Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Did God the Father Turn His Back On the Crucified Christ?

I'm sure you've heard it at one point or another. It has become so prevalent in Christian books, sermons, and songs that it must be in the Bible. Right? It always goes something like this: "On the cross Jesus bore the sins of humanity and even the rejection of the Father as God turned His back on Jesus."
So, is this really true? Is it Biblical? Thomas H. McCall says, "NO!" and I happen to agree with him.

In his recent book Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters, associate professor of biblical and systematic theology Thomas McCall makes a strong case for dismissing the idea that the Father turned His back on the Son as He atoned for the sins of humanity. As someone who has long rejected this theology, I have read many articles that make their case for why the Father did not turn His back on the Son; however, McCall takes it to a whole new level by reflecting on the very nature of the Trinity and God's attributes.

In the first chapter, "Was the Trinity Broken: The Father, the Son, and Their Cross," McCall sets the stage for the argument by looking at what contemporary theologians and Biblical scholars are arguing before turning to his own Biblical argument and early Church beliefs on what "My God! My God, why have You forsaken me?" means. If you can only read one chapter, make it this one. 

Chapter two turns to atonement theologies--the wrath of God and holy love. Here he tries to bring balance to both wrath and love by examining them in Biblical, rather than contemporary, terms. 

"Was the Death of Jesus A Meaningless Tragedy?: Foreknowledge, Fulfillment and the Plan of the Triune God" (otherwise known as chapter 3) explores the topic of who was to blame for Jesus' death. Did people kill Jesus or did God?

Finally, chapter four, "Does It Make A Difference?,"turns to matters of Justification and Sanctification. What did the cross accomplish? How are we to understand Jesus' sacrifice?

I greatly appreciate the fact that McCall engages many dialogue partners and looks at this subject from many angles. This is an important book to read and reflect on the implications for theology and ministry. Too often we sing songs about God turning His Face away or hear sermons that hammer home the idea that substitutionary atonement requires a Divine mental fiction, in which an omniscient God sees only sin in the obedient Son and detaches Himself from the second member of the Trinity in the crucial hour.  I don't want to give away McCall's points because you really need to read this one for yourselves. This book deserves attention among Evangelical intellectuals. Props to IVP for publishing it.

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