Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Penal Substitution

I have been wrestling, and will always wrestle, with models of atonement.  The cross is a mystery whereby we will never know fully what happened there.  The problem with each model of atonement is that one of them on their own or combined can ever say enough.  However,  I am as sure today as I have ever been, that penal substitution needs to be rejected completely as a model of atonement, for not only does it say too little, but it seems to me that it is not true to scripture.

If I got caught speeding and was fined £60, but my mum said she would pay it, and did, my penalty would be paid.  If however I was then summoned to the court where the Judge ordered me to pay another £60, although the penalty had been paid, something would be wrong. Justice would not have been done.  

If Jesus' death paid the penalty of sin for all of humanity, how then can God deny us an eternity with him, regardless of what we believe?  A penalty no longer exists because Jesus has paid it, therefore we do not have to do anything and can enjoy the benefits by walking free without a penalty hanging over our heads.  If we view the cross as a penalty paid, then universalism can be our only outcome, unless...

Jesus died for only the elect, in other words, a limited atonement.  Only those who God chose before the foundation of the world, whose names are in the book of life did Jesus die for.  The penalty has been paid for them, no-one else.  They are safe with God, everyone else faces eternity without God and there is nothing anyone can do about it...

I cannot hold to either of these views, yet if you believe in the cross as penalty, then I believe you can only hold to one of them, for there is no middle ground.  Furthermore, we no longer need to evangelize!  There is no need because its all sorted already!  

It begs the question however, 'what kind of God' do we believe in if either of these views are held?  A God who, regardless of whether we love him or not, continue to sin, worship idols etc etc, ignores it all.  Or a God who is arbitrary and without reason chooses some and rejects others.  This God is not, in my opinion, the Christian God revealed in Christ.  

Furthermore, substitution suggests I do not participate in what Christ has done at the cross.  If I am playing football and am substituted, I am no longer involved in the game, I am not a part of it.  But, if Christ represented me at the cross, I am a part of what happened, I join in with what Christ has done.  

Penal substitution seems utterly flawed and, if you really take scripture seriously, cannot be a doctrine that the Church embraces.  Where in scripture can PS be supported?  Isaiah 53 where 'punishment' is mentioned could better be translated 'chastised'.  Where else is there in scripture that PS can be supported?  Nowhere I believe.  I'm sure some will cry heresy at this!  Some may even doubt my place as a Christian, but to be honest, I don't care.  

I believe in Christianity like I believe that the sun rises and the sun sets!  That is why I reject PS because I don't believe it is a Christian doctrine.