How To Define Doctrine

I’ve been riffing about this quote the last few days:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

This quote makes it sound as if penal substitutionary atonement is the Gospel. Salvation would then be pinned upon believing penal substitutionary atonement.

I believe penal substitutionary atonement is a man-made doctrine, a result of Calvinistic philosophy, and is not inherently Biblical.

“Penal substitutionary atonement” is mentioned zero times in the New Testament, written after there was a revealed and understood Gospel.

Now, I know, “Trinity isn’t in the Bible either, yet you believe in that.” True. The concept is there and the doctrine of the trinity is the best explanation I’ve heard of how the Bible speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Penal substitutionary atonement is not, in my opinion, the best explanation of the Gospel.

Furthermore, having an unorthodox doctrine of the trinity (one that does not measure up to the man-made definition of what the trinity is), does not disqualify you from salvation.

However, I have heard proponents of the trinity say that if you reject their notion of the trinity you can’t be saved. I’m not sure about that.

I do think wrong views of who God is will impact your doctrine on many levels and it is a vital doctrine, but can anyone fully explain it?

The Trinity is never explicitly explained in Scripture, whereas the Gospel is repeatedly explained. The Trinity is a pretty good attempt to draw together hints in the Scripture about God. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is not a very good summation of all the Bible clearly and repeatedly says about the Gospel.

The fact that we have definitions that we like and agree upon does not mean we actually understand it correctly. In other words, just because you think you’re right doesn’t necessarily mean you are right!

Making people believe your idea, no matter how orthodox (accepted) it may be, is still not a basis of salvation.

Back to penal substitutionary atonement. If penal substitutionary atonement is equal to the Gospel, and must be believed to be saved, shouldn’t these concepts be explicitly stated?

Yet the word “penal,” “penalty,” “penalize,” or any other word with “penal” in it is never once used in relationship to the Gospel in the New Testament.

The word “substitute,” “substitution,” “substitutionary,” or any other word with “substitute” in it is never used in the New Testament in relationship to the Gospel.

Allow me to really shock you and say that the word “atone,” “atoned,” “atonement,” or any other word including the root “atone” is never used in the New Testament in relation to the Gospel (“Atonement” is used one time in the KJV when they mistranslated a Greek word).

It seems weird to me that believing penal substitutionary atonement is required in order to believe the Gospel when none of these words is ever used in relation to the Gospel.

There are, no doubt, verses that people can list that hint at these words (Isaiah 53 being the closest to the idea), there may be concepts that are similar, but alas, none of these words is ever used.

I do not have to believe your doctrine in order to believe the Gospel. I do not have to use your non-biblical words. In fact, I prefer not using the word “trinity” simply because it’s not a biblical word. I prefer “godhead” much better, because there is at least biblical precedent for using such a word.

When we explain to people what we believe, what our doctrine is, it is always best to quote Scripture. It is better to say it the way the Bible says it than to quote what people said.

I, in no way, think doctrine is unimportant. On the contrary, I think doctrine is so important that we should be very careful in what we say it is and how we define it. Instead of using our words, ideas, and concepts, it seems better to quote Scripture.

If a person were to ask me, “Hey, Jeff, what is the Gospel?”

I would not answer by quoting the definition of penal substitutionary atonement. I would instead quote 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

I can rest on that. I’d rather rest on the foundation of Scripture than on the teetering, fallible doctrines of men. If someone has a problem with my defining biblical quote, then I end up defending the Bible, which is way better than defending what some guys said.

If your doctrine uses non-biblical words, I am immediately skeptical. I assume human philosophy has entered your doctrine. I also wonder how well you know the Scripture. Is this unfair judgment on my part? Maybe, then again, the Bible tells me to test the spirits and I don’t mess around with that.

Doctrine is important. The Gospel is important. So important that we should be very careful in how we define it, explain it, and defend it. You can’t go wrong quoting the Bible. Do so.

7 thoughts on “How To Define Doctrine”

  1. I am still not clear on this. I get that you do not abide by someone’s definition rather than what scripture says. But the content of the words you are speaking of is what is confusing me. Maybe that’s not your point, but it is important. “that Christ died for our sins” –How is that different from substitutionary atonement? I am not well versed in all these terms, truly don’t understand.

  2. “Christ died for our sins” is a Biblical statement and I fully agree with it. Substitutionary Atonement says Christ died specifically in my place, He was my actual, exact substitute–He died so I don’t have to. Doing something “for” us is different than doing it “instead of” us.

    This impacts at least two important doctrinal points:
    1) in Romans 6 Paul explains we were crucified with Christ. If I am crucified with Him, in what sense is He substituting Himself in my exact place so I don’t have to die? Doing something with someone is not what substitution is. Substitution is Him instead of me; Paul says we were crucified with Christ. To me, that’s not the same thing, therefore, I don’t think Substitutionary Atonement is a good explanation of the Gospel.

    2) if Christ died in the exact place of every believer, then Christ only died for the elect. No one else except for those Christ exactly died in place of can be saved. Therefore, all the appeals of Scripture that anyone can come to Christ for salvation, or that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the world, or that God so loved the world that He gave Himself for it are not true. Substitutionary Atonement is the Calvinist understanding of the Gospel and is not the Gospel itself, nor does it do a very good job of explaining what the Gospel is and does, in my opinion.

    The main issue is the Substitution thing. He was not our substitute, He did not die in our exact place so we don’t have to. We die daily, we are living sacrifices, we take up our cross, we mortify the deeds of the body, I am crucified with Christ, etc. The Bible does not speak of the Gospel as something Jesus Christ did in our place, but rather talks about a real spiritual joining together with Christ even in what He did on the cross. It’s not a substitution; it’s a union. I think Substitutionary Atonement takes “Christ died for us” and turns it into “Christ died instead of you” and that’s simply not how Scripture speaks of Christ’s death.

  3. I hope you don’t go extreme like Bryan Denlinger (Husky 394xp in YouTube). He goes by what he reads in the KJV and believes in modalism and other doctrine like that. I don’t pay close attention to him enough to give more details.

    The Day of Atonement points to Christ. It sounds like people stumble when trying to figure out how Jesus’ death on the cross applies to people today. it’s harder than I thought it would be to explain what Jesus did for people. I don’t have years of reading or a master’s degree in theology to help me understand things. I’m an old sinner trying to clean out the rubble of the old broken down faith and trying to listen to the Spirit for what is true.

    I know, read the Bible, especially the New Testament, and ask for God’s help and guidance.

    But you’re right. It’s easier to listen or read the writings of men and believe they interpret the Bible correctly than to take the Bible word by word and not have a body of doctrine neatly tied up.

  4. My doctrine of the Trinity is pretty standard. I said in this post I think the Trinity is a fine summation of what the Bible says. I just don’t think a person has to believe a person’s theory in order to be saved. It was just an example.

  5. Thanks. I don’t mean to sound like Chicken Little but you’re sounding like the pastor that all my previous ones warned me about. 😉 Just about the time I don’t think you can shake me up, you do. Lol. My foundations are pretty shaky; they needed to be examined. 👍

  6. No worries. I think about things and try to examine them the best I can. I’ve lost confidence in people and try, as best as I can, to say things biblically rather than concerning myself with fitting in a doctrinal camp. Not to be a lone-ranger and cool, but to try to get it right.

    I think most churches and pastors don’t want you thinking; they want you conforming to what they say. No one has to agree with me on my take on SA, believe what you want. Just think about it, don’t just go with what everyone else is saying, you will stand before the Judge someday. I think now is the time to put the work in to ready ourselves for that meeting. Even if all my effort in trying to get it right still has me being wrong, it’s better than being lazy and wrong! So either way, putting in effort should work out quite well!

    Wrong doctrine leads to wrong living. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise either. What we believe determines what we do. We want to get our thinking right so our lives are right.

  7. I’ve spent all day thinking about this post and realized that I really don’t understand what atonement or SA is because I always took somebody’s word that it was the correct answer for a question.

    Like the Bereans, I have to search Scripture to understand the basics. Even more basic that atonement.

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