Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory is actually representative of many theories of atonement that basically have some common themes. Chief among these common themes is the theme that Jesus died for each person to take the ‘penalty’ of our sins in their place. It has its chief proponents among Reformed theologians and Calvinism.
In this Theory, Jesus’ death on the cross is a substitution for mankind in which God places the penalty for sin (death) on Jesus. The person who repents then has this atonement applied to their life and their sins are covered.
Ok. If you have read any of my stuff on TULIP and Calvinism, you pretty much can guess that I have problems with this theory. The chief trouble comes when those who hold this theory also hold that only the elect can truly repent. Other problems with this theory abound:
1) Penal substitution misunderstands atonement from an Old Testament perspective. In all the teaching on sacrifice there is never an idea of any sacrifice being punished in the place of the one offering it. The sacrifices are honorable and holy, not objects of God’s wrath. If you don’t think this matters, then you should read Hebrews as everything the author talks about as regarding Christ and Atonement absolutely hinges on a proper understanding of Old Testament sacrifice
2) It misunderstands both the terms ‘justice’ and ‘propitiation’. Justice in the Bible is not only the dispensing of penalties for law-breaking but mercy and grace to the oppressed. Propitiation in this theory is actually along the lines of pagan worship. The issue is the blood not being a punishment for sins but a covering of mercy for sin.
3) Sins are not really forgiven in this theory, they are simply transferred. God vents his wrath by beating himself up – odd.
4) Everything in this theory is about the cross, it does not take any other part of Jesus’ work into consideration.
5) The Bible makes it very clear that each person will pay the full penalty for their sins and the punishment for those sins should not be transferred and cannot be transferred to another.
In short, it is incomplete in my view and lacks a full understanding of Scriptural atonement from both the Old and New Testaments.
Needless to say I reject this theory.
If you can’t tell by now I find all theories of the atonement either incomplete or lacking in Biblical support somewhere. My largest problem is that everyone seems to be looking at one facet of the large diamond that is atonement instead of seeing the whole thing. In the future I hope to write a series where I explore what atonement is but for now I am perfectly content to know that Jesus saved me and not know the nuts and bolts of how.