On the cross of Calvary, God poured out his wrath on Christ, in the place of sinners.
Do you think that such a notion is a "twisted version of events," or "morally dubious," or a "huge barrier to faith"?
Do you think that the doctrine of penal substitution, God punishing Christ in our place, is a form of "cosmic child abuse"?
Did you know that there is an ongoing debate among some in the evangelical camp who are embarrassed and even hate the truth claim that Jesus' death was a divine wrath-bearing event?
A brand new book by Zondervan brings forth part of this discussion, focusing on the controversy as it appeared in the UK in the Evangelical Alliance. The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement is a collection of papers from a symposium held by the Evangelical Alliance and the London School of Theology.
The undermining of penal substitution is not new. Attacks and redefinitions of this core doctrine have been around for ages. However, in recent times, it was the book The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalk that sought to take away the doctrine of propitiation while at the same time claiming a place at the evangelical table.
The Atonement Debate is a response to Chalke and others within the EA. It is long (360 pages), substantial, and contains chapters by numerous authors, including Chalke himself. Sections include "Biblical Foundations," "Theological Contributions," "Historical Perspectives," and "Contemporary Perspectives." In other words, biblical, systematic, historical, and contemporary apologetic angles are all addressed in this book.
Make no mistake, mixing up and altering the doctrine of the atonement is an offense against the gospel itself. This is a doctrine of first-order importance. The Bible is clear that sins must be atoned for, and it is equally clear that we cannot make that atonement for ourself. Only a sinless savior can become the "curse" for sinners. Only Christ's atonement can fulfill the work of both substitution and satisfaction. He substituted himself on behalf of sinners. He satisfied the demand of divine punishment (wrath, propitiation). And all that was done by Christ in suffering for us was done as a work of Trinitarian harmony.
Pastors, we must especially deepen our understanding of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, as well as the historical and contemporary attacks on it. This will involve diligent study and hard work. But the reward is found in knowing and defending and preaching a gospel that truly leads to life and salvation.