Friday, August 13, 2010

Review of "The Reason for God" Ch 12 The True Story of the Cross

In this chapter, Keller doesn't defend the existence of God as much as he defends the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement. He gives 2 primary reasons it is necessary. First, he maintains that forgiveness entails "absorbing the debt of sin yourself." The cross was God's way of absorbing the debt of sin. However, we all have forgiven someone and "absorbed the debt" rather than seek vengence or demand reparation. This doesn't entail us nailing ourselves to a cross. We experience the pain of betrayal, the wounding by hurtful words, the loss of property by theft and choose not to lash out. This is absorbing the debt, something God did just by experiencing the pain of our betrayal, sin, and disbelief. I don't exact revenge on my oldest son when he rolls his eyes, refuses to answer me, and makes rude comments(though I may be very tempted to yell and scream). I tend to absorb the pain and forgive. I may punish with time out as a deterrant to future rude behavior, but it doesn't satisfy my desire for retribution.

Secondly, Keller supports the need for the death of Jesus by maintaining that God would not be a God of love if he wasn't willing to "become personally involved in suffering, the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain that we experience." I would maintain that by being in relationship with humanity, God experiences suffering. Jesus also experienced many of these things while on earth, even before his death. Also, it is never reported in scripture that he experienced every type of trauma that has befallen human beings. So, I don't know how we could argue that death was somehow a required experience.

I do know there are many scriptures that would support the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement. However, there are other scriptures that offer other views.
There are many issues I would like to address regarding Penal Substitution, but I don't have time at the moment. Maybe I will turn that into a mini series.


  1. As with a lot of things when I left conservative evangelicalism, I was surprised in a way to learn that the PST was not "the only way to go" theologically. Though i agree that there are scriptures that could point both ways. To me that says that even if one subscribes to a form of PST, it should be held lightly, not the way some Reformed teachers do who consider the degree of one's orthodoxy to be commensurate with the degree to which one is committed to the PST.

    Have you read any of Ken Pulliam's posts on this topic? He has covered it extensively.

  2. I've read a few of Ken's posts. I think he has almost 80 of them on PST! It will take me awhile to read them all. I have to admit that until a few years ago, I, too, didn't realize there were any other ways to go. I can't say I know what I do believe, only what I don't believe.

  3. This link shows why Penal Substitution has literally no basis in Scripture:

  4. Nick,
    I read your link. I'd be interested in the Catholic view of "satisfaction". I'm not at all familar with it. Have you blogged about it yet?


    Sorry to be late on this but wanted to share something that helped me understand this subject better. I like Richard Beck.

  6. Richie,
    Thanks for the link. I reviewed the article and will visit Beck's site from time to time. It looks informative. I think you've mentioned his blog before, the name seemed familar to me.

  7. Hi,

    I have blogged about it. The original link I gave lays out some of the strongest evidence for "satisfaction" by showing the Biblical term "atonement" means to "appease through good works" and not about transferring punishment.

    St Thomas Aquinas summed it up as follows:
    "He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves as well as or even more than he detests the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race."

    This is the essence of Satisfaction, and it is the only model that fits Scripture.