In a previous post entitled, Why Do I Focus on the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement?, I laid out a "who's who" of evangelical theologians who support voicferously the PST of the atonement. This is not a peripheral doctrine according to Evangelicals. It is at the very heart and core of what they believe about Christianity.
Today, I want to demonstrate this fact further. Al Mohler is the President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.
In 2005, shortly after the anti-PST book by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, came out, Mohler wrote the following on his blog:
The doctrine of penal substitution--the understanding that, on the cross, Christ died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin--is described as "a form of cosmic child abuse"[in The Lost Message of Jesus].In their words: "The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse--a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed." They go further to suggest that "such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement 'God is love'."
The penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement--the doctrine that has stood at the very center of evangelical faith--is rejected as based on a misunderstanding of the cross, described as a "twisted version of events" that is "morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith."
Attacks upon the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement are hardly new--in fact they are to be found among some who would claim to be evangelicals in the United States. Evangelical identity is at stake in this controversy. But, far beyond that, the Gospel is at stake.
In an interview conducted in 2009, John MacArthur, the President of The Master's College and Seminary in Southern California, was asked about the cosmic child abuse claim in the book, The Lost Message of Jesus. Here is what he said:
My response to that is that you couldn’t be a Christian and say that. That’s just…that’s outright heresy.
It sounds like the language of a flat-out anti-Christian pagan atheist mocking the cross of Jesus. That’s mockery. That’s…that’s outright mockery. These people…and he thinks he’s really cute and clever, this kind of stuff is going to shock people…and it does, that’s why it stood out when you read it. But this is not even Christian thinking.
John Piper, the Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN and one of the most prolific evangelical authors, had the following to say about the importance of the PST.
Oh, how I wish that at least here, at the center of the gospel, there would be common ground among those who claim to be followers of Jesus today. But that’s not the case, and one of the reasons is that the postmodern mind, inside and outside of the church, has no place for the biblical truth of the wrath of God. And therefore, it has no place for a wrath-bearing Savior who endures God’s curse that we might go free. One of the most infamous and tragic paragraphs written by a church leader in the last several years heaps scorn on one of the most precious truths of the atonement: Christ’s bearing our guilt and God’s wrath.
After quoting the famous "cosmic child abuse" passage from the Lost Message of Jesus (pp. 182-183), Piper continues:
With one cynical stroke of the pen, the triumph of God’s love over God’s wrath in the death of his beloved Son is blasphemed, while other church leaders write glowing blurbs on the flaps of his book. But God is not mocked. His word stands firm and clear and merciful to those who will embrace it.
Wayne Grudem, Professor of Theology at Phoenix Seminary and author of one of the leading Systematic Theology textbooks for Evangelical schools, was asked if he agreed with John Piper's assessment that the cosmic child abuse statement was blasphemy. Here is what he said:
(1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Chalke is denying the heart of the Gospel. (Ed: Grudem has since retracted his agreement to the use of the word blasphemy of Chalke but not his strong criticism of Chalke's views)
Evangelicals in the academic world battled against liberals in scholarly writings about this issue fifty years ago, and I think that evangelicals like Leon Morris won the argument and won the theological battle. Now Chalke is giving away the hard-won victory. He is giving away the heart of the Gospel. I would never agree to give my approval to anyone who denies penal substitutionary atonement to be an elder at a church I attended, or to be a pastor or Bible teacher, or to teach at a theological seminary where I had influence on the appointment.
So, you have four of the leading evangelical theologians in the USA saying that the PST of the Atonement is the heart of the gospel, the center of the gospel, and the doctrine that has stood at the very center of evangelical faith. According to them, those who deny the PST: 1) are not true evangelicals, 2) are not true Christians, 3) are outright heretics, 4) are speaking the language of anti-Christian pagan atheists, and 5)are committing blasphemy. Is there really any doubt as to how important the PST is to evangelicalism?
As a personal illustration, yesterday I went with my mother to her Southern Baptist Church in Northeast Georgia. The Pastor preached from Hebrews 12 and made it emphatically clear that only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ which was offered to God in place of sinners could man be saved and avoid an eternity in hell. While that pastor may not even know the terminology, Penal Substitutionary Theory, he certainly knows and believes the doctrine.