they show their confusion when, in blog comment after blog comment, they simultaneously accuse Chalke of describing a straw man caricature of PSA and condemn him for rejecting PSA.
Your dilemma seems to me to be a false one: …
I haven’t read the blog posts you’re talking about, but here’s what I suspect they’re saying (because it’s what I’d say). They’re saying is the following. He has described a caricature of penal substitution to tear down, and then he has ascribed that view to all who accept penal substitution by simply calling that view penal substitution …
Therefore, he has set up a straw man and torn it down.
Here I want to defend my claim and demonstrate that it is rational and correct.
First I will cut down to the bare essentials what I understand Steve Chalke to be saying:
I define PSA as doctrine X. Doctrine X is repulsive. I do not believe doctrine X.
Then here is a summary of what the people who condemn Chalke are saying, as I understand it:
PSA is not doctrine X but doctrine Y. We do not believe doctrine X, but doctrine Y. Indeed no one believes doctrine X, which is a caricature of what we believe. Chalke says that PSA is repulsive. Therefore Chalke is a bad man.
Well, let’s deal with this claim. First, the claim “no one believes doctrine X” is irrelevant to the argument; it cannot in principle be confirmed because no one knows what everyone believes; and it is in fact demonstrably false because Chalke and others have found and quoted people who believe it. Second, this anti-Chalke group agree with Chalke in rejecting doctrine X, indeed considering it bad teaching. Third, Chalke has not said whether he accepts or denies doctrine Y so cannot be condemned for rejecting doctrine Y. Actually what Chalke has called repulsive is not PSA but doctrine X. The others also consider doctrine X to be bad. Therefore they cannot logically say that Chalke is bad for rejecting doctrine X.
The only remaining issue relates to terminology and definitions. Chalke defines PSA as doctrine X. The others define it as doctrine Y. Well, theologians often differ over definitions. But that does not make them bad people.
I note, contra Jeremy’s claim, that Chalke has not claimed that everyone who holds to any form of doctrine which they call PSA believes doctrine X. His conversation with Bishop NT Wright, as reported by Wright, makes it clear that he does not consider that Wright believes doctrine X, although he must know that Wright holds to a doctrine which he calls PSA. Chalke may believe that doctrine X is more widespread than it actually is; I am sure he and others would be happy to see proof that it is in fact quite rare.
The most astonishing claim I have seen related to this is that made by John Piper, that Chalke’s claim is blasphemy. As I see it, Chalke’s words can be considered blasphemous only if the doctrine of PSA, or the words “Penal Substitutionary Atonement”, is considered to be a god and so anything said against it, such as redefining these words, is blasphemous.
So, what should Chalke’s detractors have said? They could reasonably have said this:
We define PSA as not doctrine X but doctrine Y. We do not believe doctrine X, but doctrine Y. We consider Chalke’s use of a definition of PSA different from ours to be unhelpful and confusing. As we do not know anyone who believes doctrine X, we do not agree with him that it is necessary to warn against doctrine X.
In other words, polite disagreement rather than condemning a brother in Christ as a heretic and blasphemer. Why didn’t they do this? Apparently because they have elevated their own teachings to a divine status such that even apparently speaking against them is considered to be blasphemy.