Increasingly—or so it seems to me—the penal substitution theory of atonement has become reified as the sole, legitimate theory accepted by “orthodox” Evangelicals. I have seen a number writings that indicate any openness to other theories of atonement is a departure from “biblical” Christianity. This is surprising to me. My theology and history classes indicated that a multiplicity of atonement theories have been propagated by well-known and highly respected theologians. Moreover, Scripture offers up several different word pictures for understanding the death of Jesus.
The fact that the penal substitution theory has become the only “correct” theory of atonement further confounded me as I discovered it to be a later development. In fact, two sources I consulted place its origins in the second millennium of Christian history. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying that the penal substitution theory of atonement is wrong. I concede that there is amble evidence in Scripture to indicate that it is a viable theory. But, is it the only legitimate possibility?