On my way to the college this morning, I read (I was not driving, but taking the bus) an article which defended (and critiqued) the atonement theory of penal substitution. I really appreciated the article because:
- The doctrine of penal substitution (that Jesus takes my penalty upon him with his death) has been under frequent criticism these days. For a summary of the penal substitution theory see p. 30-31.
- The author actually defends the doctrine of penal substitution.
- The author is a friend of mine who also did his PhD at McMaster.
Regarding #1- Some of the criticisms of penal substitution are made of caricatures of the doctrine and the criticisms are often made as though proponents of penal substitution have never responded to the criticisms. Patrick Franklin responds well to these, while also critiquing the theory. Let me mention a few key issues (but there is much more in the article):
1/ God is not thirsty for revenge. He is just. (p. 26)
2/ God satisfies God’s own wrath by removing our guilt (expiation leads to propitiation, p. 28).
3/ Penal substitution is not an impersonal arms-length transaction if the articulation of the doctrine includes our unity with Christ (p. 32-33).
4/ Penal substitution theory does not justify crimes of violence. There is a difference between punishment (by a legitimate authority) and crime. (p. 33-34)
5/ Every atonement theory somehow associates God with violence (p. 34, footnotes 45), not just the penal substitution theory.
6/ Even in the penal substitution theory (as properly understood) God is not changed from being a wrathful God to a loving God. Rather, the wrathful God is loving as he saves us (Jn 3:16, Rom 5:9-10).
7/ The penal substitutionary theory is not enough to communicate the gospel, in and of itself (p. 41-43).
8/ As with all atonement theories, the penal substitutionary theory is a metaphor. There are limits to metaphors, so none can be taken literally (p. 45).
*9/ Using the penal substitutionary theory alone can be problematic in evangelism (p. 45-49).
Thank God that we are “saved from God’s wrath through” Jesus Christ (Rom 5:9) because of the love of God himself (Jn 3:16)!
On another note, here is an interesting article from Christianity Today that is concerned with using the Christus Victor theory apart from other atonement theories.