Having surveyed Ken Pulliam’s discussion of the PST, I have now been asked by Robert: “How do the other theories fare? I’m guessing they have problems too, since men like Luther and Calvin rejected them in favor of PST.”
First off, Luther actually is associated with the Christus Victor model rather than PST, though Calvin most definitely is an advocate of penal substitution. The chapter I referred to in my book Faith Lacking Understanding critiques several theories including PST, classic moral exemplar views, and the Ransom theory. However, in my estimation there are many more promising theories. I think the governmental theory of Grotius is more successful. I also have great interest in the Girardean theory that I referred to in my review. Then there is the intriguing incarnational theory of Eastern Orthodoxy which is defended by philosopher Robin Collins.
Let’s set all these theories aside for the moment and consider another question: is the Christian theist who lacks a satisfactory theory of the atonement at T1 rationally obliged to surrender belief in the atonement at T1? Many skeptics of Christianity seem to think that this is the case. But why think this is correct?
Consider for a moment a student who comes home from his physics class and tells his roommate: “Dude, light has the properties of both a wave and a particle.”
“Whoa….” his bleary-eyed buddy replies. “Dude, that’s whack!”
“That’s not all,” the student replies. “The prof also said we don’t presently have a theory of how light can be both wave and particle.”
Bleary-eyed buddy begins to shriek. “Dude turn the lights off! No theory no light!!!”
We all know that Bleary-eyed buddy would be incorrect. You can continue to benefit from light, and even believe it is both a wave and a particle, even while lacking any adequate theory of how this could be the case.
Why think there is a problem then for the Christian to accept that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself simply because he lacks a theory of this reality?
Here’s the expected reply from the skeptic:
“Bzzzzt. False analogy guy. That’s science. You know it through observation and experiment. You don’t know the atonement through observation and experiment. You believe in your magic sky fairy because you were brainwashed.”
“Your assertion clearly depends on an underlying set of assumptions regarding what kind of data can be rationally accepted irrespective of having a theory of it and what kind of data must be rationally rejected. Can you please articulate that set of assumptions so we may subject them to critical scrutiny?”