In 1973 the great Reformed theologian J.I. Packer delivered a very influential Tyndale Lecture titled “What did the cross achieve? The logic of penal substitution.” In that address Packer eloquently summarized and defended a theory of atonement which has been so influential in the western church that many Christians have simply identified atonement with penal substitution.
But penal substitution also has a growing chorus of critics who challenge this account of atonement for a range of biblical, theological, philosophical, historical, and practical reasons. And what better time to enter into this debate than on the very Easter weekend that we commemorate and celebrate the extraordinary and elusive achievements of the cross.
In this episode of The Tentative Apologist Podcast I have invited back to the podcast my good friend Dr. Oliver Crisp for a discussion about atonement. Dr. Crisp is Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and is the author, editor, or co-editor of many books in systematic and historical theology including The Word Enfleshed: Exploring the Person and Work of Christ (Baker Academic, 2016) and the co-edited volume Locating Atonement: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Zondervan, 2015).
In this conversation Oliver and I begin with a discussion of penal substitution and an exploration of the differences between doctrine, model, motif, and theory. From there we briefly survey some other models or theories of atonement before we consider Oliver’s proposed account.
Christians may not all agree on precisely what the cross achieved, or how it was achieved. But one thing we can agree on: the achievements of Christ on the cross are good news for a broken world.