PFOT: Use of Language

As I started reading "Pierced for our Transgressions" one thing I noticed immediately was the use of language. Clearly from the full title you are in no doubt that this is going to be a full out presentation of one viewpoint. I have no problem with that, nobody is going to pick this up thinking that it will be a balanced presentation.

However, the language does instantly show up a huge raft of assumptions that I think need to be challenged. Just a few for the moment (got to go and do some work on the mother-in-laws front path).

Chapter 2. p33 line 1. "the doctrine of penal substitution" it seems to be that this is a noticeable ratcheting up of the status of penal substitution. I have always been taught that we have a "doctrine of atonement" and theories (or views, or perspectives or models depending on your viewpoint) of atonement such as "penal substitution", "Christus Victus" etc. I wonder how widely and for how long penal substitution has been known as a doctrine.

There is in my opinion a pretty consistent and sloppy use of English. This makes assumptions such as

  • all references to substitution really mean penal substitution
  • only people who believe in penal substitution are Christians or Believers (these words seem to be reserved only for supporters of penal substitution, others are called liberals, dissenting voices etc)
  • only those who believe in penal substitution also believe in the transforming  power of the  cross.

You can see examples if all 3 on page 21 (first page of the introduction). It would be very interesting to know the motivation behind this, including whether it is deliberate or accidental.

Just one one example (out of time for more):

p21 "that believers will be robbed of their assurance and preachers will be robbed of their confidence in ‘the old, old story’ of the transforming power of the cross". Where is the evidence that those who do not accept penal substitution or who question it or who believe it to be one (but not the only) model of atonement do not believe in the transforming power of the cross.

2 thoughts on “PFOT: Use of Language

  1. Sean

    As far as I am aware Doctrine means teaching, and although I have not read the book, I imagine that the point of such statements is to underline the authorial intent that this is a teaching of the Bible, not mereley a view that can be opted in or out of. In addition I dont think that by writing such a book that the authors think penal substitution is the only biblical teaching on the atonement, but that it is a biblical teaching and it is the anchor on which all other biblical knowledge depends on.

  2. Dave Warnock

    Doctrine: set of beliefs or principles held and taught by a Church… (Concise Oxford Dictionary)
    You have exactly picked up what I see as the significance of referring to Penal Substitution as Doctrine, it is an attempt to increase the authority of this principle.
    What I do not know and am interested to discover is the history behind the transition from penal substitution from theory to doctrine (and how that varies between traditions).
    The authors clearly state that PS is not the only model of atonement (see beginning of chapter 2 for example). However, if you glance at many blogs during the debate between Spring Harvest and Word Alive or over Steve Chalke then you will find that many bloggers are far less accepting of other models of atonement (NB I am trying to use models as a relatively neutral word. Metaphors tends to be upsetting to more conservative evangelicals while doctrine is not popular among less conservative folks).
    The last part of your last sentence can be seen as a jump in status. To got from PS being a valid and valued model of atonement to being an anchor on which all other Biblical knowledge depends is for me a huge leap. What do you really mean by “the anchor on which all other biblical knowledge depends on”?
    Do you really mean that without building everything on PS you can have no biblical knowledge? That does not seem correct or appropriate to me.


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