[Updated on July 7, 2018: after videos were discussed publicly, Fresno Pacific University removed some of the videos of Bruxy Cavey sourced on this blog from Youtube. Eric Schneider has uploaded them to his own Youtube account. I have updated the source links accordingly].
The cross of Jesus Christ is at the centre of biblical Christianity, at the centre of our Gospel. For Christians, the Gospel is not only a teaching, but it is deeply personal. In it, we find peace, hope, and joy in all circumstances. The cross is the foundation of all our hope. It’s central to biblical Christianity.
What does Bruxy Cavey think about the cross? He is the pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches, The Meeting House. Having church campuses across Ontario, he also teaches at Christian seminaries, keynotes at Christian conferences, and he claims to speak on behalf of conservative Christians. He is perhaps Canada’s most recognizable church leader.
But is he even teaching the Christian message of the cross? Is he even teaching the Gospel? Or is he peddling a false gospel?
In what follows, I attempt to explain the Protestant and Evangelical understanding of the cross. I present a brief biblical overview of the cross. I quickly show consistency of thought throughout church history. Then I demonstrate that Bruxy Cavey has denied the biblical message of the cross, and I quote him saying that he would like to convert people away from it.
The Gospel and the Cross
The cross is at the centre of Christianity. Penal substitutionary atonement is at the centre of our understanding of the cross. This is the belief that Christ, on the cross, suffered the just wrath of God in the place of guilty sinners. In substituting for us, he died in our place. In being the penal substitute, he suffered the penalty we deserve. He propitiated God’s wrath. That means he suffered the entirety of God’s wrath and turned God’s wrath away from us. As a result, we who have faith in Christ have no fear of judgment and have no guilt for sin. We will escape the wrath to come and enter God’s Kingdom as righteous in God’s sight. It’s the Gospel, the good news! If you have not yet, I joyfully invite you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins!
The Gospel According to Scripture
In what follows, I offer a brief Scriptural explanation of Christ’s cross. This is not an exhaustive argument, but I do reference some books that are much more thorough than anything I could write in this blog. For the serious student, I recommend them for your reading pleasure.
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem explains that along with the physical pain of the cross, Jesus also Himself bore our sins (Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24). God placed our sins on Christ, and Christ took responsibility for our sins. God counted our guilt for sin to Christ, and He voluntarily suffered like a sinner. That He Himself never sinned and is fully righteous makes this more significant.
When Jesus took our sin, God abandoned Him. On the cross “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46). The one true holy God who cannot behold sin abandoned His Son on the cross.
With this, Jesus also bore the wrath of God. Grudem notes,
As Jesus bore the guilt of our sins alone, God the Father, the mighty Creator, the Lord of the universe, poured out on Jesus the fury of his wrath: Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning (Grudem, p. 575).
In Romans 3:25, Paul uses the word “propitiation.” The Greek word means to “bear God’s wrath to the end” and in doing so it “changes God’s wrath towards us into favor” (Grudem, p. 575). Christ became the recipient of God’s righteous anger towards sin and sinners (Romans 3:25). For millennia leading up to the time of Christ, God forbore his wrath against sin. At the cross, He expressed it, and His wrath was satisfied in Christ. Christ displayed God’s righteousness by suffering on behalf of those who are justified by faith (Romans 3:26). For us who believe, He died in our place.
Grudem notes three other passages that refer to Christ’s death as propitiatory, namely Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; and 1 John 4:10. The noun used in these passages refers to “a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God – and thereby makes God propitious (or favourable) toward us.” In the atonement, Jesus Christ thus propitiated the “eternal” and “unchangeable” justice of God (Grudem, p. 575). Because of it, God is justified in His justification of sinners.
This view, as just articulated, is the penal substitutionary atonement. Christ died as punishment, hence penal. Christ died in our place, hence substitutionary. Grudem calls it “the orthodox understanding of the atonement held by evangelical theologians” (Grudem, p. 579). If we consider it orthodox, we should consider a denial of it unorthodox. Further down, we will see that Bruxy Cavey not only denies it, but he also wants to convert people away from it.
The concepts of penal substitution and propitiation assume that God’s wrath towards sin and sinners must be satisfied. In The Cross of Christ, John Stott lists biblical reasons why God must find satisfaction in the cross. The Bible teaches that we absolutely need the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. Without it, we have no forgiveness and stand condemned in our sin. God must judge sin. Our sin provokes God (Jeremiah 32:30-32). God burns with anger towards sinners (Joshua 7:1). God cannot just turn away from His own anger. His character demands that it be fully unleashed (2 Kings 23:26). The anger of God can only be quenched when His judgment is complete (Ezekiel 5:13; 16:42; 21:17). Only when His anger is complete is God satisfied (Ezekiel 5:13). To summarize Stott says, “God is ‘provoked’ to jealous anger over his people by their sins. Once kindled, his anger ‘burns’ and is not easily quenched. He ‘unleashes’ it, ‘pours’ it out, ‘spends’ it” (Stott, p. 126). God’s anger towards sinners is thus “wholly consonant” with God’s “holy character.” Because of this, Jesus had to die. There was no other way for salvation. Either we receive the wrath of God, or Jesus receives the wrath we deserve. For us who believe, God’s wrath was thankfully propitiated in Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement.
The authors (Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach) of Pierced for Our Transgressions aptly link penal substitutionary atonement with the sacrificial system taught in Leviticus. They comment, “The book of Leviticus teaches that the relationship between a holy God and a sinful people…can be maintained by sacrifice” (Jeffrey, p. 43). They explain “that chapter 16, right at the heart of the book, informs our understanding of Jesus’ death as our penal substitute” (Jeffrey, p. 42). Leviticus 16 describes the day of atonement in which the people sacrificed a goat to the Lord and sent another goat into the desert as a scape goat. Substituting for the people, the ritual atonement sacrifices turned God’s wrath away from the community (Leviticus 16:16, 17, 24, 30, 32-34). Chapters 9 through 10 of Hebrews portray “Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice as the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement rituals” (Ibid., p. 43). The New Testament grounds the penal substitutionary atonement in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Substitutionary and propitiatory in nature, the Old Testament sacrifices pointed towards the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:15; 9:28).
Leviticus lays a foundation for Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement, and the Prophets prophesy of the final and perfect sacrifice in Christ. In Where Wrath & Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, David Peterson explains that the suffering Servant of Isaiah is the culmination of the sacrificial system (Isaiah 53:7). The Servant’s punishment is on behalf of others (Isaiah 53:7-9). The Servant’s substitutionary death results in the propitiation of God’s anger towards His people as He restores them to righteousness (Isaiah 53:10-11). Peterson says, “the language of ‘carrying’ and ‘bearing’ in verses 4, 11, 12, points to the Servant’s death as substitutionary, just as the death of animals in the sacrificial system appears to have been substitutionary” (Peterson, p. 22; cf. Isaiah 53:4-5). Certainly, Isaiah’s suffering Servant is Jesus Christ, who died on behalf of guilty sinners and received the wrath of God that we deserve. Peterson observes, “Christians throughout the ages have recognized the person and work of Christ in every verse” (Peterson, p. 23). The atonement that the sacrificial system pictures finds its culmination in Isaiah’s suffering Servant, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Gospel According to the Church
During the Reformation of the 16th century, Protestant leaders clearly articulated the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ where Christ propitiated God’s wrath. The term itself is very much a Protestant term. That said, some, including Bruxy Cavey, falsely allege that the doctrine is a novelty of the Reformation. We have no shortage of quotes from ancient churchmen, but I will only cite three, all taken from Pierced for our Transgressions.
Ambrose of Milan (339-397) says,
He also took up death that the sentence might be fulfilled and satisfaction might be given for the judgment, the curse placed on sinful flesh even to death. Therefore, nothing was done contrary to God’s sentence when the terms of that sentence were fulfilled, for the curse was unto death but grace is after death (Jeffery, p. 175).
Observe that Ambrose says Christ’s death was a “satisfaction” for “judgment,” and that it was “God’s sentence.” In other words, God sentenced Christ to die to satisfy judgment.
Gregory the Great (590-604) says that Christ “Who, being made incarnate, had no sins of his own, and yet being without offence took upon Himself the punishment of the carnal.” Note Gregory says he “took upon Himself the punishment” (Jeffery, p. 183). This is penal substitutionary language.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) said, “Christ’s passion provided adequate, and more than adequate satisfaction for man’s sins and debt, his passion was as it were the price of punishment by which we are freed from both obligations” (Jeffery, p. 185). Aquinas saw the cross as “adequate satisfaction for man’s sins,” and “the price of punishment.” In other words, Jesus satisfied the price of our punishment. He was the penal substitute for us.
We have no shortage of quotes from ancient theologians and pastors. I have cited three. Christians have believed in the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ since ancient times. It is not simply a novelty of the Reformation, as Cavey claims.
The Gospel According to Bruxy Cavey
Having explained the penal substitutionary atonement, having seen that Scripture sets it as foundational to the Gospel, and having shown that ancient Christians believed it, I now present Bruxy Cavey’s teaching in his own words.
In a podcast for his church, Cavey conceptually deals with the Scriptural view of the cross. He remarks,
When we look at the cross we look at the cross with almost a confused view. Is the cross a picture of God loving us through Jesus? Or is it a picture of God wrathing against Jesus and then we call that love? I would say that that latter view goes beyond Scripture (Why Did Jesus Die? #1 – To Show Us God’s Love: Drive Home [23:28]).
By using a word like “wrathing” in reference to the cross work of Jesus Christ, Bruxy Cavey indicates he’s aware of what he’s saying. Conceptually, he’s talking about penal substitution. He says it “goes beyond Scripture.” As an aside, I’m not sure why that’s even an issue for him since he has openly called Scripture errant and has said that the authority of Scripture is unscriptural. But that’s not the point.
Since he openly misrepresents Scripture, we should not be surprised that he also misrepresents church history. In another podcast for his church, he insinuates the Reformers invented penal substitutionary atonement as a novelty. He remarks,
Let’s not rally around a theory that is Scripturally nebulous that the church didn’t even hold onto until the Protestant Reformation in any way. That was a completely novel way of thinking. Lets not make that our hill to die on. Which, for many people it is assumed that penal substitutionary atonement just simply is the Gospel. We need to challenge that, and say no, that turns faith into a work, it says once you have this particular doctrine figured out, then you can be saved by it. I’d say this goes way beyond scripture. And at some point becomes contradictory to it (Why Did Jesus Die? #2: Drive Home Podcast [4:27]).
I’ve already shown that faithful Christians prior to the Reformation believed penal substitutionary atonement, though they may not have used that precise phrase. I provided three citations. There are many more Cavey is either disingenuous or he’s ignorant. He also says his church needs to challenge the Scriptural teaching. Doing so creates suspicion that he’s grooming his flock to convert people away from biblical Christianity. By his own admission, he knows this is a central doctrine for Christians. He says many people assume it’s the Gospel. He knows it is not periphery thinking for Christians. It’s central. It’s the Gospel. Yet, he wants his flock to lead others away from the centre. By calling his church to challenge it, Bruxy Cavey is sowing seeds of division on a primary issue. This is divisive teaching.
Moving on to a video, while lecturing in an academic setting at a Christian institution, he denies penal substitution and propitiation. He says,
When it comes to the actual act of killing and wrathing – the only wrath that is expressed at the cross is the wrath of us against Christ, not the wrath of the Father upon Christ. There is wrath poured out on Jesus and that is the wrath of the religious leaders and the wrath of the Roman soldiers, it is the wrath of humanity in sin. God comes in and raises Jesus from the dead (Bruxy Cavey Teaching on Gospel Proclamation in the Book of Acts [11:02]).
Cavey makes a clear distinction between the wrath of God and the wrath of people. He indicates God’s wrath was not expressed at the cross, only the wrath of people against Christ. In other words, he indicates Christ did not propitiate God. Some might want to offer him the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn’t mean what he’s saying. But earlier in that same lecture, he says,
We do live at a time in history where many people identify penal substitutionary atonement theory as the Gospel. Penal substitutionary atonement is a theory about how the Gospel works. I happen to think it’s the wrong theory (Bruxy Cavey Teaching on Gospel Proclamation in the Book of Acts [9:24]).
He clearly says that’s what people believe. Penal substitution is at the centre of the Gospel. Then he articulates precisely that the Christian Gospel is wrong. Not only does he deny this central doctrine, but Cavey also says he’d like to convert people away from it. In the same video he says,
I’d love to convert everyone away from penal substitutionary atonement as a theory of atonement, but if I didn’t that’s fine. But what I can say is just don’t preach it (Bruxy Cavey Teaching on Gospel Proclamation in the Book of Acts [10:08]).
He says he’d “love to covert everyone away from penal substitutionary atonement.” Considering he says everyone I think he means everyone. Everyone likely includes everyone he teaches at evangelical seminaries. Everyone likely includes everyone who attends his conferences. Everyone likely includes everyone who reads his books, everyone who goes to his church, and everyone. Make no mistake: That is a predatory statement. By his own admission, he consciously wants to convert Christians from Christian thinking, from the Gospel. He says he knows what Christians believe about the Gospel. He wants to convert them from it. Not only that, he tells his students not to preach what Christians believe about the Gospel. Training young ministers to not teach the Gospel is tantamount to training them to kill churches. Why would a church want to hire a pastor trained to do that? How could any honest evangelical organization offer a platform to a pastor who wants to convert everyone away from what Christians believe? How could a Christian parent send their child to a school or conference that offers this teaching a platform? We can graciously assume those organizations, up until now, simply did not know. But now, with knowledge, they have decisions to make. Everyone likely includes their constituents.
This doctrine is not some abstract concept. We can’t kick it down the street like a piece of garbage and mangle it how we want. Personally, it’s who we are. We lay our heads down on the pillow at night with peace in our hearts. Why? Because we no longer fear condemnation. Christ bore the wrath in our place. I’ve met former prostitutes, former drug addicts, former murderers, former adulterers, former homosexuals, former pedophiles, and former self-righteous churchmen who have clear consciences now. Why? Because they believe Christ died in their place! God has forgiven us! Because of Christ’s sacrificial death, we no longer fear! We are washed by His blood! We are justified by His blood! We are righteous by His blood! His wrath is propitiated! Bruxy Cavey is right on one thing: Christians do believe this is the Gospel. And pulling people away from it is not just pulling them away from right thinking. It’s pulling them straight to hell.
Bruxy Cavey denies penal substitutionary atonement, he misrepresents church history, he urges his church to challenge the Christian Gospel, he says he’d like to convert people away from it, and he tells his students not to preach it.
I have now explained the doctrine of the cross, specifically the penal substitutionary atonement. I’ve presented the Scriptural teaching on it. I have provided some quotes from ancient Christian leaders who held to the Scriptural teaching, knowing there are countless other citations available. I have shown that Bruxy Cavey denies the Scriptural teaching. He’s misrepresented church history on Christian teaching. He has said he would like to convert people away from it, and he appears to be training his seminary students and his congregation to do the same. By any estimation, this is not good. It is very very bad.
In the book In My Place Condemned He Stood, J.I. Packer explains, “The basic description of the saving death of Christ in the Bible is as a propitiation, that is, as that which quenched God’s wrath against us by obliterating our sins from his sight.” As noted above Bruxy Cavey is urging his followers to convert people away from propitiation. While Packer’s definition is excellent, I think his application is most pertinent. Please take your time to read the full quote. It’s lengthy, but very important. J.I. Packer writes,
Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity? In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God, the taking of human form by the Son, the meaning of the cross, Christ’s heavenly intercession, the way of salvation – all are to be explained in terms of it… In saying this we swim against the stream of much modern teaching and condemn at a stroke the view of a great number of distinguished church leaders today, but we cannot help that. Paul wrote, “Even if we or an angel from heaven” – let alone a minister, bishop, college lecturer, university professor, or noted author – “should preach a gospel other that the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (“accursed” KJV and RSV; “outcast” NEB” “damned” PHILLIPS – Gal. 1:18). And a gospel without propitiation as its heart is another gospel than that which Paul preached. The implications of this must not be evaded (p. 32).
Please don’t evade the implications, I’m begging you. Bruxy Cavey teaches a gospel without propitiation. Bruxy Cavey asked his church to challenge the Gospel of propitiation. Bruxy Cavey told his students not to preach the Gospel of propitiation. Bruxy Cavey wants to convert everyone from the Gospel of propitiation. According to J.I. Packer, moreover according to St. Paul, the Gospel is a Gospel of propitiation, and a man who denies the Gospel is eternally condemned.
So where’s that put Bruxy Cavey? What’s that make Bruxy Cavey’s gospel? Is he teaching Christianity or Bruxyianity?
For more troubling quotes by Bruxy Cavey on Scripture, the cross, Nicene orthodoxy, and the immutability of God, you can download this file of Bruxy Cavey quotes prepared by Eric Schneider. I believe it’s time for us Canadians to speak up on this, and I’m humbly challenging you to do the same.
Follow Pastor Jacob on Twitter: @jacobreaume