Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Christ's Atoning Work: Intent, Extent, Union, Substitution, Ordo Salutis (Part II)
01/20/2005 - James White
I continue with the second part of my response to Dr. Eric Svendsen comprising our discussion on the extent and intention of the atoning work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
2) Other than the issue of the unity of the work of sacrifice and intercession, the issue of substitution and union with Christ seems the most important difference in our views. I believe I am presenting a "normal" view of the ordo salutis when I say that we were chosen "in Christ" before time itself began, and that while once again we experience union with Christ as time-bound creatures, our experience cannot be allowed to determine the divine reality and order. I believe Christ took my place, substitutionarily, upon the cross of Calvary purposefully, intentionally, out of redemptive love, bearing in Himself the penalty of my sin. And I do not believe He substitutionarily, purposefully, intentionally, out of redemptive love, bore in Himself the penalty due to the sin of Pharoah. If substitution is merely time-bound and does not contain the eternal aspect most Reformed writers have always affirmed, then at the time of Calvary Christ's death was only substitutionary for those who had died or at that time believed in Christ; it would then become substitutionary in behalf of individuals as they believe on Him through time, though what this would mean I honestly cannot begin to say. As far as I can see, either the elect were united with Christ in His death en toto, or the entire idea of substitution becomes irrelevant. I believe the reality of our election in Christ makes our union with Christ a divine reality even before our temporal existence (as noted above: the eternal determines the form of the temporal, not vice-versa, though we as time-bound creatures, looking from "below," struggle to see this, and hence must allow the Word to be the lens through which we see this tremendous truth) and birth, so that in a very real sense the elect were, in fact, "crucified with Christ." I honestly do not see how, if union with Christ is made parallel to justification and placed in the temporal realm, that the idea of substitution can be made tenable.
Dr. Svendsen expressed his position in these words:
No indeed, the non-elect are not joined to Christ. But I think it is a mistake to equate the raw act of atonement to union with Christ in his death. Only of the elect can it be said that "I was crucified with Christ. . . . who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." In other words, on the one hand we're getting right back to the distinction I'm making between intent and extent. Since Christ's intent in his death was to save the elect, union with Christ is rightly applied only to them. Yet, even with that caveat I do not see any evidence in the New Testament that union with Christ in his death is applied before the point of justification. Hence, Paul's words in Gal 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ," is not separated from "and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God." That is not a statement that can be made of the elect before justification. Similarly, we are told by Paul that our identification with Christ's death occurs at the point of justification (Gal 2:16-20) and is signified in baptism (Rom 6:3-5). Hence, atonement and substitution are flip sides of the same coin; but they are flip sides nevertheless. The former occurs once in time and for all, while the latter is the application of the former to the elect at the point of justification.
Regarding Galatians 2:16-20, I do not see the application made by Dr. Svendsen. Paul's sustauro,omai ("to be crucified together with") is very difficult to understand if, in fact, it is referring to an event years after Christ's death; and note that while Paul is indeed speaking of his life at that time, he has no problem pointing back once again to the clearly substitutionary death of Christ in the words "who loved me and gave Himself up for me."
Now, is this not Calvary? And is not Christ's love for Paul expressed here? But if it was an undifferentiated act, without the union of the elect being considered in the expression of redeeming love therein, would it not follow that the same could be said by Pharaoh? The only way around this would be to say "who loved me [at my conversion] and gave Himself for me [on the cross]." I'm sure Dr. Svendsen will affirm that tou/ avgaph,santo,j me kai. parado,ntoj e`auto.n u`pe.r evmou/ refers to one act: both aorist participles refer to the self-giving of Christ upon the cross. So, if the atoning sacrifice is the very demonstration of Christ's love for Paul personally, how can the sacrifice bring forgiveness for all mankind?
I will conclude my response in Part III tomorrow.