The core of the gospel

A resolution on Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Owen Strachan

There is no doctrine in Scripture more beautiful than penal substitutionary atonement. There may be no doctrine that is more hated.

Challenges to the burning heart of biblical soteriology are not only ancient. They are new. In a recent book, the gently-titled Lies We Believe About God, William Paul Young—author of The Shack—characterized the doctrine of the Son’s cruciform satisfaction of the just wrath of God the Father as “monstrous,” “evil,” and “a terrible doctrine.” In similar terms, popular musician Michael Gungor argued “that God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It’s horrific.”

It is stunning that sinners who cannot save themselves would reject this doctrine. The sad truth is that people do. For this reason, theologian Malcolm Yarnell and I coauthored a resolution for the 2017 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was our shared hope that this resolution help in some small way to promote and defend the biblical doctrine of blood-atonement.

This is no trifling matter. This doctrine is anchored in Scripture (Lev. 16; Is. 53; John 12; Rom. 4-5) 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—eternally high.

This resolution is not fundamentally an act of protest. It is a product of hope. Through fresh consideration of this precious teaching, we trust that Bible-loving churches will resolve once more to preach, teach, and love the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Our faith, and our only confidence, is 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.

Let the church of Christ unflinchingly believe and joyfully proclaim Christ crucified, Christ raised, Christ first, Christ last.


WHEREAS, In recent days numerous voices from the Protestant world have boldly attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement; and

WHEREAS, These voices have publicly labeled penal substitution “monstrous,” “evil,” “a terrible doctrine” and indicative of “the Father murdering a son”; and

WHEREAS, The “anti-violence” model of the cross of Christ weakens the Bible’s teaching by recasting the atonement as primarily ending all wars (in contradiction of Romans 13:4); and

WHEREAS, God is perfect in his holiness and perfect in his justice as he is also perfect in his love; and

WHEREAS, On the cross of Christ Jesus the perfect love of God perfectly applies the perfect justice of God to satisfy the perfect holiness of God in order to redeem sinners; and

WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement denies the holy and loving God the exercise of his justice, the overflow of which in a sinful world is the outpouring of his just retributive wrath; and

WHEREAS, The denial of biblical atonement thus entails a proud, aggressive, and unmistakable denial of the perfect character of the one true God; and

WHEREAS, This act of aggression against God and his Word constitutes false teaching that leads the flock astray and leaves the world without a sin-cleansing Savior; and

WHEREAS, The rejection of penal substitutionary atonement necessarily compromises the biblical and historic doctrines of propitiation, expiation, ransom, satisfaction, Christus Victor, Christus Exemplar, and more; and

WHEREAS, The Lord promised a warrior-savior in Genesis 3:15, one who would crush the head of the serpent to obliterate the enemy; and 

WHEREAS, The sacrificial system of the Old Testament culminated in the blood sacrifice of a spotless lamb on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11-19); and 

WHEREAS, Jesus himself unveiled the salvific mission that inspired his incarnation when he said “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28); and

WHEREAS, The confession of the Scriptures is that Christ is our passive and active righteousness, forgiving all our sin by his death and imputing to us all his righteousness through faith (2 Corinthians 5:21); and

WHEREAS, An apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ called the shed blood of the Savior “precious” (1 Peter 1:19); and

WHEREAS, The Bible teaches that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Hebrews 9:22); and

WHEREAS, Baptist pastor-theologians and scholars from all backgrounds have made the preaching of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ the foundation of their ministry, heralding the good news in countless villages, hamlets, towns, suburbs, and cities all over this world; and

WHEREAS, Countless missionaries and martyrs of the Christian faith have laid down their lives in order to tell fellow sinners about the death of Christ for the wicked, thus obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20); and

WHEREAS, Baptists as a people preach the cross of Christ, sing the cross, cling to the cross, share the cross, and 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;

WHEREAS, Around the throne of God into all eternity, the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, ethnicity, and nation will cry out, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain!” (Revelation 5:12); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13-15, 2017, reaffirm 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 cursed race.

Owen Strachan is the Director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Associate Professor of Christian Theology.

Strachan is a graduate of Bowdoin College (A.B. in History), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. in Biblical & Theological Studies), and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Ph.D. in Theological Studies). Strachan serves as a Senior Fellow on the Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW). Previously he served as the  president of the CBMW, leading the organization in its mission to impact the international church through the promotion and defense of a gospel-shaped vision of manhood and womanhood. Strachan is also a contributing writer for The Gospel Coalition, a research fellow of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a member of the Advisory Board for Speak for the Unborn, a pro-life ministry.

Strachan has led several centers before. At SBTS, Dr. Strachan was director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Prior to his time in Louisville, Strachan was the full-time managing director of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and associate director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS.

Strachan has published fourteen books and has written academic journal articles for Themelios, Midwestern Journal of Theology, Trinity Journal, Fides et Historia, Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology, and Theology for Ministry. He has authored popular articles for The Atlantic, Washington Post, First Things, The American Spectator, Townhall, and Christianity Today. He writes regularly for 9Marks, The Stream, and his Patheos blog, “Thoughtlife,” which was ranked a top-100 Christian website by ChurchRelevance.com.

Strachan provides commentary to the media on a regular basis. He has been a guest on the Hugh Hewitt Show, the Eric Metaxas Show, and Morning in America with Bill Bennett. In 2014, he appeared on the FOX News television program “Huckabee.” He has been profiled in World Magazine as a young evangelical leader, by VICE magazine for his ethical commentary, and by Baptist Press for his pro-life work. He has been cited by the New York Times, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune.

He speaks regularly for churches and conferences, and has been (or will be) a featured speaker at Together for the Gospel, Ligonier, ACBC National Conference, Por Su Causa in the Dominican Republic, Calvary Grace Conference in Alberta, Canada, CLARUS, and the CBMW National Conference. He preaches often, and has done so in the chapel services of Southern Seminary, Cedarville University, Midwestern Seminary, and Criswell College.