My last few posts on Penal Substitutionary Atonement have, not surprisingly, ruffled a few feathers.
You may have gathered it’s something I feel very strongly about, and I wanted to properly convey this in my language (I think I succeeded). This has provoked some extreme reactions – some very positive, some very negative.
So to anyone who feels put off, confused or offended, I want to offer two very brief points of explanation.
1. God “loves the sinner, hates the sin”
All my ramblings on Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) can be boiled down to my passionate belief in this one statement.
I believe that PSA, a 500-year-old theory that has become for the majority of evangelical Christians the only explanation of the Gospel, ultimately disagrees with this.
It says that God needs to punish people for not living up to his standards.
And even if he desires for us to believe in Jesus so that we can be saved, it is still God who then punishes people for not believing the right things.
I can see no way that this understanding can fit with the concept of a loving, gracious God, or how it could ever, ever be seen as ‘Good News’.
It just doesn’t make sense.
But before we throw any babies out with the bathwater, here’s what I do believe:
- When Jesus died on the cross, part of God died.
- God made the ultimate sacrifice in order to set us free.
- On the cross, God broke the power of sin, darkness and death.
- When Jesus rose from the dead, God was announcing the beginning of Heaven coming to Earth. The Kingdom of God which we can get glimpses of now, and one day will see in full.
- Jesus paid the price for us, if you want to use that language, but it wasn’t God demanding the payment.
2. You may not be my target audience
If you don’t like the things I’m saying, you are probably a Christian who is very happy and certain about how things are. You have a strong faith and don’t appreciate having people like me prodding and poking around, trying to weaken it.
I totally get how that feels, and I can assure you, I am not trying to destroy your faith. If that’s you, then feel free to ignore me – you are not the reason I’m writing.
I had a message last week from a friend who said that penal substitution (‘cosmic child abuse’ as she put it) was the reason she lost her faith. It just didn’t add up for her, and she didn’t know there was a different way of being a Christian. She said that reading my blog is the only thing that has made her think about being a Christian again.
THAT’S the reason I’m writing.
For the countless people inside and outside church who have rejected the whole of Christianity, or are on the brink of losing their faith because they have never been told that there are other, better ways of understanding this stuff.