Amazing Love. That my God should die for me.

This is my first post on John Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ. Previously I engaged in a number of posts on the incarnation and made some bold statements as to why I believe R.C Sproul was wrong about the divine nature of Christ.Because of my prior and continuing interest in the subject, I decided to jump right into the heart of the matter and read the chapter titled “The Self Substitution of God”

Sproul says he cannot sing these lines of Wesley.

Amazing love! How can it be, that thou, my God, should’st die for me?

We believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate. We also believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross. If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy. In fact, two such heresies related to this problem arose in the early centuries of the church: theopassianism and patripassianism. The first of these, theopassianism, teaches that God Himself suffered death on the cross. Patripassianism indicates that the Father suffered vicariously through the suffering of His Son. Both of these heresies were roundly rejected by the church for the very reason that they categorically deny the very character and nature of God, including His immutability. There is no change in the substantive nature or character of God at any time. [1]

John Stott, however acknowledges both scholars and simple Christians alike can sing and make this statement, because Scripture itself permits it[2].  In his chapter “The Self Substitution of God” pages 157 – 192 he goes into great detail as to why we can and should make this claim, and sing it with joy.

He quotes a number of Scriptures, Phil 2:6-8, 1Cor 2:8, Rev 5:6, 9; 7:9 and states that the logic of Hebrews requires us say it is God who died, because of its similarity between a covenant and a will. Heb 9:15-17 finally he concludes that we must not overlook Acts 20:28, where Paul says that the church, is that which God bought with his own blood. On page 182 he continues with the evidence from the church fathers that they too taught and used that phrase themselves.

However, Stott carefully nuances his position through exploring how we need to be careful what we mean when we say God died. For the term ‘God’ is often used to speak of the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Indeed this very issue was addressed in the 3rd century church, where the nature of the Trinity was nutted out, and the heresy of Modalism was condemned – A heresy that taught the father had become the son and the son had become the spirit. Within the framework of heresies, he continues noting the same heresies that Sproul does: Praxeas taught the father was crucified: to whom the heresy of ‘Patriaassians’ was named after. McGrath, likewise confirms that it was a Sabellian / Modalistic heresy, whereby the Father suffered as the Son.[3]  McGrath explains “Theopaschitism” as the heresy which sloganized that one of the Trinity had died.[4] However Stott, nuances this, explaining its adherents rejected the council of Chalcedon findings, that Jesus, though one person; had two natures. They were in fact Monophysites who taught that Christ only had a divine nature; therefore denying his human nature.[5]

This shows carelessness in Sproul’s understanding and nuancing those heretical terms. They don’t prove the point he is trying to make. Instead, it clearly opens Sproul to the charges of Modalism.

There is a vast difference between Stott’s and Sproul’s understanding of the nature of the Trinity, and the purpose of Christ. While granted Sproul’s article is short, and Stott’s chapter is 35 pages, it clear that Sproul is saying that there is no difference between the Trinitarian persons of the Godhead. This goes against the findings of the Nicean council who painstakingly worked through the Trinity: fully acknowledging the fullness of the Godhead, yet distinguished the purpose and function of each member of the Godhead. They being the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Father was involved in the sending. The Son through the obedience of incarnation. The Father was not born. Nor was the Spirit. Yet all three members of the Godhead were deeply and intimately involved. It’s within this framework that God is fully involved in the cross. The incarnation wasn’t an accident. It was planned before the creation of the world. The notion that God can die, is as ludicrous as the notion that God can be born, birthed by a virgin woman. For Sproul to say the divine nature of Christ didn’t experience the sufferings and death of Christ is to say the divine nature of Christ didn’t experience the sufferings and the experience of birth. To say that the divine nature of Christ, didn’t suffer and fully experience the act of birth; is to deny the full divinity of Christ; and labels Christ a mere human. However, if indeed Sproul accepts that the divine nature fully experienced and participated in the incarnation experience of birth and all that entailed – he needs to accept the divine nature of Christ experienced the cross.

Stott quotes Anslem who said, that only a man should make reparation for his sins, since it was he who has defaulted. Yet, it is only God who can make the necessary reparation since he demanded it. Indeed this is nothing new. It’s the standard foundation within reformed theology for the basis of the theory of Penal Substitution.

Therefore, Stott say’s to the church – let us embrace and sing loudly the words    Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, should’st die for me?


[1] http://www.ligonier.org/blog/it-accurate-say-god-died-cross/

[2] John Stott, The Cross of Christ. (England, Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), 181.

[3] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Blackwell publishers, 2011), 207.

[4] Ibid., 2011

[5] Stott.183

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About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
This entry was posted in Atonement, Incarnation, [in]passibility and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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