Penal Substitutionary Atonement

So someone on another forum has a thread attacking C. S. Lewis and stating that he wasn’t a Christian. One of their main arguments is that he didn’t agree with the (Calvinist) doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. I also recently used a George MacDonald quote in an essay and looked him up to make sure his theology was ok. (I’m always careful not to quote heretics and agree with what they said for the whole essay, lol.) I was fine with MacDonald’s theology, but one thing the website mentioned is that he didn’t agree with the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.

I know what the idea is… that Christ took our punishment for us, because God had to punish someone for out sins. I grew up hearing the idea, actually. It is accepted as fact by the local Baptists and Lutherans, I never thought that was looking at the atonement in the wrong light… (You can read more here: theopedia.com/Penal_subst…nary_atonement ) I am curious, do you agree with this theory? Does the Catholic church agree with this theory? Why or why not? If not, what other theory does the Church hold? And how much does that even matter…

Thanks and God bless you,
Grace

The Church vehemently denies this idea. The Catholic understanding of the atonement is not that the Father poured out our due punishment upon Christ as a penal substitute, but rather that Christ’s infinite love that he poured out for is in His Sacrifice on the Cross “paid” or “outweighed” our sins. You can read more here:
calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/catholic-and-reformed-conceptions-of-the-atonement/

PS. Congratulations for being “almost Catholic”! :thumbsup:

I don’t know about your local Lutherans, but for Lutheranism, well, take a look.

weedon.blogspot.com/2009/02/on-atonement.html

Jon

Grace,

That’s a pretty good summary of what penal substitution asserts. I think there’s a serious problem with this approach, though: it says that God isn’t all-powerful. That is, it says that God is held hostage to his justice – that he has to punish someone for our sins – and that he’s powerless to exert His mercy. Would it have been just to punish us for our sins? Yes. Was it more merciful to look at Christ’s free sacrifice and thereby forgive us our sins? Absolutely. Yet, penal substitution says that God can’t do that; it says that God’s unable to overcome the ‘need’ to mete out punishment; it says that the only way around that requirement is to act unjustly with respect to Jesus, in order to satisfy justice with respect to humanity.

What would you call animal sacrifice in the OT where innocent animals had to be killed to cover the sins of people?

It matters immensely. If the Sacrifice on the Cross was primarily an action of love, our picture of God will be that he is Love and everything will be viewed in that light. If the cross is an outpouring of wrath, then our picture of God will be that he is wrath and everything will be viewed in that light.

I would call that a completely different circumstance, given the fact that animals are not made “in the image and likeness of God” and that humans were given “dominion” over all the animals. Just as it is not immoral to kill an animal for clothing or food, it is likewise not immoral to utilize an animal for sacrifice to God. :wink:

Good point, thanks.

My back ground in making that statement is that I used to be a Calvinist Presbyterian. In that group, there is a very strong emphasis on the aspect of the atonement as God pouring the wrath due to the elect on Christ. As a result, things were very orientated towards wrath. But other groups that talked more about love in the atonement tended to emphasize love more.

This is not about the morality of killing animals. The point is an animal had to die and it’s blood shed to cover the sins of the people. The first sacrifice took place after Adam and Eve sinned. Remember they realized they were naked and God covered them with animal skins? Also look at the scapegoat where the sins were transfered on to it. These were only fore shadows of the once for all perfect sacrifice of Christ. If you study the cross you will see what it means for us and what it cost God.

Hmm… maybe I don’t understand your point, then. I’d mentioned that penal substitution seems deficient from the standpoint that it makes God impotent in the face of His own commands, and it seemed to me that, since you were replying to my post, you were suggesting that animal sacrifice would likewise suggest the same impotence?

The first sacrifice took place after Adam and Eve sinned. Remember they realized they were naked and God covered them with animal skins?

I would disagree: that wasn’t a sacrifice – that is, a ‘sacra ficere’ (something that is ‘made sacred’) – but rather, was a use of a resource that humans were given by God to use with care and respect.

Also look at the scapegoat where the sins were transfered on to it.

Actually, that wasn’t a sacrifice, either! Remember – two goats were used: one offered in sacrifice to God, and the other set free into the desert. The ‘scapegoat’, then, wasn’t sacrificed, but sent away (taking the sins of the nation with it). :wink:

This is a statement about what humans had to do, without the atoning death of the Son. NOT about what God had to do in order to have sins forgiven.

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