Tag Archives: Christ

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.


The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

William Lane Craig talks about the book “Contending With Christianity’s Critics”

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to students and faculty at Purdue University

Note: This book is currently on sale for only 99 cents (Kindle edition). Get it! Sorry if the price has changed by the time you read this post.

A series of three interviews from the “Reasonable Faith” podcast about the essay collection “Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors“.

Here is the first MP3 file.


  • About the editor Paul Copan, (the nicest Christian apologist)
  • 1: Responding to Dawkins’ argument “Who designed the designer?”
  • 2: Responding to the multiverse counter to the fine-tuning argument
  • 3: The argument that rationality and consciouness require theism
  • 4: The evidence for humans being hard-wired for belief in God
  • 5: Responding to naturalism’s claim to rationally ground morality
  • 6: Responding to Dawkins’ idea that the universe looks undesigned

Here is the second MP3 file.


  • 7: The criteria that historians use to establish historical reliability
  • 8: Did Jesus think that he was the Son of Man in Daniel
  • 9: A time line for the resurrection of Jesus from the early sources
  • 10: Responding to scholarly distortions of the historical Jesus
  • 11: Responding to Bart Ehrman’s claim that the NT text is corrupted
  • 12: The evidence for Jesus divine self-understanding

Here is the third MP3 file.


  • 13: The logical coherence of the concept of God
  • 14: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Trinity
  • 15: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Incarnation
  • 16: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Atonement
  • 17: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Hell
  • 18: Responding to objections to God’s knowledge of the future

My favorite chapters in this book are the ones by Mark Linville on evolution and morality, and the chapter by Robert H. Stein on historical criteria and methodology. This is not an introductory book, this book is an intermediate-level book. You want to read the two Jim Wallace books and the Lee Strobel “Case For” books before you tackle this one.

Much of the book is philosophy and philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. Well, I guess everyone knows that I hate non-STEM disciplines, and I only read philosophy because it’s useful for Christian apologetics. If you are like me, and think that only STEM disciplines have value, then this book is for you. You will be able to make use of it in your case-making adventures. It. Works. This is the stuff that gets William Lane Craig invited to all the best universities to debate against all the best atheists. And he beats them all up with it, too.

What does the Bible say on the issue of self-defense vs gun control?

Theology that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

Reformed Baptist theologian Wayne Grudem speaks on the Bible and the right of self-defense.

About Wayne Grudem:

Grudem holds a BA from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. In 2001, Grudem became Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to that, he had taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he was chairman of the department of Biblical and Systematic Theology.

Grudem served on the committee overseeing the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and in 1999 he was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is a co-founder and past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is the author of, among other books, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, which advocates a Calvinistic soteriology, the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the body-soul dichotomy in the nature of man, and the complementarian (rather than egalitarian) view of gender equality.

The MP3 file is here.

The PDF outline is here.


  • what about turning the other cheek? doesn’t that undermine self-defense?
  • what does Jesus say about the right to self-defense in the New Testament
  • did Jesus’ disciples carry swords for protection during his ministry?
  • why did Jesus tell his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords?
  • what about Jesus stopping Peter from using force during Jesus’ arrest?
  • shouldn’t we rely on police instead of our own personal weapons?
  • what about brandishing a handgun vs actually trying to shoot someone?
  • what are violent crime rates in pro-gun USA and in the anti-gun UK?
  • does outlawing guns cause violent crime to increase or decrease?
  • do academic studies show that gun control decreases crime?
  • do academic studies show that concealed carry laws decreases crime?
  • what do academic studies show about defensive handgun usage?
  • do many children die from guns in the home compared to other causes?
  • doesn’t the US Constitution limit the usage of guns to the army and police?
  • what did the Founding Fathers believe about lawful ownership of firearms?
  • What should be the goal of someone who uses a weapon in self-defense?

This is a good example of applying the Bible to real life. We need more of that!

What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.


Can you have eternal life with God by being sincere and doing good things?

Bible study that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

Here’s an article from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.

He answers the question “Am I going to Hell if I don’t believe in Jesus?”.


Sometimes we have to reframe a critic’s question in order to give an accurate answer. The questions, Am I going to Hell if I don’t believe in Jesus?, is an example. As it is asked, it makes it sounds as though Jesus were the problem, not the answer. As though failing a theology quiz sends us to Hell. Instead, we need to reframe the question to answer accurately and show that sin is the problem, and Jesus is the only way because He alone has solved that problem. Sinners don’t go to Hell for failing petty theology quizzes.

While giving a talk at a local Barnes & Noble, someone asked why it was necessary for him to believe in Jesus. He was Jewish, believed in God, and was living a moral life. Those were the important things, it seemed—how you lived, not what you believed.

To him the Christian message depicted a narrow-minded God pitching people into Hell because of an arcane detail of Christian theology. How should I answer?

Remember that the first responsibility of an ambassador is knowledge—an accurately informed message. What is our message?

One way to say it is, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ll go to Hell. If you do believe, you’ll go to Heaven.”

That’s certainly true, as far as it goes. The problem is it’s not clear. Since it doesn’t give an accurate sense of why Jesus is necessary, it makes God sound petty.

So how do we fix this? Here’s how I responded to my Jewish questioner. I asked him two simple questions.

Read the rest of the article.

Christians all need to understand how to explain why sincere beliefs and good works are not enough to satisfy God’s moral demands on us. God is more concerned that we understand the truth about his existence and character – that is the whole point of sending Jesus to die as an atonement for our rebellion. The problem isn’t just that we lie, cheat, steal and murder. The problem is that we want to get our own happiness apart from God, without wanting to know him as he is, and without having to care about his goals and his character in the relationship.

Here’s what God wants us to know about ourselves:

  • we have to realize that what we really are is rebels against God
  • rebels don’t want God to be there
  • rebels don’t want God to have any goals or character different from their goals and character
  • rebels don’t want God to place any demands on them
  • rebels don’t want to have any awareness that God is real or that he is morally perfect
  • rebels want to be liked as they are now – they don’t want to change as part of a relationship
  • rebels want to conceive of their own way to happiness, and to use other people and God for their own ends
  • rebels don’t want there to be a mind-independent objective reality, they want to invent their own reality that allows them to be praised and celebrated for doing whatever makes them happy at every point along their lives
  • rebels would rather die that put their pursuit of happiness second
  • rebels have no interest in rules, judgments, accountability or punishments

Here’s what God wants for us to be saved from our rebelling:

  • we have to know his real character so we have a genuine relationship with him
  • the best way to know his character is by taking time to study what Jesus did in history
  • what the incarnation tells us is that God is willing to humiliate himself by taking on a human nature
  • what the crucifixion tells us is that God is willing to die in our place even though we’re rebelling against him (Jesus is Savior)
  • part of being saved is to trust God by allowing his character to transform our desires and actions (Jesus is Lord)
  • as we grow in letting the character of Jesus inform our actions, we build a set of experiences that are like Jesus’ experiences – i.e. – we obey God rather than men, and we suffer for our obedience – just like Jesus

So don’t Christians have to do good things? Yes. But a Christian’s good deeds are the result of identifying Jesus as Savior and Lord, and then following him by making decisions that respect his character. God doesn’t need you to solve all the world’s problems – he could do that himself. It’s not what you do, it’s who you know and trust that counts. The good deeds are just your way of trying to be like him and trying to feel the same thing he felt when he gave his life for you. You have a friend and you want to be like him in order to know what he feels so you have sympathy with him.

The main point is that knowing Jesus as the revelation of God’s character, and then following Jesus, is more important than doing “good things”.

The first commandment, according to Jesus, is found in Matthew 22:34-38:

34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.

35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

38This is the first and greatest commandment.

The second commandment which comes after that one has to do with loving your neighbor. But the second one is not the greatest commandment. You can’t love God unless you know God. That it, unless you make knowing about his existence and character a priority in your life to the point where you find out the truth about his existence and character. And not as your own opinion, or as the opinion of the people around you, or as the faith-tradition you were raised in. No. You have to value God enough to respond to his overtures to you. You have to know him in truth, not as a quick checkbox that you check off for an hour on Sundays to make your life “easier” because you are happier and the people around you like you. You have to know him before you can act to love him – who he is and what he’s done.

The way that Protestants like me draw the line is as follows – justification (how your rebellion is canceled) is God’s job. He draws you to him while you are still in rebellion, but you have a choice to resist him or not. If you resist his action to save you, then you are responsible for rejecting him. Sanctification (about doing good works) is not about canceling your rebellion, it’s about the later step of re-prioritizing your life, so that you make decisions that reflect the character of Jesus, so that you become more like him. Even your desires change as the relationship progresses. It is something you work at – you study and experience, study and experience. The whole point of studying apologetics is to build yourself into a love machine that fears nothing and holds up under fire, because you know the truth and the truth makes you free to do what you ought to do regardless of the consequences (e.g. – failure to be recognized and requited by someone you loved well).

The most important relationship is not the horizontal relationship with your neighbor, it’s the vertical relationship with God himself. And when you know God as he really revealed himself in history, then your desires – and consequently your actions – will change naturally. When you know God as a person, you freely make all kinds of sacrifices for him. You put yourself second because you want to work on the relationship. You start to believe that your own happiness isn’t as as important as working on the relationship. It’s like building a house. You don’t notice the sacrifices.

Sometimes, I think that the whole point of Christianity and that vertical relationship is so that we know God better. We sympathize more with him than we do with ourselves, because of how unfairly people treat him, how good and loving he is, and how right his goals are. It’s not that he needs help, because he’s God – he’s sovereign. But the relationship gets to the point where it becomes reasonable for you to put yourself second with God, and to let his goals become your goals – you want the relationship with a loving God more than you want to be happy. You get tired of ignoring the person who loves you most – you start to wonder what it would be like to actually respond to him. For Christians, the demands of this other being eventually seem to be not so terrible after all – and we try to put aside our own desires and to give him gifts and respect instead of worrying so much about being happy all the time.

It’s not irrational to be kind to the person who loves you the most – who sacrificed the most for you.