Richard Rohr, in his book "Universal Christ" wrote:
For most of Christian history, no single consensus prevailed on what it means when Christians say, “Jesus died for our sins,” but in recent centuries one theory did take over. It was often referred to as the “penal substitutionary atonement theory,” especially once it was developed after the Reformation. Substitutionary atonement is the theory that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of us sinners, thus satisfying the “demands of justice” so that God could forgive our sins. This theory of atonement ultimately relies on another commonly accepted notion—the “original sin” of Adam and Eve, which we were told taints all human beings. But much like original sin, which we considered earlier, most Christians have never been told how recent and regional this explanation is, and that it fully relies upon a retributive notion of justice. Nor are they told that it is just a theory, even though some groups take it as long-standing dogma. The early church never heard of this; at best they had some idea of “ransom” from the many biblical metaphors.
I hope you read his whole book. It is awesome.
I have been saying much like the above for decades now. My thought always is that I absolutely know that God is Love, pure unconditional Love. This substitute for us, for our sins, makes God like some of the worst human fathers, violent, bloodthirsty, without a speck of compassion. Also, I am clear that the story of Adam and Eve is about original blessing, with God declaring all good. In fact, the original sin idea didn't enter until Augustine of Hippo was said to mistranslate some of Paul's words.
Also this whole idea that all we are to do is just believe he died to pay for our sins, makes his death the only important thing. What about his teaching of how to live, about the kingdom of God within, about love and forgiveness and kindness, etc. I firmly believe, if I say I am a follower of Jesus, I am called to become as much like him as I can. Originally the Jesus movement was called "The Way." We are to walk it.
I think the theologies laid upon the Original, have obscured the actual. I think this is one of the reasons Christianity has been declining. Let's let go of idiot, manmade theologies that have been laid upon the pristine yet simple, profound, and amazing teachings that, if lived, can truly set us free.