As you might have guessed from the articles, I am predisposed to disagree with Penal Substitution. Lets face it, its yucky. But I also wanted to be true to Scripture and not just arrive at a view of God reflective of what I think is "nice" as tempting as that may be.
I have found lots of Scriptures that speak of the cross in substitutionary terms, and in terms of not just its love, but also of its scandal, blood, and wretchedness. I'd therefore like to introduce two concepts:penal substitution
and vicarious suffering
. The former is I think unbiblical, the later the core of the Atonement. Lets examine both:
They both consist of two elementsPenal Substitution
means basically "punishment (penal) instead of (substitution). Vicarious Suffering
is different in that it is vicarious ("for us") and one could even say in light of the incarnation "as us" (God becomes human and enters into all of that including sin) but it is not "instead of us". On the contrary, Jesus says "anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me" and Peter and Paul both tell us that we will suffer as we follow. So the first contrast is substitution/vicarious
. Jesus died for us, with us, even as us. Not instead of
us. In fact his death calls us to come and die with
Secondly there is the contrast of penal/suffering. There is a penal aspect to verses like Isaiah 53 for instance, but it is not only about Christ bearing our punishment, he also bears our sickness and sorrow. Because of this the suffering takes on more of a solidarity as God suffers with us bearing our sin sorrow and sickness. Rather than the sin bearing having the purpose of appeasing wrath, it both removes wrath and at the same time condemns wrath and the law and judgment in so far as these good things through sin have come to "lead us to death" and enslave as Paul says in Romans. Again, there is a penal element to the suffering of Christ but it is only one part of the whole picture of God bearing our injustice, abuse, pride, helplessness, doubt, hypocrisy, and hopelessness so that nothing would separate us from him and from Life. On top of that the cross and its conflicts of showing justice in its injustice or God's glory in humilation (what Luther called "God's revelation hidden in its opposite) entails a major critique of the fallenness of both us AND our systems, authorities, laws, and rules.
So rather than simply throwing out the ideas of "penal substitution
" throughout Scripture, I propose that we think them as "vicarious suffering
". I have found that this model makes much more sense and leads to a much deeper insight into the cross that is in keeping with the heart, actions, and teaching of Jesus.
Labels: Penal Substitution