“In Christ Alone” Heresy from Getty and Townend?

May 2, 2013

the wrath_of God_was_satisfied...One of the blogs I visit weekly is Rev. Bosco Peters’ “Liturgy” site. Bosco, a New Zealander, is a great source for understanding the church’s liturgical development over the centuries and he has written extensively on the subject. I was surprised to see a post today that took issue with Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s popular song “In Christ Alone.” Bosco took issue with the line:

“Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”

According to Bosco:

“The understanding of those words by many (most) who enthusiastically sing this in services around the planet is heretical. The understanding is that God (The Father) was angry at us in our sinfulness. And that God took out this rage on Christ instead of on us. And that this now enables God (The Father) to love us. This understanding is heresy.”

Strong words. All the comments on the article were in some agreement with Bosco but I take issue with this characterization of the lyrics and the heresy charge. Here was my response posted to his comment section:

I will clearly be in the minority here but I would disagree with the heresy charge. One problem is our notion of “wrath.” We tend to infuse the word with the kind of rage associated with human ire. Hence we get words like God has an “anger management problem” or “divine child abuse.” I think the comparison of our anger to God’s wrath does Him a disservice. When I teach in our congregation on justification, I describe God’s wrath as His settled and consistent opposition to all that diminishes His glory and/or creation. It’s not seething rage, it’s holiness reacting with perfect response to what is unholy. The idea that God is, as you describe, “head over heals in love with us,” is true because God is Love. God is also “Light” and there is no darkness in Him. My understanding of this provides a way to reconcile the idea that we are loved by God and yet enemies of God – that we are called to be sons and daughters even as we are “children of wrath.” God would be inconsistent with His own character to be either one or the other and this is precisely the issue that Paul raises in Romans 3. God doesn’t have an anger problem, he has a justice dilemma. The passage below (you said, show it to me in the Bible! – this is my small effort) states 1) the desire of God – to love sinful people by giving them the gift of right standing with Himself. 2) The reality that in order to be consistent with His own character, He could could not simply ignore sin. Yes, justice had been put “on hold” so to speak but could not simply be waved away. And so 3) God in His grace, incarnate in Christ, lives the life we could not live in perfect obedience and goes to the cross to bear the deserved wrath His own holiness required. The suggestion of “cosmic child abuse” is really an insult to the Trinitarian rescue mission that enabled God to be, as Paul states below, “just and yet the justifier.” At the cross holy wrath and holy love meet in a divine symmetry that makes grace more amazing than can be imagined. God’s wrath “satisfied” is God’s justice answered once for all in the cross of Christ.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)

5 responses to “In Christ Alone” Heresy from Getty and Townend?

  1. Thanks, Jeff, for your helpful comment on my site, repeated above. Let me place here my reply for those of your readers who do not go on to follow the whole dialogue. If I understand what you are saying correctly, you are merely reinforcing my point, that when this song is sung “it needs to be accompanied by teaching that what it seems to say, and what many people think it means, is heresy.” You do this by saying that what we understand by “wrath” is not what is intended by that word. I repeat what I have been saying in the comments to Peter, and in the original post – it is possible for some to sing this with theological mental gymnastics that allows an orthodox interpretation. My concern is for the many (most?) who can’t. Christ is risen.


    • Thanks for the follow-up Bosco. While I agree that it’s “possible for some to sing this with theological mental gymnastics that allows an orthodox interpretation,” mine is a greater concern that there is a strong effort in these days, as there is in all ages, to diminish the work of Christ and elevate the merits of men. The idea that God is angry with sinners is an entirely Biblical idea just as the truth that God loves sinners with a rescuing passion is as well. The cross is not the expression of a vicious God nor is it merely the sacrificial example of an anointed servant. It is the intersection of the universe where justice and mercy give birth to a new creation. Negate either side of the equation and we run straight off the rails. We try to find ways to do just that by denying God His righteous wrath (angry God, cosmic child abuser) or the Son his salvific mission (“our wrath, our anger put him on the cross.) We diminish either side to our own detriment.

    • I don’t see grasping the concept of God’s wrath being against sin and not Christ as “theological mental gymnastics” unless one is predisposed to denying that God condemns anything humans do. A woman in my church objected to the word “satisfied” because to her, that meant that God was happy about Christ’s death, not that requirements were satisfied.

  2. Good words, Jeff.

  3. Well said Jeff. It’s important to maintain that tension!