PFOT: My starting position on Penal Substitution

I guess if I am going to write on Penal Substitution and Pierced For Our Transgressions I ought to make it clear where I stand on the issue.

You can decide that by either reading what I have said before or my reading this (or both I guess).

My current position is somewhat mixed.

I value Penal Substitution as one theory of atonement within a range of theories that have been considered orthodox teaching within the Christian Church, while recognising that different groups within the  Christian Church have different views on various theories of atonement and that there is not total agreement (and probably never has been). I do believe that there is potential for penal substitution to teach us something about the cross and about God.

But I struggle with certain theological aspects of Penal Substitution. Particularly the concept of God’s wrath being on Jesus and the potential for the need for justice and punishment being more powerful than God. Most importantly for me are concerns that Penal Substitution enshrines violence (that I do not see in Jesus, his incarnation, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his second coming) into the nature of God.

However, my theological struggles are as nothing compared to the struggles I have with the way Penal Substitution is expressed by some "hard liners". We saw that in the debates around that awful conference with the name that did not reflect it’s purpose or constitution (Together For The Gospel), we have also seen it in bucket loads over the split between Spring Harvest and Word Alive. If being an Evangelical and a believer in Penal Substitution means that I am identified with the behaviour and attitudes that culture seems to, in my opinion, embrace then I want nothing to do with it.

I am always interested in learning more about Jesus and gaining a fuller understanding of the cross, so it seems natural to read a new book on the subject.

5 thoughts on “PFOT: My starting position on Penal Substitution

  1. PamBG

    Well, over on Adrian’s blog someone has already pulled out the old card that you fail to understand God’s majesty and just how appalling sin really is. Sigh.
    No legitimate disagreement, then. Just your failure to believe in God properly.

    Reply
  2. Sean

    Just a quick one – if you don’t think that violence has any lingage to Gods character, then how do you square the massacre of thousands on Gods command by the poepl of Israel in the OT?
    Proponents of Penal Subst dont think that Justic and punichment are more powerful than GOd, they think that Justice is an essential characteristic of God, that is why we are under his wrath.
    SO by your own words there is a difference in opinion(or rather doctrinal understanding and clarity) on the issue of who God is. I dont mean to be harsh, but if the debate is going to handled fairly and honestly then we need to identify the differences that lead to the differing conclusions(see Themelios review of the two books on Gender issues in 2006 which identifies the key issues between the views as basically how do we read the bible and what is the doctrine of the trinity)
    This is something which would be helpful to consider PamBG, instead of mocking other believers who are genuinely striving for understanding of Gods revelation to us, in his word the Bible.

    Reply
  3. Peter Kirk

    the massacre of thousands on Gods command by the poepl of Israel in the OT
    Sean, can you please give a reference for that? I ask because some of these massacres may not have in fact been at God’s command, whereas there may have been specific reasons for other cases you have in mind.
    Proponents of Penal Subst dont think that Justic and punichment are more powerful than GOd
    I’m sure they don’t all think this, but some do. See the quotation here from the 1938 report: “the moral order of the universe makes it impossible that …“.
    if the debate is going to handled fairly and honestly then we need to identify the differences that lead to the differing conclusions
    Indeed. I have been trying to do just this on my blog.

    Reply
  4. Dave Warnock

    Sean,
    Too much to answer in a comment.
    re Violence and God in OT. a) Do we agree that the God of the OT and the NT is the same? b) What do you understand about Jesus and violence? c) Is Jesus truly divine?
    Does that help you?
    re Justice and punishment. More later in the series.
    If you look through the archives here you will find lots on how we read the bible, some on the trinity and lots on gender issues arising.
    Maybe if you review the archives and the comment on Adrians blog you will have a better understanding of why Pam responded as she did.

    Reply
  5. PamBG

    This is something which would be helpful to consider PamBG, instead of mocking other believers who are genuinely striving for understanding of Gods revelation to us, in his word the Bible.
    I’m sorry you think I’m mocking someone.
    I’m saying that I consider that such a statement doesn’t theologically address the issue of penal substition at hand.
    For any theological disagreement that you and I (for example) might have with each other, we could both start our conversation by saying to the other person “You fail to understand God’s majesty and the seriousness of sin”. It’s a statement that could be applied to any theological disagreement precisely because it doesn’t address any particular theology – it simply calls into question the other person’s genuineness.
    This is a technique of argumentation that attacks the other person’s character rather than one which addresses the issue. In terms of formal debating techniques (e.g. debating societies), this is a form of “debate” that is not allowed.

    Reply

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