Please note title change – the original title “False Advertising For God” went with a quote by McLaren that I didn’t end up using.
One issue that I’ve had with some of the emerging church leadership is how they want to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus. For instance consider what Brian McLaren said during a 2006 podcast interview:
And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who – I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation. Cause some people would use this against him. But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you – Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.
But that view doesn’t gel with scripture for instance the author of Hebrews states, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” (Hebrews 9:22, NIV).
The main mistake with many who have problems with this view of the atonement is that they try to separate the love of God from His wrath. They want to isolate His attributes and character traits. God is love, but God is holy. He is just and He is merciful. He is all of that at the same time!
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God, (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, ESV).
If Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t vicarious – if He didn’t need to die in our place, why die? What was the point?
His death was necessary sacrifice in order to atone for our sin. This wasn’t an act of pettiness on God’s part, but an act of love – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV).