woensdag 14 augustus 2013

The Glory of the Cross 7

Calvin’s Thoughts on the Atonement
Calvin reflected deeply about how it is possible for the God who approaches us in His mercy to be hostile toward us until we are reconciled with Him in Christ. For Calvin, this was only an apparent contradiction. The Scriptures confront us with our hopelessness outside of Christ in order that we may be led to true faith and genuine humility. Calvin writes, “In short, since our mind cannot lay hold of life through the mercy of God with sufficient eagerness, or receive it with becoming gratitude, unless previously impressed with fear of the divine anger, and dismayed at the thought of eternal death, we are so instructed by divine truth, as to perceive that without Christ God is in a manner hostile to us, and has his arm raised for our destruction. Thus taught, we look to Christ alone for divine favor and paternal love.”
Calvin uses the expression “in a manner” multiple times in his Institutes. God’s wrath is an awe-inspiring reality, which also leaves abundant room for the love of God. Calvin testifies that our reconciliation by the blood of Christ may not be interpreted as if the Son reconciled us with God and only then did God begin to love us, having hated us prior. Rather, we were reconciled with Him because He already loved us— even when, due to our sin, we were still in a hostile relationship with Him. Calvin emphasizes that, on the one hand, reconciliation has been accomplished upon  Golgotha, and, on the other hand, we only truly benefit from this atonement upon being united to Christ by faith.
“But because the iniquity, which deserves the indignation of God, remains in us until the death of Christ comes to our aid, and that iniquity is in his sight accursed and condemned, we are not admitted to full and sure communion with God, unless in so far as Christ unites us. And, therefore, if we would indulge the hope of having God placable and propitious to us, we must fix our eyes and minds on Christ alone, as it is to him alone it is owing that our sins, which necessarily provoked the wrath of God, are not imputed to us.” Calvin was convinced that no reconciliation could come without satisfaction. No peace can be had apart from the blood of the cross, and there is no other means to bring peace to our hearts except the gospel. The Holy Spirit applies this gospel to the heart, and it thereby becomes “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16).

Karl Barth’s Thoughts Regarding the Atonement
It is characteristic for classic theology to distinguish between creation and redemption. In the theology of Karl Barth, considered now to be the spiritual leader of numerous evangelicals, this distinction vanishes. Barth believes that sin was already incorporated into creation, and that the cross of Christ is God’s eternal “yes” toward creation and humanity. This theology holds no room for the wrath of God as an independent reality; from the beginning, God’s wrath has always functioned under the umbrella of His love. The fact that Barth did not teach universal atonement per se has to do with his belief that theology is of a temporary nature; therefore, absolute assertions must be avoided. However, nowhere does Barth clearly articulate who will be eternally lost. The only conclusion to be drawn from his theology is that he embraces some form of universal atonement.
In Barth’s theology, the necessity of Christ’s incarnation, as well as the distinction between the divine persons, fades away. It is his conviction that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God Himself suffered at the cross. The incarnation was necessary since God the Son could not have suffered in His divine nature. The early church would have therefore confessed correctly that it was the mystery of Christ’s crucifixion that He could not suffer (that is, in His divine nature), and yet He did suffer (that is, in His human nature).
In classic Reformed theology, meriting and applying the atonement are two separate matters. The atonement, accomplished once and for all, must personally be applied to those for whom it was made. The preaching of the gospel is used to achieve this through its message of “Be ye reconciled to God.” The blood of Christ is the basis of this atonement, which is secured through Spirit-worked faith. It is Barth’s conviction, however, that the gospel is actually “You are reconciled with God.” The only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the Christian knows this and the non-Christian does not. It hardly needs to be argued that the gravity of the coming judgment, as well as the necessity of a personal faith, are denied in Barth’s theology. As a guide for our theology Calvin is is far and far to be preferred above Barth.