One often hears that penal substitution is merely one model or theory of the atonement and thus should not be elevated as central to defining the way in which we are saved and reconciled to God.
One author appeals to an analogy with golf. Just as Phil Mickelson, for example, would never think of playing in the U.S. Open with only a putter or a nine-iron, neither should we portray the saving work of Christ as if penal substitution were all there is to his sacrifice on the cross. Depending on where one is on the course (whether on the tee box, in the fairway, behind a tree in the rough, or in a sand trap), one selects the most appropriate club to advance the ball toward the green and ultimately into the hole.
Likewise, depending on the circumstances, the personality of the individual to whom we are witnessing, their needs, the cultural influences to which they are subject, their vocabulary and religious background, etc., we select the most appropriate model or theory of what Jesus accomplished to secure the reconciliation of sinners. It may even be that we end up appealing to a multiplicity of explanations for what Jesus did, just as Mickelson during the course of 18 holes of golf will likely use every club in his bag.
However, in most instances where I’ve heard this proposal the motive eventually becomes clear. In conceding that penal substitution is “a” legitimate model for the atonement, but not the central or controlling one, while simultaneously pointing to a variety of theories, it soon becomes evident that the purpose is to minimize the wrath of God, the concept of propitiation, and the idea that in order to redeem us Christ voluntarily endured the penalty that sin incurred. It’s almost as if Mickelson concedes that he indeed carries a one-iron in his bag but in the course of competition rarely if ever uses it. In fact, he likely thinks it dispensable. It would better suit his game to carry a hybrid or an extra