Hans Boersma

Hans Boersma Articles

Hans Boersma: Articles including the topics of sacramental ontology, Nouvelle Theologie, and Patristic exegesis.


Penal Substitution and the Possibility of Unconditional Hospitality

Scottish Journal of Theology 57(1): 80–94 (2004)



Traditional atonement theories (and especially penal readings of the atonement) are being challenged because they seem to be based on divine violence and thus seem to condone or contribute to human violence rather than enable human practices of hospitality. In the face of such criticism, this paper argues that attempts to eliminate all violence from atonement theology do not contribute to the flourishing of hospitality but imply an erasing of boundaries necessary to counter unjustified violence and to safeguard the possibility of God’s eschatological hospitality. Specifically, the paper critiques three stepping stones used in the defence of non-violent theories of the atonement. They are (1) the definition of violence as inherently negative, to which the paper opposes the possibility of the Augustinian notion of justified violence as an act of love; (2) the ‘fall model’ of Constantinianism which erroneously regards penal atonement theories as the outcome of the fourth-century Christianizing of the Roman Empire; and (3) the ab- andoning not just of penal atonement theories, but necessarily of each of the three main models, since each defends God’s involvement in violence. The paper then argues that a penal aspect is indispensable to safeguard both God’s absolute eschatological hospitality and its incarnation in human relationships.