Penal-Substitutionary Atonement

My background has always explained the efficacy of Christ through the atonement. The way this has been communicated has been through penal-substitution (PS) which is an image that uses a judiciary setting. I have never had issues reconciling God’s holy wrath with His Son dying on the cross for the sins of the world. However, I find more and more that here at FPU this image is rejected and deplored. Some have even referred to it as “divine child abuse”.

Troubled with the animosity I felt surrounding PS atonement; I took time to meet with professors and instructors. What was explained to me was that the atonement has many lenses through which to understand it. PS is simply one lens among many. Some people want to totally do away with it, and others want to not emphasis it so much & use it as one in a variety of ways to explain the atonement.

I am more open now to there being multiple ways of explaining the atonement. For example, there can be 6 witnesses to a car wreck who see the same things happening. However, when the officer takes all their accounts not one of their accounts will be identical to the other. This morning I remembered a woodblock art piece which is an “Ukiyo-e print illustration from Buddhist parable showing blind monks examining an elephant. Each man reaches a different conclusion based on which part of the elephant he has examined.” (LOC)



“Blind monks examining an elephant” by Itcho Hanabusa.


Even with this in mind, I am concerned about the loss of the PS lens. Because what if people have a particular slant towards or away from a lens, we cannot alter the facts which the Word of God presents to us. We cannot forsake one pericope for another because it fits more with our personal beliefs.

I am not listing these scriptures in support of PS to be used to deny other lenses, but to be used to express the PS lens in particular.

Isaiah 53

John 3:16-17

Romans 5:11-17

2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 21

Galatians 2:20, 3:13-14a

1 Peter 3:18

1 John 4:8-10

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6 Responses to Penal-Substitutionary Atonement

  1. Keep in mind that some who want to “do away with” the Penal Substitution lens still keep a substitutionary lens among their lenses. Have you been able to distinguish the different between penal substitution & other articulations of a substitionary atonement?

  2. Keep in mind that some who want to “do away with” the Penal Substitution lens still keep a substitutionary lens among their lenses. Have you been able to distinguish the different between penal substitution & other articulations of a substitionary atonement?

  3. Kyle says:

    If we get rid of PS and keep a different lens of substitution, does that nix God’s wrath as if it does not exist? What sort of substitution theories are there?

  4. Kyle says:

    If we get rid of PS and keep a different lens of substitution, does that nix God’s wrath as if it does not exist? What sort of substitution theories are there?

  5. I’d definitely say that there must be room in good atonement theology for God’s wrath… hmmm… but all do not agree on what “wrath” means. What do you mean when you say “God’s wrath?” And how has that idea been developed for you?

  6. I’d definitely say that there must be room in good atonement theology for God’s wrath… hmmm… but all do not agree on what “wrath” means. What do you mean when you say “God’s wrath?” And how has that idea been developed for you?

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