The Atonement Debate

Penal Substitutionary Atonement: the theory that states that God sent His son to serve as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins and that Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. Jesus is portrayed as pure lamb going to be sacrificed, just like in the Jewish tradition, except it is a once and for all atonement.

Those against it need to consult Scripture, especially Hebrews. We should not treat this theory as an enemy, but learn to understand it in light of covenant history in the Bible. We should read that Jesus is not simply making a God who is always angry happy by killing himself. Jesus did the will of God in this matter but it was a desire to save and not the desire to destroy that drove this action. Also, Jesus is not just taking on sin, but is providing covenant according to Jewish tradition. In this way he is not simply once and for all atonement, but is creating a once and for all covenant with humanity.

Those who are against all other theories might not understand the other theories and need to consult scripture, especially Romans. Take a closer look at it and see Christ as a rescuer more than one who simply takes punishment. He is a great liberator who defeats death and fear. Romans is not really that strong in substitutionary atonement theory. It uses more warrior metaphor and sounds something like the description of a Roman emperor freeing a people and bringing blessings to the people he recently conquered. It is a contrast to worldly rulers and paints a picture of Christ as a Messianic ruler who came to conquer the world and liberate humanity from death and sin so that they could live out their God-given purpose.

Instead of having one or the other, we need balanced view that includes all biblical models. The definition of the theories needs to be clarified according to the narrative of the Bible. It is important that God sent His son out of His love for us (John 3:16). Without that, we would have no hope of resurrection or complete relationship. As for the wrath part, a walk through much of the Old Testament use of the wrath or punishment of God is very temporary. This is due to the fact that this wrath is not so much a stative, emotional descriptor of God’s view of us as much as it is an experiential reflection on the human experience of God. When one rebels against God, it does not go well for them. It is true that God punishes, yet his punishment is always an attempt to bring those opposing Him to a deeper understanding of the way that God loves. One of the ways he does that is rescue which always follows punishment. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament could not say anything about the punishment of God without following it with the rescue of God. God always promises rescue to those who will turn to Him. This does not sound like a God who is perpetually angry with humanity and that Jesus needs to appease Him by dying. That view creates too much dichotomy between the Father and the Son and will logically lead to heresy. The best view is that God and Jesus share the same love and the same mission, which is rescue. Anger is not the high attribute of God, love and sovereignty is. Whether you are a neo-calvinist in the likes of John Piper or Mark Driscoll, or your more open like the minds of Greg Boyd and Joel B. Green, we must replace the thought that God hates in a purely emotional sense, which comes from modern definitions of emotionalism. The Biblical idea is that God hates rebellion. God, however, loves everyone, or else the Bible would have been more explicit on some receiving the revelation and others having it completely hidden from them on purpose due to the separation of the mission of God the Father and God the Son, which seems a mix of pure Augustinianism and Gnosticism, both of which have been rejected by the Church.

So let’s find a good and balanced view of atonement that reaches into the Scriptures and offers something pure and beautiful for the world, the way that God meant it to be.

How do you see God? Is He always angry or does he primarily love us? Is He out to punish us or give us new life? Are you finding reasons to be afraid of Him or stand in awe before Him?

*A good read that furthers this view is Ezekiel 18. In that chapter we see that God takes no joy in letting the wicked die. Contrary to people like John Piper, it also means He does not consider it a glorifying event either.