 3:25.

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