As some of you know, one of the problems (one of many) that resulted in my de-conversion from Evangelical/Fundamental Christianity was my inability to reconcile the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement with any viable concept of justice. In other words, to punish an innocent party in the place of a guilty party is a miscarriage of justice. Yet, I am convinced that the Bible or at least Paul and Peter in the New Testament teach PST as the truth. I have studied this matter for many years and have yet to find any convincing answer.
Recently, I became aware of a book entitled: Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach. Its one of the most complete treatments of the subject that I have ever read. I would like to comment on many parts of the book but let me “cut to the chase” and deal with their explanation of the problem of PST and justice. They cover this in Chapter 10 (pp. 240-278).
Here are their answers:
1. The Bible does not share the concern of those who think PST is unjust. They cite 1 Peter 2:23-24 and Romans 3:25 as proof (p. 242).
I am sorry but this is not an answer to the problem. First, unless one apriori accepts the Bible as the Word of God, then this argument means nothing. Second, there are passages in the Bible which clearly teach that the innocent are not to be punished in the place of the guilty. For example: Deuteronomy 24:16, Proverbs 17:15, Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18. The authors of Pierced make an attempt to answer this problem by stating that the circumstances involved in the above passages are much different than the general rule that the innocent cannot suffer for the guilty. They don’t really elaborate, however, on how the circumstances differ and why this is apparently an exception to the general rule(p. 247).
2. The doctrine of the believer’s “union with Christ” solves the dilemma.
They write: The believer is not separate from Christ, an unrelated third party. He is in us, and we are in him, indwelt by his Spirit. . . . The doctrine of penal substitution thus does not propose a transfer of guilt between unrelated persons. It asserts that guilt is transferred to Christ from those who are united to him (p. 243).
In other words, the Calvinist view of imputation solves the dilemma for them. I again do not find this convincing.
First, it demands that the Calvinist view of sin and salvation be the one and only true view. We all know that a great number of Christians throughout history have not held it be the true view.
Second, it may answer the problem for those who accept apriori that the Bible is the Word of God and are convinced that the Calvinist view of imputation is the correct one but it does little to convince a skeptic such as myself.
Third, it basically resorts to some type of "magic." In other words, the sins of mankind (or the elect) are magically or supernaturally transferred (i.e., imputed) to Christ and he is able to suffer the penalty in the place of the sinner. This may be convincing to someone who already accepts the idea of the supernatural or magic but it seems like a game of mental gymnastics to me. It is essentially saying: We don't really know how God could consider Christ as my genuine substitute but the Bible says it and therefore I must believe it. It is a mystery. After all, they would say, the Bible states: For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa. 55:8-9).
However, don't they also believe that man is made in the image of God and that man's sense of justice is derived from God? If this is true, then shouldn't PST seem intuitively just to man? Instead, to punish an innocent in the place of the guilty seems intuitively unjust.
So I remain a de-converted evangelical Christian who cannot understand how the death of an innocent person in the place of a guilty person could be called justice. BTW, I have a number of other problems with PST that I will share as time goes forward.