I was reading volume 3 of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics this morning, and I came upon his description of the Socinian view of the atonement. The Socinians were the followers of Faustus Socinus, a 17th century rationalistic Unitarian who lived in Poland. Bavinck explains their opposition to the satisfaction theory of the atonement in words that are strikingly similar to what many are saying today.
Socinians believed that “satisfaction is not necessary” because “Whether or not God wants to punish or forgive sins is determined not in any way by his nature but by his will. God can just as well—and better than a human being—forgive sins without satisfaction. In fact, his justice is nullified by satisfaction, because it punishes the innocent and acquits the guilty; and his mercy loses its value if it can only manifest itself after satisfaction. God, accordingly, has always promised forgiveness to the penitent and wants us to follow him in that respect” (3:348).
Socinians believed that “satisfaction is also impossible,” for “unlike money debts, personal moral debts cannot be transferred from one to another. To punish an innocent for the sin of another is unjust and cruel” (3:349).