Over on the facebook we’ve learned something interesting about Joel from Joel. Joel is no fan of the theory of the atonement held in traditional and rational Reformed theology. Instead, he’s a Socinian.
The Socinians denied an “avenging justice” (justitia vindicatrice seu ultrice) in God: this justice, they claimed, was in God, not by nature, but by exigency, for the purpose of punishing sin. By extension, if avenging justice were merely an exigency ad extra and not an attribute belonging to the essence or nature of God, then God would not necessarily have to exercise it. The Socinian argument was that God’s punitive justice was the result of the free will of God, much like the creation of the world. Just as God was free to will or not will the existence of the world, so is he free to will or not will the enactment of justice and the punishment of sin.
By extension and intent, the argument undermined the satisfaction theory of atonement: if the Socinian view were correct, salvation could be grounded in something other than a satisfaction of the divine justice.
In other words, the Socinian polemic was directed not so much toward an abstruse question concerning the divine essence but toward the doctrines of the just punishment of sin, the satisfaction of Christ, and the redemption of human beings—as also was the Reformed counterargument.*
*R. Muller, Post-Reformation reformed dogmatics: the rise and development of reformed orthodoxy; volume 3: the divine essence and attributes (p. 491).