Lingamish, in a comment, is relieved to read that Penal Substitution just doesn’t matter. Well, in comments on his new lingalinga blog he and I were just discussing hyperbole, which he calls “my default discourse register”; I wrote
We Brits, maybe the Kiwis too, go in more for understatement.
to which he replied
Understatement on the Internet works about as well as whispering in a train station.
Maybe. Well, the Kiwi I had in mind in the above quote was not our friend Andrew, and as I can’t read his mind I’m not sure quite how literally he intended anyone to take his post Why PS just doesn’t matter. But for me, affirming what Andrew wrote was in fact a touch of hyperbole. Or is a hyperbolic statement of something negative, like this one, in fact understatement? Of course what I wrote, and probably what Andrew wrote, was intended as a reaction to the hype (this word is surely an abbreviation of “hyperbole”) about Steve Chalke’s comments and about Pierced for Our Transgressions.
Let me clarify my position. I do affirm and believe in the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, as defined for example by JI Packer in a clearly Trinitarian way, as one proper and valid description of the atonement. But this doctrine seems to be largely a theoretical one, with no practical consequences, as long as the character of God is not demeaned by presentations with connotations of pagan child sacrifice. It is not central to my faith or to my understanding of it. I am happy for theologians to debate this doctrine, as long as they heed Packer’s point that “there is here an element of transcendent mystery” and avoid presuming to tie down God’s work with detailed formulations. But these are matters for the experts, not for everyday teaching in churches, and still less for initial presentations of the Gospel to unbelievers.
In a comment here, in response to one of mine, Iyov asked:
Hmm, which is the more important doctrine in Christian thought: Junia or atonement. Tough one.
A tough one indeed! Of course the atonement has been discussed more through the ages. However, decisions on practical issues for the church, whether one accepts women in leadership, depend on a proper understanding of Junia in Romans 16:7; see the more than 30 postings about this at Better Bibles Blog. But what are the practical consequences of a precise understanding of the atonement? None, as far as I can see, except for ones artificially imposed by those who set up a particular doctrine of the atonement as a touchstone for unity.
So let’s cut the hype and move on to some understatement about penal substitutionary atonement.
Adrian claims at last to have finished his series on the atonement. We shall see if this really is the end. If so, I expect to bring my discussion of this issue to a gradual end, although I do intend to look at the second part of Reuben’s review of Pierced for Our Transgressions, and I also plan to read and review Norman McIlwain’s book The Biblical Revelation of the Cross, of which he kindly sent me a copy.