Thursday, May 14, 2009


Much is being made of the idea that William Paul Young, author of the book, "The Shack," does not hold to the penal substitution view of the atonement of Christ. Whether this is an accurate statement of his position on the atonement or not I don't know for sure. I haven't asked him.

Some people say that interviews posted on the Internet show he doesn't hold to the penal substitution view. Some say those interviews are taking a few statements he's made out of context. I don't know the answer to that. I haven't read or heard all the interviews.

Some say his book shows he doesn't accept the penal substitution view. I've read the book twice and can't say that I found a statement that would answer that question at all. Besides it is a book of fiction using allegory. There is a lot in it that wouldn't fit into a systematic theology study. But it sure fits into life experiences and stretches me to view God relationally in ways that I can appreciate having grown to know Him in pain and suffering as I have in my lifetime.

All that said, I have two questions I wish to ask to prompt a discussion.

One question one particular view of the atonement essential for salvation to be real and genuine?. A second one is, does holding a view other than penal substitution make the holder of such a view heretical?

To show the case presented by someone who does not hold to the penal substitution view, though the P.S. view happens to be my own view at present, I'm going to post an article I found on this subject. I will post another part or maybe two later and then show who said it.

I don't know whether Paul Young agrees with what this man says or not. I don't know whether you will or not. But this guy DOES articulate clearly a different view of the atonement than the one I hold. [I love doing this. Playing the devil's advocate is an art don't you think? :)]

Remember, say WHY you think what this man says about the atonement makes him a heretic or why he couldn't possibly know the Lord. [Or why you think he is NOT heretical and COULD be a true believer.] But whatever we say, in agreement or disagreement, I know we will use only words that edify. That's our custom here. Thanks for that in advance.

‘It is not good to punish an innocent man’
(Proverbs 17:26, NIV)
‘In his humiliation he was deprived of justice,’ Acts 8:33.

"This is what the Bible says happened to Jesus at His trial. He was deprived of justice. Yet, so often, theologians try to explain the crucifixion in terms of God’s justice. Why is this? The Bible nowhere states that Jesus was justly executed. On the contrary, it is the contention of Scripture that He died as the Lamb without blemish and without spot leaving us an example of how to endure when suffering wrongfully (1 Pet.1:19; 2:19-23).

Now, the phrase: ‘without blemish and without spot’ is not a reference to His physical condition, for He was marred more than any man (Isa.52:14), but to Christ’s spiritual condition. To the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote that the offering and sacrifice that Jesus gave to God was ‘a sweet-smelling aroma’ (Eph.5:2), that is—without any stench of corruption. The Lord Jesus Christ, in both life and death, was spiritually pure and untainted by sin.

So, what is the reasoning that leads so many to believe today that Christ atoned for our sins by suffering the penalty of death according to God’s justice? Basically, it is this:

1. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). Even newborn infants are born with a sinful nature (Ps.51:5). This is due to the corruption that entered into mankind through sin, as illustrated by the fall of Adam (Rom.5:19).

2. Death is the penalty for sin against God (Rom.6:23). God’s law demands satisfaction.

3. Mankind cannot earn salvation from sin by good works (Gal.2:16).

4. Only by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ can we be saved (Acts 4:12; Rom.3:24-26).

5. Jesus died to pay the penalty of death in our place, that we might live (Rom.5:8; John 3:16). Physically, He became a substitute and suffered the punishment that was our due and just reward.

6. On the cross, Jesus took all our sins and guilt upon Himself, becoming legally responsible for all the sins of mankind (2 Cor.5:21; 1 Pet.2:24; Is.53:6-12). Spiritually, He became a substitute; and, as such, God the Father turned away and left Him derelict during the crucifixion (Mat.27:46). He suffered the penalty of separation from God the Father, which is a consequence and penalty of sin.

It sounds convincing, especially when we are led to read certain Bible verses with this view in mind; but we must examine the Scriptures in context and analyze this teaching carefully in the light of God’s Word, to know if it is true. It is possible to have faith in Christ and be in error. Trust can be genuine, but understanding can be flawed. It is possible to come to a belief in Christ as personal Saviour and Lord without a true understanding of the atonement.

However, faith that has come through a flawed or false gospel will be limited in power and effect, according to the degree of accepted error. The Lord calls us by various means, but He expects us to overcome our errors as we mature in faith.

Surprising as it may seem, the above interpretation is not the only one given to these verses of Scripture—but it may be the only one you have heard so far. Now is the time to examine the Bible again, from a different point of view. Verses of Scripture never contradict each other. Too often, apparent conflicts are called ’mysteries’, when in fact they are simply problems of understanding that can be clearly resolved when the correct interpretations are applied.

Could God have done that which is not good? Could God have punished an innocent Man? (Prov.17:26, NIV). If the argument is that God made Jesus guilty for our sins, then we have another problem to reconcile: It is written, ‘The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself’ (Ez.18:20, NKJ).

The context of Ezekiel chapter 18 makes it clear that God’s justice does not allow for the transfer of guilt from one person to another. The responsibility for sin lies with the sinner. Even the conscience and reason testify that justice must be correctly applied and is not simply a matter of exacting a penalty—as though the issuing of the penalty is all that is important, even if it falls upon one who is innocent of the offence. True justice requires that the penalty for a crime be applied to the guilty alone, as it states in the Law: ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin’ (Deut.24v16, NKJ; cf. 2 Chron. 25v4). In ancient times, it was a practice to also punish close relatives of the guilty for serious crimes. The Lord loathes all injustice..17:15: ‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both’ (NIV).
Jesus gave His life for us as a perfect sacrifice, without sin. Yet, in His body He bore our sins—the sins of man. He was bruised, lacerated, torn and pierced. The sins of mankind were plainly visible in His flesh. He also bore the pain of man’s sins in His heart. He was burdened by those sins, but He was never the One responsible for them. The sins were the sins of mankind. Justice demands that the guilty must answer for their sins, not the innocent. How then are we set free from the penalty of death? It is through the offering Christ made of His life. This He gave willingly to God for us—as the perfect offering and covering for sin—sufficient for all who truly believe and repent.

Christ’s forsakenness at the time of His trial was physical—not spiritual. The Father removed His protection and permitted His Son to be delivered into the hands of sinful men. God did not resist, but allowed His love to shine forth in the midst of suffering. Jesus gave the sacrifice to God of a sinless perfect life for our sakes. He gave what mankind cannot give, because of sin. His offering avails for all who now trust in Him as Saviour and Lord.

So, what of the penalty of death? Didn’t Jesus die for us? Yes. In death, He made the perfect offering of His life to God for our salvation. This is why Peter emphasizes the purity of Christ’s blood and offering. Christ’s gift of Himself had to be without spot and blemish, as symbolized by the Old Testament sacrifices. These were instituted to foreshadow the purity of Christ’s own sacrifice. That is why Jesus died—to be an offering, holy and acceptable to God for our sakes. Now, as we put our trust in Him, we are accepted by God along with Him. Jesus did not die to pay (as is supposed) the penalty of death. It was not God’s punishment, although He allowed His Son to suffer because of the good that would ensue. The judgment upon Jesus at His trial was the justice of man.

The justice of God was the justice of the resurrection, when the Father overturned the verdict of an earthly court and raised Jesus to a position of heavenly glory, giving Him a name that is above every name. It was to ‘Him who judges righteously’ that Jesus committed Himself (1 Pet.2:23), not to the justice of sinful man."

I will post more of what this man says later. It is obvious he and I might differ on the extent and even the purpose of the atonement. But does that make him heretical or unable to experience the Grace of God? What do you think?

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

It seems to me that extensive explanations, which differ, only serve to highlight that fact none of us really gets is quite right. We're talking about eternal and infinite things, with temporal and finite minds. So I prefer to look at what we're supposed to do, not to a perfect understanding of what God did.

The Bible says we're to repent of sin, and confess our need for salvation. We must do that, and it is a finite thing. And we must place our faith in Jesus, to save us, and we know what all that word means in the original language.

Isaiah says God laid the sins of us, on Jesus. Corinthians says God made "Him Who knew no sin" to become sin for us. That God made Jesus sin so that we might be made righteous. But my understanding of that doesn't change what the Bible says I had to do to be saved. And I did that. For sure.

The day I place much reliance on the perfection of my theology looks like a day of disaster, to me. I ain't gonna go there. And I'm not about to argue with someone who sees things differently that I. That would be like a rocking chair. It might give me something to do, but it sure wouldn't take me anywhere.

Paul Burleson said...


I've read many people say that they believe everytime you opt to say something it is worth all hearing.

Your statement "So I prefer to look at what we're supposed to do, not to a perfect understanding of what God did" and following comment, causes me to join that tribe of admirers. It's worthy of a post of it's own. Thanks.

traveller said...

The question is, "Do any of us have to believe in any precise or specific explanation of the atonement in order to be redeemed and a new creation?" Since none of us, as Bob rightly points out, can really understand the atonement how is that possible for anyone? So, does that mean none of us are redeemed? :-)

Obviously, what I just wrote is absurd. So, merely expressing a belief in a particular doctrine of atonement is not the "key" to being redeemed. The key is that atonement is real.

An example, that comes to mind is the thief on the cross next to Jesus. I seriously doubt that man had any idea of how the atonement was going to come about through the death and resurrection of Jesus but he was redeemed since Jesus said so.

As to heresy, no he is not a heretic based on what you have provided so far. Let's turn it around and presume for a moment that your understanding of the atonement is flawed in some way. Would that make you a heretic.....?

In my view, this dispute around WPY is just one more example of how there is a slippery slope to trusting in the words of humans expressed as doctrines instead of God. If there is any heresy it is the one of idolatry in believing and trusting in something/one other than God.

Paul Burleson said...


"In my view, this dispute around WPY is just one more example of how there is a slippery slope to trusting in the words of humans expressed as doctrines instead of God. If there is any heresy it is the one of idolatry in believing and trusting in something/one other than God."

Traveller, why don't you just cut through the chase and get to the core? Oh wait, that's what you've done. GOOD STUFF.

Chris Ryan said...

I agree that we have often been to quick to try and understand the cross and resurrection. Far more important than what happened is that they did happen and that we must live differently because they happened. It is the same with Genesis 1. It is nowhere near as important how God created as it is that God created.

I would have a hard time calling this man a heretic and I believe that penal substitution is a reality. I don't think that is all that was happening at the cross, but I believe that it is a portion. My view of the atonement is that it is a multi-facted jewel: Christ by His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave defeated the powers of evil (Christus Victor), offered forgiveness for sins (penal substitution), and provided an example of the crucified life His followers were to live.

This man seems to focus upon the examplar of those three portions, whereas Baptists have tended to major penal substitution. I believe that without any one, none of the others matter. Therefore, I say that nobody is being heretical but are each holding different parts of the puzzle and assuming they have found the entire picture.

Paul Burleson said...


Good thoughts as usual.


It does seem a bit odd to even ask the quesion can someone be heretical or maybe not even a believer if they don't hold to a PS view of the atonement but, unfortunately, I've seen, as have you I'm sure, those claims made on blogs across the Internet. Especially in relation to Paul Young.

I always wanted to respond on those blogs but decided I would present that silly idea in post form to help set things clear in context theologically.

Boy have you guys done that. I wish I could transport what each of you has said back to those blogs. Thanks for commenting.

Nick said...

I agree with where your going on this.

I recently finished a Penal Substitution debate against a Calvinist where I showed it to be thoroughly unBiblical, you might find it interesting.

As you know, far too much has been read into certain texts, for too long, leading to "traditions" of incorrect understandings of the cross which none the less are central to these "traditions'" gospels.

Paul Burleson said...


If my memory serves me well, this is your first time to comment here. Welcome and thanks for coming. I would, if you will give where I can find it, love to read what you said in the debate.

However, honestly I have to say that where I am going is to simply dispel any idea that one HAS to be a PSA believer to be a genuine believer or not be a heretic. I'm not advocating against the penal substitution atonement view at all. I hold to it personally as I've indicated.

I'm of the personal persuasion that the Justice and Holy Anger of God flows FROM His Love and are in perfect balance in His Divine nature/essence. Thus we see His Righteosness of character. This totally unlike human anger.

I'm fearful we tend to think of God's anger in human categories rather than in Divine categories.

All that said, as has been said before my words in this comment stream, holding a particular view of the atonement has nothing to do with anything except perhaps study, learning, and a growing knowledge of God. [This would be held to be true I'm sure whichever side one come down on.]

Thanks again for stopping by and please respond. I would love to hear from you often.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

The atonement is what saves us not our limited understanding/perspective of it.

"Trust can be genuine, but understanding can be flawed"

You do not trust in theological position the same way you trust in a person.

Aussie John said...


As you have discerned, I hold to a particular doctrinal position, but I am never going to tell someone that they must hold to my position to be a brother/sister in Christ. I know far too many, to whom I've had the privilege to preach the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ, whose changed lives have dramatically demonstrate the very real evidence of a changed heart. I never asked them to leave where they attended, but saw them bloom.

Your Q. " one particular view of the atonement essential for salvation to be real and genuine?" Answer: No!

Your second one is:".. does holding a view other than penal substitution make the holder of such a view heretical?" Answer: No!

In my early teens I was converted in an historic evangelical denomination. As I read the Scriptures I found that I saw things in a totally different light,later discovering that this position was also that of another historic theological stance.

I'm afraid that I have come to the conclusion that in both evangelical camps there is a little too much of what Paul dealt with in 1 Cor.1:12ff.

However, I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I'm convinced that he is able to protect what he has entrusted to me until that day , and I suspect Paul Young does the same.

Todd said...

Glad to hear you raising this issue. For in other necks of the Internet some would be chafing away questioning your sense(ibility). I for one am glad you have weighed in on this subject and done so quite well.

Paul Burleson said...

Rodney, Aussie John and Todd,

Thanks guys for commenting. I'm just back from a 300 mile motorcycle trip and am late in acknowledging that you've done so.

Nick said...

Paul B,

I am sorry for not getting back yesterday, I got busy.

Yes, this is my first time here, and I must have forgotten to link to my debate (my webpage is on my profile):

I agree that everyone need not be a 'theologian' on the issue to be a genuine Christian who believe God died for them. That said, a particular view of the atonement is very critical to proper orthodoxy, and to deny Psub directly undermines Sola Fide. Without Psub, there is no "Great Exchange," and without a Great Exchange, there is no Sola Fide.

Bobby Brown said...

I was saved reading the Bible at home without really hearing the gospel preached and I am certain I had no idea what the penal substitutionary death of Christ was at the time. I simply saw that He died for me to set me free from my sin rather than me having to work for it. You will remember the extent of my conversion experience and you know it was real so certainly this man can be a Christian without believing the PSD theory. Being a Calvinist I like to draw a circle and put many stick figures representing people in the circle. These figures represent all the people in the world. Then I think, if God let everyone of these people go to Hell would He be just? (My answer would be Yes) Then I draw a smaller circle around some of the people (to me the elect) and thus representing those who are going to Heaven and think, this is where God had a problem with justice, not in letting everyone go to Hell, that would be perfectly just, but in letting those who deserve Hell go to heaven. What is fair about that? My anwer has been that He punished Christ in their place. A PSD then. It would seem He would have to have done something to satisfy His justice so at least a substitutionary death?

Aussie John said...


I was going to add to my previous comment by stating my certainty of the fact of penal substitution. Like Bobby, I was saved, but it took me some time to understand the means.
When I was very young I nearly drowned, I never found out how I was saved from a watery death, but I was saved.
Jesus Christ propitiated God on behalf of those who are His.

Paul Burleson said...

Nick, Bobby, and Aussie John,

All of you have given solid statements as to why you hold to a PSA view. I know those who don't would argue from the scriptures from a differing perspective as the author of the post I put up did.

Candidly, he raises some good points and thoughts and has written a very good book on his particuilar view. His name is Norman McIIwain and his book is "The Biblical Revelation of the Cross.

I, however, see the text of scripture showing the soundness of the penal sustitution view myself. In fact, were I to not hold to such a view I would HAVE to be a universalist seeing as the text says the Cross ACTUALLY [not potentially] accomplished its intended work. That isn't to say those who disagree with me ARE universlists. They are not. It, again, shows our differing views of the meaning of the text.

Oh when it is all made perfectly clear then...what a day that WILL be in more ways than one.

Bobby Brown said...

My favorite verse Paul. You can use it at my funeral when you do it. "For He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Smells awfully penal and substitutionary to me. But you know what, even if William Young doesn't believe the way I do, and assuming I am correct which of course I may not be, I would trade his relationship with Christ for my correctness in a heart beat!

Paul Burleson said...


GREAT comment. however, I'm pretty busy right now so let's wait on your funeral for a while OK? ;)

Scott Leonard said...

Awesome, balanced comments! And I have to say that although I don't know how one can read Isa. 53:10 ("But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering...") and agree with the author, I do believe that it is the atonement, not our definition of-that is the ground of our salvation. And it is faith that appropriates it. He certainly expresses that understanding. Thanks for posting this thread, Paul!