Atonement

Chapter 14

Good Monday Morning to this week 14 of 2021

It’s the combination of “at one,” as in, “to be in harmony with”. You are at “at one” with God, you atone. The atonement then is “man’s reconciliation with God through the sacrificial death of Christ.”

How and why is this achieved?

Andrew Springer lays out 5 views in an article he published shortly before Easter. It would be great to also hear some views of Asia or the Africa. (I still regret leaving my book in a Rwandan Air flight “Theology Brewed in an African Pot”.)

1 — The Ancient View: Christ as Ransom

For the first thousand years of Christianity, most Christians believed that Christ was a ransom that was paid to Satan in exchange for releasing humans from the bondage of sin. Jesus himself said “Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” That dualism is what concerns most critics of the ransom theory. One writer called that dualism dangerous because “among other things, [it] threatens the very sovereignty of God.” Basically, in some respects, it makes Satan equal to God.

2 — The Medieval View: Christ as Substitute

In this theory, it is God’s honor that is offended by our sin. And that offense cannot go unanswered, God’s honor must be restored. But man, being so much less than God, can never restore that honor on his own. “The debt is total, the obligation to pay it, total, the power to pay it, zero.” The answer then is found in the sacrifice of Christ: fully human, he can atone for man, fully God, he can restore God’s honor. This is Substitutionary Atonement.At about the same time Anselm was crystalizing his theory that God demands satisfaction, the feudal system was emerging in Europe in the late middle ages. 

3 — The Reformed View: Christ Receives Your Punishment

“The Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and and gladly) to satisfy God’s justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners. The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God’s holiness and love are manifested.”This is called the Penal Substitutionary theory of atonement. “In Christ as Ransom theory, punishment is averted. In penal substitution, punishment is absorbed.”

4 — The Ethical View: Christ as an Example

The work of Christ chiefly consists of demonstrating to the world the amazing depth of God’s love of sinful humanity… There is nothing inherent in God that must be appeased before he is willing to forgive humanity. The problem lies in the sinful, hardened human heart, with its fear and ignorance of God… Through the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ, the love of God shines like a beacon, beckoning humanity to come and fellowship. Critics of moral influence atonement argue that at its best it doesn’t sound like atonement at all, and at its worst, dangerously veers into the ancient heresy , those who argued that Christians could be saved by their good works without divine help. But more generally, critics say moral influence theology doesn’t answer the question, “what do we need saved from?”

5 — The Battlefield View: Christ as Victor

Christus victor means “Christ as conquerer” or “Christ as victor,”. In a large way, Aulén reinterpreted our first theory of atonement, the ransom theory. The dualism demonstrated in that theory returns. The earth and heaven are locked in a cosmic struggle between good (God) and evil (Satan). Christ was sent to battle with and triumph over the elements of darkness in his kingdom. All of us are standing in the middle of a cosmic war zone. This view of atonement lies in sharp contrast to other views by its emphasis on the cosmic significance of Christ over the significance of personal salvation. “We are reconciled because the cosmos (all of creation) has been reconciled. Because the rebel powers have been put in their place, we can be presented ‘holy and blameless’ before God.” supporters point to many motifs found in various passages throughout the New Testament, like the power of Satan and his demonic hosts and our slavery to sin. Not to mention literally the entire book of Revelation, which casts the end times as the ultimate and final battle between good and evil.

To be fair, most, if not all, of these theories tend to crumble when pressed too hard. No theory of atonement seems complete or absolutely correct, at least to human understanding. 

As we ponder these five views and theories of atonement, there are many more, this Easter of 2021 we are in awe of the power of the cross and the atoning work of Christ. Because despite of, or in fact because of, its mystery, this debate, and these endless questions, people still find the answer as they have for two thousand years—in Jesus.

I wish you a blessed Monday Morning as you contemplate these thoughts!

Philemon

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