In a post that starts out as a review of the book “Pierced for Our Transgressions,” Peter Ould provides a summary of and includes some of his own commentary on the Penal Substitution debate that has been going on in various parts of the Anglican world (especially the CoE) and the Anglican blogosphere in recent months:
Penal Substitution is the name give to the explanation of what Jesus did on the cross that is favoured by Evangelicals and mainstream Anglo-Catholics. The doctrine, drawing chiefly but not exclusively on passages in Isaiah, John, Romans and Hebrews states that Jesus’ death on the cross pays the penalty that would otherwise go to us for our sin. When you accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour it’s as though your “bad slate in front of God” is transferred onto Jesus. You are left perfect in the eyes of God while Jesus takes the full penalty for your sins – hence “Penal Substitution”.
In the past few years the doctrine has been attacked publicly twice, with attendant media attention, first in the church press and then in the national papers. The first recent criticism was by Steve Chalke in his book, “The Lost Message of Jesus”. In the book Chalke criticised the doctrine as “a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.” More recently, Jeffery John (of St Albans Cathedral) used a BBC Lent talk to say that the doctrine made “God sound like a psychopath” and the doctrine “worse than illogical .. insane”.
Yes, some people have a problem with penal substitution, but often their problem comes from not getting the proper picture of penal substitution. For example, Chalke criticises the idea of a father punishing a son for things he hasn’t done. But such a criticism fails to remember that the labels “Father” and “Son” in the god-head are not biological descriptions but rather limited human language God has used to help us understand who he is. In penal substition God takes upon himself the punishment for our sin – the fact that the Father places it upon the Son is not the point here – human understanding of those words should not limit us in accepting what the Bible says is true.
This elf has been trying to follow some of the various blog articles and discussions on the Atonement recently. Over the past few days, I’ve pulled together several posts on this topic. Stay tuned for more on the theme of the Atonement today and tomorrow.