Affirming Penal Substitution But Not Its Logic

Affirming Penal Substitution But Not Its Logic January 24, 2023

Penal Substitutionary Atonement is the Heart of the Gospel: Who Agrees? - Trinity Bible Chapel

It is possible to affirm penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) but not the logic that most PSA advocates use to support the theory.

While writing The Cross in Context, I noticed several consistent assumptions and leaps in logic that are problematic. For example, some authors presume the meaning of words and phrases that simply do not reflect the ways that biblical writers spoke and used concepts. At other times, theologians based their arguments on passages that speak not a single word about the atonement. Finally, I was perplexed by how not explicit are certain ideas espoused by some versions of PSA.

Let me be clear. I do suggest that all the main components of penal substitutionary atonement are found in the Bible. For instance, Scripture clearly indicates that God feels wrath towards sin. He punished rebellion. Furthermore, Christ is a substitute on our behalf. He pays the penalty and removes the punishment we deserve.

Yet, despite all this, popular versions of penal substitutionary atonement draw certain conclusions that are unsupported by the biblical text. What are these? Well, for that you’ll need to listen to (or read) the presentation I gave at the 2022 annual conference for the Evangelical Theological Society.

This talk unpacks a small section of my book The Cross in Context. For a more robust perspective on the atonement, go check that out. I wrote multiple introductory posts last fall.

For some people, what little I’ve said above might sound alarming. To that, I say, “Relax. Don’t assume. Just read and compare it with the Bible.” After all, we want to defend Scripture, not any particular tradition or school of thought.

FYI: If you are interested, I’ve also given a few other related talks that are available online. At ETS 2015, I gave a paper titled “Seeking God’s Face: Honor and Shame in the Sacrificial System.” For the audio, go to my Conference Papers page.


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