Weaver’s (and others’) complaint against penal substitution is not that it involves violence; it is that it makes God violent thus justifying our violence. Weaver knows very well the cross was violent, but he wants to make clear the violence was committed not by God but by Satan and sinful people. I agree. And that’s what I grew up hearing.
From the human perspective, Jesus’ crucifixion WAS a lynching, abuse. All admit that. The debate is whether it was at the hands of God or humans/Satan. I am arguing it was at the hands of humans/Satan, not God’s. There I’m with Weaver and others who argue for nonviolent atonement.
Many Christians have concluded that in order for God to accomplish his goal for creation, everything that happens in world history must somehow fit into his sovereign plan. This assumption has permeated the Church throughout most of its history. The assumption is often expressed in clichés Christians are sometimes prone to recite when confronting tragedies like cancer, crippling accidents, or natural disasters. Believers sometimes attempt to console themselves and others with statements like, “God has his reasons,” “There’s a purpose for everything,” “Providence writes straight with crooked lines,” and “His ways are not our ways.”
I call this understanding of God’s relationship to the world “the blueprint worldview,” for it assumes that everything somehow fits into meticulous plan and mysterious purposes of God—a divine blueprint. The view takes many different forms, but each version shares the assumption that, whether ordained or allowed, there is a specific divine reason for every occurrence in history. As traditional and popular as the blueprint worldview is, it is not without significant difficulties. For one thing, this view makes it exceedingly difficult to reconcile the evil in our world with the perfect goodness of God, especially when applied to specific instances of suffering and evil.
The world is caught up in a spiritual war between God and Satan. Unlike the blueprint worldview, the warfare worldview does not assume that there is a specific divine reason for what Satan and other evil agents do. To the contrary, God fights these opponents precisely because their purposes are working against his purposes.
Suffering takes on a different meaning when it is considered in the context of a cosmic war as opposed to a context in which everything is part of God’s meticulous plan and mysterious higher good. In the warfare worldview we would not wonder about what specific divine reason God might have had in allowing little children to be buried alive in mud or a little girl to be kidnapped. Instead, we would view these individuals as “victims of war” and assign the blame to human or demonic beings who oppose God’s will.
I quote these two passages to highlight a fact that’s often overlooked in debates between Calvinists, classical Arminians, and Arminian open theists. The corollary of making God less powerful is to make Satan more powerful. Like a seesaw, when you lower God, Satan rises.
In Calvinism, Satan is just a pawn on God’s chessboard. Indeed, Satan is the ultimate dupe. Although he’s rebelling against God, God decreed his rebellion to contribute to the realization of God’s overall plan. So God is playing Satan like a chump.
But in theological systems that reject predestination and meticulous providence, Satan becomes more godlike while God becomes less godlike. I don’t mean Satan becomes godlike in terms of moral character, but in terms of power relative to God. On this view, the devil is like a resourceful guerilla warrior whom God lacks the ability to crush. Rather, it becomes a protracted battle, where God wins some skirmishes, but loses others. Like those many Antichrist-themed Hollywood movies where the devil is on the ascendant.
It’s ironic that Arminians like Olson say Calvinism makes God devilish, for it’s Olson and his ilk who are actually magnifying the devil. They build up the devil every time they bump God down a few notches. If Arminians accuse Calvinists of making God Satanic, Calvinists could just as well accuse Arminians of making Satan godlike.
Of course, Olson, Boyd, and Weaver think God wins the war in the end, yet that’s only because they’re getting God’s side of the story. But given their lofty view of Satan's near omnipotence, doesn’t the Bible give slanted war coverage? If God has such a hard time stamping out the devil, maybe the Bible is hortatory war propaganda by the losing side. Should we switch teams before it’s too late?