PSA (Penal Substitutionary Atonement) is considered by some a central dogma to Christian faith. I disagree, and here are two of the many reasons why.
- PSA can make retaliation seem like God’s central act of righteousness. Jesus, on this view, becomes a wall, standing between us and his otherwise wrathful Father. This line of thinking is dangerous in a number of ways. For one thing, it implies that Jesus does not reveal the Father. In the words of Gregory Boyd, “Calvary conceals God as much as it reveals him.” It is more than telling that one of modern Calvinism’s strongest paradigms is the so-called “Hidden will” of God.
- PSA can render the atonement immoral. George MacDonald said something to the effect that PSA presents Him who “will by no means clear the guilty” as “satisfied by the suffering of an innocent.” Hebrews 9:22 does not constitute an objection to this line of thinking, for Heb. 9:22 leaves entirely unanswered the question of how the shedding of blood results in the remission of sins. It would be unthinkable to claim that the act of bloodshed itself cleanses sins. There is something more to it than that. PSA says that it is the innocence and Divinity of Christ that make it more. I say that it is symbolic of the love of God, which covers a multitude of sins.
Personally, I see PSA as an attempt to make salvation coherent in light of a flawed view of justice. George MacDonald’s sermon, “Justice,” strongly challenged my old view of the atonement and ultimately was one of the straws that broke the back of my judicial camel.