In his evaluation of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST), he maintains that the theory is obsolete in the modern world. He writes:
The fact that, as our review has shown, this theory is obsolescent in the theological thought of to-day is the most conclusive evidence that it is intolerable to the modern mind and heart. Its case is going by default; Those who are strenuous for one or more of its favorite terms, such as substitution, are likely to be equally insistent that they hold no legal or forensic doctrine. As we have seen, the theory has been attenuated and modified out of all resemblance to its former shape (p. 245).
He identifies six problems with the PST.
1. It has no logical basis in the nature of God.
If the antithesis which is made between justice and mercy exists in God, and if strict punitive justice must always be carried out, how can mercy make itself successfully heard, or win the day against the requirements of inexorable justice which demands the sinner's punishment? How, on the theory that holiness and justice are independent of love and superior to it, can a plan of grace for sinners ever arise ? If punitive justice lies deeper than love in God, and is independent of it, and has its infinite energy of wrath excited against sin, how is it logically conceivable that an inferior, optional, and (in its relation to "holiness") dependent and non-determining attribute (love) should succeed in checking this punitive energy (p. 244)?
Stevens maintains that if God cannot forgive sin unconditionally due to his holiness, even though he would like to because of his love, it logically makes holiness the controlling attribute in God's nature. Most defenders of the PST would argue that God possesses all of his attributes equally. One is not more important or more dominant than the others. However, as Stevens points out, the PST logically requires holiness to be a more essential attribute of God than love or mercy.
2. Punishing an innocent person is a contradiction in terms.
Is not punishment correlative to guilt or blameworthiness? Is not the principle of distributive justice "suum cuique" ["to each his own"]? Is it conceivable that God should spend his punitive wrath upon his eternally holy Son ? Can the sufferings to which a perfectly holy Being voluntarily submits properly be called penal? It is not, perhaps, impossible on the Grotian conception of " general," or " public," justice, to see how an innocent person may be "punished" ; but on the principles of the theory in question, the statement seems self- contradictory and absurd. For justice, in this view, is distributive, avenging — the necessary infliction of penalty which flows from God's wrath against sin. How, then, can it flow forth from his wrath except upon the objects of his wrath ? How can it flame forth upon an object of his complaisant love ? Can God in his wrath punish the supreme object of his love ? It is a "contradictio in adjecto" ["contradiction in terms"] (p. 246).
Barker sees penal substitution as a contradiction in terms. First, the word punishment refers to infliction of suffering on one because of a wrong he has committed. The idea of "punishing" an innocent is logically absurd. Second, for God's wrath to be focused upon the "supreme object of his love," (i.e., his son) is a contradiction and absurdity.
3. It makes love and mercy the dominant attribute in God.
What led Christ to bear these penalties? The only possible answer is, "Love." Then love is, after all, really supreme and triumphant. God averts justice from sinful man only by means of his love, which triumphs over justice, or at least prevails in the divine counsels respecting the treatment of sinful men. If it be said (and this is what the theory comes to) that God avenges himself upon himself in the person of the eternal Son, it is still love for man which, supreme and eternal in the divine Being, devises and executes this plan of sovereign mercy. . . . I cannot but regard it as fatal to the post-Reformation dogma that it gives no logical ground in the being of God for the work of atoning love, imperils the divine essence in a war within itself (emphasis added), and gives no better reason why the feebler principle prevails over the stronger than that God within the realm of his own being expends his wrath upon himself, a proceeding to which, if it were not inherently absurd (emphasis added), he could have been animated only by love (pp. 246-47).
4. Retribution against sin is not an unyielding principle in PST even though the claim is made that it is.
We are told that God must exercise (punitive) justice always and everywhere. How, then, is there any option left him as to the exercise of mercy? On the theory under review justice and mercy are opposites. Now if God must punish, how can you say | that he may forgive, that is, not punish? If retributive justice is always exercised everywhere (as Drs. Shedd and Strong assert), then mercy cannot be exercised anywhere. All forgiveness involves a relaxation of the strict law of retribution (pp. 247-48).
5. It mars the conception of God's moral excellence.
He believes that the defenders of the PST have an unbiblical concept of God's holiness. The defenders make holiness synonymous with retributive justice and so place it in contrast and rivalry to mercy and love. Stevens, on the other hand, believes that the essential biblical concept of holiness is "separateness" or "apartness" in the sense of God's majesty over his creation.
It is said, for example: "As we may be kind, but must be righteous, so God may be merciful, but must be holy" [A. H. Strong, Philosophy and Religion, p. 106]. This proposition suggests such questions as these : Are not men under moral obligation to be kind? Is the moral obligation to be righteous higher or different from the obligation to exercise love? Is God under no obligation to be kind or merciful? Would he be as excellent a Being as we believe him to be, if he were not kind, or if he were non-kind or unkind? Are not kindness, mercy, and benevolence elements of moral perfection, and must not God be morally perfect? If, in point of fact, God were not benevolent and acted solely in naked, retributive justice, would he be as excellent a Being as he is (p. 248)?
If as defenders of the PST, who are mostly Calvinists, say: "God has no requirement to save any man, he would be just if he allowed all of Adam's posterity to go to hell," then doesn't that make love and mercy optional for God? And if optional and not necessary to his character, then his character is less than perfect.
As Stevens argues:
If so, then love and grace must be activities of mere caprice, not required by God's ethical nature, and therefore without moral excellence. If it is optional with God not to love, then he might (conceivably) be God, that is, the perfect Being, without love; that is, love is not necessary to moral perfection (p. 248).
Stevens approvingly quotes A. B. Davidson: "That which is moral includes mercy and love and compassion and goodness, with all that these lead to, not less than rectitude and justice" (Theology of the Old Testament, p. 161 cited by Stevens, p. 249).
6. Substitution is not possible with Retributive justice.
Mere retributive justice cannot give rise to a substitution, nor can it be satisfied with one. It will "have its pound," and nothing else. The only substitution which is compatible with this conception is the mechanical and inequitable infliction of so much suffering on the innocent for so much sin in the guilty. But such a substitution, even if possible, is as irrelevant as it is immoral (p. 249).
Retributive justice demands that the wrong-doer be punished, therefore, it is not possible to substitute one who is not guilty of that wrong. As Stevens says, not only would it be an act of injustice (immoral) to punish someone for something they did not do, it would be irrelevant to the particular wrong under consideration because the substitute did not commit the wrong. In other words, retribution would still not have been carried out.
For reasons like these I cannot help feeling that there is something erroneous in the initial definitions on which the dogma of atonement in seventeenth-century Protestantism rests. When wrought out to its logical issue, it seems to me to be contrary to fact in logically excluding salvation altogether, contrary to experience in teaching that benevolence is no necessary part of goodness, contrary to reason in breaking up the unity of the moral nature of God, and contrary to morality in holding that God is so " just " that he cannot forgive the guilty, but so unjust that he can punish the innocent (emphasis added). Logically, carried out, it makes God a strict accountant who is, indeed, strictly "just," but is also nothing more. This result does not seem to me to coincide with the Christian concept of God (p. 250).So, I think Stevens shows convincingly that the PST is internally inconsistent with Christian theology.