A controversy erupted in 2004 over the book, The Lost Message of Jesus, by Steve Chalke. Chalke, an evangelical and a Baptist, repudiated the penal substitutionary theory in the book and even called it cosmic child abuse. This created a firestorm in Evangelicalism resulting in a symposium on the controversy in July 2005 at the London School of Theology organized by the UK Evangelical Alliance. Speakers at the conference included Steve Chalke, Joel Green, Graham McFarlane, Steve Motyer, and Stuart Murray Williams in opposition to PST and David Hilborn, Garry Williams, Steve Holmes, Howard Marshall, Sue Groom, and Simon Gathercole in favor the theory. Some of the papers from the conference are available on-line.
Later in 2007, three theologians associated with Oak Hill Theological College in London, Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, issued perhaps the most complete defense of PST ever written. The book is titled: Piereced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution.
In 368 pages the authors defend PST historically (against the charge that it originated in the Reformation), exegetically (against the charge that its unbiblical), and apologetically (against the various criticisms). The first several pages of the book contain endorsements from what reads like a "who's who" of evangelical theologians, including D.A. Carson, Howard Marshall, John Piper, Roger Nicole, and Timothy Dwight among others. Interestingly enough, the Bishop of Durham and well-respected scholar, N.T. Wright would not endorse it, even though he claims to be an adherent of PST. He called the book deeply, profoundly, and disturbingly unbiblical.
At the symposium mentioned above, Stuart Murray Williams laid out six reasons for rejecting PST:
1. Punishing an innocent man – even a willing victim – is fundamentally unjust.
2. Biblical justice is essentially about restoration of relationships rather than retribution.
3. Penal substitution is inherently violent and contravenes central aspects of the message of Jesus.
4. Penal substitution raises serious difficulties for our understanding of the Trinity.
5. Penal substitution fails to engage adequately with structural and systemic evil.
6. If penal substitution is correct, neither the life of Jesus nor his resurrection have much significance.
I fully agree with numbers 1, 3 and 4 of William's criticisms. I disagree with number 2 and I am ambivalent towards numbers 5 and 6.
I have already addressed points number 1 and number 4 on this blog.
I disagree with point number 2 because I believe the Bible does teach retribution for sin. C.S. Lewis, in his famous article, The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment , makes a very strong case for the biblical model to be that of retribution for sin. The restoration of relationships may be the ultimate goal, but it cannot be attained until retribution for sin has taken place.
Point number 3, I have not yet treated. I agree with Williams that PST seems to contradict many of the teachings of Jesus. I will address this point in tomorrow's blog post.