The Satisfaction of Christ

In an August 6, 2013 article by Bob Smietana of USA Today, which was published on the website of Religion News Service, the PC(USA) committee for selecting songs for a new hymnal, rejected the hymn In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. The reason for the rejection was that the authors would not change a phrase about the wrath of God. The original lyrics read, “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The committee of the mainline liberal Presbyterian Church asked to change those words to “on that cross, as Jesus died, the love of God was satisfied.”

Townend and Getty refused to allow the change because they believed the full gospel must be presented. Mary Louise Bringle, a religion professor at Brevard College in North Carolina and chair of the hymnal committee, didn’t agree with the “Satisfaction Theory” of the gospel. She said the issue wasn’t about the wrath of God, for other hymns mention that. She had a problem with the word “satisfied,” a term used by the medieval theologian Anselm, who argued that sins were an offense to a holy God, and without someone satisfying God’s wrath, then entrance to heaven was unattainable.

Romans 5:8-9 says, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Most people are familiar with verse 8, which talks about the love of God. This is what Peter Abelard, the French medieval philosopher, concentrated on in proposing his Moral Influence Theory of the Atonement. Contrary to Anselm, Abelard believed the atonement of Christ was not to satisfy God’s justice and wrath, but to influence man toward moral improvement. It was the love of God that put Christ on the cross to soften man’s heart and lead him toward repentance.

Bringle is in the camp of Abelard and neglects verse 9 of Romans 5, which is explicit in saying that the death of Christ saved us from the wrath of God. In other words, “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” Not only are Bringle and others on her committee trying to change the words of Townend and Getty, they are neglecting Scripture and manipulating the very words of the Gospel. The 15-member committee rejected Anselm’s view, adopted Abelard’s theory, and voted 9-6 to drop the hymn. Not only did they drop the hymn, they dropped the gospel.