Vengeance is Mine, part I

Last week I listened to a lecture by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, called “B. B. Warfield on Arminians and Evangelicals.” (The lecture is basically a reiteration of chapter 5 of Riddlebarger’s dissertation on Warfield). One of the topics Riddlebarger covered was Warfield’s review of John Miley’s Methodist (Arminian) Systematic Theology.

You can listen or read at the links above, but in a nutshell, Miley’s presupposition of man’s free will (“freedom is fundamental in Arminianism”) forces him to deny the possibility that the guilt of Adam’s sin could be imputed to us, and Miley consistently follows through by denying the possibility that our sin could be imputed to Christ. Warfield sums up Miley’s position as “If the Arminian [free will] principle is to rule, [Miley] says, the doctrine of race sin must go, and the doctrine of vicarious punishment must go.”

Miley acknowledges that the Calvinists are correct in the syllogism that, “if justice must punish sin simply for the reason of its demerit, penal substitution is the only possible atonement”. But since Miley has already ruled out vicarious punishment, he logically has to roll back the antecedent. Warfield again:

Dr. Miley attacks this problem at an early point (pp. 93 ff.), the result of his discussion being that he concludes that while punishment may not be inflicted where there is no sin, and may never go beyond the intrinsic demerit of sin—’and God has the exact measure of its desert’—yet sin need not be ‘punished according to its desert’ (p. 97) —provided that the requirements of God’s moral government are not endangered by the failure to punish it. In other words, while sin may not be punished beyond its desert, it may be punished below its desert, if it can be rendered safe to do so.

In this way, Miley severs the cross from any connection with God’s justice — God’s wrath against us poured out on Jesus. By allowing God to overlook sin if he doesn’t feel like punishing it as much as it deserves, the cross is demoted to being only an illustration of God’s love (to the exclusion of his justice). Riddlebarger concludes with a devastating question: “Why did the Son of God have to die if some other possible means of dealing with sin, such as personal repentance, could serve as a legitimate method of remitting the penalty due us as sinners?”

OK, this is long enough as is, I’ll return with my thoughts on this tomorrow.

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3 Responses

  1. In CJPM (p.411, footnote 14), Dennis Johnson notes a similar tendency in the FV:

    Some federal-vision advocates draw a distinction between God’s “strict” justice, which only Christ’s perfection can satisfy, and God’s “fatherly” assessment, which accepts our less-than-perfect obedience, calling it “pleasing” and “good”…[Rich Lusk] attempts to soften the daunting prospect of final judgment based on our works: “The Bible nowhere says God will apply absolute justice at the last day. So why do we make that assumption? The only places where God enforces strict justice are the cross and hell. For the covenant people, at least, it seems God will use “fatherly justice” in the final judgment, not “absolute justice.” He will judge us the way parents evaluate their child’s art work, or the way a new husband assesses the dinner his beloved wife has made. The standard will be soft and generous because God is merciful.”

  2. […] Comments RubeRad on Vengeance is Mine, part IWacky Fundamentalist on Shaky FoundationsEcho_ohcE on Shaky FoundationsRubeRad on […]

  3. There’s not much to respond to here, except Miley is not presupposing free will, but human autonomy and independence of God, which is not the same as free will. We are dependent creatures, but in that context we do have free will. It is not autonomy like God’s absolute freedom.

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