What is the meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross? Should we see it primarily as a demonstration of God’s love, as a kind of victory over the hostile powers, or as a “penal substitution” in which God’s wrath was actually satisfied?
On this program, we’ll be taking a break from our series through the book of Ephesians as Michael Horton discusses these questions and more with controversial theologian N.T. Wright, author of The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion. Whether you agree with his views or not, one thing is clear: N.T. Wright is making an impact in the world of contemporary theology. Our goal in airing this exchange is that you’ll get a better grasp of the issues at stake, particularly when it comes to the way we think about the main objective of Christ’s atoning work. Also, stay tuned for next week’s broadcast as Mike hears from Cambridge scholar Simon Gathercole, who is critical of Wright’s new book and offers a different perspective.
“According to classic, Reformed theology, what you have in the beginning with the covenant of creation, or sometimes it’s called the covenant of works, covenant of law, you have an original vocation given to humanity in Adam to be priests – to multiply, be fruitful, to guard and to keep the sanctuary, and to drive out all idolatry – but instead, we know what happens. Not only did [Adam and Eve] let the serpent beguile each other, but they themselves transgress the covenant.
“Now, you get to Israel and tragically, in Hosea 6:7, like Adam, Israel broke the covenant. The tragedy of the story is that Israel too is in Adam. And then Jesus comes, and he is God himself saying, ‘Okay, I’ll do this myself.’ He fulfills the vocation as incarnate God, as the last Adam, and then dispenses that to us as a free gift and inheritance.”
Term to Learn
The entire human race is summarized in the two Adams. The first Adam was the federal head of the race under the covenant of works; the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the federal head of all believers under the covenant of grace. Thus, as the sin of Adam was legally and effectively our sin, so the obedience of Christ is legally and effectively the righteousness of all believers. The federal relationship in which Adam stood to the race was the ground of the imputation of his guilt to them and the judicial cause of their condemnation. And the law that condemned them could not justify them unless an adequate reparation should be made for the wrong done, a reparation they were incapable of making because of the corruption they inherited from Adam as their natural and federal head. To provide their salvation, the needed reparation had to be made by another who was not of federal connection with Adam and therefore was free from the imputation of his guilt. Federal theology represents these requirements as being met in Christ, the second Adam, in whom a new race begins. God had entered into covenant with him, promising him the salvation of all believers as the reward of his obedience. But the obedience required of him as the federal head of his people was more than the mere equivalent of that required of Adam. His representative obedience must include a penal death. And thus his resurrection victory is also the victory of the new humanity that has its source in him.
(Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v. “Federal Theology.”)