R.C. Sproul: One image, one aspect, of the atonement has receded in our day almost into obscurity. We have been made aware of present-day attempts to preach a more gentle and kind gospel. In our effort to communicate the work of Christ more kindly we flee from any mention of a curse inflicted by God upon his Son. We shrink in horror from the words of the prophet Isaiah (chap. 53) that describe the ministry of the suffering servant of Israel and tells us that it pleased the Lord to bruise him. Can you take that in? Somehow the Father took pleasure in bruising the Son when he set before him that awful cup of divine wrath. How could the Father be pleased by bruising his Son were it not for his eternal purpose through that bruising to restore us as his children? But there is the curse motif that seems utterly foreign to us, particularly in this time in history.
By Michael Lawrence: For centuries, the church has affirmed that penal substitutionary atonement stood at the heart of the gospel. Yes, the cross also demonstrates the love of God, his hatred of sin, and his commitment to ransom his people. But behind all of these ideas stands the logic of the cross, in which an innocent substitute is offered in place of the guilty, bearing both their guilt and shame, suffering their punishment and rejection, and so securing their forgiveness and acceptance by God. But lately, penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) has fallen on hard times. It’s come under fire as a cold, dry theological construct, inspired more by Western legal concepts than the biblical God of love. It’s been rejected as a monstrous distortion of the Father as a cosmic child abuser. And it’s been crowded out by more appealing stories of the cross as our ransom or our model of sacrificial love. These critiques have a lot of emotional power.
Jared Wilson: Like many others, I have been moved over the last several years to repeatedly reassert the biblical emphasis on Christ’s propitiating work on the cross in what is typically called the “penal substitution” view of the atonement—for instance, devoting an entire chapter to it as the “sharp edge of the atonement” in my book Gospel Deeps and another whole chapter defending it from recent critiques in a forthcoming book (2020) with Thomas Nelson. But penal substitution is of course not the whole of the atonement. The gospel is more multifaceted than that, and one of the least considered facets is Christ as our ransom. Psalm 49 establishes a dilemma of direst condition: Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice . . . (49:7-8) The condition of man since the fall is one of bondage to sin and corruption from death. Having
Jonathan Griffiths: It is one thing to accept that a doctrine is true; it is quite another for it to shape the life and ministry of the church. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) is a controversial doctrine in some circles. But those of us who affirm that it is a truly biblical doctrine need to grapple carefully with how it should shape and inform our ministry. The purpose of this brief article is to argue that PSA should be at the heart of our proclamation of the gospel—at the heart of our regular preaching of the word of God. There are important reasons for this both at the level of theological integrity and at the level of pastoral practicality. Theological reasons for the centrality of PSA in preaching Preaching that is biblical in the truest sense must be sensitive to the wider storyline of Scripture and properly contextualized within biblical theology, consciously shaped by certain key biblical-theological truths.
Nicolas T. Batzig: The Scriptures give us a robust revelation about all that Jesus accomplished on the cross. As we go about seeking to categorize all of the various dimensions of the cross, we discover that there are both vertical and horizontal dimensions to Jesus’ work. The vertical dimensions are foundational; the horizontal are consequential. The vertical dimensions include Jesus’ defeat of Satan (Gen. 3:15; John 12:31; Col. 2:15), His propitiating the wrath of God (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:7; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), His atoning for our sin (Heb. 1:3; Rom. 4:7–8), His breaking the power of sin (Rom. 6:9–14), His securing the new heavens and new earth (Heb. 2:5–11), and His overcoming the world (John 12:31; 16:33). The horizontal dimensions include His becoming the example of self-sacrificial living (Rom. 15:2–3; 1 Peter 2:21) and His reconciling men to one another, thereby making peace for those who formerly lived in hostility with one another (Eph. 2:14). When men pervert or deny the biblical teaching concerning the vertical nature of the
Michael Morales: Atonement—that is, reconciliation between God the Creator and sinful humanity—is at the heart of the Pentateuch’s theology. Indeed, the Day of Atonement is found at the literary center of the Pentateuch’s central book, Leviticus 16. Simply called “the Day” by ancient Jews, the Day of Atonement is dubbed a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” in Scripture (Lev. 16:31), a day of solemn convocation where all members of Israel were called to participate both by ceasing from labor and by “afflicting [their] souls” (Lev. 16:29)—understood as the one annual day of fasting mandated by the LORD. Failure to observe this Day would result in being “cut off” from among God’s people and being “destroyed” by the LORD, a sobering threat meant to underscore the gravity of the liturgy (Lev. 23:26-32). The ritual drama performed by the high priest, along with the severe warnings against neglecting this convocation, served to catechize Israel about the dire need for cleansing and the forgiveness of sins.
John MacArthur: A Shocking Truth The reality of Christ’s vicarious, substitutionary death on our behalf is the heart of the gospel according to God—the central theme of Isaiah 53. We must remember, however, that sin did not kill Jesus; God did. The suffering servant’s death was nothing less than a punishment administered by God for sins others had committed. That is what we mean when we speak of penal substitutionary atonement. Again, if the idea seems shocking and disturbing, it is meant to be. Unless you recoil from the thought, you probably haven’t grasped it yet. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). This is one of the major reasons the gospel is a stumbling block to Jews, and it’s sheer foolishness as far as Gentiles are concerned (1 Cor. 1:23). “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, [the message of Christ crucified embodies both] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v.
Sam Storms: Heresy abounds. It always has and always will, until such time as Jesus returns and exposes the misguided theological fabrications of men and women and vindicates the truth of his Word. In our day, there are many heretical and deviant notions circulating within the professing evangelical church. But I am persuaded that the most serious and severe departure from biblical faith in our day is the repudiation of the truth of penal substitutionary atonement (together with the wicked, childish, inexcusable, or as J. I. Packer has put it, “the smarty-pants” caricature of penal substitution as “cosmic child abuse”). There is much that could be said about this, but today I restrict my comments to the declaration of Revelation 1:5b where John predicates of Jesus Christ “glory and dominion forever and ever.” And what is the ground for this doxology? Why is Jesus deserving of such praise? It is because, among other things, he “loves us and has freed
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.—Galatians 3:13 David Mathis: Great hymns have the ability to unite the family of God, throughout history and around the world, in the truths about God that matter most. But when voices from within the church begin to question or deny what the church holds most dear, great hymns become flashpoints of controversy. Such is the case with “In Christ Alone.” Some say they find it offensive enough to change one uncomfortable line, or abandon the song altogether. But I want you to see that the original line is deeply biblical and profoundly good news. The second verse says, Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied Some find this line so troubling they have changed it to “the love of God was magnified.” Love Magnified It’s certainly true that the love of God was magnified at the cross. Romans 5:8 says,
This is an excerpt from Donald MacLeod’s new book Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP Academic) We need a doctrine of the cross that faces up realistically to the enormity of the Father’s involvement at Calvary. Why did God do this—have to do this—to his Son? And what of the more specific claim that the cross is an example of “child abuse” (the adjective “cosmic” is quite redundant here, since it was not the cosmos, but God the Father, who was allegedly guilty of abuse). The charge is completely inept, because it isolates the story of the crucifixion from the total New Testament witness to Jesus. It ignores, for example, the fact that for most of his life Jesus enjoyed the love, protection, and encouragement of his heavenly Father. This is why he was able to live a life free from anxiety, confident that he was never alone (John 8:16) but that God was always within earshot; and this is why, too, he could say it was
Michael Lawrence: Penal substitution does not turn God into a cosmic child abuser. It does not reduce Christ to the passive victim of some divine injustice. It does not put the Trinity against itself. No, in the God-forsakenness of Christ on the cross, the love of God and the justice of God are revealed on our behalf. United in purpose, Father and Son act in concert to save God’s people. The sinless Son of God bears our sin, and then God pours out the wrath that our sin deserves, and Jesus the Son endures it so that we, who deserve the wrath, might never encounter it. This is the gospel, the good news of the cross, and it calls is to forsake our sin, to turn away from it and embrace Christ, the forsaken one, so that we may not be forsaken. Christian, what sin are you cherishing these days that you should not be? What sin do you feel
Sam Storms: In the on-going debate about the nature of Christ’s atoning death, some have insisted that penal substitution is only one model among many others. My contention has always been that it is more than one of many models and is in fact the central and controlling foundation for everything the atonement accomplished on behalf of sinners. Without it, there is no gospel and there is no salvation. I was pleased to come across this statement by J. I. Packer in which he affirms precisely the same point. Packer proceeds to explain how penal substitution theologically explains everything else regarding the saving efficacy of Christ’s death. Note the following sequence. “What did Christ’s death accomplish? It redeemed us to God – purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Tit 2:14; Rev 5:9). How did it do that? By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:11-15). How did that sacrifice
Jonathan Leeman: The “penal” in the doctrine of penal substitution, being tied to God’s wrath, has long been a source of controversy inside the church and out. It’s criticized as overly “legal” or “forensic.” People want to look to the cross and talk about Christ’s love, not his enduring the divine penalty. But it’s worth stopping for a moment and meditating on what is behind a penalty. What is behind wrath? The answer is God’s worthiness or God’s worth. God’s wrath is equal to God’s worth, and that the “penal” in penal substitution therefore reveals this very worth. Wrath and worth are perfectly matched together. The former takes the measure of the latter and expresses itself accordingly. One is as precious as the other. So drop the “penal” from penal substitution and you diminish God dramatically. Despise his wrath and you despise his worth. To see this, it’s worth meditating for a moment on what the purpose of law is. The Reformers talked about the
Justin Taylor posts: Below is a panel hosted by Ligonier at the 2013 PCA General Assembly, with Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Ligon Duncan, Richard Pratt, and R.C. Sproul, moderated by Steve Nichols. They talk through the following: What is the biggest theological battle today and for the next generation? (00:00:00) What advice would you give to the next generation of pastors, especially church planters, as they try to address contextualization, Christology, and similar issues? (00:08:30) What might we learn from history about the parallel rising of Christianity and Islam? (00:11:35) What role does Christology play as we see the needs of the global church? (00:16:00) How do we guard against the various distortions when it comes to the person of Jesus? (00:22:40) Discussion on the work of Christ pertaining to justification and imputation. (00:30:45) The panel shares thoughts on substitutionary atonement, and how it is going to be an issue in the next generation. (00:41:52) Is the church in danger
Sam Storms: One often hears that penal substitution is merely one model or theory of the atonement and thus should not be elevated as central to defining the way in which we are saved and reconciled to God. One author appeals to an analogy with golf. Just as Phil Mickelson, for example, would never think of playing in the U.S. Open with only a putter or a nine-iron, neither should we portray the saving work of Christ as if penal substitution were all there is to his sacrifice on the cross. Depending on where one is on the course (whether on the tee box, in the fairway, behind a tree in the rough, or in a sand trap), one selects the most appropriate club to advance the ball toward the green and ultimately into the hole. Likewise, depending on the circumstances, the personality of the individual to whom we are witnessing, their needs, the cultural influences to which they are
Kevin DeYoung: Many Christians do not really grasp why God has forgiven us of our sins. It’s not as if God the Father woke up one morning and was having a great day, just feeling terrific about being the Sovereign of the universe, then decided on a whim to have mercy on his elect and look past their iniquities. God did not save us because the loving part of him finally out balanced the justice part of him. We must not picture God up in heaven muttering: “You know your sin? And all your rebellion and failures and disobedience? You remember all that? Well fuhgettaboutit. It don’t bother me. I love youse guys and I ain’t gonna mention your sin no more.” Without giving it much thought, many of us picture the atonement as nothing but undeserved mercy from a loving God. We forget that the mercy we receive is a mercy merited on the cross. God has not saved
“God takes action in Christ against sin, death, and the devil. The doctrine of justification is not about the workings of impersonal law in the universe, or about manipulating its outcomes, but it is about God. The moral law is simply the reflection of the character of God, and when God acts to address the outcomes of the broken moral law, he addresses these himself, himself taking the burden of his own wrath, himself absorbing in the person of Christ the judgment his righteous character cannot but demand, himself providing what no sinner can give, himself absorbing the punishment no sinner can bear and live.” — David F. Wells The Courage to Be Protestant (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2008), 201 (HT: Of First Importance)
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Christ’s meaning in this request is, “Father, if it be thy will, excuse me from this dreadful wrath; my soul is amazed at it. Is there no way to shun it?” What! did he now repent of his engagement? Does he now wish to be disengaged, and that he had never undertaken such a work? No, no, Christ never repented of his engagement to the Father, never was willing to let the burden lie on us, rather than on himself; there was not such a thought in his holy and faithful heart. As man he feared and shunned death; but as God-man he willingly submitted to it. There was nothing of sin in it, it being a pure and sinless affection of nature. There was much good in it, and that both as it was a part of his satisfaction for our sin,
Four voices. Only one of them resembles the tone and accent of the Master. Faustus Socinus (1578) As we saw elsewhere Paul likewise instructs us to be imitators of God: just as he forgave our sins through Christ, we should forgive each other, but if God so forgave our sins through Christ, that he yet demanded the punishment of them from Christ itself, what prevents us from seeking satisfaction for ourselves for the offenses of our neighbours? Brian McLaren (2006) The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the
We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its centre the principle of ‘satisfaction through substitution’, indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution. The cross was not: a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator. Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The theological words ‘satisfaction’