The Atonement – An Attack on Penal Substitution

The Atonement – An Attack on Penal Substitution April 10, 2007

A couple of days ago, in the first of my posts on the atonement, I quoted Jeffrey John from an article in the London Telegraph. Today, I want to share more from the transcript of his talk, which is now available on Radio 4’s website. You can also listen to him for yourself here. The words of this talk are not really any different to those controversially aired by Steve Chalke. If you want to hear Chalke for himself, there is an interview in the archives here. Dr. Albert Mohler has come out strongly against the position aired by both Chalke and Jeffrey John. I hope that to most readers of this blog it will be immediately obvious why I disagree so strongly with the ideas expressed in this quote. I think these concepts are not only wrong, they are dangerous, and worse still, they risk robbing us of the true Gospel. I hope that as we study the issue of Jesus’ cross together, we will see that the biblical view of the atonement is neither what this vicar is responding to, nor what he explains as his view. For now, though, I am going to let him speak for himself:

“The explanation I was given went something like this. God was very angry with us for our sins, and because he is a just God, our sin had to be punished. But instead of punishing us, he sent his Son, Jesus, as a substitute to suffer and die in our place . . . In other words, Jesus took the rap, and we got forgiven, provided we said we believed in him. Well, I don’t know about you, but even at the age of ten I thought this explanation was pretty repulsive, as well as nonsensical. What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we’d say they were a monster. Well, I haven’t changed my mind since. That explanation of the cross just doesn’t work, though sadly it’s one that’s still all too often preached. It just doesn’t make sense to talk about a nice Jesus down here, placating the wrath of a nasty, angry Father God in heaven . . . the wrath of God is no more than a human projection . . . The cross, then, is not about Jesus reconciling an angry God to us; it’s almost the opposite. It’s about a totally loving God, incarnate in Christ, reconciling us to him. On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God, but by God . . .

On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it’s like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It’s a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it’s one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God’s given is simply himself; to show that, so far from inflicting suffering as a punishment, he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow. From Good Friday on, God is no longer “God up there”, inscrutably allotting rewards and retributions. On the Cross, even more than in the crib, he is Immanuel, God down here, God with us.” (Jeffrey John).

Continues with The Historical Background to the Cross.”

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