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New Book Counters Contemporary Charges Against Penal Substitution

November 9, 2007

Pierced for Our Transgressions defends the historic Christian doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement and meets head-on the contemporary criticisms leveled against it.

In recent years, foes of historic Christianity have attacked the faith at its very heart by offering a new set of answers to a fundamental question: what took place that Friday morning 2000 years ago "on a hill far away on an old rugged cross?"

Classical Christianity has answered that question according to Scripture's insistence that the Son of God on the cross was dying as a substitute for sinners, bearing their wrath, their curse, their guilt, their shame, giving them an alien righteousness and reconciling them to God.

Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, a new book from our friends at Crossway Books by a trio of authors, Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach, gives an comprehensive biblical defense of the classical view of the atonement and wields the Sword of the Spirit deftly to answer contemporary critiques such as those offered by feminist theologians.

The book begins with a forward by John Piper and is divided into two parts. In the first, the authors build a biblical and theological case for penal substitution and conclude the section with a survey of the atonement in church history, stretching from Justin Martyr to 20th century evangelicalism.

Section two is devoted to answering the critics and deals with arguments opposing penal substitution in several different realms, including objections that are biblical, cultural and theological in nature.

For example, the authors consider objections commonly made by feminist theologians such as the charge that penal substitution is tantamount to "cosmic child abuse." The book is rife with Scripture in exploding this and other objections. In answering the "cosmic child abuse" accusation alone, the authors cite eight passages.

"According to the doctrine of penal substitution, Jesus died to bring glory to himself and to save his people, as well as to glorify the father," the authors write. "By contrast, child abuse is carried out solely for the gratification of the abuser."

Other charges feminist theologians lodge against penal substitution is that it might justify parents abusing their children or that it could vindicate the abuse of women and children. Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach admit that this is a serious and regrettable charge and rightly condemn any such sinful behavior toward women and children before demonstrating the dangerous theological statement such an accusation makes.

"The troubling thing about [these types of] criticisms as they are expressed is that they make no distinction between God's holy and righteous punishment of our sin in Christ at Calvary and the vindictive and godless atrocities of men and women," they write. "We should be careful before insinuating that penal substitution makes the Father a sadist and the Son a masochist, lest we find that we have committed blasphemy in the service of rhetorical points-scoring."

Given the contemporary theological milieu, the time is ripe for another defense of the timeless and glorious doctrine penal substitution, Ovey and Sach have given believers a Scripture-saturated, God-glorifying exposition of it. Indeed, it displays the full power and beauty of the Gospel. We pray that it gains an expansive audience.

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