Inevitably, substitution does mean that God is punishing human beings according to their sins. This concept is increasingly unpopular, as it has been overshadowed by accepting people as they are, forgiving what they do, and forgetting the evil they have done and the pain they have caused.
This is an interesting idea for Driscoll to keep coming back to, the notion that it's unpopular these days to propose that God punishes people according to their sins because people would prefer that they be forgiven what they do and that the evil they have done would be forgotten, along with any pain they have caused. Because he's been doing this for more than a decade ...
God is our Victim
Interesting, however, is the proclivity of people to reverse their position when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. What I mean is this: when I sin against someone, I want them to accept me, forgive me, and let me off the hook, because that is what sinners want. As long as we view the cross only from the perspective of sinners, this is all we will see. However, when we or someone we love is sinned against, we cry out for justice because that is what victims want. For example, a father who learned that his young daughter had been sexually abused by his brother told me he “wanted blood.” [emphasis added] This, precisely, is the perspective of God, who has never sinned against anyone but is continually sinned against by everyone and is truly the greatest victim in all of history. While he is not to be pitied, such injustice must be acknowledged.
One may ask whether the Mark Driscoll who's still happy to beat this drum would be that surprised some former members of Mars Hill would be willing to name him as a defendant in a RICO complaint. We've looked back on how ten years ago Mark Driscoll said that churches generally tend to deal with trivial matters in discipline and that when actual crimes have been committed to contact the authorities.
I.e. litigation was left open as an option if legal issues were at stake. This could be squared with Mars Hill counsel sending a cease and desist over ... trademark and logo concerns. So if it was okay for Mars Hill to exercise that option then concern about the fiscal competence of the executive leadership might not be out of bounds if we go by Driscoll's past instructions. But Driscoll's said this year that he's sure the allegations are false ... even if the allegations happen to quote verbatim a variety of statements made directly by parties and non-party associates.
It's not that a guy like Driscoll can't say "you deserve Hell. Everything else is a gift." He can say stuff like that, it's just that his reactions to complaints about him don't suggest he really believes this is true about himself.
Some will protest that such a desire for blood and justice is primitive. But what is the appropriate response to someone who deliberately sins, shows no remorse or repentance, and maintains ongoing devotion to doing evil? The hard truth is that our sin hurts God and hurts the people that God made and loves. Like anyone who truly loves, God takes it personally when harm is done, precisely because he is loving, not because he is unloving.
Setting aside the ease with which Driscoll shared that a father confided to him that he discovered a brother had abused his child ... it's interesting how frequently Driscoll has gone for the jugular by invoking these kinds of cases. Driscoll's eagerness to defend penal substitutionary atonement (which I am, for the record, totally for) by invoking these cases of sexual and physical abuse highlights something by omission. Driscoll's eager to show that substitutionary atonement is valuable when the case studies involve abused women and children ... but not when the allegations involve copyright infringement, rigging a list, being verbally abusive ... stuff that Driscoll's actually been accused of over the years. If Driscoll has actually shown any signs of repentance or remorse over how he has used the intellectual property of others without giving proper credit then it'd be great to know when and where that remorse and repentance was expressed. Quietly published second printings of Driscoll books doesn't quite count, does it? Little footnotes in Real Marriage acknowledging a belated intellectual debt to Dan Allender might cut it if it were admitted that Allender wasn't thanked the first time, too.
If Driscoll takes this axiomatic approach to one of its potential conclusions, the people who have filed a complaint against him may have done so because they love, not because they don't.
Retribution or Rehabilitation?
Sadly, what to do with sinners has led to a political tug-of-war between the right and left. The right generally prefers retribution, which punishes sinners with such things as prison time and capital punishment but usually bypasses rehabilitation and diminishes community responsibility for correction. The left generally prefers rehabilitation, which seeks to improve sinners with such things as therapy and medication but usually bypasses punishment and diminishes personal responsibility for sin.
At the cross we see that God deals with sinners through both retribution and rehabilitation. God made us for glory, not sin. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, God honors the dignity of our personhood—we are more than animals incapable of good. By dying for us in our place and suffering our rightful punishment, Jesus also satisfies the retributive justice necessary for God the victim. Through Jesus’ death, God has secured for us who believe in Jesus the benefit of a new nature empowered by the Holy Spirit that is not only capable of being reformed but eternally guaranteed to be sinless, thereby satisfying the rehabilitative needs of us sinners.
Well ... you SAY that ...
See, it really would be nice to buy the idea that Mark Driscoll got a new nature when he said he became saved. But the thing is not all of us who self-identify as Christians think the break between the old self and the new self necessarily always is or has to be that drastic. And then there's the problem of Result Source.
See, we've discussed in the past how Driscoll had no problem sharing that before he was a Christian he was okay with rigging a game in his favor to get a job he wanted. By letting Result Source move along as it did Mark Driscoll made a decision (even by omission) that suggests the possibility that on either side of the Christian conversion divide he was okay with a game being rigged in his favor whether he'd earned that success honestly or not. Like it or not Mark Driscoll has to recognize this has become a part of his legacy.
Penal substitutionary atonement doesn't really change that. If anything, affirming penal substitutionary atonement makes it all the stranger a guy like Driscoll seems so loathe to come to terms, and to do so publicly, with the scope not only of what he's been accused of but of what's been fairly easy to document that he's definitely said and done.
It would seem as if in the last five years Driscoll's approach has shifted from retribution to rehabilitation as a preferred approach. That and talking about crying a lot.
Theologically, the concept of Jesus’ dying in our place to pay our penalty for our sins has been expressed in theological shorthand as penal substitution. While the church has always affirmed this aspect of atonement, it was highlighted in the Reformation and in the theologies of John Calvin and Martin Luther.
This aspect of the atonement is under the most vehement attack today by people who do not believe that people are as sinful as they truly are, that God is as holy as he truly is, or that God has chosen an appropriate penalty for sin (death). Curiously, such critics are also commonly known to be the most vocal of hypocrites, simultaneously demanding justice on the earth for the poor, oppressed, and abused, while denying God the same kind of justice that is due him by those people that he created to glorify him with sinless obedience. Nonetheless, Scripture repeatedly and clearly declares that Jesus died as our substitute paying our penalty “for” our sins, as the following examples illustrate ...
But is that the only form hypocrisy can take? Is it possible for someone to hypocritically complain about how sermon content has been cribbed without proper acknowledgment while having published book after book in which he himself failed to adequately give credit where it was due? Is it possible to let a public relations posse imply that a case in which citation errors with only his name on it could have potentially been perpetrated by research help while complaining that young guys need to "man up" and take responsibility? As I've been saying, I really like substitutionary atonement but there's this other aspect of the atonement I love, it's the part where Jesus lived a life that we can use as a moral example.
A guy like Driscoll would theoretically know this, that the liberals who tend to hate substitutionary atonement tend to love the Jesus-as-moral-example atonement. Maybe he'd even have attempted some witty observation about how they don't think they've sinned badly enough to NEED Jesus as a substitutionary/propitiating sacrifice on the cross because they feel they're following His example. But, conversely, there's a type of guy (and it's nearly always a guy when they bother to take to social or mass media in the United States) who is so quick to defend penal substitutionary atonement that you wonder if they've ever stopped to think that maybe the atonement they'd most need is the moral example one. If the liberals tend to think they haven't committed any sins bad enough to warrant a substitutionary sacrifice from Christ, the conservatives who want retribution (as Driscoll's put it) seem to think that so long as that substitutionary sacrifice thing is settled there's not a whole lot of need to actively emulate the example of Christ's life because, you know, substitute!
A guy like Driscoll has less excuse than others because back in 2005 he preached sermon after sermon on the atonement and covered substitutionary atonement and christus exemplar, too. If there's a guy who, on paper, should know that Christ came to live and die among us as a moral example it would be Driscoll--yet it seems that what Mark would prefer to talk about is how bad those people are who have issues with substitutionary atonement. If Driscoll were spending time singing the praises of christus exemplar and talking about how in addition to the beauty of knowing that Christ chose a place on the Cross to die for our sins this shows us what a great example He is then ,yeah, I'd call that progress. But Driscoll opted to take potshots at the people he feels don't respect substitutionary atonement enough and calls these abstractions hypocrites.
I've said earlier this year that what seems to be the problem of guys who are fixated on ONLY penal substitutionary atonement without turning to other aspects of the atonement is that they are quite happy for Jesus to be the substitute without taking seriously His moral example. I would venture to say the atonement is a lump sum deal. If you reject penal substitutionary atonement you reject every other kind of atonement. If you reject Christ as moral example but claim to affirm substitution then you've really done the same thing, reject the atonement. When you say that X is something Christ didn't need to do for you or anyone else it amounts to the same thing, rejecting that Christ atoned for you in any way. Show me the atonement you reject and I'll show you why you've rejected Christ. That Driscoll's still camping out on defending substitutionary atonement in a way that stereotypes those who have issues with it as hypocrites makes it hard to believe he's changed in any way. This may still just be the same guy who thought it was okay for Result Source to nudge the New York Times best seller list into his favor. Forgive me for thinking that a person who took christus exemplar seriously would have a hard time rationalizing that kind of pragmatism.