Four Cringe-worthy Claims of Popular Penal Substitution Theology

I’ve often wondered if the same thing that makes violent video games appealing is why young evangelical guys are so infatuated with penal substitution theology. I figure a scary bad- !@#$%^&* God is cool for the same reason that the loud wet smack of a linebacker knocking the wind out of a quarterback is cool (I was that linebacker once).

I recognize that some guys need to have a God who likes to say “RAWR!!!” but in their zeal over penal substitution, some cringe-worthy and not entirely Biblical assertions are being made. There is a theologically responsible account of penal substitution; it’s part of the mystery of the cross. But I wanted to examine four of the more obnoxious assertions that I’ve heard in what I would call popular penal substitution theology (in places like a recent Steven Furtick sermon I listened to).

1) God is allergic to sin

A pillar of popular penal substitution theology is that God cannot tolerate the presence of sin. I think it’s more accurate to say that sin cannot tolerate the presence of God. The consequence of understanding things the first way is that the cross becomes God’s inoculation for His sin allergy. Ironically, one of the main points of Jesus’ incarnation was to prove that God is not distant and untouchably pure, but rather someone who “eats and drinks with sinners.” Now this doesn’t mean that sin is not allergic to God. People reacted to Jesus’ perfect love and holiness either by repenting of their sin like Zacchaeus did or by lashing out defensively and crucifying Him like the Pharisees did.

It was not that Jesus couldn’t tolerate imperfection but rather that His perfection was intolerable. In John 3:19, Jesus summarizes the relationship between sin and God’s presence: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” God is light; He doesn’t need the cross to protect Him from our darkness; we need the cross so we can survive entering into God’s light.

2) God sees Jesus instead of us when He looks at us

In the Steven Furtick sermon that motivated this blog post, he said that the reason God gives us His “approval” is because He doesn’t see us when He looks at us but sees Jesus instead. That’s not approval; that’s deception. I can’t understand how anyone could possibly be encouraged by that. God doesn’t need our true selves to be hidden from His view to love us infinitely. His rage against the sin that oppresses us is part of that love. It’s true that Paul tells us to “put on Christ” and says that “in Christ we become the righteousness of God,” but Jesus isn’t a mask that we wear to cover ourselves up; He’s a body in which we become ourselves.

Popular penal substitution theology perverts Paul’s theology because it cannot recognize the sacramental character of the body of Christ from its modern individualist ontology. Jesus is not just our brother who stands in for us before God; He is also the one in whom “all things hold together.” So the substitution Christ provides is really one-to-many rather than one-to-one.

The phrase “in Christ” cannot be understood correctly without recognizing that Christ was already the source of our being as the one “in whom all things were created.” We are not truly ourselves outside of Christ; we are accidental constructions of our social context. It is only when we are “swallowed up” (2 Cor 5:4) by the life that Christ has provided for us that we gain the freedom to be what God has always seen in us. God doesn’t need to see a Jesus mask over our faces to approve us; His unconditional prior approval of us is the reason He sent His Word made flesh to empower us for holy living through our incorporation into His body.

3) Since God is infinite, He is infinitely offended by the slightest of our sins

The legacy of penal substitution theology can be traced to a book called Cur Deus Homo that was written by 11th century theologian Anselm to explain why Jesus needed to be both divine and human. Being from a medieval honor-based society, Anselm thought the primary problem resolved by the cross is the offense that sin inflicts on God’s honor as a king. This became the satisfaction theory of atonement which evolved into penal substitution. Anselm reasoned that because God is infinite, someone who is also infinite (Jesus) had to become fully human to pay the debt owed to God’s honor by humans. Hence the God-man.

When I read Cur Deus Homo, I noticed an interesting phrase that Anselm used to explain why it had to be this way. He says in several places, “It is fitting.” He doesn’t say for whom it is “fitting” that Jesus pays our debt to God. Does God need it to happen or do we? I think popular penal substitution theology conflates satisfying God’s honor with appeasing God’s anger. They are absolutely not the same thing. We need for God’s honor to be satisfied through Jesus’ blood because otherwise we would not be able to bear the shame of looking into His face.

It is not that God is infinitely unable to understand the moral complexity that is behind our sin. He sees all the mitigating circumstances; He sees the good that we tried to do even in situations where we were ultimately in the wrong. The problem is not that God is an infinitely sanctimonious doosh bag who needed His Son’s blood to get over His pickiness; then it would be a lot easier to make peace with the dishonor we have shown Him. The problem is that we will be convicted and sorrowed to the point of eternal torture to stand in the presence of perfect love and truth without the assurance of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. The peasants need the king’s honor to be satisfied; otherwise they live in terror; so the king Himself pays the price for their sin against Him.

4) God poured out His wrath on Jesus on the cross

The word wrath in Greek is οργή, the root for our word “orgy” in English. When you look at how this word is actually used in the Bible, it’s more mysterious than you might think. It’s not just a synonym for “anger.” Paul tells the Ephesians that they were “formerly by [their] nature children of wrath” (which the NIV theologically edits to say children deserving of wrath). To be a child of wrath according to Paul is to be owned by “the desires of our flesh and senses” (Eph 2:3). It has nothing to do with God being angry.

In Romans 1:18, Paul writes that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness.” If wrath were simply “anger,” we could expect Paul to elaborate on this statement by cataloguing a series of natural disasters with which God responded to punish humanity’s sin. Instead what we find is an account of the degeneration of humanity through the innate consequences of their sinful behavior. God “hands them over” to their lust, idolatry, etc, but He is not actively punitive independent of these innate consequences in His response to sin. This seems to suggest that God’s οργή is the proliferation of sin itself.

When I read these texts, I wonder if we ought to think of wrath as describing the poison that fills the air and curses the ground when God is dishonored rather than an emotion experienced by a God whom we probably shouldn’t presume to have the same kinds of emotions that we do. In any case, what happened on the cross is that God the Father did not prevent God the Son from being killed by the Jewish religious authorities. He let Him drink the cup of (His/our?) wrath which He came to Earth to drink. But this in no way means that the Father was the executioner of the Son for the sake of His own anger management. When we talk about the Father “pouring out His wrath” on His son, we make Him look like a drunken child abuser.

I cannot find anywhere in scripture that makes the Father the primary agent behind the crucifixion of His Son. The closest is the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52-53 in which we read that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him with pain” (53:10). First, I would contend that the Suffering Servant passage is primarily about Israel’s exile and only secondarily about Christ in His role as the recapitulation of His people’s destiny. The description of the Suffering Servant cannot be mapped completely onto Christ without compromising Christ’s divinity and the full unity of the divine will.

Secondly, in no place does Isaiah 52-53 describe the fulfillment of God’s wrath as the purpose of the Servant’s suffering. Isaiah 53:5 says, “Upon him was the punishment that made us whole; by his bruises we are healed.” In other words, the purpose of the Servant’s punishment is our wholeness and healing. It neither serves to fulfill God’s ego needs nor some primordial cosmic free market principle of retribution that God is obligated to follow.

We are children of wrath; we are born into a world that sweeps us into degenerative cycles of pain and guilt. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). I just don’t see the cross having anything to do with God’s anger though it absolutely does rescue us from the οργη that describes the innate consequences of rebelling against God’s plan for us as creatures.

I really think that these problems in popular penal substitution theology might be a reflection of what Christianity Today has called the “juvenilization” of American evangelical Christianity. When church becomes youth group for adults, explanations that speak on a teenage level become the norm for everybody. When I was a teenager, the purpose of being a Christian was to avoid punishment. I expected the rules to be arbitrary and incomprehensible. So it made sense to me to accept a savior who would rescue me from the clutches of the infinitely picky and thoroughly uncompromising High School Principal of the universe. That was the salvation I received when I asked Jesus back into my heart as a 16 year old (after I had already done believer’s baptism at age 8).

But I experienced the metanoia that is true repentance when God spoke to me in 1998 through a little girl selling dolls in the square of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. He told me I could never be a tourist again. That was when I gave my life to His kingdom. That was when my heart was filled with wrath against all the ways that the world dishonors a God whose image was reflected to me through a barefoot indigenous girl. I need God’s honor to be satisfied. I need the cross not only for the sake of my personal relationship with God but because I cannot live in a world where the crucified are not resurrected. Penal substitution is an important part of the rich mystery of the cross — just not in the oversimplified, canned version that has come to predominate our juvenilized evangelical church.

71 thoughts on “Four Cringe-worthy Claims of Popular Penal Substitution Theology

  1. Pingback: The film Elysium and the conquest of Canaan | Mercy not Sacrifice

  2. Pingback: Why the dream has been deferred | Mercy not Sacrifice

  3. There is no verse declaring that God poured out his wrath on Jesus. THERE. IS. NO. VERSE. DECLARING. THAT. GOD. POURED. OUT. HIS. WRATH. ON. JESUS! Why the hell did no pastor ever tell me that before?! I am in astonishment that this misappropriation of the Gospel has become “common knowledge.” Morgan, you have given me a real and true blessing tonight; my smile is ear to ear! 🙂

    • No verse. The suffering servant passage in Isaiah 53 is the closest. But it’s not necessarily completely about Jesus; it’s also about Israel as a whole. It says, “but it was his will to crush him” (53:10). This could be a reference to the Babylonian exile just as much as the cross. And It doesn’t necessarily mean “will” in an active sense. It simply means that something happened and God’s in charge so it must have been his will just like an ancient Israelite prophet would have called the Oklahoma tornado God’s will. The key is in the line about the suffering servant’s punishment (53:5) — its purpose is to “make us whole” not to satisfy God’s wrath. And if you hear people talking about a word called “propitiation” in Romans 3:25, which they use as “proof” that Christ’s
      atonement “appeases” God, that’s a bad translation of the Greek word ιλαστεριον which is the word for a specific part of the Arc of the Covenant, the mercy seat where the blood of the sacrificial animal was poured every Yom Kippur. Paul is laying out how Christ fulfills the old covenant forever through the cross.

  4. Pingback: Why Tony Jones (and other emergents) should read Amos Yong’s Pentecostal theology | Mercy not Sacrifice

  5. Pingback: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (salvation AS Pentecost) | Mercy not Sacrifice

  6. Pingback: Is Guantanamo Bay as far as the east is from the west? | Mercy not Sacrifice

  7. Pingback: How does a Wesleyan deal with predestination and election? | Mercy not Sacrifice

  8. Pingback: Why I clash with the gatekeepers | Mercy not Sacrifice

  9. Pingback: Canonical fidelity vs. empirical integrity (feminist theology and other challenges) | Mercy not Sacrifice

  10. Pingback: Happy New Year – a 2012 retrospective and 2013 foretaste | The Evangelical Liberal

  11. I’ve never run across Morgan’s description of the ransom view. The point is our bondage to the sin, and the mechanism of our release.
    It’s all of the above. All of the theories, even penal substitution, afford a glimpse into the depth of the mystery of the Cross.
    The hymnody is the best access. When I survey the Wondrous Cross; O Sacred Head; O for a Thousand Tongues.
    Debate eventually grieves the Spirit, and any possible understanding is lost.

        • What many people call “conservatism” today is really just 18th century classical liberalism. The only true conservatism is Orthodoxy. Evangelicalism is a pseudo-conservatism because it lacks any concept of tradition. Its Biblical inerrancy only makes sense as populism because it concerns the authority of the interpreter not the text.

          • I was referring to the protestant liberalism that reigned in most seminaries until very recently.
            You correctly see the weakness of some evangelical theologies brought about by relying on enlightenment categories (materialism, rationalism, individualism) to respond to modernity and protestant liberalism. Evangelicals may think they are conservative, but nothing could be further from the truth.
            If by orthodoxy you mean what the church has always and everywhere believed, taught and confessed based upon the word of God, then penal substitution must be retained as one helpful way to understand the work of Christ on the cross.

  12. Thanks Morgan for the best post I’ve ever read on penal substitution from a broadly evangelical perspective. I particularly love your first two points that ‘sin cannot tolerate the presence of God’ and that Christ’s is ‘a body in which we become ourselves’. Keep it coming!

    • I’ve been reading a book about the symposium you guys had over there in Britain a few years ago on penal substitution. I don’t think the defenders of penal substitution over there realize just how badly it is caricatured ubiquitously over here in America. They said things like “No responsible believer in penal substitution would believe…” and covered all four things I mentioned here. I think I’ve settled on ransom theory anyhow. God pays us the ransom of Christ’s blood to liberate us from the cycle of retribution.

        • I do not choose to become involved in this argument, for several reasons. Primarily, since Jesus never mentioned it, nor did any of the New Testament writers, it is totally irrelevant to any genuine New Testament faith. Secondly, by your failure to identify yourself, you have cast serious doubt upon your integrity. Thirdly, in my work, I concentrate upon what the New Testament DOES say, not upon idle speculation that is incorrectly represented as “Christian teaching”. Please remove my name from your mailing list.

          • “By your failure to identify yourself, you have cast serious doubt upon your integrity.” Who are you responding to? If you don’t want to receive my blog posts, you need to remove yourself. I don’t know how to remove people. There is a lot of “Christian teaching” out there that has no Biblical basis whatsoever and people think it’s “Biblical” because it makes God look harsh. If you’re interested in the ransom theory of atonement, it’s the first major interpretation of the cross that was made by Christians historically. Read about it here:

          • I’m not sure what to tell you Ruth. If you never signed up, you shouldn’t be receiving any emails. I don’t have the power to sign people up against their will. Every email that goes out has an unsubscribe option at the bottom. Happy New Year anyway.

          • I think you must have subscribed to the comments on this particular piece when you originally commented in July: “Hello, Morgan — This is Dan Martin’s mom. Your posting is good, although I think you give more credibility to the Calvinist propaganda than I am comfortable with. As a New Testament translator, I prefer to scrap the self-styled (and often arrogant) theologians altogether, and look at the source material. “What did JESUS say?” is ALWAYS a relevant question. And as you note, he said NOTHING about all that doctrinaire speculation.
            I truly believe that Jesus would resonate with your story about the little Mexican girl — and that point, as well as the likelihood that this WAS indeed a message from the Lord, would be strengthened by the realization that what is called “righteousness” by some and “justice” by others is actually the SAME WORD in Greek. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. The only “distinction” is ARTIFICIAL, the creation of people with an ax to grind. You might enjoy my word study on those terms on”

      • “Ransom” doesn’t mean kidnapper type ransom.

        I would say that the Ransom is righteousness and it’s used to fill up unrighteousness. So instead of, y’know, someone being paid off, you have a ransoming *from* death by filling up the hole, so to speak.

        What was it the good Samaritan did for the victim again? Filled up the wounds with oil, remember.

      • The ransom theory makes a fair bit of sense to me too. I can also see a place for penal substitution (though I prefer the word ‘identification’ to ‘substitution’). Overall though I see the cross as being about the willing self-sacrifice of Love, leading to the vindication and triumph of Love over evil, sin, hate, division – in other words over all that is not love. I’ve posted about this on my own blog The Evangelical Liberal, but I won’t link to it here! 🙂

        Unfortunately in UK conservative evangelicalism, penal substitutionary theory has become a touchstone of correct doctrine, and to question it almost automatically puts you out of the fold.

  13. Hello, Morgan — This is Dan Martin’s mom. Your posting is good, although I think you give more credibility to the Calvinist propaganda than I am comfortable with. As a New Testament translator, I prefer to scrap the self-styled (and often arrogant) theologians altogether, and look at the source material. “What did JESUS say?” is ALWAYS a relevant question. And as you note, he said NOTHING about all that doctrinaire speculation.
    I truly believe that Jesus would resonate with your story about the little Mexican girl — and that point, as well as the likelihood that this WAS indeed a message from the Lord, would be strengthened by the realization that what is called “righteousness” by some and “justice” by others is actually the SAME WORD in Greek. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. The only “distinction” is ARTIFICIAL, the creation of people with an ax to grind. You might enjoy my word study on those terms on

    • Oh yeah I know about dikaio and mishpat and tzedek and so forth. Justice is not merely retribution but God’s perfect discernment which is never absent of mercy or in tension with it but shaped by it. Thanks for your perspective. I’ll have a look at your page.

  14. Pingback: More thoughts contra Penal Substitution |

  15. Pingback: Charlotte Mason Volume I Part III:VI-VII « Becoming Three

  16. Pingback: Sometimes I use curse words when I pray. | Both/And.

  17. Enjoyed this very much Morgan. I too, of late have been sort of re-arranging my own personal beliefs about the Atonement. I agree, the PS theory needs to be jettisoned altogethor, both for exegetical reasons and the for the reasons stated above. In fact, it is Anselm’s Classical-Philosophical god of reason who is the one who demands a human “kill” in order to be propitiated and reconciled, not the God who is revealed in parables like the Prodigal Son (or better, “Father”). This is a God of total mysteriousness and majesty in his kenotic (self-emptying) character, revealed as it were in his Trinitarian faithfulness in bringing about his promises in historical concrete actions. We must begin with the God revealed in Jesus and work our way back to the invisible God, not deduce him from reason and then shroud the God revealed in Jesus to match our blinded idolatrous distortions.

    • I think we need to retain the notion of sacrifice whether that should be called “penal” or not. We need a place for our sin to get evaporated so we can be free. I’m not sure CV quite covers that, but maybe I haven’t studied it enough.

  18. Pingback: Four Cringe-worthy Claims of Popular Penal Substitution Theology | Dan's (Sur)f Log

  19. I’m no Academic, so I’m not gonna claim to fully understand Girard. I think his contributions to the conversation have been helpful, however, the whole premise of his work to me, seems to not really function in reality; we’re still scapegoating and demonizing people for our salvation. I haven’t heard of pueblo crucificado, but if there are connections with liberation theology, I definitely think that lens of the cross is one part of the truth. Personally I believe Jesus died showing us love and who God was and is. In the process of the crucifixion and resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death. Mysteriously, God’s work of redemption and reconciliation are intensely magnified and multiplied through these events.

    • Right. The idea that Christ somehow did away with scapegoats is nonsense but the recognition that sacrifice fulfills
      community’s need not God’s need is the insight I gained.

  20. Morgan,
    I absolutely love you taking the penal substitution claims head on! I personally believe the claims and the theology behind even the theory itself are of critical significance in distorting our image of God. While I appreciate the ways in which you sort of soften the blow and reframe the distortions of the atonement theory, I personally believe we need to abandon the theory all together. The only punishment that takes place through the cross, is that of the world punishing Christ, and I do not believe any substitution took place.

    • I do think the cross is a sacrifice that gains us a deliverance we don’t think we need. But we need a Girardian understanding of sacrifice to understand it. I also resonate with the account of cross as solidarity with the pueblo crucificado.

  21. When it says that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, doesn’t that mean he satisfies God’s wrath? (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17)

    • It means that God satisfies the dishonor we have shown him by paying the retribution for it himself through his word made flesh not because He needs to for his sake but because we need him to do so in order to have the assurance to stand before him without terror.

  22. Pingback: Four Cringe-worthy Claims of Popular Penal Substitution Theology | connexions

  23. Thanks for the post Morgan (I’m inspired to write a small bit by your Anselm discussion)!

    Just one clarification over a comment regarding Calvinists. I use to do the same, but now I’m starting to float in and around Reformed ideas. I’m not a party man nor would I be considered Reformed by some, but I would just be a bit more cautious in lumping all Reformed as the peculiarities of some of the American Evangelical expression. People like Michael Horton or Tim Keller are much more profound thinkers than the Furtick, Driscoll or even Piper (at times) method of talking about the atonement.

    I agree that Atonement was about making us clean to be able to live with God, not for God to be able to live with us dirty creatures. From beyond time itself God had foreordained to be amongst His people. In a poetic sense I can imagine the first response of Creation being ‘Immanuel’. The Dark fears the Light, not the other way around. We, like so many of the prophets, would beg for death but only in union with Messiah will we be able to see all of the glory of the Triune Lord.


    • Thanks for reading. Sorry if I was careless in my use of the Calvinist label. Tim Keller is solid. He makes a lot of sense to me.

  24. Pingback: Thoughts on Penal Substitution

  25. “he said that the reason God gives us His “approval” is because He doesn’t see us when He looks at us but sees Jesus instead. That’s not approval; that’s deception. I can’t understand how anyone could possibly be encouraged by that. God doesn’t need our true selves to be hidden from His view to love us infinitely. His rage against the sin that oppresses us is part of that love. It’s true that Paul tells us to “put on Christ” and says that “in Christ we become the righteousness of God,” but Jesus isn’t a mask that we wear to cover ourselves up; He’s a body in which we become ourselves.”

    Yes x1000! Well said, Morgan!

  26. Pingback: Four Cringe-worthy Claims about Penal Substitution | Dr. Platypus

  27. “I cannot find anywhere in scripture that makes the Father the primary agent in His Son’s crucifixion. The closest is Isaiah 53:4 which says…”

    Mr. Guyton,
    I wonder how/why your search did not lead you just 6 verses beyond this verse to Isaiah 53:10, which says, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him…”?

    Additionally, what did Christ’s death accomplish if not penal substitutionary atonement? In the same way the ram was provided by God the Father as a substitute for the death of Isaac, Christ has been provided as a Substitute for us. Our wretchedness imputed to Him on the cross, and His righteousness imputed to us.

    I understand you claim to hold to a “mysterious” (mitigated? it’s-a-hard-pill-to-swallow-so-i’ll-just-say-it’s-true-and-call-it-mysterious?) view of penal substitutionary atonement, but it seems to me (with humility) a bit too “easy” to just say it is a mystery…it seems you are implying further study of the doctrine is futile or…juvenile?

    On that topic, I worry about your condescension of those who hold to a not-so-mysterious view of the doctrine. It seems offensive (read: it WAS offensive to me) to say/overtly imply that those who hold to it are video game-loving testosterone-addicted “adult boys”. I doubt one would use similar language with a less-contentious doctrine (e.g. – “those artsy-fartsy twentysomething-teenagers who believe in a cut-and-dry version of the doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth ACTUALLY being the Son of God!”)

    Lastly, let me agree with you that there are MANY red flags surrounding the preaching and ministry of Steven Furtick. If the lashing out of this post is really directed at HIM, I can get on board at least slightly (because he embodies youth-group-church ideology), but the theology of the post is still the issue-at-hand.

    I hope my comments have not come across rude or juvenile. I only wish to humbly voice my confusion with your opinions!

    • I think my main point which I may have overstated or confused in how I articulated it is that Christ’s sacrifice fulfills OUR need for deliverance rather than some kind of ego need on the part of God. The way this is often talked about among the Calvinists makes God look like a petty, emotionally needy despot. I do not get the doctrine of imputed righteousness. I’ve seen it used very eisegetically. I don’t see it inherently following from the Biblical texts it cites such as 2 Cor 5:21. It seems like people start with their theology and then add scripture to it rather than starting from scripture. It also seems like more a legacy of the individualism of modernity than the ancient church.

    • The fact that the cross was part of God’s will doesn’t mean that we should talk about it as God the Father’s filicide rather than God the Son’s self-sacrifice. Plus the suffering servant passage is also about Israel in general whose exile was part of God’s providence.

    • “What did Christ’s death accomplish?” This is exactly the issue. What do you mean by “our wretchedness”? For sure, we are guilty. The judgment against those sins has been nailed to the courthouse door of the cosmos. Jesus death and resurrection stamped “IT IS FINISHED” in blood-red ink across that document, and it is cancelled, marked “paid in full.”

      The sin, however, in Christ null and void and of no effect, still has power. Those who love me bear the consequences (judgment) of my sin, to the fourth generation. Those offended by my sins are still entitled to recompense. The power of those effects exists independent from the legal judgment of guilt. This is why Charles Wesley sang “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free, His blood . . . ”

      Here is the wonder-working power of the blood of Jesus. The lamb is seated on the throne, but the cross stands outside of time, accomplishing its purposes.

      There is obviously much more to be said on the subject.

  28. The whole discussion about the Greek reminds me how much I need to learn still. How did orge come to mean “wrath” or “anger” I wonder if its roots are different than that.

  29. Morgan,

    I’m most intrigued by your interpretation of wrath (οργη) as perhaps a term used to indicate the almost viral proliferation of sin as “desire runs wild.” This may put a somewhat different spin on the idea of “the wrath to come”– or rather, the wrath ever on the verge of, or perhaps even now in the process of, being set loose, or even, one might say, coming or becoming unrestrained.

    An further implication in this– that fleeing ends up being all one can do in response to the coming wrath.

    I’ll want to ponder this further– and I hope you will, too.

    • The way I described it to my confirmands is that we are saved from the sea of wrath by making it onto the island of mercy that is the body of Christ.

  30. Morgan, this is one “badass” post. You just scored major theological points over the popular doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. I’m putting this up on UM Insight. Thanks for making the effort!

  31. Too much misandry. With regard to the notion that God sees Jesus when He looks at us, remember that while we are in Christ, Christ is also in us. Christ in us is the image which is our destiny. Phillip E. Hughes in TRUE IMAGE expands this theme brilliantly. I don’t have a problem with this idea. John Stott’s THE CROSS OF CHRIST presents the best argument for substitution. I have come to believe, however, that the “punishment” the Messiah endured is more the horror of evil (and the evil one) unleashed on a single innocent man. I quit reading evangelicals a while back, so I’m unfamiliar with the authors mentioned.

    The mischief penal substitution creates in evangelical theology is not that the Father’s unconditional love and mercy are diminished, but rather the emphasis on forensic soteriology distracts from the ontological reality bound up in the work of Christ. One has to turn to Eastern Orthodoxy to find the necessary balance.

    • Misandry? Are you referring to my adolescent male need to be snarky? I tried to dial it back in my last edit. What you said about seeing Christ in us because Christ is our destiny: exactly! Yeah the divide is how you articulated it: forensic vs. ontological.

      • Misandry probably doesn’t describe what I sense in your “snarkiness.” Evangelicaldom, as most protestantism, suffers from the modern “flight from woman” described by Karl Stern in his book by that title. It’s the enlightenment hyper- rationalism and reductionism that is symptomatic of the split between head and heart, sensation vs. intuition, masculine and feminine ways of knowing that occurred with modernity. You are correct in sensing testosterone going amis in evangelical theology.

        I share much of your criticism of the distortion of penal substitution in evangelical theology. However, after 30 years of having preachers sneer at “blood religion” because their seminary professors would slam their “strawberry jam” theology, I keep my dissatisfaction with substitution to myself. The theory does have the value of confronting us with an objective atonement. Thank God the liberals are aging out.

      • The objectivity of the atonement is bound up in the objectivity of grace. Something happens in baptism. The inward grace is real. It happens because God said it would.

        The various terms (justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification, glorification) we use to describe what the bible is telling us about the work of Jesus all point to a reality that exists in time and space, that is really real. After the fall, the flywheel of the universe was running backward, hurling the cosmos toward the abyss. Jesus put his shoulder to that momentum and set it spinning in the direction intended when God spoke us into existence.

        The objectivity of grace (the essence of which is atonement) is at the core of Wesley’s experience and the Wesleyan revival. Its realisation is at the core of Wesley’s legacy, and ought to be the engine that moves the Wesleymobile into the 21st century. It is best summed up in John Wesley’s correspondence, pre-Aldersgate, with John Law, beginning with his letter of May 14, 1738. I commend it.

        Jesus died a real death, shed real, precious blood, to accomplish a real atonement for the sin. His work does not depend upon, or require for its completion, any action from us, other than faith. We don’t have to suck it up and be like Jesus. For sure, we ought not be working for the “transformation of the world”– a cruel joke, in light of the disaster of GC2012.

        • I think I hear what you’re saying. The cross doesn’t just make me “feel” forgiven and healed. Sin has a real concrete presence in the universe that needed to be destroyed by the cross. In that sense, it is neither about God’s feelings nor ours. I hope it’s clear in all of this that my investment is in chiseling
          away the caricatures of God that result
          from inadequate explanations.

  32. Morgan, thank you for the invitation. This is a thoughtful response to a complex issue. I am not well up on the exact teaching of Driscoll, Piper, et al., on penal substitution.

    As I read, I find myself most questioning the basis for your assertions about the doctrine feeding on the immaturity of its adherents. That feels ad hominem to me. Of course, I’m not familiar with the arguments you are reacting to, so perhaps I’m wrong.

    As for the four things you highlight, I do find “God does not see us, he sees Jesus” the hardest to trace to Scripture.

    This post deserves a longer and more thoughtful reply, but this is all I have time for at the moment. Peace be with you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s