Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 2

In this post I am continuing my response to pastor Adam Ericksen’s article on the ‘Nonviolent Atonement.’ If you just got here, click here for part 1.

In the end of last week’s post, it clear that Mr. Ericksen’s emotively prompted response to the woman who felt guilty for abandoning God is misplaced, according to Scripture. As I stated, he should have been expressing joy that a sinner who has abandoned God, feels guilty for doing so.

Ericksen says this turning away from God, which God reciprocates toward us, is a “pernicious theological claim . . . that’s a lie. Don’t believe it.” But what do the Scriptures teach about fallen man’s relationship with God?

Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (italics mine).” So, while we see that God can save, man’s sin has separated him from God.

Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (italics mine).”

Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Romans 3:12, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (italics mine).”

Romans 5:10a, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (italics mine).”

Does it sound like there is a separation between God and man? The amazing thing is that for those who are his, there will never be separation or a time of God turning his back on us, as Paul writes:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

After saying that God turns his back on us is lie, Ericksen clarifies his point further:

Sure, the Bible can be interpreted in that way. People often point to the Adam and Eve story as evidence. Adam and Eve turned their back on God by eating the forbidden fruit, so God turned God’s back on them. Many claim that God has been angry at Adam, Eve, and their children (that’s everyone!) ever since. Strangely, these people continue, God had no other way of dealing with his pent up anger than to inflict violence upon God’s own son.

You’ve heard that story before. It’s called penal substitutionary atonement. Again, don’t believe. It’s a lie.

Wow! I think the most flabbergasting statement is Ericksen attributing God’s holiness and disgust of sin to be nothing but pent up anger. He doesn’t say it, but that is exactly what the implication is.

Has he read Leviticus?

Does he understand the sacrificial system is what made it possible for Israel to be God’s people?

If God did not make provision through the sacrificial system, which only cleaned the outside of the cup (Hebrews 9:1-10), Israel would have been further separated from God; Israel would have been (to use a New Testament expression) as a Gentile and a tax collector to God.

So, did God inflict violence on his Son? “It was his will to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). He decreed from before the foundation of the world that the Lamb would be slain for the sins of the world. It was violence that God decreed, but it wasn’t the violence Ericksen presumes it to be; it was a righteous giving of oneself for the unrighteous . . . the most honorable of actions. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay his life down for his friends” (John 15:13). It was what Christ came to do (Matthew 20:28; John 10:15, 17; 12:27).

I won’t post the entire foretelling of the Lord as the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53:1-12, but a few choice verses are needed to demonstrate Ericksen’s error.

Verses 4-5 – “Surely has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; yet we esteem him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (italics mine).”

Verse 6b — “and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (italics mine).”

Verse 10 —“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him (italics mine).”

And all of this speaks in regards to Jesus, the Son of God, who was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [and was] crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

And what was the reason for this?

Because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). His own blood secured an eternal redemption (9:12b).

His death reconciled fallen man to a Holy God:

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself ” (2 Corinthians 5:18a)

I leave you with what Peter says regarding Christ’s death:

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

So, is penal substitutionary atonement a lie?

Did Christ not die for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God?

Well, I am not going to be able to finish responding to his article. My word count is getting up there; however, there is just too much that needs to be said regarding this truly precious doctrine, which our faith hinges on, so I don’t want to give it a light treatment.

I will pick up on where I left off next week.


—Romans 11:36

Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 1

In the beginning of December, one of my pastors took a detour from his normal feeding of expositional preaching to go through a systematic exposition on the cross. Though Christmas is generally focused on the sending of the Son, he wanted to spend some time on the giving of the Son. Ultimately, Christ came for a purpose, and that purpose was to give his life for his sheep (John 10:15).

What Christ did on the cross for his sheep is the crux (Latin for cross, which is where we get the term when speaking of the central issue of a situation—thanks pastor Mo!) of the New Testament. In fact, it is the pivotal moment in all of redemptive history, of which God purposed to come to pass before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), with the cross itself, what it stands for, becoming the archetype of the Christian faith.

Christ’s giving up his life was The Great Exchange, which is really a reversal of which man originally exchanged—the glory of God for that of images resembling mortal man (Romans 1:23). Mankind exchanged the truth of God for the lie of man.

Paul makes man’s guilt quite clear:

“Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what not ought not be done” (Romans 1:28). “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (1:29-32).

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (2:6-11).

When reading this, the Christian should feel a deep sense of gratitude for what the Savior has done for us. Paul says, Christ was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Christ “died for the ungodly” (5:6), giving “himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). His life was “a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

God’s grace is truly amazing grace. However, there are those who want to diminish this grace by denying this great exchange. In theological terms, the great exchange is called the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Second Corinthians 5:21 most pointedly expresses this doctrine: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I came across a blog article by pastor Adam Ericksen titled, “The Nonviolent Atonement: God’s Grace Upon Grace.” His understanding of grace was quite saddening because it diminishes the work of Christ on the cross.

He begins his article telling a story about an 85-year-old woman, who was nearing the end of her life. She was on her death bed and “felt the weight of guilt and anxiety of abandoning God.” She was raised a Catholic but fell away from it and never felt at home in a Protestant church. And because of her not going to church, she felt she had turned her back on God. She was “not in a state of grace,” she said.

She is using terminology of the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn’t teach that salvation is through grace alone, which the Bible clearly teaches (Ephesians 2:8-10).

His next paragraph is where I began to see that his theology of man, sin, and grace is quite flimsy. He writes,

That’s when my heart broke. She felt guilty because she believed she had abandoned God and so God had abandoned her. I began to think of all the damage many religious people have caused throughout the centuries by imposing guilt upon people. A religion that piles on the guilt isn’t worth following. A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.

While there is some truth to his comments regarding the damage that other biblical religions and cults have done to their members, his statement regarding her guilt . . . broke his heart?  Now, since I do not know this woman, I do not want to speculate about her spiritual condition further than what I can pick up in the article. However, a sinner should feel guilty for abandoning God. Mr. Ericksen should be happy that she feels that way because it demonstrates she has an awareness of sin and idolatry in her heart. Did we not just go through a few verses from Paul, raking mankind over the coals for its transgression of God’s law? If she feels guilty for turning her back on God, then praise the Lord! Second Corinthians 7:10a says, “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation.”

The last sentence was perplexing. He writes, “A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.” I must ask then, “What does the Holy Spirit do?” In John’s Gospel, Christ says that when he goes to the Father, he will send the Holy Spirit, who “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God of God, holy and righteous. If he brings conviction upon a person’s heart, making him see his guilt for turning from him, that makes him . . . unworthy of belief? The only way a person can believe is if the Spirit inflicts guilt upon him. The Spirit must open the sinners heart and mind, showing him his sin and transgression of his sin, causing him to go to the cross. Because without the Spirit, the sinner is unable to see and discern things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; cf. Romans 8:7-8). If a person does not feel guilty for turning from God, then the Spirit is not in him; one can only proclaim Christ as Lord in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Mr. Eriksen needs to remember that man in his depravity does not seek God (Romans 3:11); therefore, guilt brought on by God is needed if man is to see ‘Grace Upon Grace.’

Part 2 will be posted next week. God bless.

—Romans 11:36