I have now completed a lot of reading defending PSA and now I begin to read the counter-arguments. These are very compelling. I wonder how my Packer and Stott can remain unswayed by some of the objections, if PSA has really shaped human culture to be so pre-disposed to violence and retribution as a consequence of our theology of retribution. Or is it that the authors of these counter-arguments are missing something about the cross and painting a caricature of the theory and exposing instead how much sinful humanity can twist something beautiful into something which it uses to prop up its own evil bent. I'm not sure yet (still so much more reading and thinking to do) but currently only captured by the emotion and a little afraid to read quotations like the following:
Blake: 'Every religion that preaches vengeance for sin is the religion of the enemy and avenger and not the forgiver of sin and their God is Satan.' (Barrow and Bentley, Consuming passion, p.17).
Vic Thiessen makes a very interesting contribution to the collection of essays 'Consuming Passions', in which he explains how Penal Substitution:the motion picture is the very popular 'The Passion' by Mel Gibson. Exponents of PSA often concentrate on this theory of the atonement to such an extent that it over dominates teaching on sanctification - modelling our lives as a response to Jesus and teaching of the gospels. It would seem that churches with a very passionate doctrine of PSA, seem also to be churches who greatly stress Isaiah 53, Paul's teaching and the Old Testament. They teach the doctrine of the church more than they teach the words of Jesus.
This is though problematic to claim. If we are happy to claim the above then are we also questioning the power of the Holy Spirit in its communication of such doctrine over the centuries. I always get back to this bottom-line - what was of God (the Holy Spirit) and how much of the faith has been corrupted by man? It is a very difficult thing to answer. My faith and maybe even my optimism and naivety and my difficulty with depravity means I really want to believe that the all powerful Holy Spirit has been efficacious in communicating the gospel to sinful humanity and our creeds and understandings are correct. However, as I read about how much the doctrine of PSA might have damaged the already damaged and possibly polluted our idea of God, I am left wondering.
It's no easy business going to theological college, it shakes away at your foundations and you're left with a pile of bricks instead. As you look at them some have had the corners chipped off and the wall you rebuild will not be quite the same. I just hope it is chinks of light that I will see through the cracks and not an ill wind blowing to threaten the structure again.