Jesus Creed

In the second part of Shults’ chapter on facing, forgiveness and salvation, Shults looks at what the Christian tradition means by forgiveness. Shults seeks here to liberate the idea of forgiveness from judicial metaphors and make room for the reality that forgiveness “really changes lives” (125). If you had to define forgiveness, how would you define it? I’m willing to suggest that this section in Sandage/Shults is an enormous challenge to the overemphasis on satisfaction and penal substitution in much of contemporary evangelical theology.
This book, The Faces of Forgiveness, uses three senses of forgiveness: forensic, therapeutc, and redemptive. Exodus 34:6-7 is the most significant text about forgiveness in the OT. That text resonates in several others, showing that it was a liturgical set of words with an ongoing life. Cf. Num 14:17-20; Neh 9:17; Pss 86:15; 103:8-10; 145:8-9; 86:5; 130:3-4. In fact, Shults contends that within the OT is a trajectory toward God’s graciousness and forgiveness. His NT study, which trots out the standard texts, draws this sort of conclusion: “… we need to explore the possibility that both salvation and grace in the NT are broader that the legal, mechanical, and individualistic soteriological concepts that have so deeply shaped large streams of Protestant thought” (136). And this is perhaps his key statement: “Paul is focused on the dynamic gracious divine presence that heals the anger and shame that block peaceful life in community through redemptive forgiveness” (137). It is the “real presence of divine grace that heals human relations” (138) and he speaks here of the “reconciling intentionality of grace.”
So, you can see that Shults is intent on showing that forgiveness has been usurped by a legal metaphor and he is arguing that it is creative redemption rather than simply forensic settlement. He traces this forensic usurpation from Tertullian on: it begins with the Roman law’s sense of satisfaction and the notion of penance that developed. [Lots of my readers are Protestants who do not like the notion of penance as necessary for forgiveness; Shults contends that some of our ideas of forgiveness flow out of this sense of satisfication and penance. You’ll hae to read the book to see if it convinces you.] He looks at Augustine’s On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and the development of the “Order of Penitents.”
Anselm’s theory of satisfaction applies a medieval (post-Roman) sense of satisfaction to the theory of atonement. Indulgences flow out of this sense of the necessity of satisfaction. Luther didn’t want the term “satisfaction” used “in our schools or on the lips of our preachers, but would rather send it back to the judges, advocates, and hangmen, from whom the pope stole it” (144). Calvin’s theory of salvation is best approached through “union with Christ” [Debate here: some think Calvin undercut the genuineness of his double-imputation insight by approaching salvation through union with Christ.] Out of these issues developed the post-Reformation scholastic debate on the ordo salutis: what is the order of such things as regeneration, justification, etc… Is righteousness imputed or imparted? Etc. Shults sees departures from the original visions of both Luther and Calvin in this sort of thinking.
Tomorrow: how the ordo salutis ought to be seen as a “salutary ordering.” I can’t wait.

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