By Jesse Morrell
Matt Slick of CARM (Christian Apologetic Research Ministry) wrote two articles that supposedly “critiqued” the governmental view of the atonement:
Matt Slick wrote this:
“The Governmental Theory: This says that God did not have to require a payment for sinners and that God could have forgiven people simply by choosing to do so without any payment of penalty. If this is so, then why did Christ need to die at all? This means that Christ made no payment and did not die for anyone’s sins.”
What a confusing, false, and misrepresenting statement. It is clear to me that Matt did not study the governmental view of the atonement at all. He confuses Socinianism with the Governmental view. Socinius said that God, as a Creditor, can forgive us our debt without any payment necessary. Hugo Grotius said that God is not to be viewed as a Creditor but as the Moral Governor of the Universe, who therefore has governmental obstacles in the way of free pardon that must be overcome by means of the atonement. The penalty serves governmental purposes so if God is going to remit the penalty in the forgiveness of sin, an atonement must substitute our penalty and fulfill its governmental purpose. Thus the governmental atonement view said that the price of Christ’s blood was a necessary in order for God to pardon sinners.
Matt Slick wouldn’t ask why would Jesus had to die at all if he understood the governmental view, which says that there are governmental reasons why Christ had to die. His conclusions that “Christ made no payment and did not die for anyone’s sins” are completely illogical, as a ransom price was required and Christ died for EVERYONE’s sin in the governmental view.
No wonder so many people seem confused about the governmental view. Calvinists seem bent on slandering it.
He then went on to say that the penal view was the “substitutionary atonement view” as if the governmental view was not vicarious at all. It seems that Matt did not put any study in before writing this. The governmental view is actually more vicarious or substitutional than the penal theory, as Christ does not merely substitute sinners in penalty but His atonement is a substitute for penalty all together. Christ substitutes sinners, calvary substitutes hell, and six hours substitutes eternity. To claim that the penal theory alone is substitutional, while the governmental view is not, is either a statement of slander or a statement of ignorance. I assume the latter.
“why did Christ need to die at all?”
The atonement was necessary for the same reason that penalty would have been necessary if Christ had made no atonement for sin (to borrow the argument of Jonathon Edwards Jr.) Penalty serves a governmental purpose of honoring the law, revealing God’s character, and deterring sin in the universe. If the penalty is going to be remitted in the forgiveness of sins, these purposes must be satisfied through the substitutional means of an atonement. The atonement is necessary in the moral government of God for the same reason that penalty would have been necessary had no atonement been made.
Matt Slick then wrote on supposed, “Elements of Moral Government Theory of the Atonement”
“Jesus suffered on the cross on behalf of humanity but did not bear the sins of individuals.”
That is false. Where did Matt learn this stuff? Not a single moral government theologian I know teaches this. They do rightly teach that Jesus did not become a sinner on the cross, as Luther taught.
“Jesus did not pay the legal debt to God for the sins committed by anyone who has broken God’s law.”
Right, the atonement was not Christ paying our debt. First, we owed obedience to the law and when we disobeyed, we thus become indebted. Christ did not vicariously obey the law for us, as we are still under moral obligations to the law ourselves. If Christ discharged our moral obligations, we would have none ourselves now. Second, through our sin we owed punishment to the law, to vindicate and honor it. The penalty for our sins is eternal hell. Jesus did not suffer eternal hell. Therefore, Jesus did not take the penalty for our sins. His atonement was therefore a substitute for our penalty, rendering our penalty remissible, not the penalty itself.
“There is no correlation between sin and debt.”
False. We owe obedience to God and thus when we fail to obey we incur debt. And for our disobedience, we owe eternal suffering or penalty to the law. But forgiveness is the pardoning of debt. Through the atonement, as a substitute for penalty, our debt is PARDONED.
“Jesus’ sacrifice of Christ was not substitutionary for any individual, rather, it was a corporate sacrifice.”
FALSE. The atonement was a vicarious suffering for every individual, through which everyone MAY be saved, but not MUST be saved. The atonement does not obligate God to forgive anyone.
“Jesus’ sacrifice of Christ was a demonstration of God’s displeasure with sin.”
Sure it was, as a substitute for the penalty of the law, the atonement needed to demonstrate God’s displeasure with sin just as much as the penalty of sin would have demonstrated this.
“The sacrifice of Christ is a teaching example that is good for society as a whole and demonstrates God’s benevolence to mankind.”
The sacrifice of Christ was a public example of the evil of sin, just as the damnation of the wicked in hell would be a public example of this to the universe. And yes, of course the atonement was a demonstration of the love of God towards sinners.
“The sacrifice of Christ reconciles us to God without paying our sin debt.”
Yes, the atonement paid our ransom price so that our debt of eternal hell could be pardoned by the grace and mercy of God. Our debt is pardoned. If it were paid, there is no forgiveness through the atonement, which is precisely what the scriptures promise comes through the atonement. Christ died for the remission or forgiveness of sins, which means through His sacrifice our debt is pardoned and our penalty remitted.
“Denies Original Sin, that is, we do not have a sinful nature.”
Many who have held to the governmental view do not believe that sin is transmittable or that guilty is imputable, but this is not necessarily inherit in the theory itself. The theory simply states that there is a governmental function for the penalty of the law and therefore the penalty cannot be justly remitted in the forgiveness of sins without an atonement substituting the penalty and fulfilling its governmental office.
“Jesus died to make salvation possible and is dependent on man’s free will choice to repent of his sins and believe in God.”
Yes the atonement does not unconditionally save anyone, but men are only saved through the atonement WHEN they repent and believe. Thus, the ministry of reconciliation is still occurring after the atonement was made. Even in the penal theory, though they are inconsistent, the elect are not born saved even though Jesus died for them but are born under the wrath of God until they are justified by faith. Thus, the atonement made it possible for men to be saved only once they meet the conditions, not before. This point is inconsistent in the penal theory, as a debt paid is paid whether you believe it or not and thus it would be automatically and unconditionally saving. So it appears that Calvinists are in a way borrowing from the governmental view in teaching that salvation is not given through the atonement until sinners are actually converted, thus presupposing that the nature of the atonement is not such as to render salvation automatic or unconditional.
“The Moral government idea of the atonement where there is no correspondence between sin and legal debts of the law, is clearly not Biblical. It denies summary Scriptures and is heretical.”
The ignorance and slander from Matt Slick is staggering. Where did he learn that the governmental view teaches that there is no correspondence between sin and debt? The governmental theory simply teaches, as the scriptures teach, that God forgives us our debts. The debt analogy is used in the scriptures to illustrate the nature of the forgiveness, which it does perfectly, but never to illustrate the nature of the atonement. When it is used by theologians to illustrate the atonement, the logical conclusions are then double jeopardy, limited atonement, or universalism, all three of which are unscriptural. And any premise that logically concluded an unscriptural conclusion cannot be a scriptural premise.
I am sorry to say but Matt Slick’s articles on the governmental atonement are the WORSE I have ever seen. I really think he hasn’t actually studied it. Notice that he did not quote from a single governmental atonement theologian in either of his articles. What poor scholarship is that? I am writing a critique of the penal view in my atonement book and I will use a plethora of quotations from penal theologians.
His whole article against the governmental atonement view is built upon a straw man. This is such an inaccurate and inadequate article. He said that the governmental view denies that there is a correlation between sin and debt. That is a straw-man. We fully acknowledge that we incur a debt through sinning. But we affirm, as the Bible teaches, that our debts are forgiven by the grace and mercy of God. Matt Slick, in that article, then went on to actually prove the governmental view, that our debts are cancelled. How strange it is that he argues that our debt being cancelled is somehow proof that Jesus “paid our debt.” Pardoning a debt, and paying a debt, are antithetical. If you owe me $100 and your friend pays it for you, I don’t forgive anything. There is nothing left over to forgiven. It has been paid in full.
In that article, Matt Slick did not actually critique the governmental atonement view, neither did He prove the “Jesus paid our debt” view. He actually, in a sense, proved a point in the governmental view – that our debt of sin is forgiven through Christ.
AN OFFER TO MATT SLICK
I posted in the “Christian Apologetic Research Ministry” Facebook group the following:
In this article, you critiqued the Governmental theory of the atonement and claimed that the Penal theory was the view that believed in “vicarious substitution.” https://carm.org/substitutionary-atonement-jesus-christ
I am currently writing a book on the Governmental Atonement view, showing why Jesus had to die in the governmental view (something you asked in your article), showing that His sufferings were vicarious or substitutional, etc.
Given your brief comments on the subject, I’d love to send you a copy of my book when I am finished with it. Is this something you would be interested in?