Finished up Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach today. Between being sick and adopting, I went slowly.
I covered the first main section of the book in a previous post. The rest of the book focused on the objections that are being raised to penal substitution (Jesus suffered God’s wrath in our place). It spelled them out, including various variations on a theme, and then responded to them. Some were very easy to respond to- all you do is essentially point to the biblical data in an earlier chapter to show they objection has no merit in fact. Some show gross misunderstandings or they are only concerned with setting up strawmen. Some were much more difficult. Here is some of the main objections, and answers.
Penal Substition is not the only model of the atonement. I can’t ever remember reading a book that said it was. The atonement is far more rich, and has many aspects (like a diamond in A.A. Hodges’ words). But penal substitution is essential to any biblical and meaningful explanation of the atonement.
Penal substitution diminishes the significane of Jesus’ life and resurrection. Jesus entire life was part of his atoning work. His perfect obedience was essential to his saving work. His resurrection is also essential to his saving work, not just an add on. It declares that he is the Son of God, and we were raised up in union with him. He now enjoys the power of everlasting life so he lives forever to intercede for us. Apart from his substitionary death, he could not rise as the firstfruit of the recreation.
Penal substitution is not taught in the Bible. Okay, return to the chapter tracing penal substitution throughout the Scriptures. Similar to this is penal substitution is a product of human culture, not biblical teaching, & penal substitution rests on unbiblical ideas of sacrifice.
The violence involved in penal substitution amounts to “cosmic child abuse”. This neglects the biblical data that the Son willingly laid down his life. And it was a just penalty. Child abuse involves unwilling victims who are unjustly or excessively disciplined.
The retributive violence involved in penal substitution contradicts Jesus’ message of peace and love. This involves some bad exegesis, taking matters out of context. We do not imitate God in all he does, but there are some perogatives that are his alone. For instance, the reason we are told not to take vengeance in Romans 12 is that God himself vows to repay- justly.
By far the biggest challenge were those regarding justice, seeking to discount retributive justice in favor of deterrent and corrective justice. This chapter looks at this exhaustively, building a solid case that all 3 are found in Scripture but that retributive justice is necessary to preserve that justice be served to the guilty, proportionally and equitably. It was a great chapter dealing with a difficult subject. One of the moves made by those who oppose penal substitition on these grounds is to shift to neo-nomianism. This means God established a new law- faith. We are condemned for unbelief and enjoy eternal life on the basis of our faith. Since all of us are guilty of unbelief, we need something to atone for it, but this theory lacks any atonement so we remain condemned. Faith is not a meritorious act.
Some criticisms involve the trinity. They claim it forces unnecessary division within the trinity. The authors do a great job explaining both the unity and distinctiveness of the members of the Godhead. You see from Scripture how they act distinctly, yet their wills are united in purpose. There is no division to be found, it is imaginary.
Another great service they did was to discuss our union with Christ as essential to understanding the substitutionary atonement. By virtue of this spiritual union, all that happened to Him happened to us (Galatians 2:20). We died when He died. We rose when He rose. This also ties in with federal theology, or covenant headship, (Romans 5). We all fell in Adam, who was our covenant head. Paul argues that this is the way people are saved, if Jesus, the second Adam, is their covenant head by faith. He acted for us and we benefit from his obedience (just as we suffered from Adam’s disobedience).
All in all this was a very good book. It even included some caution for preacher, so we can be careful in our illustrations so we don’t contribute to misunderstandings of the atonement. It is a book that needs to be read by those who argue for or against penal substitution. If opponents are honest, they should find their criticisms to have no merit. Advocates of penal substitution will find many good reasons to uphold their views in the face of such criticisms. This was a much needed, and well done addition to the defense of the faith once delivered to the saints.