Bruxy Cavey has been hard at work these days trying to rid the Scriptures of any sign of the doctrine Penal Substitutionary Atonement. It’s a tough row to hoe, considering the concept of forgiveness of sin by the shedding of blood is one of the most prevalent themes throughout all of Scripture. Right from the very first few chapters of Genesis, all the way through to the end of the book of Revelation, the Scriptures testify to the fact that the shedding of blood, the death of an appropriate substitute on behalf of a sinner is necessary for forgiveness.
So then, how can Cavey deny this reality? What is his work-around? Enter the concept of “divine accommodation”. Cavey claims that the entire concept of blood sacrifice has its origin in false pagan religion. It’s a concept developed by man that God actually hates but acquiesced to and accommodated. According to Cavey the cross of Christ is not God’s giving of himself to propitiate his own wrath and satisfy his own justice on behalf of sinners. No, it’s a symbolic gesture meant to communicate to humanity “you are forgiven” in terms they would understand, but without the reality or actual necessity of Christ’s death for forgiveness.
His attempts to justify this view (most recently presented in this blog post, this blog post, and this sermon ) fall flat, but this particular article is not to refute Cavey’s arguments at length. – there’s another coming that will do that. The goal of this article is to demonstrate that Bruxy Cavey is abusing the valid concept of divine accommodation and applying it in an inappropriate way.
What is Divine Accommodation?
Divine accommodation is a principle of biblical interpretation that says God accommodates various truths about himself and the world in such a way that it can be comprehended by the human mind (see here).
The Bible is to be interpreted in view of the fact that it is an accommodation of Divine truths to human minds: God the infinite communicating with man the finite. The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Bible was also created in space, in time, and in history so that man could understand it. The truths of God made contact with the human mind at a common point, the Bible, to make God (and, indeed, all of reality) knowablehttp://www.forananswer.org/Top_General/Hermeneutics.htm
Divine accommodation, rightly understood, says that God communicates on a level that man can understand, but maintains that what God is communicating is truth.
The basic principle of accommodation is simple to understand: for an infinite, perfect, and holy God to interact with finite, fallible, and fallen humanity, he must accommodate himself to our ability to understand him, coming down to our level so that we can grasp what he says and does… This means, among other things, that God’s interactions with us are adjusted to historical customs, mores, and concepts about the world, as well as our finite human capacity to understand an infinite God and to obey him.The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D.A Carson. Kindle edition, Pg. 238-239
God must condescend to accommodate our limited capacity as creatures. For the majority of Christian history, and even in Judaism, it has been understood that this is a valid interpretive principle. It has also been essential to a proper view of accommodation that although God must accommodate himself to our ability to understand him, he still effectively communicates truth and only truth.
In terms of biblical authority, the consensus of the church until the rise of early modern rationalism was that accommodation was a means for resolving apparent errors in Scripture by showing that properly understood, they were not errors at all but were written in language adapted to the capacity of the common people. Chrysostom’s discussion of the Incarnation is suggestive here: in Jesus, God accommodated himself to human nature yet without in any way losing any of his divine nature. In the same way, Scripture is written by humans in human language accommodated to us and to our capacity and needs, as well to the various time periods and cultures in which it was written, without in any way compromising its faithfulness to divine truth. (Emphasis mine)The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D.A Carson. Kindle edition, Pg. 264
Bruxy Cavey’s Abuse of Divine Accommodation
Bruxy Cavey wants to say that in accommodating himself to a preexisting human need to see blood to feel forgiven God has revealed things that are actually false as if they were true. God knowingly affirmed the false pagan beliefs of the people of the day. So when God goes into great detail regarding blood sacrifice and the necessity of shed blood for atonement (for example Leviticus 16 & 17, the entire book of Hebrews), Cavey would have us believe that all of that was actually false. When God communicates that it is necessary that sin be punished in the flesh of a substitute in order for righteousness to be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:1-4) – that’s not true. On Cavey’s view, God doesn’t need to punish sin to forgive, he “just forgives” (see here), the whole idea of blood sacrifice was “Plan B” (see here).
This teaching renders the entire blood sacrificial system, including the cross work of Christ, nothing more than a symbolic gesture by God. None of it was necessary, God’s forgiveness would have happened with or without it. On Cavey’s view, as expressed in the video above, Christ’s death on the cross was the sacrifice to end sacrifice. It was Christ entering into pre-existing human religion in order to “shut it down”. It was the end of “religion”. As Cavey says:
“And so God Himself can forgive, but He enters into our need to see blood to be assured ‘is this forgiveness real? Are you sure I can stop killing animals to obtain your forgiveness?’ and He says ‘I will give you a visual illustration of that absolute reality – here it is, the last sacrifice. You are free.'”Bruxy Cavey, Cross Centered Q&A
This is not a valid application of the principle of divine accommodation, it is an abuse of it.
Nothing New Under the Sun
But Cavey and his ilk are not the first in history to abuse this principle in this way. There is a historical precedent.
Faustus Socinus (1539-1604), after whom the heresy of “Socinianism” is named was the first to abuse divine accommodation in this way. In his essay Accommodation Historically Considered, Glenn Sunshine explains:
Socinus does not rely heavily on accommodation in most of his works; it never appears in De Auctoritate, for example. There is one very telling instance, however, in which he used accommodation to deal with a problem in Scripture. Socinus did not believe in Hell or in conscious existence after death until the final resurrection, and even then only the righteous would be raised while the rest would remain dead. But at the same time, he did not think that this should be generally taught. He explained his position as follows:
“One should deal cautiously with [the state of the dead before the Last Day], just even as Christ himself and the Apostles accommodated themselves to the level of the people as the parable of Lazarus [Luke 16:20ff.] and the rich man teaches. This was not the time to perturb the Jews, as even now is not the time, although Jesus sometimes speaks thus in order that it be sufficiently clear that he will resuscitate only the faithful, John 6[:38f., 40, 54]. And Paul [Phil. 3:10f.] most clearly proclaims that he labors in order that he ‘may, if possible, attain the resurrection.’ Thus, in the meantime, certain things may be said that even indicate this thing [General Resurrection] to men, until at length the age matures and men are able to accustom themselves to these ways of talking [about the state and destiny of the righteous dead].”
This paragraph introduces a new and highly influential approach to using accommodation in interpreting Scripture. Since Socinus did not find what Jesus said in the parable reasonable, that is, it did not fit his beliefs about the state and destiny of the dead, he simply dismisses it as false, an accommodation to the incorrect beliefs of the Jews of Jesus’ day. To be sure, Socinus does cite other Scriptures to support his view, but rather than working to reconcile them with the parable, he argues that Jesus knowingly affirmed the false beliefs of people of the day. This represents a major change in the function of accommodation as a tool for biblical exegesis. Up to this point, accommodation had been used to eliminate apparent errors in the text, in essence arguing that the text is true because it was accommodated to the people’s needs. With Socinus, we see the opposite: the text is false because it was accommodated to the people’s erroneous beliefs.The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D.A Carson. Kindle edition, Pg. 257
Socinus, applied divine accommodation in a way previously unknown in Christian interpretation. He used it to justify rejecting the clear teaching of Scripture. While he recognized that the text obviously affirmed the doctrine, he rejected those affirmations as God accommodating their false beliefs. Cavey, following in Socinus’ footsteps, asserts that the direct, unequivocal statements of Scripture regarding the necessity of the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin are false beliefs affirmed as true by God.
By abusing the principle of accommodation in the way he has, Bruxy Cavey is expressing a Socinian view of accommodation. Not surprisingly, the introduction of this type of “accommodation” coincided with serious compromise on other important doctrines in Scripture.
Only with the rise of post-Reformation rationalism was this consensus about accommodation [that it in no way compromised divine truth] broken, along with belief in the reliability of Scripture, the incarnation, supernatural events, the atonement, etc.The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D.A Carson. Kindle edition, Pg. 264
The Principle of divine accommodation says that God speaks truth to us in language we can understand. Bruxy Cavey says God permits or takes on error for the sake of communication and calls it divine accommodation. That’s a massive difference. When Cavey is appealing to this kind of “accommodation” he is not speaking of divine accommodation properly understood.
Bruxy Cavey, by abusing the principle of accommodation in such a way that he can deny what Scripture clearly and consistently teaches as truth, is following in the footsteps of one of the most prominent and influential heretics of the last 500 years. This should come as no surprise. Cavey’s view of Scripture is similar to Socinus, he has adopted the same interpretive methods as Socinus, and eventually ends up with a view of the atonement that is similar to Socinus’.
This type of thing isn’t new for Cavey. It’s part of his M.O. He takes valid Christian concepts and misrepresents them to give the appearance of orthodoxy. He uses much of the same vocabulary as orthodox Christianity, but redefines terms and makes invalid application of concepts. He formally affirms orthodox doctrine but the substance of his teaching is patently unorthodox.
In the next article I will examine the specific arguments Cavey uses to attempt to justify his position.