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The Work of Christ


(Bloesch, Essentials, chapt. VII)


(Shepherd) — evang’l theol. always emphasizes the cross. Obviously the cross isn’t mentioned explicitly in the OT, but the sacrificial system is mentioned everywhere. The question is, “How can unholy people approach and be made right with an all-holy God?”

Liberal theol. [1] tends to isolate the prophetic dimension of the OT and ignore the piacular.

[2] therein distort the prophetic (now reduced to left-wing social criticism.)

Forgotten: [1] the sacrificial system is God-ordained.

[2] prophet and priest are allied (see Isaiah and Ezekiel) (…mercy not sacrifice…”?)

Presupposed in the sacrificial system: sin is, among other things, defilement. Evan’l thought has lost this: it’s assumed that if we are now estranged from God, all we need do is understand that we can“go home” and “go.” I.e., much evan’l thought features the cross but fails to understand it.

PROPITIATION is the key concept. Note how it differs from and grounds expiation.

Liberal theol. dismisses prop. as crude or primitive, as if an irascible deity were placated by a 3rd party.

But note [1] prop. is the work of God. A reluctant God isn’t being bribed by a willing Jesus.

[2] God’s wrath isn’t ill-temper or petulance but rather his holy opposition to sin.

[3] Wrath isn’t the opposite of love. (Indifference is.)

[4] Prop., so far from being unrighteous and therefore enlarging injustice, establishes God’s right’s’s: he is both just and justifier.


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Once we understand the above we can proceed to explore other descriptions of the cross; e.g., (149ff)

[1] redemption: in OT, referred to release from slavery; in NT, from enslavement to sin: deliverance. We have to be freed from before we are free for (obedience, service, etc.)

[2] reconciliation: restoration of the alienated to fellowship. (It presupposes prop. and expiation.) Don’t psychologize it!

[3] justification: to be declared “just” (=rightly related.)

[a] Is this a miscarriage of justice? Don’t overpress the forensic metaphor.

Don’t isolate the forensic metaphor from others.

[b] Don’t say “as if”: the guilty sinner is viewed “as if” right’s.

[4]regeneration (This is more commonly spoken of as a work of the Spirit. Plainly, however, it occurs only in those who are beneficiaries by faith of the cross.)

Regen’n is the “new birth.” Note the three meanings of anothen: [1] “one more time” (womb), [2] “from above” (=from God), [3] “from ‘square one'”; i.e., life without the curse of sin.

[5] sanctification: the ever-increasing removal of the arrears of sin and conformity to JC.

(Wesley: justification is the restoration to God’s favour; sanctification, of God’s image.







Classic View (p152): the freeing and vindicating of those victimized in the course of evil’s cosmic conflict.

Latin View (p153): the “satisfying” of God who has been offended by the dishonour our sin visits upon him.

Bloesch’s exposition of Anselm isn’t entirely clear. Please note the following:

[1] God must be “recompensed” in view of humankind’s sin. (Our sin has deprived him of what is his.)

[2] What must be paid to God (because owed God) must be greater than every existing thing other than God; i.e., nothing merely creaturely can assuage the outrage to God’s justice and honour.

[3] Since the person who makes this payment must be more than merely creaturely, he must be divine.

[4] Yet only a human ought to make it, since the debt is humankind’s debt.

[5] Therefore someone both God and human is needed to make the necessary satisfaction; i.e., the Incarnate One. JC alone can render God that satisfaction apart from which he remains dishonoured and the entire cosmos disordered.

Strengths in Anselm’s Argument:

[1] it takes sin seriously.

[2] it deplores “cheap grace.”

[3] it upholds scrip’s emphasis on JC as representative humankind.

Questions/Criticisms re: Anselm’s Argument:

[1] Does A’s emphasis on “appropriate”, “fitting”, “honour”, rely on non-scrip’l categories that emerge from a mediaeval social/moral framework?

[2] If “appropriateness”, e.g., is the controlling category, has God’s mercy ceased to be unfathomable? free?

Instead of “God is love” is A left-handedly saying “God is honour”?

[3] While justice is crucial to A’s argument, does he understand it as scrip does (=judgement)?

Aquinas (p153): rightly emphasised that all that Christ has done for us “benefits” us only as we are bound to him in faith; only now all that he has done for us is also done in us.

(Shepherd: we must always hold together the objective dimension of the atonement and the subjective dimension of our appropriating it, without every making faith a subtle form of religious “work”.)

(Please see p155 in text re: Shepherd’s comments on Bl’s reading of Barth.)

Mystical Theory of Atonement (p156): contrast William Law and Phillips Brooks.

Moral Influence Theory of Atonement: the cross is the supreme manifestation of God’s love for us, which manifestation evokes our love for God, and which love for God then reconciles us to God.

Criticisms (Shepherd): [1] How do we know that Christ’s death demonstrates God’s love for us?

[2] Before we consider whether or how our hearts are softened (by beholding the cross), we must consider whether or how God’s judgement on us is to be dealt with.

[3] This theory assumes the root human problem to be that we are unaware that God loves us.

[4] This theory ultimately quickens moralism. (My love, rather than faith as God’s gift that I exercise, binds me to God.)

Governmental Theory of Atonement: the cross is neither satisfaction nor victory, but rather a protracted demonstration that God is “in the right” in his dispute with us. God will forgive us if we simply admit that God is in the right.

Note Bl’s criticisms: [1] here the cross relaxes the Law of God: forgiveness presupposes only our admission that God is in the right. [2] there’s no suggestion that an outrage must be addressed.

Vicarious Repentance Theory of Atonement (p157): the Son of God identifies himself with our sin and “confesses” this before the Father. The cross demonstrates God’s “creative sympathy” with sinful humankind’s predicament.

Overlooked here: [1] God’s law has been violated.

[2] It says more about the human predicament than about God’s (violated) holiness.

[3] The cross is said to attest God’s forgiveness but not effect that forgiveness.

In short, it ignores the whole matter of propitiation.



p158. The atonement is a triumph over the powers of darkness. JC is not only suffering servant but reigning king. (NB the point Shepherd made at beginning of term in discussion of God’s sov’t’y: “He rules through suffering love, not worldly might.” Bl.)

The “Jesus is Victor” motif appears in many places in scrip.; e.g., Mark’s gospel. (Note the ministry of Johann Christoph Blumhardt.)

p159. Bl’s point: a one-sided emphasis on classical (triumphal) theory overlooks the fact that God’s holiness (together with his justice and righteousness) must be acknowledged and honoured.

Shepherd: a one-sided emphasis on classical theory suggests “might is right”; i.e., it suggests the exercise of sheer power (everywhere condemned in scrip.)

Shepherd: while the goal of atonement (regardless of theory) is our reconciliation as persons with the Person of God, it must never be thought that such “I-Thou” reconciliation is born simply ofexercising such a relation, born of a simple affirmation, for sinful humankind has no access to a holy God. I.e., pardon presupposes propitiation. Our “going home” presupposes that the barricaded way home (“No thoroughfare!”) has had the barricade removed (by the cross.) Forgiveness is enormously costly!

p159 (bottom). Bl speaks of Christ’s having “made satisfaction for us in a two-fold way.” In the history of Xn thought this has been called the active and passive obedience of Christ.

[A] active obedience: JC alone is the covenant-keeper, the fulfiller of Torah.

[B] passive obedience: JC willingly goes to the cross as sacrifice.



p162. Both aspects must be held together, both “for us” and “in us.”

[1] If the objective aspect is undervalued, then God’s holiness, righteousness, integrity are disregarded.

[2] If the subjective aspect is undervalued, then we assume that everyone “benefits” from God’s provision in the cross irrespective of faith. We forget that the goal of the cross is a person who lives in intimate relationship with the Person of God. Surrender, obedience, commitment on our part are essential to right-relatedness to God, not merely psychological or cognitive aspects of a “right-relatedness” that is wrought in the cross irrespective of faith.

NB both aspects in 2nd Cor 5: (a) “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them”; (b) “We beseech you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

p164. (Shepherd) I don’t like Bl’s expression, “In Christ we discover that we have already been forgiven.” We don’t “discover” anything. In Christ we own for ourselves and appropriate the provision God has made for us in the cross, so that what was done “for us” is now done “in us” as we are reconciled to God and live (by faith) a life of trust, love and obedience.



Did Christ die for all or only for some? Can we sincerely say to anyone we meet, “Christ has died for you”?

Bl identifies Calvin with “limited atonement.” Shepherd doesn’t find this in Calvin; Calvin, however, does restrict the application of the atonement to the elect. Ref’d theol. after Calvin restricts theatonement itself to the elect: Jesus died only for those who will not fail to come to faith (because of the decree of election.)

(Shepherd) The best exposition of limited atonement I know is J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness.

He argues, “Its [i.e., the cross’s] saving power does not depend on faith being added to it; its saving power is such that faith flows from it.”

[1] It is unthinkable that sinners can defeat the Saviour (the crucified.)

[2] Therefore all for whom Christ died must submit to him.

[3] Submitting/not submitting isn’t our choice, for then we should be the ones to crown/frustrate the S.

[4] Therefore the faith which embraces the crucified must be generated by the cross.

[5] Since not everyone “puts on Christ” in faith,

[6] Therefore he couldn’t have died for all.

(Shepherd) The issue here is again the nature of God nature of grace and nature of sov’t’y.

Advocates of limited atonement maintain that if Jesus died for more than have been foreordained to faith, then Son and Father aren’t one in their saving purpose and its execution.

(Shepherd) Criticisms: [1] scrip. tells us that God is love, not merely that he loves part of humankind. (If God is love — i.e., love is who he is and not merely what he does — then he cannot love only part of humankind.)

[2] is God’s integrity, his identity (as God) threatened if a mere creature defies him eternally?

[3] is grace a power, an efficacy that operates “irresistibly”?

[4] the humanity of Christ is essential to his atoning work. His humanity is representative; i.e., he represents all humankind in view of the fact that he is human with the humanity with which everyone is human. Then how can the atonement be limited if it presupposes a humanity that is no more divisible in him than in anyone else? How can the full humanity of Christ (there being no partial humanity) issue in a limited atonement?

(Shepherd) [1] scrip. overwhelmingly upholds “Christ died for all.”

[2] Christ’s death is effected in those alone that embrace him in faith.

[3] Our faith isn’t something we generate and then bring to Christ. (Here Packer is correct.)

[4] Christ quickens faith in us, yet we must exercise it ourselves.

[5] a theol. of double predestination entails major inconsistencies w.r.t. doctrines of Christ, Spirit and Trinity. (See Shepherd, The Nature and Function of Faith in the Theology of John Calvin.)

[6] No satisfactory answer can be given as to why some come (not) to faith when all alike are dead coram Deo and God’s mercy is visited upon all through the declaration of the gospel. >> MYSTERY

p166. To be avoided: Barth’s position, “Since Christ has died for all, all are saved now.”



p169. The atonement is complete. To add to it is to detract from it=deny it=repudiate it.

We are to “work out” (Phil. 2:12.13) our salv’n’ i.e., live it.

p169. Bl says works-righteousness is “solidly refuted in Paul’s epistles.” Shepherd: it’s refuted everywhere in scrip. Paul’s criticism of the law as vehicle of self-salv’n (Romans and Galatians) is a criticism of an abuse of the law. See the preface to the decalogue and the nature of Torah.

p169 (bottom.) Bl points out that in the middle ages (in some thinkers; e.g., Gabriel Biel) there was an outer structure of grace and an inner content of works. In such a scheme the “works” aspect is always determinative; i.e., grace merely makes it possible for us to earn our standing with God.

p171. Bl says that JC has suffered the “consequences” of everyone’s sin.

(Shepherd) we should distinguish between sin’s penalty and sin’s consequences.

p172. Substitutionary atonement doesn’t entail “cheap grace” (regardless of how much cavalier people appear to cheapen it.) The pattern of the Xn life is grace>>>gratitude.

NB the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism. There are three sections: (I) humankind’s misery, (II) God’s provision in Christ, (III) the Christian life (discipleship.) The heading of the 3rd section is simply GRATITUDE.



[1] denial of need of propitiation (as barbaric) born of ignorance of God’s holiness.

[2] repudiation of the whole notion of sacrifice as primitive.

[3] forgiveness (if needed at all) arises as we reconcile ourselves to God.

[4] Since God is love, his love meets us and all we need do is simply love him in return.

[5] atonement is replaced by God’s identifying himself with us in our life-situation. (He knows our anxiety, our insecurity, our frailty. He comforts us by sharing our life-situations, but he doesn’t saveus by taking upon himself that condemnation which he must visit upon us.)


p172. With respect to Jesus Christ

[1] Dorothee Soelle: Christ is the representation of God rather than the substitute for humankind.

this means we need a “picture” of God rather than needing our sin dealt with.

a representative of God isn’t God. (She’s denied the incarnation.)

[2] Paul Tillich: Christ is the New Being.

this is correct in what it affirms: Christ is the new man/woman.

this is terrible in what it doesn’t say: Christ is God incarnate.

T’s philosophy around this point renders unnecessary the historical existence of JC. The ideational description that the apostles give is enough to “trigger” our affirmation of such “new being” for ourselves.

[3] Friedrich Schleiermacher: Christ is; he is the pattern of God-consc., which pattern is charged with the capacity to duplicate itself in us. Christ is “mediator” only in the sense of the mediator of God-consciousness

lost here are all the biblical categories for understanding Jesus.

Schl. is the father of theol’l liberalism. Lib’l’m adopts as theology’s starting point the world’s self-und’g. Result: theol. can be only the world talking to itself with a religious vocabulary.

[4] Georg Hegel: Christ is the symbol (pictorial representation) of divine-human unity, which unity is the ultimate truth and reality of the universe.

the radical transcendence of the holy God is lost

the Inc. isn’t denied so much as it’s re-interpreted non-bib’ly.

a modern approximation: New Age movement, albeit without H’s phil’l genius.


p173. Moral/Mystical Influence of Atonement Theories

[1] J.A.T. Robinson: Christ saves us by quickening love in us.

then can’t anyone save us by quickening love in us?

unless Christ is God-incarnate, then X’s death has nothing to do with love.

[2] Wiersinga: Christ’s death shocks us into repentance and conversion.

why is his death any more shocking than anyone else’s?

are repentance & conversion natural occurrences?

[3] de Chardin (an instance of neo-Catholicism): Christ is the climax of humankind’s spiritual evolution.

this is a total inversion of biblical faith.

[4] O’Meara: Christ’s sacrifice moves us to sacrifice.

this is another instance of the merely natural, the psychological.



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Essential Points in a Doctrine of the Atonement

[1] atonement is rooted in God’s love, and therefore in his grace as his love meets our sin.

[2] the sacrifice asked of the Son the Father offers himself.

[3] the Son absorbs the wrath/judgement/condemnation of God, as God the Father, being of the same essence as the Son, absorbs all this in himself.

[4] the invitation can now be issued to repent, believe, obey, since the effect of sin on God has now been dealt with.

[5] while [4] is a human affirmation/act/ event, it is all facilitated by the Holy Spirit. There is no suggestion of semi-Pelagianism, or an outer structure of grace with an inner content of works.

[6] before that sacrifice we make there is a sacrifice we are to trust. Still, the sacrifice we trust constrains the sacrifice we make, or else we haven’t trusted Christ and are not bound to him; i.e., we are still living in unbelief (=Sin)



Reverend V. Shepherd