Others, such as Anselm, Charles Hodge, and John Owen (after he changed his mind), have argued that the atonement was essential. There was no other way for God to forgive sin execept through the sacrificial and substitutionary death of his son.
There are problems with either view:
1. With the first view, if the death of Jesus was not essential then why would God choose such a violent and bloody way to bring about forgiveness? Listen to Jonathan Edwards:
[S]ince God could pardon the sins of men out of mere grace and bounty, now to make him require strict payment and satisfaction to his Justice before he do so; is, say they, an argument of barbarous and savage cruelty, rather than kindness and liberality (A Preservative against Socinianism , p. 129).2. With the second view, if the death of Jesus was essential, then God is an accessory to murder. Listen to Henry Pinkman:
To say that his death was an indispensable condition of human salvation is to say that God's grace had to call in the aid of murderers in order that it might find a way to human hearts. I am not willing to acknowledge any indebtedness to Judas Iscariot for the forgiveness of my sins. Whatever necessity there was for the death of Jesus lay not in the justice of God, nor in God's regard for law, but in human sinfulness ("The Atonement," in Theology at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century, ed. John Morgan, p. 295)
It seems that either position presents insurmountable problems.