Here is the first post:
I am a former evangelical Christian Pastor and Bible college Professor. I deconverted from Christianity in 1996 because of inconsistencies within Christian doctrine.
One of those inconsistent doctrines lies at the core of Christian belief: namely, that Jesus Christ died for sinners. Typically, in evangelical circles this is understood in terms of Jesus bearing the punishment in place of the sinners who deserved it. This is called the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement, hereafter PST. This idea is succinctly stated by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
The PST states that Jesus, who was innocent of sin, took the punishment that was deserved by sinners, so that God could be just in forgiving sinners. Several points within this view are inconsistent with the rest of evangelical Christian doctrine.
One problem has to do with the injustice of punishing an innocent person in place of the guilty. Our moral intuitions tell us that it is never right to inflict punishment on an innocent individual. According to Christian theology, our moral intuitions come as a result of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Paul says that even the heathen have a proper sense of what is right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15), presumably because of the imago Dei. Thus, it seems that there is a contradiction between the sense of right and wrong implanted in man via the imago Dei and the revealed teaching of Scripture that God was just in accepting the punishment of his innocent Son in the place of guilty sinners.
Evangelical theologians have attempted to explain this contradiction in several ways, none of which I find satisfying. One is to say that because Jesus volunteered to die as a substitute, then God is just in accepting his punishment in place of sinners. This explanation, however is a non sequitur. The conclusion that God was right in accepting the punishment does not follow from the premise that Jesus volunteered for the suffering. Yes, it is a noble thing if one lays down his life for the sake of others, as in a soldier falling on a grenade to protect his comrades, but that is not what we have in the atonement. In the PST, we have God accepting the voluntary death of Jesus as sufficient punishment deserved by sinners for their sin.
Another explanation offered by evangelicals is that it is permissible for a person to pay a fine that has been judicially imposed upon another person. If, for example, one incurs a fine of $200 for speeding, the court does not care if someone else pays the fine for the convicted. This explanation, however, is a red herring. It introduces a topic irrelevant to the problem at hand. It confuses a monetary debt with a moral debt. A pecuniary debt can be transferred but the penalty for a moral crime cannot. While a court would allow a substitute to pay the fine imposed on someone convicted of a crime, it would not allow a substitute to be incarcerated or executed for the crime. And even when paying a fine, the benefactor would have to give the money to the convicted and the convicted would still pay the fine. So you still have the fine being paid by the one who is guilty of the crime.
A third attempt to justify the PST is to say that God imputes the sin of man to Jesus so that he is viewed by God as in fact being guilty. This is the Christian doctrine of imputation. The doctrine is derived from the Greek word λογίζομαι (logidzomai), which occurs 49 times in the Greek New Testament. The KJV translates it: to reckon, to count, to impute. It is a term that was used in accounting to refer to placing something on one's account.
While the word is not used here, the idea is found in Philemon 1:18, where Paul tells Philemon in regard to Onesimus (a runaway slave): "But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account."
There are three elements to the Christian doctrine of imputation. (1) God put Adam's sin on his posterity's account; (2) God put man's sins on Jesus' account, and Jesus paid the debit on the cross, with the result that (3) God puts Christ's righteousness (as a credit) on the believer's account.
What is wrong with this explanation? Legally, imputation of guilt is only justified if the person to whom the imputation is made is in some way complicit in the crime. For example, as Norman McIlwain points out:
The owners of a company are responsible for actions that happen within the company rules and consent of management. Corporate manslaughter is a good example. However, the company would need to be involved in the action. One employee murdering another in a fit of temper, for example, would not make the owners of the company guilty for the crime. It would have happened without their consent and certainly against company rules. However, drugs manufactured that later are found to cause death would make the company and its owners liable. Guilt would rightly be imputed - because of the company's consent to the manufacture.
In the above example, the owners of the pharmaceutical company would be complicit in the crime because they either knew or should have known the dangers associated with the drugs they were manufacturing. Thus, they can legitimately be held culpable. But theologians do not believe Jesus was complicit in the crimes of humanity.
Another problem with the doctrine of imputation is that if the sins of mankind were somehow imputed to Jesus, then he in real terms became a sinner. Thus, he was not truly an innocent. So either way, there is a problem for Christian doctrine. You have a sinful Savior or an unjust Father.
The fourth explanation is the one that evangelicals use when everything fails; they say it is a mystery. As the argument goes, God's ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9) and one cannot expect to be able to explain the ways of God in human terms. Besides the fact that this is really not an answer, it also has other problems. First, if we can't trust our moral intuitions when it comes to punishing an innocent, then how do we know that we can trust any of our moral intuitions? Second, if God's ways are beyond our comprehension, how can we say anything definitively about God? It seems that one has just thrown out the whole enterprise of Christian theology.
In conclusion, therefore, the central doctrine of evangelical theology - that Jesus died in the place of sinners - is fatally flawed and must be rejected. It is true that a minority of evangelicals have offered alternative theories of the atonement but they have been roundly criticized as unbiblical by the overwhelming majority of the movement.