Satisfaction Theory is a theory of atonement that, in a nutshell, says that God's justice demands a certain amount of punishment for sin. In that, God's "wrath" is often used as a metaphor for that need.

Recently, the PCUSA declined to add the hymn "In Christ Alone" in their new hymnal. That the hymn is exceedingly popular is not in doubt. The Baptist Hymnal, for example, included it, and even the PCUSA acknowledges that it is one they wanted to include. The hymn itself is replete with many deep theological statements, but this line is called out as being the reason for rejection.

The controversy stems from the following lyrics:

“Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisified.

which is a clear indication of satisfaction theory.

The article (linked above) says:

The PCUSA's hymn committee had a problem with God being portrayed in the song as wrathful, and asked the writers for permission to change the problem stanza to, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The love of God was magnified.” The author's refused, explaining that they had written the song to present the “whole gospel,” and in their view changing the line would compromise the message.

That said, I don't actually know if Mainline Presbyterians are opposed to satisfaction theory. If they are (say, preferring substitutionary atonement or the Christus Victor model), then I guess this statement makes sense. But, if there is no such opposition, then I don't understand how one could, as the article explains oppose the concept of "God's wrath".

My question then, is this -

What does the Mainline Presbyterian Church (and specifically the more liberal PCUSA) hold in regards to Satisfaction Theory specifically? Is this a case of PC "we don't like the idea of God being angry" or is it an actual truck with Satisfaction Theory itself?

  • 4
    "Presbyterian" is not a useful designator here. The PCUSA is among the most theologically liberal Presbyterians, though not all members are equally liberal. Many Presbyterians (in the PCA or EPC, for instance) would sing the song without modification. Also, I don't think satisfaction and substitution are conflicting concepts in this context -- the satisfaction is accomplished by the substitution.
    – metal
    Aug 8, 2013 at 14:49
  • @metal to address the first I've added the "mainline" qualifier which is the term for the PCUSA when we don't want to spell it all the way out
    – wax eagle
    Aug 8, 2013 at 15:16
  • Thank you - that's a good edit, because I do want to understand if this is peculiar to the PCUSA or presbyterians in general Aug 8, 2013 at 16:45
  • It is certainly not Presbyterians in general -- I have personally sung that song in a Presbyterian church (non-PCUSA), and I wouldn't be shocked to hear it in some more theologically conservative PCUSA churches either. Grouping by system of government is not a particularly helpful sorting mechanism for talking in general about the different groups' theological views, other than church government.
    – metal
    Aug 8, 2013 at 17:25
  • My (PCA) church sings it often, as do other PCA churches I know of. Certainly not Presbyterians in general
    – SSumner
    Aug 12, 2013 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


If you want to understand why the PCUSA's hymn committee rejected the hymn, then you should read its brief statement of faith. The statement of faith focuses heavily on grace, and satisfaction theology tends to focus on works. The line from the song in question is very much based in satisfaction theology and thus contradicts the statement of faith.

  • 3
    It should perhaps be noted that the works in satisfaction theology are God's (Christ's), so such does not detract from grace but rather establishes a basis for grace.
    – user3331
    Aug 17, 2013 at 11:18

One does not need to subscribe to any specific theory of the Atonement in order to agree that God has "wrath" towards sin, as such is plainly stated in Romans chapter one. Sadly, the attitude of some so-called "churches" seems to be one of "never mind what the Bible actually says, we're going with teachings that we feel good about".

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