Sources of Atonement Theology


Photo credit: Vishnu Gs, Wikimedia Commons. 


sources of atonement theology: protestant

These resources explore the meaning of Jesus' death, from the understanding of the Christian community in its first four hundred years, expressed in the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds.  Jesus is God's way of undoing human evil, in a personal, loving way.  His death was the climax of his victorious struggle over the corruption in his own human nature. We call this "Medical Substitution," although it has gone by other names.

Other Books and Articles on Medical Substitutionary Atonement in the Protestant Tradition

Theopedia, Definite Atonement (Theopedia article) the companion doctrine to penal substitution, which I critique

John McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement (1856; pdf book online)

Henry Nutcombe Oxenham, The Catholic Doctrine of the Atonement (1865; free ebook)

George MacDonald, "Justice", from Unspoken Sermons, Series Three (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1885)

Laurence William Grensted, A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement (1920; google book)

David Smith, The Atonement in the Light of History and the Modern Spirit (1923; free ebook)

Gustav Aulen, Christus Victor: A Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (Amazon book, 1930) but develops inconsistencies by trying to reconcile penal substitution with what he calls the "dramatic view"

C.S. Lewis, "The Perfect Penitent" (blog post) from his book Mere Christianity (1942 - 44; pdf file) calls penal substitution "a silly theory"

D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (Amazon book, 1948)

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2 (1961) "There must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of the Fall"

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2 and IV/3 (1961)

P.P. Waldenstrom, Be Ye Reconciled to God (1963; pdf file)

Leander Keck, The Law and "the Law of Sin and Death" (pdf file) edited byJames L. Crenshaw and Samuel Sandmel, The Divine Helmsman (Amazon book, 1980) is a very good treatment of Romans 8:1 - 4.  "Had the Son not participated in this kind of flesh, the "condemnation" would not have been liberating; it could only have exposed even more powerfully the human dilemma, so that the net result of knowing about such a Son would, like hearing the law, have only made one conscious of sin (3:20).  This formulation of the radical identification of the Son with the full depths of the human condition is similar to that of 2 Cor.5:21..."

Roberta Bondi, To Love as God Loves: Conversations with the Early Church (Amazon book, Sep 1, 1987)

Thomas F. Torrance, The Distinctive Character of the Reformed Faith (Oct 6, 1988) pdf file

Trevor A. Hart, Christ in our Place: The Humanity of God in Christ for the Reconciliation of the World: Essays presented to James Torrance (Amazon book, Jan 1, 1989)

Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation (Amazon book, Feb 28, 1991)

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Amazon book, Jul 1, 1992)

"Judgment" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993) and Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IV Press, 1992; pdf file)

"Wrath" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993; pdf file) identifies God's wrath as an activity, not an attribute

"Expiation, Propitiation, Mercy Seat" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993; pdf file) interprets "hilasterion" as "mercy seat" and not as "propitiation"

"Righteousness" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993; pdf file)

Roberta Bondi, Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life (Amazon book, 1995) has an excellent chapter discussing atonement "Out of the Green Tiled Bathroom" (pdf file)

Donald Bloesch, Jesus Christ (Amazon book, 1997)

Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jensen, Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther (Amazon book, 1998)

Kelly M. Kapic, The Son's Assumption of a Human Nature: A Call for Clarity (International Journal of Systematic Theology, Jul 2001)

Christopher D. Marshall, Beyond Retribution: A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime, and Punishment (Amazon book, 2001)

Christopher D. Marshall, Atonement, Violence, and the Will of God: A Sympathetic Response to J. Denny Weaver's The Non-Violent Atonement (Jan 2003; website)

Richard D. Nelson, He Offered Himself: Sacrifice in Hebrews (Interpretation; Jul 2003)

Colin Gunton, The Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality, and the Christian Tradition (Amazon book, Dec 2003)

Stephen Finlan, The Background and Contents of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors (pdf book, Sep 2004) argues for both propitiation and expiation

Richard H. Anderson, Cultic Atonement Metaphors (Kratistos Theophilus blog, Aug 2005) another review of Stephen Finlan, with comments on Loren Rosson

Christian D. Kettler, The God Who Believes: Faith, Doubt, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ (Amazon book, Sep 1, 2005)

Loren Rosson, The Historical Lamb (Jesus and His Death blog, Nov 9, 2005) a review of Scot McKnight's book Jesus and His Death and Stephen Finlan; see also here

Jeannine Graham, Representation and Substitution in the Atonement Theologies of Dorothee Sölle, John Macquarrie, and Karl Barth (Amazon book, 2005)

Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Amazon book, 2005) and pdf book

C. Baxter Kruger, Jesus and the Undoing of Adam (Amazon book, 2007)

Trevin Wax, Don't Tell Me N.T. Wright Denies "Penal Substitution" (The Gospel Coalition, Apr 24, 2007) examines a good sampling of passages but both Wright might be questioned further for consistency

Jason Goroncy, 'The Wondrous Cross: Atonement and Penal Substitution in the Bible and History': A Review (blog, Jan 8, 2008)

Our God is a Consuming Fire (God's Character, Jun 10, 2008) helpful list of Scriptures regarding God as fire, with comments

Ian A. McFarland, Fallen or Unfallen? (International Journal of Systematic Theology, Oct 2008)

Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Amazon book, 2008) a masterpiece. Volume Two is Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement (Amazon book, 2009) which is not as concise as Volume One, and less well organized

Matthew Baker, "The Place of St. Irenaeus of Lyon in Historical and Dogmatic Theology According to Thomas F. Torrance", Participatio:  The Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship (Volume 2, 2010; website)

Jeff McSwain, Young Life and the Gospel of All-Along Belonging (The Other Journal, Jan 6, 2010)

Christian D. Kettler, The God Who Rejoices: Joy, Despair, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ (Amazon book, Jun 1, 2010)

Ken Pulliam, Index of Posts About Penal Substitution Theory (Former Fundy blog, Jul 17, 2010) which contributed to his de-conversion

Derek Flood, Substitutionary Atonement and the Church Fathers: A Reply to the Authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions (Evangelical Quarterly, 2010; pdf article)

Derek Flood, Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor (pdf article)

Mark Thompson and the Sydney Synod, Penal Substitutionary Atonement (Sydney Doctrine Commission, Aug 24, 2010) a good explanation of PSA (Amazon book, 2011)

J.R. Woodward, A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election (blog, Jun 23, 2011) (Amazon book, Dec 29, 2011) and review by Stephen D. Morrison, The Book to End Penal Substitution (blog) this is a comprehensive book that I wished I had the time to write; it is the single best resource dismantling the exegesis of penal substitution, although it is less clear on how exactly to read the relevant biblical passages

Joshua, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christology: For Me (Theologians Inc blog, Feb 24, 2012) note Bonhoeffer's use of "new humanity" and universal atonement

Thomas H. McCall, Forsaken: The Trinity, the Cross, and Why It Matters (Amazon book, 2012) and review by Ted Johnston (Surprising God blog, Apr 18, 2012)

Oliver Crisp, By His Birth We Are Healed (Christianity Today, Apr 9, 2012)

Morgan Guyton, 4 Cringe-worthy Claims of Popular Penal Substitution Theology (Huffington Post, Jul 2, 2012) fun, short read for a popular audience

John Milbank, Are the New Evangelicals a New Phenomenon or a Reversion to Type? (blog, Jan 18, 2013)

Father George Dion. Dragas, T.F. Torrance - A Theologian For Our Times: An Eastern Orthodox Assessment (Grace Communion International, Feb 23, 2013)

Kevin Chiarot, The Unassumed is the Unhealed: The Humanity of Christ in the Christology of T.F. Torrance (Amazon book, Sep 24, 2013) challenges T.F. Torrance in an attempt to defend penal substitution

Brad Jersak, The Gospel in Chairs (video, Oct 24, 2013)

Martin M. Davis, Ontological Healing vs. Traditional Views of Atonement (blog, Dec 12, 2013)

Carl Mosser, ‘An Exotic Flower? Calvin and the Doctrine of Deification,’ edited by Michael Parsons, Reformation Faith: Exegesis and Theology in the Protestant Reformation (2014), chapter 4 (, 2014)

Paul Rezkalla, If All Religions Are True, Then God is Cruel (Gospel Coalition blog, Mar 25, 2014) an example of penal substitution; the "bridge operator" analogy in the context of interfaith dialogue; I would not endorse this approach

Alan B. Torrance, Liberating Grace Audio Series (audio series online)

Steve McVey, Beyond an Angry God: You Can't Imagine How Much God Loves You (Amazon book, Aug 1, 2014) see also Steve McVey, What Is God's Wrath (GCI You're Included) which discusses God's wrath as an activity, not an attribute, of God - because God is love, His wrath must be understood in light of His love

Neil Carter, Anti-Humanism: How Evangelicalism Taught Me the Art of Self-Loathing (Patheos blog, Nov 3, 2014)

Richard Beck, When God Became the Devil (Experimental Theology blog, Nov 20, 2014) see also the comments

Greg Boyd, The Danger of the Penal Substitution View of the Atonement (ReKnew, Nov 20, 2014)

Michael Gorman, "Paul's Corporate, Cruciform, Missional Theosis in 2 Corinthians," edited by Thate, Vanhoozer, and Campbell, "In Christ" in Paul (pdf book, Dec 1, 2014) is an excellent treatment of 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 8:1 - 9:15 which shows that in Paul, participation is central, not justification, which helps dismantle penal substitution

Douglas Campbell and Douglas J. Moo, Paul on Justification: Is the Lutheran Approach to Pauline Justification Justified? (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Feb 12, 2015)

Philip Jensen, Anglican Evangelicalism (Preaching Matters, St. Helen's Bishopsgate, Mar 2, 2015) comments on the prayer book of Thomas Cranmer, the reliance on John Calvin, and the limits thereof; the difference between Calvin as biblical commentator (influenced by John Chrysostom) and modern Calvinists (who rely on a simplified version of Calvin's Institutes)

George Hunsinger, What Christ Did Was Effective for All (Grace Communion International video)

Cherith Fee Nordling, What Jesus' Humanity Means for Us (Grace Communion International video)

Nadia Bolz Weber, Sara Miles, A Devastating Good Friday Sermon (Patheos blog, Apr 4, 2015)

Scot McKnight, Theology of Holy Saturday (Patheos blog, Apr 4, 2015)

Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel (Amazon book, Apr 21, 2015)

The Problem of the Atonement (Death to Life website)

Bruce Wauchope, The Gospel and Mental Health Sample (Trinity in You blog)

J.R. Daniel Kirk, Why is Jesus Human? (Storied Theology blog, May 19, 2015)

Chris Mooney, The Surprising Links Between Faith and Evolution and Climate Denial - Charted (NY Times, May 20, 2015) interesting as I think the principle of meritocratic-retributive justice standing behind penal substitution is also an influence

Charlie Baber, Atonement Theories of Relativity (Wesley Brothers, Jul 21, 2015)

Greg Boyd, Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross? (ReKnew blog, Jul 28, 2015)

Jason Robert Radcliffe, Thomas F. Torrance and the Church Fathers: A Reformed, Evangelical and Ecumenical Reconstruction of the Patristic Tradition (Themelios, Aug 2015)

Ben Myers, Five Short Videos on Atonement Theology (Faith and Theology blog, Sep 8, 2015)

George MacDonald, Divine Justice (Works of George MacDonald, Oct 11, 2015)

George MacDonald, Justice (Works of George MacDonald, Oct 15, 2015) "God is not bound to punish sin. He is bound to destroy it..."

Alvin Rapien, Interviewing Ikons: Ben Myers (The Poor in Spirit blog, Oct 15, 2015) Dr. Myers, Lecturer in Systematic Theology at United Theological College (Australia) gives a short and sweet description of patristic theology on Christ, atonement, and hell.  See also Ben Myers, Atonement - Jesus' Death (Youtube video, Sep 30, 2015) on Athanasius' understanding

Benjamin Myers, The Patristic Atonement Model (pdf file), a chapter from Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, editors, Locating Atonement: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Amazon book, Nov 11, 2015)

C. Baxter Kruger, A New Relationship (youtube video, Nov 23, 2015)

Tom Belt, A Cry of Dereliction? (An Open Orthodoxy blog, Dec 9, 2015)

Greg Boyd, Ten Problems with the Penal Substitution View of the Atonement (ReKnew blog, Dec 10, 2015)

Myk Habets, The Fallen Humanity of Christ: A Pneumatological Clarification of the Theology of T.F. Torrance (Participatio, Vol.5, 2015)

Benjamin L. Corey, Old Testament Law: The Accuser Christ Defeated on the Cross (Patheos, Mar 18, 2016) intriguing, though I disagree with his understanding of the Jewish law

Religion to Reason, If Man Forgave Like God: Penal Substitution Atonement Theory (Religion to Reason, Aug 9, 2016) 5 minute video, humorous and raises good points

Dan Cameron, Flesh and Blood Myth 1: Fallenness Equals Sinfulness (blog, Apr 18, 2016)

Greg Boyd, The Incarnation: More Than a Rescue Mission (ReKnew, Jul 2016)

Jonathan Kleis, When Orthodoxy Becomes Innovation (Reformissio, Aug 27, 2016)

Jonathan Kleis, Are There Two Wills in God? (Reformissio, Aug 28, 2016)

Bobby Grow, In Response to Kevin J. Vanhoozer's Critique of Evangelical Calvinism: No We Don't Hold to the Physical Theory of Atonement (Evangelical Calvinism, Sep 24, 2016) worth noting as an ongoing discussion; but may or may not represent the "physical theory" accurately, and Vanhoozer misrepresents Irenaeus

Daniel J. Cameron, Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ's Human Nature (Amazon book, Oct 12, 2016) a short and concise explanation of how Jesus could bear a fallen human nature but be sinless as a person; analysis rests on the language of the ecumenical councils

Wondering Eagle, Cru Winter Conference Review 2016-2017: David Platt, Matt Smethurst, Jackson Crum and J.D. Grear are Some of the Main Speakers (blog, Dec 19, 2016)

International House of Prayer, Atonement Debate - Dr. Michael Brown vs Brian Zahnd - Monster God or Monster Man (International House of Prayer, Dec 19, 2016)

Bobby Grow, Athanasius and T.F. Torrance Condra Mundum, Against the World of Classical Calvinist Forensic Conception of the Atonement (Evangelical Calvinist, Jan 9, 2017)

Bobby Grow, The Holy Spirit in the Theology of T.F. Torrance: The Holy Spirit 'Accommodates' the Ineffable God Through the Son, Jesus Christ (Evangelical Calvinist, Apr 1, 2017)

Dishon Mills, Did We Divide God? (Grace Christian Church, Apr 3, 2017) Dishon's Good Friday message

Gary Deddo, Clarifying Two Key Terms: "All Are Included" and "Union with Christ" (GCI Equipper, Apr 3, 2017) distinguishes between universal reconciliation and personal, particular, union with Christ

Relevant Magazine, N.T. Wright Explains How Easter Changed Everything (Relevant Magazine, Apr 14, 2017) "It’s better to believe [penal substitution] than to believe nothing. But it’s simply not the way that the Bible itself tells the story."

Gary Deddo, Union with Christ, Christ's Vicarious Humanity and the Holy Spirit's Ministry (GCI Equipper, May 1, 2017) on how to use the term "union with Christ" for believers only

Christian D. Kettler, The Breadth and Depth of Atonement: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ in the Church, the World, and the Self (Amazon book, May 11 2017)

Gary Deddo, The Holy Spirit's Ministry, the Christian Life, Believers and Non-Believers  (GCI Equipper, Jun 1, 2017) practical implications of why "union with Christ" is not identical with the hypostatic union

Julie Zauzmer, Christians Are More Than Twice as Likely to Blame a Person's Poverty on Lack of Effort (Washington Post, Aug 3, 2017) because white evangelicals believe in penal substitution and therefore believe that God's highest justice is meritocratic-retributive; something Mako commented on in an NHI blog post, Why Penal Substitution is a Gateway Drug to Right Wing Extremism  

Brian Zahnd, Response to Derek Rishmawy’s Critique of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Luke Norsworthy blog, Sep 5, 2017)

Brian Zahnd, Interview with William Paul Young, Author of The Shack and Lies We Believe About God (Apr 29, 2018)

Michael F. Bird, Combining Christus Victor and Penal Substitution (Patheos, May 28, 2018) is a short and unsuccessful attempt at fusing these two atonement theories, based on a misreading of Athanasius; see this blog series on Athanasius.

Brad Jersak, Does God Save Us from God? (Sep 10, 2018)

Ted Johnston, What Sort of Human Nature Did Jesus Have (The Surprising God blog, Oct 26, 2018) a helpful short article, with good quotations; see also Ted Johnston, Atonement: Participation, Not Mere Imputation (The Surprising God blog, Feb 10, 2018) 

Rachael Denhollander, Justice: The Foundation of a Christian Approach to Abuse (Fathom Magazine, Nov 19, 2018) a helpful paper with a practical purpose; but notice how "unity of operations" in the Trinity make retributive satisfaction and penal substitution impossible - one must go further to medical substitution and divine restorative justice

Atonement and the Scapegoat Theory

Rene Girard, Are the Gospels Mythical? (First Things, Apr 1996)

Wayne Northey, Presentation on Spirituality of Penal Abolition (ICOPA IX, May 2000) a paper on, contains a concise summary of Christian history

Rene Girard, Interview with CBC, Part 1 (youtube, Jan 26, 2013) on an excellent anthropology of scapegoating

Rene Girard, Interview with CBC, Part 2 (youtube, Jan 26, 2013) treats Leviticus 16 and the Jewish practice of the scapegoat and atonement; also says the Joseph story is the reversal of the Oedipus story, where Joseph is innocent (Oedipus as scapegoat is guilty) and brings reconciliation (not death and division). In addition, Joseph tests his brothers by making Benjamin a scapegoat, but Judah refuses it and offers himself. The Joseph and Judah story exposes the scapegoating myth.  It is anti-myth.

Rene Girard, Interview with CBC, Part 3 (youtube, Jan 26, 2013) explains why non-instinctual desires are imitative (mimetic) and therefore competitive; explains the biblical story of the fall in Genesis and redemption in the Gospels; why imitating Jesus is non-violent and non-competitive

Richard Feloni, Peter Thiel Explains How an Esoteric Philosophy Book Shaped His Worldview (Business Insider, Nov 10, 2014) Thiel was influenced by Rene Girard

Dania Rodrigues, The Ancient Greeks Sacrificed Ugly People (Atlas Obscura, Oct 30, 2015) part of the cultural backdrop which Christians rejected

Adam Ericksen, Rene Girard and the Mechanisms of Violence (Christian Transhumanist Podcast, Nov 30, 2015)

Sarah Kaplan, The Darker Link Between Ancient Human Sacrifice and Our Modern World (Washington Post, Apr 5, 2016)

Tyler Graham, Death to the Death Penalty? René Girard’s Challenge to Thomas Aquinas (The Imaginative Conservative, Nov 2018) an example of humility from conservatives

The Links Between Penal Substitution, Lynching, and Prisons

Wayne Northey, Presentation on Spirituality of Penal Abolition (ICOPA IX, May 2000) a paper on, contains a concise summary of Christian history

Paula J. Giddings, Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching (Amazon book, Mar 3, 2009)

Dominique Gilliard, Sunday Lynchings: The Church's Role in Our Nation's Legacy of Racism (Converge Oakland, Feb 27, 2013)

Jamelle Bouie, Christian Soldiers: Lynching and Torture in the Jim Crow South Weren't Just Acts of Racism, but Religious Rituals  (Slate, Feb 10, 2015)

Kaia Stern, Voices from American Prisons: Faith, Education, and Healing (Amazon book, Jun 10, 2015) ch.2 is about the impact of Augustine, Calvin, and penal substitution

Julie Perkins, The Most Dangerous Sermon Ever Preached (Relevant Magazine) an interview with Brian Zahnd critiquing Jonathan Edwards, Puritan Christianity, and retributive justice (Amazon book, Feb 6, 2018)

Len Joson, Incarnation, Atonement, and Redemption (Len Joson blog, Jun 24, 2019)

Dr. Jeannine Graham, Jesus’ Exclusive Connection to Human Nature (Grace Communion International, You’re Included Series, Jul 31, 2019) a youtube video interview

Jewish Resources

Executive Committee of the Editorial Board, Peace Offering (Jewish Encyclopedia)

sources of atonement theology

These resources explore the foundation of “Medical Substitution” as the best understanding of the Bible, and the original understanding of the church. There are also links to books, web articles, etc. from representatives of the three broad Christian traditions.