DID GOD OR MAN KILL JESUS?
The overarching debate in "American Gospel: Christ Crucified" is framed by Tony Jones, one of the founders of the Emergent Church movement:
"The title of my most recent book is "Did God Kill Jesus?" Which I used because it was a quandary I had myself, and it was something that I had heard from a lot of people, and that is, they're struggling with their understandings of the cross, and Jesus' death on the cross, in which it seemed like God had to exact some kind of revenge or payment from Jesus. Some people call it the "Penal Substitution Theory" of the atonement. I refer to it as "The Payment" model of the atonement. So the big question underlying the book, and I think underlying the cross in general- when you think about it theologically at least- is: "Is God the author of the crucifixion? Or, to put it more bluntly: "Did God kill Jesus?"
-Tony Jones, American Gospel: Christ Crucified
Tony objects to the idea that Jesus' death on the cross was the plan and will of God. He also rejects the truth that the cross was an act of God's justice- Jesus dying for our sins, as a substitute, satisfying the justice and wrath of God. Alisa Childers explains that William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, shares the same view:
"William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, came out with a book called "Lies We Believe About God." And in "Lies We Believe About God," William Paul Young teaches that it's a lie to think that God originated the cross- that it was God's idea to send Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. And that if that's true, that makes Him nothing more than a "cosmic abuser." And this is a theme that's very big in the progressive Christian church- is the idea of "cosmic child abuse."
-Alisa Childers, American Gospel: Christ Crucified
The film summarizes the debate over the cross like this:
"I don't think God killed Jesus! I think God died on the cross."
-Tony Jones, American Gospel: Christ Crucified
"Did God kill Jesus? Yes! Did Jesus go to the cross unwillingly? No!"
-Voddie Baucham, American Gospel: Christ Crucified
THE GOSPEL COALITION REVIEW
The Gospel Coalition wrote a review of the film in which the author, Caleb Wait, found issue with Voddie Baucham's quote: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/american-gospel-christ-crucified/
Intermingled with these accurate statements, however, are a few others that unnecessarily muddy the waters on this crucial doctrine. For example, Voddie Baucham says in the film: “Yeah, God killed Jesus. But did Jesus go to the cross unwillingly? No” [41:50]. This undermines what the film later notes, that God’s decree to ordain Christ’s death is not equal to the act of killing Jesus himself: “He was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, and you, by the hands of the lawless, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23)... God does not kill his beloved Son; rather, like in the story of Joseph, he intends for good what men intend for evil (Gen. 50:20; John 12:27; Acts 4:27–28)."
- Caleb Wait, ‘American Gospel: Christ Crucified’: What Progressives Miss About the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition
It is our belief that Caleb, the reviewer, ignored the context of Voddie Baucham's quote within the film. Voddie is not claiming that God literally and physically killed Jesus on the cross. His statement is in the context of, "Is God the author of the crucifixion?" (as Tony Jones' explained above). In other words, "Was the cross part of God's eternal plan and will? Was the cross a demonstration of God's justice or righteousness?" I know that Caleb would answer "yes" to all of these questions. But by ignoring the context of Voddie's statement, we believe he created some confusion in that he appears to be supporting Tony Jones' side of the debate. Tony explains his objection to the belief that "God killed Jesus", and Justin Peters responds:
"It makes God the author of a terribly unjust system! God set it all up, created it this way, knowing He would have to kill His Son, as the only way to pay for this."
-Tony Jones, American Gospel: Christ Crucified
"So did God kill Jesus or did man kill Jesus? And the answer is "both!" In Peter's sermon, in Acts chapter 2, Peter says that “This man,” referring to Christ Jesus, 'was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God; and yet you nailed Him to the cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.' And so we see right there that both God killed Christ, and man killed Christ. And here we see the tension between the sovereignty of God, and the responsibility and accountability of man. And our finite minds can't fully grasp that, but this is true, and we believe it to be true because God's Word said that it is."
-Justin Peters, American Gospel: Christ Crucified
Justin Peters summarizes the position of the film by saying that the answer is "both" (both God and man killed Jesus). Is it biblical to say, "God killed Jesus?" Consider the following verses:
we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4)
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10)
"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me," declares the LORD of hosts. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered" (Zechariah 13:7)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.(John 3:16)
Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood (Romans 3:24-25)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Galatians 3:13)
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32)
My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26:39)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
God killed Jesus in a judicial sense. He ordained His death, and was appeasing His own wrath (Romans 3:24-25), by crushing His Son (Isaiah 53:10). Is this "cosmic child abuse?" No! As the film explains, this all must be understood within the context of the Trinity; the Trinity acts as one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thus in inseparable action, with the same motivation in redemption- love! The Father, out of love for the Son and His people, sends the Son. And the Son, out of love for the Father and His people, willingly goes to the cross to suffer and die. Jesus is also fully and truly God, and fully and truly man. With all these truths in mind, we can view the cross as God satisfying His own righteous requirements, absorbing His own wrath and justice, in the person of God the Son. "Cosmic child abuse" is a straw man argument which ignores the Trinity by pitting the persons of the Godhead against each other. In every action of God, there is one action: the Father acts through the Son and by the Spirit.
GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY & MAN'S RESPONSIBILITY
We must maintain the tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. God is sovereign and good, and as the first cause, is directly active in the cross (without sin). Yet man, as a secondary cause, is free and responsible for his actions in the crucifixion. God's action doesn't remove human freedom and responsibility, and human actions don't negate God's sovereignty over the cross. We see this same truth in the story of Joseph, where God is immediately involved through the agency of human beings:
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."
In the book of Job, God, in His sovereignty, gives permission to Satan to destroy Job's family, property, etc. Job responds to Satan's action (the secondary cause) by attributing it to the Lord (the first cause), yet Job doesn't charge God with doing wrong:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
In Jeremiah chapter 51 we see that God is calling the nation of Babylon his "war-club," and that He is using it to shatter the nations as a weapon of His justice. But in verse 24 He says He will repay Babylon for the evil that they have done.
He says, “You are My war-club, My weapon of war;
And with you I shatter nations,
And with you I destroy kingdoms.
“But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,” declares the Lord.
DID GOD KILL JESUS? - QUOTES
"O! can ye tell the greatness of that love, which made the everlasting God not only put his Son upon the altar, but actually do the deed, and thrust the sacrificial knife into his Son's heart? Can you think how overwhelming must have been the love of God toward the human race, when he completed in act what Abraham only did in intention? Look ye there, and see the place where his only Son hung dead upon the cross, the bleeding victim of awakened justice! Here is love indeed; and here we see how it was, that it pleased the Father to bruise him."
- Charles Spurgeon ( https://archive.spurgeon.org/sermons/0173.php )
"The sufferings of the Saviour were not purely natural, but also the result of a positive deed of God, Isa. 53:6,10 . . . The sufferings of the Saviour finally culminated in His death . . . God imposed the punishment of death upon the Mediator judicially . . . The sentence of Pilate was also the sentence of God, though on entirely different grounds."
- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (pages 338-339)
"But let me end by giving you this specific statement which literally tells us that it was God who was doing this thing on Calvary: Isaiah 53:6: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." But have you ever realized that John 3:16 says this? "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" - to the death of the cross - it is God who gave Him. Take again Romans 3:25: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" - there it is again. Or Romans 8:32: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" He, God, He "spared not His own Son but delivered Him" - it was God who did it . . . Any idea or theory of the atonement must always give full weight and significance to the activity of God the Father."
- Martin Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible, Volume One, Substitution, 'The Necessity of the Atonement,' Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2003, (pages 317-337)
". . . for he was put to death by his own Father . . . ."
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1986, (page 82), ( https://tinyurl.com/y7mqh4b6 )
"Redemption is 'in Christ' in that God 'displayed him publicly,' or 'set him forth as a sacrifice' on the cross as a hilasterion [propitiation]. Nor should it be missed that it is God who thus takes the initiative in the process of redemption . . . As P. T. Forsyth remarks, 'The prime doer in Christ's cross was God' . . . ."
- Douglas Moo, Romans Commentary on Romans 3:25, (page 231)
"Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy - but the Father, for love!"
- Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, (page 367) ( https://tinyurl.com/y9yqq77h )
"If your sins brought Christ upon his knees (as they did in the garden) before God as an angry judge, they may well bring you upon your knees also . . . And considered either as lamb or shepherd, we find that God being angry with him whilst thus he bore our sins, insomuch as he is said in his wrath to have smitten this shepherd with his sword, and smitten him unto death . . . ."
- Thomas Goodwin, Christ Our Mediator, (Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1971), 370.
". . . God condemned sin in his flesh [Rom. 8:3] and punished him with the accursed death on the cross and that through him we now receive reconciliation and forgiveness, righteousness and life, indeed total and complete salvation . . . ."
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, (page 398)
“The believer is saved- not simply because of what men did to Christ on the cross, but because of what God did to Him: He crushed Him under the full force of His wrath against us.”
- Paul Washer, The Gospel’s Power and Message (page 192)
"Then the horrifying thunder of God’s wrath breaks the silence. The Father takes the knife, draws back His arm, and slays “His Son, His only Son, whom He loves” fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet: 'Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.... Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.'" (Isaiah 53:4-5, 10)
- Paul Washer, The Gospel’s Power and Message (page 194)
"Texts such as Isaiah 53:10, John 3:16, Romans 8:32, and Jesus's prayer in Gethsemane and his cry from the cross, all teach that the Father deliberately sacrificed his Son for us . . . How is the Father justified in what he did at Calvary? What gave him the right to sacrifice his own Son? Two points require emphasis. First, Scripture presents the action of God the Father as a priest offering the sacrifice of his only Son, as a demonstration of his love, justice, and righteousness. Second, given the Trinitarian personal relations, the act of the Father also involves the active involvement of the Son and the Spirit, who together, and according to their mode of personal relations, act as the one God to redeem us."
- Stephen Wellum in "Christ Alone," (pages 211-212)
"Just as Abraham lifted the knife over the chest of his son Isaac, but then spared his son because there was a ram in the thicket, so God the Father lifted his knife over the chest of his own Son, Jesus — but did not spare him, because he was the ram; he was the substitute."
John Piper, Who Killed Jesus? ( https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/who-killed-jesus )
"In the end, the question then is: Who really killed Jesus? Back to Acts 2 again in verse 23, "This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross."
The secondary cause: sinful people. They all got together, they were all in on it. They all did it. That's the secondary cause. The primary cause: God, God. So the ultimate answer who killed Jesus? God, God killed Jesus. Isaiah 53:10, which I read earlier, "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him."
- John MacArthur, Who Really Killed Jesus? ( https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/42-186/who-really-killed-jesus )