Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism posted an explanation of penal substitutionary atonement and its place in the history of Christian theology:

I have seen many atheists criticize penal substitutionary atonement as though in doing so they are criticizing Christianity as a whole. That is not in fact the case. Penal substitutionary atonement is only one way of understanding Christ’s death. More than that, it is less than five hundred years old—a relative newcomer to the scene—and is held by a minority of Christians today.

This is something of a complicated topic, and one where I think misunderstandings are rampant – even among Christians. I appreciate Libby Anne’s explanations.

I can’t recall what I was taught as a child, since the focus of my Sunday School instruction was more on the birth of Christ rather than his death. But looking back on how I, personally, viewed the crucifixion, it was always as just a Thing That Happened, rather than part of a plan.