Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Comparision of Forensic vs. Demonstrative atonement

"In a comment on a recent blog article here Douglas Hackleman gave us a link to his article “World’s Apart” written around 1980 for Spectrum. On page 6 he compares the two conflicting views on the Atonement mentioned in the previous blog articles; particularly between Graham Maxwell and Desmond Ford. While the Good News Tour claims that they are not representing Graham Maxwell’s theology the fact remains that most certainly, he has heavily influenced the Good News Tour presenters.

From Hackleman’s article [I applied the text color, green for Forensic and blue for Demonstrative theory which Maxwell calls the Larger View today]:

“The following outline contrasts a few of the major points of conflict between the Forensic and Demonstrative views of the Atonement.

(1a) In Forensic views of the atonement the emphasis is on the desperate need of the sinner to be justified or cleansed from guilt. Salvation, or a right standing, or acceptability with God, is contingent upon the penalty for our breaking the law being paid by Another (Substitution).

(1b) I have labeled the non-forensic understanding of the Atonement the Demonstrative theory because its proponents understand the Cross primarily as a revelation of many things which fit loosely under the word Grace. But because the term “revelation” comes with many semantic loadings, I have disqualified it as a title, opting instead for the Demonstrative theory of the Atonement. The detractors of this position label it Moral Influence theory primarily because it shares the belief that the Cross was intended to bring about a change in man, not in God.

(2a) Forensic theology of the Cross hangs on the concept of Substitution and Representation. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Christ took our place dying the death that the Law, or Justice, demanded.

(2b) Demonstrative thinking is good for its name at this point, enumerating several truths revealed clearly at the Cross: The Gracious love of God, the awful nature of evil, and the certainty that God can be trusted when He describes the consequences of disorderly living in His orderly universe.

(3a) The writings of St. Paul (particularly Romans the third chapter) are considered normative and authoritative for Forensic interpretations of the Cross. Quoting Desmond Ford: “Romans is the central explanation in the New Testament on the Cross of Christ.” “[Paul] synthesizes the whole weight of God’s preceding revelation. The whole Old Testament is forensic.”8

(3b) All sixty-six books of Scripture and the writings of Ellen White—interpreted in light of the life and teachings of Christ and the Great Controversy in which He was engaged—comprise the background and illumination for the Demonstrative explanation of what happened at the Cross.

(4a) A rather literal interpretation of the forensic metaphors in Scripture—particularly those of Paul in Romans—is demanded by exponents of forensic explanations of the atonement. When others suggest that Christ’s teaching—particularly the Prodigal Son parable—sheds light on God’s attitude toward sinners, Ford says, “I wouldn’t be comfortable trying to take a parable to tell the whole story of salvation,” and he cites the copious presence of forensic language in the Desire of Ages chapter on Gethsemane and Calvary and “all the forensic language there about surety, substitution, wrath.”9

(4b) The Demonstrative advocates interpret the Old Testament sacrificial system and the forensic language of Paul as metaphors of Grace, realizing that the transcendent cannot be described apart from metaphor. This from an understanding of the Great Controversy and the view of God’s posture to sinners taught by Christ through the parable of the Prodigal Son and even more profoundly demonstrated by the way Jesus treated sinners while He lived among us. God, represented by Jesus, did not become Gracious after the Cross, they contend.

(5a) The Forensic concept of sin tends to be objective. There is a tendency to ascribe ontological properties to sin; it is something. You can get it on you. “I have guilt upon me,” as Ford says. Sins, then, can be moved about in books. And the sinner has a “status” or a “standing” which only can be affected by Christ standing in the sinner’s place. Only Christ’s “work done for me matches the Holy Law,” says Ford.10

(5b) By great contrast, the Demonstrative approach to sin emphasizes its subjective nature. It is a severed or hostile relationship, a condition rather than a status, a state rather than a legal standing. This alienated condition called sin expresses its misery not only in estrangement from God but from our fellow humans and ourselves. The Demonstrative theory explains the Cross as necessary to heal sinners because only the Cross could repair the relationship broken by sin.

(6a) Speaking about “God’s holy law” and “the law accusing sinners,” the Forensic explanation of the law tends to objectify—even anthropomorphize—the law, giving it properties of its own, including the capacity to act as a prosecutor. Still, Dr. Ford says,“the law isn’t something outside [God]. The law is just what God is.”11 But that leaves God accusing sinners instead of “the accuser of the brethren,” Satan.

(6b) The law of God—from the Demonstrative perspective—is the way God made the universe and its creatures to operate: the way things are. The Ten Commandments are seen as the human being’s owner’s manual, or service manual. Living out of harmony with the way we were optimally created to live, results, naturally, in a host of miseries ending in death, which Maxwell explains, “is the consequence of disorderly living in an orderly universe.”12

(7a) The Forensic view of the atonement would have to view the death of Christ as an execution— such as the wicked will receive at the end of the age—since Jesus was made to be sin in our place and died the second death for us. Paxton speaks euphemistically about “the Father putting forward the Son to be a propitiation, but at the same time giving Himself in His Son.”13

(7b) The Demonstrative approach explains the second death of the wicked as the natural consequence of separation from God’s sustaining power brought on by intractable rebellion. God “gives them up,” or “lets them go.” Rather than paying the price or penalty for disobedience on the Cross, God demonstrated the terrible consequences of separation in Jesus who was made sin for us and cried out, “Why have you given me up?”

(8a) Ford, Paxton, and others, perceiving a lack of assurance of salvation among the Adventists they encounter, have attempted to rectify this doubt, this uncertainty, by preaching justification with a heavy legal, transactional emphasis. Reacting also to what they feel is a dangerous leaning toward a “Tridentine” theology of “salvation by works” or “imparted righteousness” or “salvation by sanctification,” they have been making it very clear that our assurance of salvation is based on what Christ did on Calvary, not what Christ is doing in me. And the argument rages whether Righteousness by Faith includes only justification or also sanctification.

(8b) Meanwhile, the Demonstrative adherents feel that the uproar over Righteousness by Faith is unfortunate since they believe, behind it all, “our assurance is based on the kind of Person God is,” and that a thorough study of Scripture fosters trust in statements like Paul’s in Romans 1:17 where the Righteousness of God is revealed as the good news of His power to heal and save. If we believe that, the doubt over assurance is unfounded.

Well, is the cross primarily a substitution? Or is it at its heart a revelation? Is it a legitimate method, for understanding the Cross and its purpose, to accept Paul’s forensic language as normative, and to take that language quite literally? Or do we need to focus more on Christ’s revelation of God and His central role in the Great Controversy? And should not the tendency for Paul to emphasize legal terminology be understood as—at least in part—a reflection of the period and culture in which he lived and to which he tendered his unprecedented message?"

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