Monday, September 25, 2017

Douglas Campbell, John Paul II, and Christ's "Substitutionary" Death

I've been reading much from Pauline scholar Douglas Campbell's work on Paul. In particular, Campbell has written much on the topic of the atonement imagery in Romans 3.

Without saying too much, Campbell is very uncomfortable with the way Christ's work of atonement is often presented. Like many, he criticizes the way language of "substitution" is used and the way the cross is typically explained in Christian churches:
"Wrongdoers are separated from the appropriate desert for their action, and the innocent Christ, in a supremely unjust action, is punished in their place" (Deliverance of God, 49). 
It seems to me that Campbell and John Paul II would have made interesting conversation partners.

Consider what John Paul II has to say about atonement (h/t to my colleague Douglas Bushman for bringing this text to my attention). The following is a remarkably rich passage that merits much reflection:
What confers on substitution its redemptive value is not the material fact that an innocent person has suffered the chastisement deserved by the guilty and that justice has thus been in some way satisfied (in such a case one should speak rather of a grave injustice). The redemptive value comes instead from the fact that the innocent Jesus, out of pure love, entered into solidarity with the guilty and thus transformed their situation from within. In fact, when a catastrophic situation such as that caused by sin is taken upon oneself on behalf of sinners out of pure love, then this situation is no longer under the sign of opposition to God, but, on the contrary, it is under the sign of docility to the love which comes from God (Gal 3:13-14). Christ, by offering himself "as a ransom for many," put into effect to the very ultimate his solidarity with man, with every man and with every sinner. The Apostle Paul indicates this when he writes, "The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died" (2 Cor 5:14). Christ therefore is in solidarity with everyone in death, which is an effect of sin. But in him this solidarity was in no way the effect of sin; instead, it was a gratuitous act of the purest love. Love induced Christ to give his life, by accepting death on the cross. His solidarity with man in death consists in the fact that he not only died as every man dies, but that he died for every one. Thus this “substitution” signifies the “superabundance” of love which overcomes every deficiency of human love, every negation and contrariety linked with human sin in every dimension.
--John Paul II, General Audience, October 26, 1988

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