Sam Frost and the Substitutionary Death of Christ
A Theological Can of Worms
The doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ is one of the foundations of Christianity, “He bore our sins on the cross.” Even though there continues to be some debate about “Penal Substitution” nonetheless, the dominant view is that Christ died as a substitute for believers. The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry says:
“There are differing views on the atonement of Christ that have been offered throughout the history of the Christian church. Not all of them are biblical. The correct position is the Substitutionary Atonement position since this means that Christ took our place, which is clearly taught in Isaiah 53:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:21; and 1 Pet. 2:24.” (https://carm.org/is-the-substitutionary-atonement-doctrine-immoral).
Just recently, on FaceBook, controversy has swirled about Christ and his death. The controversy has been over two things:
1. Did Jesus experience spiritual death, i.e. separation from his Father while on the Cross, and,
2. Was Jesus’ death truly substitutionary.
Now, in an upcoming book, entitled The Death of Adam, the Life of Christ, I will be discussing both topics in-depth. For brevity, I will simply note that I and those who accept the cry of Jesus on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” as a legitimate cry of despair from our Lord lamenting his separation from the Father, are being accused of heresy. Sam Frost, former preterist and now out-spoken critic of Covenant Eschatology, wrote on FaceBook, on 9-20-18, that the very idea that Jesus experienced spiritual death, separation from the Father, for even a moment, is “absolutely ridiculous and heretical.”
He and others claim that Max King, William Bell and myself “invented” the idea that Jesus experienced alienation from the Father. This is nonsense, as I document in the aforementioned book. The fact is that the doctrine of Christ being alienated from the Father is the historical view of the church. But enough of that for now.
For now, I want to focus on the second question, the substitutionary death of Christ, and specifically how Sam Frost,, and those who follow his lead, deals with this important issue.
First of all, make no mistake, leading scholars of the day, as well as ancient commentators, are clear that Jesus’ death was substitutionary. He died in our place. Just a citation or two will suffice:
Scott McKnight speaks of Christ on the Cross:
“Normally, one nailed accusations to the cross in order to condemn, but here the nailing of the accusation to the cross releases the person from those accusations. How so? The innocent one, as we see in 2 Cor. 5:21, assumes the charges against the guilty ones so that the guilty ones might become innocent. We thus have here vicarious, substitutionary atonement. Jesus shoulders the accusations against us so that we need not experience their consequences in death.” (Scott McKnight, New International Commentary, Colossians, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2018), 251).
N. T. Wright had been accused by some of denying the substitutionary death of Jesus. In 2009 he wrote the following in response:
“Piper and others like him have accused me of downplaying the significance of the saving, indeed, the substitutionary, death of Jesus within Paul’s doctrine of justification. I hope this book will put such suggestions to rest.” (N. T. Wright, Justification, (Downers Grove, Ill; IVP Academic, 2009), 11).
Other similar citations from major scholars could be given, but, I am trying to keep this short.
At one time, Frost gladly affirmed Christ’s substitutionary death and realized that it posed major problem for all futurist views of resurrection. In his Essays on the Resurrection, Frost wrote this:
“The question of Christ’s substitutionary Death, the Atonement, the reality of forgiveness, etc.. are all issues that press in on us when we deny the reality of present life in Christ – or the lack thereof. Simply stated, if sin brings death – physical death per modern Christianity – but, forgiveness removes sin, then it must be true that forgiveness delivers from physical death. Thus, the child of God should never die physically. The reality that even the most faithful child of God dies physically falsifies the idea that physical death is the death that Christ came to defeat.” (Frost, Essays, (2010), p. 78, n. 84).
Frost’s book, which is a fine job of exegesis, is available from this website:
Furthermore, in an email exchange between Mike Bennett and Sam Frost, Frost said the following, demonstrating that at that time he fully realized the consequences of positing that the physical death of Jesus was substitutionary:
“I was doing the classic google search when I came across this… There were several good points made in response to the second paper I delivered that I want to briefly point out. JRP noted that Jesus’ body was subject to physical death in terms of physicality, yet was without sin. Therefore, since death is the result of sin and Jesus was without sin then the physical death cannot be a penalty since Jesus died physically. Makes sense, but, one might argue, that Jesus received the wages of sin for our sakes, and therefore as a result died physically. However, if that be the case, then why do we physically die if he received the penalty for our sin, which is physical death? It would seem that Death still has dominion over us and Jesus has not yet removed that penalty from our lives.” (Email dated 5-19-2011; forwarded to me on 7-9-2013 By Michael Bennett).
A person really should spend some time digesting the importance of these quotes. There is a great deal here that, in reality, is totally devastating to Frost’s current eschatology. Frost fully realized that to affirm the current reality of forgiveness was / is fatal to any view of physical resurrection! The fact is, that in order to return to a doctrine of a physical resurrection, Frost, and evangelical Christianity, must jettison the reality of the current possession of forgiveness by the Christian.
Notice that Frost, in both his book and in the email, recognizes that if Jesus’ death was truly substitutionary and if forgiveness of sin is real, then the natural question is, as he posed it, “the child of God should never die physically. The reality that even the most faithful child of God dies physically falsifies the idea that physical death is the death that Christ came to defeat.” I can only say, Amen!
So, Frost well realized at that time, that if the Christian is truly, objectively forgiven of sin and if Jesus’ physical death was actually substitutionary, that logically this would demand that the Christian should never die physically. However, the fact is that Christians, ostensibly forgiven and supposedly under the power of Jesus’ substitutionary death, do die physically. That is undeniably true. Period.
I should point out that noted scholars have recognized this problem. Louis Berkhof wrote,
“But since death is a punishment for sin, and believers are redeemed from the guilt of sin, the question naturally arises, why must they still die? It is clear that it cannot be a punishment for them, but must be regarded as an important element in the process of sanctification. It is the consummation of their dying unto sin” (Summary of Christian Doctrine, Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1938), 181).
Ponder Berkhoff’s answer, because it is, for all practical purposes, Frost’s view as well. The reason that Christians remain under the curse of death is because it is, “an important element in the process of sanctification.” Can this be taken seriously? We are redeemed. We are saved. We are forgiven. There is no condemnation in Christ. And yet… we must remain under the Curse of Adam, we must die, because it is a part of our sanctification?
Dying under the sin and the curse of Adam is a part of sanctification?
Berkhoff’s (Frost’s) “explanation” is nothing but double-speak. The Curse of Adam is physical death. The Christian is redeemed, forgiven of sin, which is what brings on us the Curse of Adam, physical death. But the Christian must still experience physical death. But, even though we will (must) experience physical death, it is not a Curse? To say that this is specious is an understatement.
At the time of his Essays book and the email, Frost clearly accepted the historical view of the substitutionary death of Christ. And, he saw that accepting the view of the physical death of Jesus being the substitutionary death, and the reality of forgiveness now, posed severe, indeed, fatal problems for the traditional futurist view of eschatology and the resurrection specifically.
However, over the last several months, it has become increasingly difficult to get Frost to admit, to even state his view on the substitutionary death of Christ, as being his physical death.The irony here is absolutely incredible. In an earlier discussion on Facebook, Frost affirmed that God did threaten Adam and Eve with physical death, the day that they sinned. However, he stated that God graciously and mercifully provided the animal sacrifice, and “the animals took their place.” That substitutionary death of the animals prevented Adam and Eve from sinning the day they sinned– and for over 900 years! And yet, in Frost’s current view, the death of Jesus — ostensibly the greatest expression of mercy and grace the world has ever seen – does not prolong the death of the most faithful Christian for even one day! And most assuredly not for 900 years! Are we supposed to believer that the blood of those animals is more powerful, more effective than the blood of Jesus Christ?
Not only has Frost been reluctant to divulge his current views on the substitutionary death of Jesus, for that matter, he has actually been reluctant to clearly affirm the objective reality of the Christian’s forgiveness! The reason is simple really, as his comments above reveal. Since he rejects as heresy the idea that Jesus was alienated from the Father for even a moment, then that clearly means that Jesus did not, could not, have died a substitutionary spiritual death. To grasp the reality of Frost’s current theology, as noted above, you have to realize that Frost now rejects, as an invented, contrived doctrine, even the possibility of anything called spiritual death.
In a November, 2017, blog article, Frost insisted that there is no such thing as spiritual death, that when the Bible talks about being dead and death, it is speaking exclusively of physical death.
On 1-16-18, Frost tried to explain why Christians still die, and why we do not, not die as promised, if Christ died for us:
“Since he is the first, and we are in him, then we await that which happened to him in terms of resurrection. However, being conformed to his image, are we to sidestep the path he took towards being raised in power and glory? Are we not to undergo suffering? Are we not to learn obedience in patience by sidestepping tribulation? Are we not to learn what it means, as it meant for him on his way to glory, what it is to resist temptations? No. As Christ, the man, learned perfection through suffering, through death, so are we being conformed. It is entirely wrongheaded to ask, “if Jesus paid for our sin, and the wages of sin is death, then why do we still die”? Rather, BECAUSE he has gone before us and has conquered death and sin, we being in him are CONFORMED to his image by the same means – death is gain, obedience to the end of our lives in faith is overcoming life.”
(DKP – This is just another form, with nuances, of Berkhoff’s answer).
This is nonsense.
✔ Jesus’ suffering was to redeem the world! Our’s is not.
✔ Jesus’ death was to bring about the filling of the measure of sin and suffering– our death is not for that. Jesus said that the measure of sin and suffering was to be filled up in the first century (Matthew 23:29-37). Amazingly, Frost now denies this, however!
✔ Jesus’ death was because our sins were put on him – See Isaiah 53. In Frost’s current theology, we supposedly die for our own sins and those of Adam’s. We do not bear the sins of anyone but Adam’s and our own. And we most assuredly do not die substitutionally!
✔ Paul was being conformed to the sufferings of Christ to fill up the measure of suffering (1 Corinthians 4:12). And Paul’s being conformed to the sufferings of Christ was to fill up that eschatological suffering (Colossians 1:24f).
✔ As a direct corollary, Frost is totally ignoring the eschatological nature of the “sufferings of Christ” and the first century church, his body, joining in those eschatological sufferings. (See Romans 8:16f / Colossians 1:24-27 / 1 Peter 5:10). (This is a widely held concept among the scholars).
Notice the glaring contradiction in Frost’s theology here. Physical death (and only physical death) is the Adamic Curse. Physical death is “the last enemy”– the enemy of the child of God! The child of God dies as a result “of Adam’s sin and our own” and yet, YET, Frost says “death is gain.” But, how in the name of reason can physical death be “gain” if the child of God is dying under the Curse of Adam, dying as a direct result of sin? And, how can the child of God go directly to heaven (As Frost affirms) when we die, if we die under the Curse of Sin and Death???
The bottom line in Frost’s comments above is that he totally rejects Jesus’ promise that those who believe in him and keep his sayings: “Will never die” (John 8:51). For him, John 11:25-26 means virtually nothing: “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (This is the promise of life after death, DKP). Frost stops his citation of John at that point, but, that is not all Jesus had to say. He added, “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” What is so significant is that Frost has cited that first part of John 11 to prove a physical resurrection (which it does not affirm), but, he totally ignores: “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” as if it is not in the text! Convenient and revealing omission.
It is logically necessary that Jesus spoke here of both physical death – “though he may die, he shall live.” All men, righteous and unrighteous, die physically. It is unavoidable. However, if we make Jesus’ words, “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die”– refer to physical death, it becomes totally ridiculous and impossible. Jesus was not speaking of never dying physically. Isn’t that self-evident?
Frost turns Jesus’ words upside down. Instead of Jesus promising that those who believe in him “will not die” Frost has the narrative – “If a man believes in me, he assuredly will die, and he will die because of the sin of Adam and his own sin.” Instead of Jesus’ dying in our place, Frost says it is necessary for us to die for our sins (and Adam’s).
Let me ask here, if we, as Christians, die as a result of Adam’s sin and our own, are we not receiving the “wages of sin”? And if we are receiving the wages of sin, how then can we receive the gift of God which is eternal life? How can our physical death be anything other than experiencing the Death Curse of Adam? And, how can experiencing the full result of “the law of sin and death” in any way be “gain”?
To die in sin, to die under sin, to die as a result of sin, is to be condemned – See Romans 7-8. According to Paul, it is deliverance from the law of sin and death that Christ brings. And that means that in Christ, contra Frost, we never die! We do not die the death of Adam. We do not die for our sins, because “the blood of Jesus Christ (continually) cleanses us from all righteousness.” But this is not true in Frost’s paradigm. The cleansing blood of Christ does not and cannot keep us from dying the death of Adam! It is, for all practical purposes, powerless.
Over the last several months I have pressed Frost to answer the question: “Was Jesus’ physical death on the cross substitutionary? Yes or No?” I have asked this question no less than 12-13 times as of the writing of this article (September, 2018). For the most part, he has simply ignored the question.
The only “response” Frost has offered is this (FaceBook, 9-22-18– He offered this same “response” earlier as well):
“Don, it’s been explain, (sic) Don. To which, I asked, in response, if Jesus died “spiritually” for our “sins”, then “why do we still sin”?
So, for Frost, the fact that we still sin ostensibly proves one of two things:
1. Jesus did not die a substitutionary death– a conclusion that one is virtually forced to.
2. Jesus’ substitutionary death is totally ineffective, totally powerless, absolutely a failure!
I responded to Frost on 9-23-18 (edited for brevity):
“Sam, Jesus did not sin a substitutionary sin (He never sinned at all). He did not SIN to take our place in sinning! He died a substitutionary DEATH SO THAT WE DO NOT HAVE TO DIE!
In your new paradigm, we have Jesus (ostensibly) dying a substitutionary death. But, per you, that substitutionary death:
Does not keep us from sinning.
Does not keep us from dying.
Does not even provide objective forgiveness, since, “The wages of sin is death” – and you claim that this is solely and exclusively physical death – and all Christians have, do and will die physically.
In your view, sin is more powerful than the substitutionary death of Jesus, because sin totally overcomes that supposed substitutionary death of the Lord! (Edit– I am adding this comment–> His grace is stripped of any power whatsoever!) His blood does not sufficiently, continually cleanse us from all unrighteousness, because we will still sin and as a result, we will die physically.
In your theology, NOT ONE PERSON has ever entered into the full power of that substitutionary death, because if they had, they would have never died! After all, Jesus said that if a person keeps his commandments “He SHALL NEVER DIE!”
That is a pretty weak (non-existent) substitutionary death, so much so that not even ONE PERSON in the entire history of Christianity has entered into the power of that SUBSTITUTIONARY DEATH!
So, Jesus’ ostensible substitutionary death, does not keep us from dying. It does not keep us from sinning. And it does not even provide objective forgiveness!
Sam Frost, WAS JESUS’ PHYSICAL DEATH ON THE CROSS SUBSTITUTIONARY? Yes or No?” (EOQ)
Let me follow up on that with a notice of Romans 8:1-2. There, Paul exults that the child of God is free from the Law of Sin and Death ‘”the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” To say that this text destroys Frost’s current theology is to say a “mouth full.”
The law of sin and death says: You sin, you die.
Frost says that in the Bible, death and dying refers exclusively to physical death and nothing more. There is no such thing as spiritual death. The is problematic to say the least since Paul said that at a point in his past, he sinned and “I died” (Romans 7:9). Had Paul literally, physically died when he sinned? According to Frost’s new definition of death, he must have. But of course, that is ludicrous.
But, since the child of God is delivered from the law of sin and death, that means that the child of God does not pay the wages of sin, which is death. Why then does the child of God still die? Why does the child of God still experience the full brunt of the law of sin and death? Why is it that the child of God experiences the law of sin and death to the same full extent that the most debased reprobate does?
Look closer at Romans 8:1-2. Paul said that the Law of Moses did not and could not deliver from the law of sin and death. But he then says “The law of the spirit of life in Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death.” Well, that sounds great, right? But not in Frost’s theology! In his view:
The Law of Moses did not deliver them from the law of sin and death. Torah could not provide forgiveness, and consequently, there was no “life” (Galatians 3:20-21). Remember, that is physical death, per Frost.
But, per Frost, the Gospel of Jesus does not deliver us from the law of sin and death, because we will die as a result of Adam’s sin and our own! The wages of sin is, inescapably, our physical death.
This totally negates what Paul said. What exactly has Christ done for us?
I hope the readers of this can catch the incredible power of what is going on.
☛ Frost is seemingly, (he refuses to forthrightly tell us, but, apparently), now rejecting the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Jesus. Stunning!
☛ Frost is in total denial of the very idea that there is such a thing as spiritual death. (Which means of course, that there is no such thing as spiritual salvation; our salvation is purely physical! (This opens another can of worms that I will not develop here). When the Bible talks about death it is speaking exclusively, 100%, of physical death. That is historically false, and it is not the “scholarly” consensus. As I am documenting, with a wealth of information and evidence in my up-coming book, The Death of Adam / The Life of Christ, this is a patently false doctrine.
☛ Frost adamantly rejects the idea that Jesus died a substitutionary spiritual death. For him, the very idea that Jesus experienced spiritual death, separation from the Father, for even a moment, is “absolutely ridiculous and heretical.”
Now, Frost (at least recently) does admit that Jesus became accursed for us. Jesus died as a result of the Curse of Adam. He is even on record as saying:
“Death comes in three forms: separation, physical death, sheol. Jesus conquered death completely.” (Sam Frost, Why I Left Full Preterism, (Powder Springs, Ga,; American Vision, 2012), 58+).
Okay, death involves separation. But, in Frost’s current definition of death as strictly biological death, then “separation” is nothing but physical death (separation of the soul from the body). There aren’t three aspects of death after all. If “separation” (which can be defined as alienation) is not biological death, then it is a relational death. It is “spiritual” separation and alienation; it is spiritual death.
☛ As noted, Frost refuses to address the question: Was Jesus’ physical death on the Cross substitutionary? Yes or No?
This means one of two things:
☛ Since Frost now defines death as exclusively physical death, then, if Jesus did die a substitutionary death, his physical death was substitutionary.
☛ Since Jesus did not die a substitutionary spiritual death, then he did die a substitutionary physical death! Unfortunately for Frost, that then raises once again the issues noted above – why do those in the power of his substitutionary physical death still die?
Frost has opened a proverbial theological can of worms.
Does he deny the substitutionary death of Jesus – in any form? We don’t yet know. He will not tell us.
Does he (will he) recant his claim that the idea of Jesus’ dying spiritually is “absolutely ridiculous and heretical”? Evidently not. Remains to be seen.
Does he claim that Jesus’ physical death was, after all, substitutionary? If so, he has to explain the abject failure of that substitutionary death.
He has to explain how sin is more powerful than that death.
He must explain the utter weakness and failure of the grace of God in Christ.
He has to explain how the child of God is (supposedly) truly forgiven of sin, and yet, must experience “the wages of sin” (physical death), just like the worst of the reprobates.
To say that Frost’s views on the substitutionary death of Christ – at least what we know of them as of this day – are a theological can of worms is to make the understatement of the year. His view of the death of Christ, his view of death, his view of forgiveness (or lack thereof), all posit a failed savior, a totally ineffective sacrifice, a failed, virtually non-existent Grace, an utter lack of true forgiveness!
And this is the supposed “Victory in Jesus!” that Frost proclaims. To call this “Victory” in any sense, is beyond the pale of logic and reason.
I think I will pass.
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