Chapter 1 – The Need to Know

Author: Kevin George

This book is a work in progress. Posts on this blog are to enable readers to examine the manuscript and make commentary. These blog posts are NOT the final version!

The fundamental question which relates to the topic of atonement is, “On what basis does a holy God offer forgiveness for our sin so we can have a right standing before Him?” This desire to be forgiven applies to all people, and a lack of feeling forgiven, or a misunderstanding God’s forgiveness, can generate a guilt complex which is manifested in various forms. Throughout human history there have been many and varied teachings on how to obtain divine forgiveness, and an erroneous method of obtaining it can lead to horrible consequences and extreme practices such as self-immolation and child sacrifices. For the last 500 to 1000 years (depending on how it is defined and by whom), most of Protestant Christianity has offered a version of what is claimed to be a Biblical teaching of atonement, called Penal Substitution. But this version requires that a thinking person accept some claims which on its face appear to be perverse, or at least inverse, to what we would expect from a loving God of justice. Many people have rejected Christianity due to these atonement claims and the poor answers which are given to their honest inquiries. This problem has also led some people within Christianity to have a crisis of belief to the point of rejecting Christianity.

Critics outside of Christianity, and some within Christianity, question the Penal Substitution teaching regarding forgiveness and atonement as it claims that God would not, or could not, forgive our sins unless and until men tortured and murdered his innocent son. Only after men committed this evil deed would God be capable or willing to forgive. Naturally, the doctrine is not taught in such a direct and blunt manner. Rather, it is taught as a loving God providing a substitute who would willingly take our place and provide the means by which God can now accept sinful humanity.

This book is intended to examine the most common atonement teaching within Protestant Christianity called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (often abbreviated as PSA), and will provide a biblical explanation of an alternative and more biblical view which the author calls Reconciliational Atonement

It is important to state that not all churches within what is generically called “Christianity” teach Penal Substitutionary Atonement, as it is predominantly a Protestant doctrine. The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches are examples of this exception, and their views will be mentioned in chapter 2. The few Protestant churches which do not teach some form of PSA are the exception, as the prevailing view within most of Christianity is some form of PSA, with various nuances or emphasis in different groups.

This book will briefly examine the most common atonement teachings which have been proposed throughout the centuries of church history. Then the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) doctrine will be examined logically and biblically, as well as its resulting consequences. After this introduction there will be an examination of various topics that factor into the atonement topic. Then, important scripture passages will be investigated and a more biblical model of atonement will be proposed. Objections and questions will also be considered.

In summary, this book seeks to show biblically and logically why the Penal Substitution model is in error, and propose that the more accurate biblical model is Reconciliational Atonement, which results in our reconciliation with God.

The goal of this author is to propose a coherent grasp of the biblical teaching of atonement that fits the Old Testament and New Testament texts within its original cultural, textual, historical, and linguistic context. This means reading the text with what today may be considered ancient Hebraic thought as well as a background of cultural norms that existed as the normative milieu (a social environment of thought and behavior) of its time. Failure to do this leads to interpreting the biblical texts within foreign frameworks that are incongruent and thereby causes a mishmash of theological claims that are often slippery, contradictory, and even absurd. 

The journey begins in the next chapter with a brief examination of various theories of atonement which have been proposed and endorsed since the time of the early church.