Is it beneath dignity and self-respect to believe in a God who had to kill in order to forgive? “More and more evangelicals believe Christ’s atoning death is merely a grotesque creation of the medieval imagination,” reports Christianity Today.
Isabel Carter Heyward, Professor of Theology at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge contends that “forgiveness does not come through the blood of Christ” Interviewed by Abby Noll, “[Heyward] deletes “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” when celebrating the Eucharist. Instead, she teaches that we are the “living sacraments” of atonement when we show “compassion and non-violence”. Forgiveness does not come through “blood sacrifices” but through compassion and solidarity.”(Noll 2000: n.p)
Heyward is not alone in rejecting penal substitution, Clack Pinnock and Robert Brow contended that “Christ is not appeasing God’s wrath. God is not sadistically crucifying His beloved Son. We are not talking about retribution or criminal proceedings. The cross is a revelation of a compassionate God. Suffering love is the way of salvation”.( Pinnock & Brow 2001: 27)
How does a holy and righteous God justifies sinners? Is it true that God can simply forgive sinners without blood sacrifice? This is the problem I am attempting to answer as I explore penal substitution, a notion that stabs to make sense of what the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus achieved.
A concise Biblical answer could be given by combining Hebrews 9: 22b: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” and Hebrews 10:4 “[it was] impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”(ESV) together. I have divide this article in three parties so I can fairly attempt to present the notion of penal substitutionary atonement and also answer some of the popular objections.
The notion of atonement as we encounter in Old Testament, predominantly in Leviticus 16, describes a framework of purification as a sinner involves herself in a ritual cleansing and offering sacrifice to atoned for her transgressions against God’s righteousness and holiness.
N. T. Wright quotes D. P. Wright explaining:
While throughout the year the impurity of individual or community sins may be purged as they arise, once a year a special rite must be performed that cleanses the sanctuary of impurity from deliberate sins and from any other lingering impurity not yet rectified.(Wright 1996: 410)
“[A]tonement is a multifaceted event”, explained R.C. Sproul, “Jesus is shown providing surety for our debt to God, mediating the enmity between us and God, and offering Himself as a substitute to suffer God’s judgment in our place.”(Sproul 2007: 53)
Stealing the thought of Anselm of Canterbury, I believe the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus paid the penalty that man owed God for his sin and none but man must pay. But only God-man was able to fully and perfectly bore the just condemnation as a substitute in place of those who belong to His Father.
In the next article I will attempt to unpacked the above paragraph as we explore both the Old and the New Testament doctrine of atonement.
Previous: Atonement: Dancing With Theories
Question: Why is more and more contemporary Christians find it offensive to speak of the blood of Jesus?
 In The Story We Find Ourselves (2003) Brian McLaren also attack penal substitutionary atonement.
Nolly, Addy (2000): Herstory and Heresy: A Feminist/Womanist Perspective on Jesus
Pinnock, H. Clark & Brow, Robert C.(1994): Unbound Love: A Good News Theology for the 21st Century. Intervarsity Pr.
Wright, N. T. (1996). Jesus and the victory of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Sproul, R. C. (2007). The Truth of the Cross (53). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.