An Analysis of the 2017 SBC Resolution on Penal Substitutionary Atonement

“Despite characterizing itself as a defense of traditional Southern Baptist theology, the resolution expresses sentiments which actually conflict with the SBC’s long-standing confessional position.” - London Lyceum


It’s worth noting that the debate is about the “penal” part of the “penal substitutionary” view of the atonement. “Substitutionary” has been a given in SBC for a long time. Apparently, it’s possible to believe in substitutionary without believing in penal. In my view, Scripture is just as clear on both halves of “penal substitution,” and it’s odd to embrace one without the other, but there seems to be a history of doing that in some circles.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I do find it interesting that whenever I defend penal substitutionary atonement in SS, and explain that it is under attack, people are surprised that it is even controversial. In spite of the Chronicles of Narnia, I find that few people in the churches I have been associated with have fallen for the payment to Satan view, and fewer still uncomfortable with the penal part. So that has been good. When I was taking seminary classes, though, I was shocked how some students rejected penal substitutionary atonement for things like Christus Victor only views.

Christus Victor is helpful. Like facets of a diamond, atonement can be legitimately viewed from many helpful angles. Penal, substitutionary atonement is the largest and most dazzling facet in the diamond. Many systematics that aren’t Very Reformed acknowledge this. If memory serves, Bruce and Demerest are very gracious and fair and make a similar point.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.