The Evangelical Universalist Forum

An Inferred Argument for Penal Substitution

B.A.C., I didn’t at all expect that you would “know” or somehow be able to intuit my understanding of the vital Biblical texts. That’s why I offered you the unread paper that presents my best perceptions after many decades of teaching the Word. All who have been willing to graciously respond with their own critique and reading have been warmly welcomed into the dialogue. You would be no exception, if you so choose.

Very universalist quotations there although I know from your introduction you aren’t one. :wink:

Greetings Jeff.

Universal meaning God’s grace extends to every human being without exception, but this grace must be accepted to personally partake of it.

No problem with that… It’s entirely possible that eventually everyone will accept it - whether in this life or the next (if there is one :wink: )

Greetings Bob.

It seems the “vital Biblical texts” as you put it are working against the truth as you understand it in your paper. I believe you are the one who must account for the Substitonary death proof texts that contradict your understanding.

Jesus clearly saw his coming death as the substitionary sacrifice for sinners. ( Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45)
As did the prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 53:1-12)
As did John the Baptist ( John 1:29)
As did the Apostle Paul ( 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Pet 3:18; 2 Cor 5 :19-21; 1 Tim 2 : 5-6 which states Jesus giving himself to be a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

How is it possible to explain these revelation truths away to support your understanding?


You need to know that “BookofActsChristian” is posting from the same internet location as “Born Again” aka “Aaron37”; the forum system listed “Aaron37” as a registered alternate alias for BoAC (registered by the user at that location themselves).

While it’s technically possible this may be someone else named “Lee”, this person has continued posting without responding to formal administrative requests to clear up his identity, so we’ve shut down this access point more tightly.

I mention this to say that while you’re welcome to discuss the things he wrote (they’re certainly legitimate enough topics for discussion), please be aware that it’s unfair to challenge him back at this point, since he is not in a position anymore to answer in turn.

Aaron 37,
You assert that the texts I cite contradict my conclusion, but I can’t see that you have engaged even one of my many oberservations. You cite many of the same references I did, and characterize them as “substitutionary,” but I can’t see that my paper ever argues that Jesus does not have a substitutionary role. Are you really dialoguing with it?

Please excuse me posting a long-ish extract from a book freely available on Google Books, but there are many available there from what seems to be a golden age of universalist writings in the early to mid nineteenth century (many like this one of Unitarian bent). However, many of them have a view of the atonement in the original sense of the word at-one-ment meaning a reconciliation; and in the direction from God toward us and not vice versa. From the book Theology of universalism: being an exposition of its doctrines and teachings … By Thomas Baldwin Thayer 1862

I think, Bobx3, this would accord more with your distaste of Christ’s sacrifice as a violent appeasement of an angry God. Certainly this kind of thinking on the cross coupled with Universalism as a whole is a startling contrast to the Hellfire and vicious punishment of Jesus to appease God Christian world in which I grew up (and was believed with absolute certainty and fervour by generations of my family).

Bob, such a glib dismisal doesn’t make much sense. Robin Parry the author of The Evangelical Universalist makes a great effort to show that Universalism should be considered within the Evangelical fold. Why would he bother?

You call glib arguing that what matters is that our faith is Biblical. I call that the essence of being evangelical. But you seem to want to call names and argue about them, rather than ever get to engaging the Scriptures. That’s a form of evangelicalism in which Robin Parry has no interest.

Jeff, I appreciate the quote from Thayer! I moved away from a purely penal substitutionary concept of atonement some years ago, but still am trying to comprehend what it really means. The ruts of old thinking patterns are not easy to break out of–and it’s good to hear it explained in different ways by multiple people who seem to have some kind of understanding. This helps greatly. I think I’ll be working on this idea for awhile yet before I really feel I understand. I like how George MacDonald has one of his fictional characters say, “I desire to understand what God means by the Atonement.”

I’m also slowly working my way through the (very long!) old thread on Penal Substitution and Universalism that Bob linked to earlier in this thread–which I hadn’t seen before–and I’m also reading Bob Wilson’s 2 page Penal Substitution paper (which is excellent–lots of concepts are squeezed into those two pages. Thanks Bob!) And looking forward to reading Bobx3’s essay on Getting what we deserve–I always appreciate your thoughts!


Who decides whose being the most biblical? Isn’t “biblical” just another ‘label’? We read the Scriptures through the lens of tradition, wether we realize it or not. There’s no such thing as a pure neutral reading of Scripture, we’re all fallible humans reading it through a particular set of historical assumptions. Saying otherwise implies it’s possible to entirely neutral!

Luke, I respect your point that seeking to be Biblical is problematic because of presuppositions that we all bring to the text. Religious liberals always make that very classical argument that the Bible is such a “wax nose” that it is useless in the pursuit of valid beliefs.

Yet I personally reject your case for avoiding discussion of Scripture. Perhaps you are right that this is only because my tradition is in evangelicalism where wrestling with the Bible’s story has a central place in forming one’s convictions. But it may explain why I am less skeptical than you about its’ usefulness. I actually find real help and rich edification in it.

As I reflect on ALL of our interactions, it seems that each time you present arguments for why we should not engage in serious interaction about the Scripture, but you insist that it is vital to be “evangelical.” Since my experience in evangelicalism was that Scripture should play an authoritative role in evaluating our beliefs, I am curious how you are defining “evangelical.” Do you see a particular interpretation of the reformation as complete, providing the last word?

Incidentally, Thayer’s research bears out what George MacDonald (absolutely a trinitarian, not a unitarian :wink: ) used to remind his readers in the 19th century: the word first deployed for biblical translation by the Authorized Version compilers, ‘atonement’, is actually ‘at-one-ment’ (meaning at-one-ment) not ‘a-tone-ment’ (meaning nothing).

I realize penal substitutionary theory is very popular among evangelicals right now, but trying to tie it into evangelicalism may be like trying to make either Calvinism or Arminianism ‘evangelical’ with the other not.

Maybe that’s an historical assumption, or have we as moderns escaped subjectivity?

Bob, that’s an Ad hominem argument to imply I’m someone whose reluctant to engage with Scripture. I would have thought it’s self-evident that the definition of evangelicalism is as much sociological and historical as it is doctrinal.

Bob, I think you may have taken some of Luke’s comments the wrong way? He is an Anglican Minister fresh out of Bible college so I certainly hope he hasn’t been avoiding the discussion of Scripture :smiley:

I think I’ve had some of this discussion a few weeks ago on his blog. I believe he is saying that neither Universalists or non-Universalists can claim to have perfect insight to all Scripture. i.e. both sides come to the Bible with biases and have to qualify some passages.

Sorry to call your earlier response glib Bob, I think we got off on the wrong foot.

Luke, like Tom, I dig your photo, and I also appreciate your regret that we have gotten off on a bad foot. I am sorry that my frustration with a lack of engagement on Scripture has come across to you as an ad hominem attack.

As I said above, I totally respect your and Alex’s point that we all have bias’ and lack insight. I aso totally agree with you that a lot of our definitions of what is right are rooted in “sociological” influences. My central frustration is that I perceive you as raising views here that you find questionable. But when I say that the central puzzle for the tradition emphasized on this site focuses on what to make of relevant Scripture, you appear to me to consistently present reasons for why we should defer engaging the substance of the Biblical material. For me, that is the common ground that most of us share, and thus the most useful grist for insightful dialogue and understanding better why we may come to different conclusions. It has seemed to me that the alternative is essentially to declare or label others as wrong, which is what I fear most amounts to an ad-hominem approach.