Dever and Packer on the Importance of Penal Substitution

Dever and Packer on the Importance of Penal Substitution June 19, 2008

The following quotations are from the latest Crossway “Book Report” (HT: JT). They include very helpful statements. Of course, these statements only scratch the surface of the topics covered. If you want to read more about the current state of atonement theory and the biblical case for penal substitution as the central motif of New Testament atonement theory, I would heartily recommend both In My Condemned He Stood by Packer and Dever and Pierced for Our Transgressions by Brits Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach. Both were published very recently by Crossway, and both will prove very helpful in understanding contemporary debates and a robust biblical conception of atonement.

Here are the questions and answers from the “Book Report”.

Crossway Books: What are some current objections to the doctrine of substitionary atonement?

J. I. Packer (JIP): One stream of thought claims that God’s holy, just nature does not require any form of propitiation at all. Another claims that for God to expose, and indeed direct, his Son to suffer as a substitute for sinners would be divine child abuse.

MD: Many critics have even suggested that we proponents of penal substitution are trashing all other views, or at least ignoring them. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book on the atonement which does that. Their argument is, I think, theological caricature. The truth is that there’s a soundly biblical and logically compelling case for considering various biblical images of the atonement, and that the image of penal substitution is legitimately considered central. That is a more subtle argument, and Jim Packer makes it superbly in this book.

Crossway Books: You coin the term “anti-redemptionism” as that which the church is up against today. What exactly is anti-redemptionism?

JIP: It’s the view that God forgives or ignores our sins without requiring their punishment. It was the Father’s wisdom to make his incarnate Son our representative substitute who endured the punishment due to us. Liberal Christianity regularly denies this.

MD: One simple way to understand it is the view that people are basically okay, and that we don’t have to have anything quite as dramatic as redemption to fix what needs fixing. Because no name exists for the unorthodoxy we have in view in this book, we labeled it anti-redemptionism. Its essence is sidelining—and in some cases actually denying—the work of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, who did all that had to be done to save us from hell, in favor of the idea of Jesus as teacher, model, and pioneer of godliness.

If these quotations pique your interest, and I hope they do, consider purchasing these books, and enhancing your own view of the atonement vis a vis the attacks on penal substitution. You might not know it, but many professing evangelicals today question strongly the idea that penal substitution is the central atonement motif in the New Testament. In such times, we need good resources like those Crossway is providing, both to teach us and to keep the church centered on this most central of scriptural teachings.

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