Cover Image: Pierced for our Transgressions

Pierced for our Transgressions:
Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution

Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach (IVP, 2007)

Blurb Review by Tim Challies


The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin. The belief that Jesus died for us, suffering the wrath of his own Father in our place, has been the wellspring of the hope of countless Christians through the ages. However, an increasing number of theologians and church leaders are questioning this doctrine, claiming, for example, that it misunderstands the nature of God's judgment; that it divides the Trinity; or that it misreads crucial texts such as Isaiah 53 or Mark 10:45. The doctrine has been pro-vocatively described as ‘a form of cosmic child abuse.' In recent years, the criticisms - including some from within the evangelical constituency - have intensified. Furthermore, the debate is no longer confined to the academy, and has now found its way into popular Christian books and magazines. In response, Jeffery, Ovey and Sach offer a fresh articulation and affirmation of penal substitution. In Part 1 they make the case that the doctrine is clearly taught in Scripture; that it has a central place in Christian theology; that its neglect has serious pastoral consequences; and that it has an impeccable pedigree in the history of the Christian church. In Part 2, the authors then engage systematically with over twenty specific objections that have been brought against penal substitution. Their clear exposition and analysis, and charitable but firm responses, are accessible to all with a serious concern for the issues.


Part One: Making the Case

1. Introduction

Setting the scene
Responding to the challenge

2. Searching the Scriptures: the biblical foundations of penal substitution

Exodus 12
Leviticus 16
Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
The Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of John
Galatians 3:10-13
1 Peter 2:21-25 and 3:18

3. Assembling the pieces: the theological framework for penal substitution

Setting the scene
‘Decreation' - the undoing of creation
The consequences of sin
Truth, goodness, justice and salvation
Relationships within the Trinity

4. Exploring the implications: the pastoral importance of penal substitution

Assurance of God's love
Confidence in God's truthfulness
Passion for God's justice
Realism about our sin

5. Surveying the heritage: the historical pedigree of penal substitution

Introduction: Why bother with church history?
Justin Martyr (c. 100-165)
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275-339)
Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300-368)
Athanasius (c. 300-373)
Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 330-390)
Ambrose of Milan (339-397)
John Chrysostom (c. 350-407)
Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Cyril of Alexandria (375-444)
Gelasius of Cyzicus (fifth century)
Gregory the Great (c. 540-604)
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Francis Turretin (1623-1687)
John Bunyan (1628-1688)
John Owen (1616-1683)
George Whitefield (1714-1770)
Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)
John R. W. Stott (born 1921)
J. I. Packer (born 1926)
The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) Doctrinal Basis
The Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith

Part Two: Answering the Critics

6. Introduction to the debate

Setting the scene
Our approach
Why do it this way?

7. Penal substitution and the Bible

1. ‘Penal substitution is not the only model of the atonement'
2. ‘Penal substitution is not central to the atonement'
3. ‘Penal substitution diminishes the significance of Jesus' life and resurrection'
4. ‘Penal substitution is not taught in the Bible'
5. ‘Penal substitution is not important enough to be a source of division'

8. Penal substitution and culture

1. ‘Penal substitution is the product of human culture, not biblical teaching'
2. ‘Penal substitution is unable to address the real needs of human culture'
3. ‘Penal substitution relies on biblical words, metaphors and concepts that are outdated and misunderstood in our culture'

9. Penal substitution and violence

1. ‘Penal substitution rests on unbiblical ideas of sacrifice'
2. ‘The violence involved in penal substitution amounts to "cosmic child abuse"'
3. ‘The retributive violence involved in penal substitution contradicts Jesus' message of peace and love'
4. ‘The violence inherent in penal substitution is an example of "the myth of redemptive violence", which can never overcome evil'

10. Penal substitution and justice

1. ‘It is unjust to punish an innocent person, even if he is willing to be punished'
2. ‘Biblical justice is about restoring relationships, not exacting retribution'
3. ‘Penal substitution implicitly denies that God forgives sin'
4. ‘Penal substitution does not work, for the penalty Christ suffered was not equivalent to that due to us'
5. ‘Penal substitution implies universal salvation, which is unbiblical'

11. Penal substitution and our understanding of God

1. ‘Penal substitution implies a division between the persons of the Trinity'
2. ‘Penal substitution relies on an unbiblical view of an angry God that is incompatible with his love'
3. ‘Penal substitution misunderstands the relationship between God's wrath and human sin'
4. ‘Penal substitution generates an unbiblical view of a God constrained by a law external to himself '
5. ‘Penal substitution is an impersonal, mechanistic account of the atonement'

12. Penal substitution and the Christian life

1. ‘Penal substitution fails to address the issues of political and social sin and cosmic evil'
2. ‘Penal substitution is an entirely objective account of the atonement, and fails to address our side of the Creator-creature relationship'
3. ‘Penal substitution causes people to live in fear of God'
4. ‘Penal substitution legitimates violence and encourages the passive acceptance of unjust suffering'

13. A final word

‘The Vague Objection'
‘The Emotional Objection'

Appendix: A personal note to preachers

Exploring the problem
Addressing the problem

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