Is God’s Wrath a Necessary Component of the Gospel?
I have to admit something right off the bat, I had no idea who Bruxy Cavey was until The Gospel Coalition Canada took it upon themselves to initiate a public conversation regarding his controversial theological viewpoints. I say this to make clear that I hold no bias either positively or negatively about Bruxy. Yet, as I read each of the conversations, I became increasingly concerned with this Anabaptist pastor. He seemingly holds many views that would raise red flags to any Bible believing evangelical, but one is elevated above the others due to its importance and proximity to the Gospel message.
In the second interview, Bruxy stated, “I agree, a lot depends on what someone means by “Penal” in Penal Substitutionary Atonement. If someone says that the penalty for sin is death, and Jesus died for our sin, therefore he has taken the just penalty upon himself – if that’s what they mean by PSA than I’m right with them. In that sense, I affirm PSA. But you and I know that many Christians go beyond that, and equate PSA with God actively outpouring his wrath upon Jesus, as though God had to vent his wrath somewhere so it wouldn’t fall on us. That’s the version of PSA I do not think can be supported biblically. It says too much and goes too far beyond what it written.”
This statement along with many others that are well documented by more informed brothers would say that Bruxy does not hold to penal substitutionary atonement at all. His main disagreement with the vast majority of “evangelicals” who hold to penal substitutionary atonement lies with God’s wrath. He can be seen in this video stating his views more clearly on this subject, “The only wrath that is expressed at the Cross is the wrath of us against Christ, not the wrath of the Father upon Christ.” He even goes on to call penal substitutionary atonement “pure myth.”
I understand the heart behind TGC Canada’s attempts in discussing these topics with Bruxy Cavey. I have that same heart. I have become increasingly discouraged by Christians’ use of the word “heretic” and refusal to truly listen to opposing views. We live in a polarized political landscape that unfortunately has flooded into the church and lead to loveless accusations and hasty division. Yet, the statements from Bruxy both in these interviews and in past videos must cause us to consider, has Bruxy Cavey abandoned the gospel? Do these views make him a heretic?
While, many today throw around the label of heretic, the word should be reserved for those who add or subtract significantly from the Gospel so that it no longer is the Gospel. There is a major difference between being wrong and being a heretic. Bruxy is wrong, that is certain as I’ll explain momentarily, but has he added or subtracted significantly from the Gospel? The main difference between a Biblical viewpoint and Cavey’s is the wrath of God at the Cross. So we must ask the question:
Is the wrath of God a necessary component of the Gospel?
J.I Packer defines penal substitutionary atonement as “...By his sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God.” Because of our sin, man sits under the wrath of God or even as Cavey admits the judgment of God. Jesus makes this clear in John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Bruxy agrees that those who are apart from Christ are under God’s wrath or judgment, his main declination is that Christ took God’s wrath upon the cross in our place. Instead, Bruxy states, “We punish [Christ], not God” on the cross. In his view, God does not need to do anything about His wrath, but can forgive whenever He pleases. After all, man can forgive without having payment. Why should God be any different?
Louis Berkhof reminds us of an important omission in this view, “Man can and often does freely forgive those who wrong him, but according to the view under consideration, God cannot forgive until He has received satisfaction. This means that He is less good and less charitable than sinful men. But they who raise this objection fault to observe that God cannot simply be compared to a private individual, who can without injustice forget about his personal grievances. He is the Judge of all the earth, and in that capacity must maintain the law and excerices strict justice.”
This does not mean that the law reigns over God, for nothing is above God, but that God is Just and the Judge of all. He cannot violate His own nature to do anything, even forgive. If He were to do so then He would no longer be Just. He would cease to be God. He cannot neglect one of His attributes for the sake of another. As James Montgomery Boice states, “But the Bible teaches that God is wrath and love at the same time. What is more, his wrath is not just a small and insignificant element that somehow is there alongside his far more significant and overwhelming love. Actually, God’s wrath is a major element that may be traced all the way from God’s judgment against sin in the garden of Eden to the final cataclysmic judgments recorded in the book of Revelation.”
Propitiation or Expiation?
Another argument that Bruxy and those who hold similar views employ is exchanging the word propitiation found in such Scriptures as Romans 3:25 for a different word - “expiation.” Cavey has said that “Expiation means to wipe away. Propitiation means to deal with the wrath of the Deity to make that go away.” While there are a bounty of linguistic arguments for the word propitiation, using a different word does not help their case. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “Man’s sin, they say, must be cancelled, and what Christ did was to cancel man’s sin. But we must ask, Why does mans sin need to be cancelled? Why do you need expiation? What would be the position if no expiation were provided? If there were no expiation made, would it make any difference to God’s attitude towards sin? Surely, the very idea of expiation in and of itself leads to propitiation! There is only one answer - that there cannot be a true relationship between God and man until that sin has been expiate. But that is just another way of saying propitiation. There cannot be a happy relationship between God and man while sin is there. That is precisely what the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God says.”
The idea of both propitiation and even the logical conclusion of expiation demand a grievance be pacified as John Owen taught, “...There are four things which are essential elements to any propitiation, and here they are:
- An offense to be taken away,
- A person offended who needs to be pacified,
- An offending person; a person guilty of the offense,
- A sacrifice or some other means of making atonement for the offence.”
Let us consider Romans 3:25, “Whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he has passed over former sins.” One must first see that God is the active party at the Cross. Cavey has taught that while it was the Lord’s will for Christ to die, He is not the one who crushes Him as prophesied in Isaiah 53. Yet, God put Christ forward as the propitiation. Here we see both God’s wrath and His love. This is why Paul will say that He is both Just and the justifier as stated in the following verse. Dr. Lloyd Jones summarizes it this way, “This is a statement to the effect that God’s wrath has been appeased and that God has been placated as the result of the work which our Lord did there by dying upon the Cross.”
Is God’s wrath clearly seen as being poured out on Jesus in our place? Yes. So is Bruxy Cavey a heretic for stating otherwise? Unfortunately, yes. God’s wrath is a necessary component of the Gospel. Because it is in His wrath that we see His Justice, if He is Just then we are sinners in need of satisfying a righteous God by paying a price none of us can pay. Yet, Jesus steps in as our substitute and take the penalty we deserved. This is the Gospel.
Another unfortunate side effect of Cavey’s teachings is that God becomes passive at the Cross. As stated earlier, Bruxy has said that we are the ones venting our wrath upon Jesus at the Cross, not the Father. If this is true then God the Father is not a part of our Redemption. He is no longer showing love for us at the Cross by pouring out His wrath on His Son. Bruxy has sacrificed the love of the Father for the sake of ridding Him of His wrath and misunderstanding His love for the Son. This is a different gospel and as Boice states, “Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that his love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the Person of his Son on the cross is a false gospel.”
God’s wrath is satisfied in Christ’s sacrifice. The puritan, Thomas Watson, describes it this way, “Christ’s blood is not only called a sacrifice, whereby God is appeased, but a propitiation, whereby God becomes gracious and friendly to us. Christ is our mercy-seat, from which God gives answers of peace to us.” Without God’s wrath, there cannot be peace. There cannot be salvation unless there is something to saved from and it makes no logical sense for us to be saved from a God whose wrath can unjustly disappear. Something must be done, praise be to Him who bore the wrath reserved for us so that II Corinthians 5:21 may be true, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 165.
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 371.
James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 313.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Propitiation and Atonement, p. 70.
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 173.