Q & R: Penal Substitution and Jesus’ death

Here’s the Q:

I’ve just finished reading A New Kind of Christianity http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/a-new-kind-of-christianity-1.htmlfor the third time. Thank you for your ‘world view’ changing books. I have found your books inspirational and faith saving. Changing a mind set is so slippery, hence the third time reading.
I get the Bible as narrative set in a Jewish historical context, I get a story of creation, liberation and the peaceable kingdom and find the new/old narrative exciting. In this narrative I get ‘the kingdom of God is at hand, now’, as a hope and way of life (praxis more difficult and challenging though). What I’m struggling to get my head round is to do with penal substitution. If this is part of the Greco Roman Theos narrative, why did Jesus have to die as he did? He lived a life which gave us a new model and a further revelation of God. His death is hugely important, as in the central role of The Eucharist but in the new narrative I can’t see that it was essential, other than as a further model of willing suffering.
Do you have any insights or are the answers embedded somewhere in your literature?
This is my first ever attempt to network electronically in this way. I hope it’s an appropriate question.
Thanks again for creating safe spaces for such questions.

Here’s the R:
That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. If you put “penal substitution” in the search box in the upper right hand section of my website, you’ll find a lot of places where I’ve addressed it here. In my book Why Did Jesus, Moses, etc? you’ll find a more thorough treatment of the subject … especially in the chapter on eucharist.
But in my next book, We Make the Road by Walking, I have the chance to most fully explore Jesus’ death and its meaning in the context of the whole biblical story. It will be available on June 10. You can learn more here.