Defending Substitution: A Resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention

by Owen Strachan June 7, 2017

There is no doctrine in Scripture more beautiful than penal substitutionary atonement.

There may be no doctrine that is more hated.

In recent days, various figures—including William Paul Young of The Shack fame—have said the following about Christ dying as a substitute sacrifice to save sinners and satisfy the just wrath of God the Father: such teaching is “monstrous,” “evil,” and “a terrible doctrine.” In truth, the biblical precept that the righteous must die for the wicked is the very core of Christian faith. Here is the burning heart of divine love: Christ crucified for us.

It is stunning that sinners who cannot save themselves would reject this doctrine. The sad truth is that people do. For this reason, Malcolm Yarnell and I have coauthored a resolution for the 2017 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (meeting June 12-14 in Phoenix). Dr. Yarnell is a widely-esteemed systematic theologian at Southwestern Seminary and a trusted voice in the SBC. It was my distinct honor to partner with my brother in this endeavor. He has written of our efforts here; suffice it to say that it is our shared desire that this resolution plays some small role in promoting and defending the biblical doctrine of salvation.

We are not at this time publishing the resolution. Malcolm and I want to respect the work of the Resolutions Committee, which must choose whether or not the resolution will see the convention floor. We trust the process, in short. But we do hope that this short resolution will speak to the heartbeat of our fellow Southern Baptists, and the wider church, in articulating the total truthfulness and utter necessity of penal substitutionary atonement.

This is no trifling matter. This doctrine is anchored in Scripture and carved into the SBC’s core confession, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. To deny penal substitutionary atonement is thus to deny the teaching of Scripture and the confession of millions upon millions of Southern Baptists. We cannot say it too strongly: there is no salvation without full and final atonement for sin. There is no gospel without salvation. There is no church without the gospel.

The stakes are high.

But here is the good news: we need not invent any new doctrine. We need not distrust revered teachings. We do not need to be a genius with some fancy new method of understanding redemption. We need to cling to the old, old cross. We need to simply and humbly trust the God who offers us hope, infinite hope, through the death and resurrection of his Son. As we teach and train the next generation of Baptist pastors in our churches, colleges, and seminaries, we do not have the onerous responsibility of reworking the faith. We need to pass it on, to hand on the torch, to strengthen young hands to “guard the good deposit” when we are dead and buried (2 Tim. 1:14).

Malcolm and I each get a huge kick out of theological inquiry. We are not bashful about it. However, as theologians who work in service to a convention, and who teach in glad submission to a confession, we are delighted to urge our students at Southwestern and Midwestern Seminary to hold fast to the trustworthy word. Through fresh consideration of this precious teaching, we trust that we will, as a convention, resolve once more to preach, teach, and love the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.

Our faith and our hope are found in this: Christ died to bring us to God. So we preach now, and so we will sing around the throne, beyond all the ages of the earth.

Editor's note: this originally published at The Center for Public Theology.