Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Critics of penal substitution, it seems like they don't want to listen

"Scholarship for [Professor X] was to be pursued not for its own sake but for the sake of the church. His life was marked by commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that commitment, rather than dulling his scholarship, sharpened it."

IVP Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters (ed. Donald K. McKim), p. 480

Who was Professor X? Well it was C. H. Dodd.

He was not exactly the kind of man that you would expect an evangelical publishing house to commend for his "commitment to the gospel." C. H. Dodd deliberately and intentionally opposed and undermined the doctrine of penal substitution. Whatever gospel he was committed to it was not the one recorded in the pages of the New Testament. His views were challenged by the notable evangelical scholars Leon Morris and Roger Nicole. Morris's book The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (1955) was a landmark study and a scholarly defense of penal substitution. It was the kind of book that should have ended the discussion.

But it didn't, and it still has not done so. In fact there are "evangelicals" today whose views of the cross are more like Dodd's than those of Roger Nicole and Leon Morris. Of course, you would think, this is because Morris' arguments and scholarship have been overturned...well not quite. I think that Jeffrey, Ovey, and Sach, in their recently published Pierced for our Transgressions have rightly interpreted what is going on:

"Unfortunately, Morris's writings have not had the impact they deserve, because critics of his position paid little attention. Indeed, one of the strangest things about modern challenges to penal substitution is the extent to which they continue to rely on interpretations of Scripture soundly refuted by Morris decades ago, without even attempting to reply to his case."

Pierced for our Transgressions, p. 26

They say that the same has been true of Where Wrath and Mercy Meet (2001), the collection of papers on penal substitution presented at a conference at Oak Hill Theological College:

"It makes a strong case for penal substitution, and responds to several recent challenges. Critics of penal substitution have received it in a similar vein to Leon Morris's work: its arguments have largely been ignored."

Ibid. p. 28

And the moral of the story is not...

That evangelical scholars did a bad job and are to be held responsible for the current rejection of penal substitution. The location of badness in this discussion lies elsewhere.


Barnaby Perkins said...

Ahhh, C.H. Dodd, I thought It was an X-men reference ;)


Martin Downes said...

Alas not

Barnaby Perkins said...

Interestingly, my NT Supervisor recons that Dodd's main concern was for pastoral rather than scholastic. He mentioned this in a supervision on St Paul's eschatology, where he described Dodd's developmental solution as 'nuts', and based more on present concerns (that the parousia hadn't occured) than frank exegesis. Great stuff from the man Carelton-Paget. Hope you are well. Would be great to chat sometime.


John said...

This article hits the nail on the head, so to speak. People make up their mind and then, no matter how convincingly they are defeated, people just don't care. They believe what they want to.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a bit too snarky, but DA Carson recites:

"There once was a man called 'Dodd,'
Whose name was incredibly odd,
His name, you see
Was spelled with three D's
While one was sufficient for God."