We get letters

…or at least comments. I had to reacquaint myself with a post I wrote in April of last year on a lyric change I made to the contemporary hymn “In Christ Alone.” Happily, I still agree with what I wrote then. This commenter most assuredly does not (CAPS are his):

This is a pathetic warping of a marvellous Biblical truth. The Cross IS a laying down of Christ’s life in love, but it is also the satisfaction of God’s wrath. Sin is punished at the cross, so God’s wrath need not be born any more against those who are in Christ! His wrath against sin, which MUST burn, burns rightly at the cross, as Jesus becomes a curse and sin itself. But God’s wrath meets his mercy and love there. Never, EVER play down the fact that the cross is the place where God JUDGED sin. He didn’t JUST wash it away, he did that by JUDGING it in Christ, pouring out his wrath on Jesus out of love. If people “misunderstand” that, or perceive it as caricature, you don’t sugar coat it or attempt to make it more palatable. You preach Christ crucified faithfully, and with the confidence in the Spirit that the Gospel is sufficient to change people’s hearts without our own edits to it. That song isn’t meant to be a cast iron, hyper-sensitive introduction to the Gospel for a non-believer – it’s a marvellous celebration of the fact that, for the believer, Jesus bore the WRATH that we deserve, out of love on the cross.

I wrote this in response:

Rhys, I hate to think how angry you’d be if I actually disagreed with you about penal substitution! Since you can easily find many other Christians who reject penal substitution altogether, why don’t you save your vitriol for them?

It’s not a “pathetic warping” of the doctrine to say that God’s wrath is subsumed under God’s love. Out of love, God the Son, who wants what his Father wants, chose the cross as the means to reconcile humanity to God. God’s wrath isn’t something other than God’s love; it’s a consequence of God’s love. I made this clear in the post—not that you bothered to engage my argument at all.

Besides, changing a song lyric isn’t exactly the same as changing the Bible. Where exactly in scripture can we find the words “the wrath of God was satisfied”? Nowhere. Paul’s most straightforward substitutionary language is 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” No mention of the satisfaction of God’s wrath there. Not that I disagree with the idea—again, as I clearly said in my post.

But why get so worked up about a formulation of words that isn’t even in the Bible?

The truth of what God accomplished on the cross isn’t a collection of words. We use words in a feeble but necessary attempt to get at the truth, but the truth behind the words is something else—something much bigger. Since the meaning, nuance, and connotation of words change over time, we should always be open-minded about finding better and more accurate ways of expressing the truth.

Even Bibles get revised to reflect changes in language. But again, we’re not even talking about the Bible.

2 thoughts on “We get letters”

  1. It dawned on me back in the day that 1. there is the Bible.

    Then came an interpretation. That interpretation showed up as soon as someone, anyone expressed in their words what they read. I called that interpretation #1

    Then came a discussion of #1 interpreation that lead to #2 interpretation. Throw in another discussion and we got interepretaion #3. By now people are hammering on each other over their pet interpretion.

    I suggested in a Wednesday night prayer meeting that maybe we call off the battle long enough to read the Book, suspending our interpretations long enough to see if the Scripture might have something to say to us.

    Do you have any idea what a hard sell that was? Blew my mind. Brent, I wish you could have been there.

    I learned that mental assent to verbal propositions is not so easily set aside. I guess after interpretation #5 eisegesis is just to much fun.

    And, all of that was over a song? Whew.

    1. Well said, Curtis. That’s why it’s helpful to have at least a few people in Bible studies who are unacquainted with the Bible. They often have the best insights!

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