Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, satisfying the wrath of a holy God, according to a Southern Baptist Convention resolution adopted June 13.
Meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix, messengers to the 2017 SBC annual meeting passed a resolution affirming “the truthfulness, efficacy and beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.”
Citing current voices attacking the predominant view among evangelicals of how Christ’s death atones for sin, the resolution says the denial of penal substitutionary atonement “constitutes false teaching that leads the flock away” and “leaves the world without a sin-cleansing savior.”
Two seminary professors, Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Malcolm Yarnell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recommended a draft resolution to the SBC resolutions committee before the convention countering contemporary voices attempting to soften the image of an angry God in order to appeal to modern sensibilities.
Examples include William Paul Young, author of the best-selling novel The Shack, who wrote in his non-fiction book Lies We Believe About God, that if God originated the cross “then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner.”
“Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense,” Young continued. “And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one.”
Christian musician Michael Gungor sparked a Twitter feud in February with the tweet: “I would love to hear more artists who sing to God and fewer who include a Father murdering a son in that endeavor.”
“If you can’t think of anything to sing to God other than gratitude for taking your shame away through bloodshed, stop singing and look around,” Gungor said in a follow-up tweet.
Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Center for Theological and Cultural Engagement at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., recently wrote a blog declaring “there is no doctrine in Scripture more beautiful than penal substitutionary atonement,” yet at the same time “there may be no doctrine that is more hated.”
“In truth, the biblical precept that the righteous must die for the wicked is the very core of Christian faith,” Strachan said. “Here is the burning heart of divine love: Christ crucified for us.”
Yarnell, research professor of systematic theology and director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, described the resolution as “a demonstration of unity across Calvinist and Non-Calvinist lines” intended to “prompt Southern Baptists to rally once again around the cross as the central doctrine of Christian redemption.”
“We truly believe that a loving God has put his Son on the cross in order to satisfy his just demand for holiness,” Yarnell wrote in a blog May 31. “Without the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope for sinful humanity. This is why we believe it is time to defend the atonement.”
Strachan and Yarnell did not release their resolution draft, saying they wanted to give the resolutions committee complete discretion. The resolution passed by messengers cites Bible passages promising “a warrior savior who would crush the head of the serpent to obliterate the enemy,” the Son of Man giving his life “as a ransom for many” and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sin.
“Baptists preach the cross of Christ, sing about the cross, cling to the cross, share the cross, love the cross and take up their own crosses to follow their Lord, even as the world despises His cross and the proclaimers of His cross,” one “whereas” statement declares.
The resolution also addresses the “scapegoat” theory of French Catholic philosopher René Girard, who died in 2015 at age 91, that Jesus saved humanity by demonstrating once and for all that God is not satisfied by violence, making Christianity the best antidote to rivalry and conflict at the root of all societies.
The “anti-violence” model of the cross, the resolution says, “weakens the Bible’s teaching by recasting the atonement as a basis for pacifism,” in contradiction to Romans 13:4: “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
Penal substitution, developed during the Protestant Reformation and one of the five tenets of Calvinism, isn’t the only way Christians across the ages have sought to understand the meaning of Christ’s atoning death on the cross, but it is the only theory that many Baptists have ever heard about.
Christian pastor A.W. Tozer famously illustrated the theory like this: “The cross is the lightning rod of grace that short-circuits God’s wrath to Christ so that only the light of His love remains for believers.”
“Some might say that blood is somewhat revolting, but blood given is a blessing,” evangelist Billy Graham preached in a 1957 sermon explaining Christ’s vicarious death in the place of sinners.
The Southern Baptist Convention previously affirmed Christ’s “substitutionary atonement for sins” in a 1994 resolution outlining differences with Roman Catholicism. The 1963 “Baptist Faith and Message” said that in his death on the cross Christ “made provision for the redemption of men from sin.” The 2000 “Baptist Faith and Message” inserts the word “substitutionary” before “death,” the resolution notes, “incorporating for the first time the language of substitution to make plain what evangelical Baptists have long since preached and believed.”