This post is intended to generate discussion and feedback. So, all you lookie-loous who don't ever comment on this blog, you've gotta give your two cents. I'm going to write a paper on the atonement for my Doctrine of Christ class. Because I believe in community and I want to learn from all my friends I want to share some initial thoughts and ask some questions that might help me write something valuable for all of us. Maybe even something that could help us be more effective at sharing the gospel.
First things first, what is at stake? How important is the atonement. In my view it is crucial to our understanding of Jesus and the gospel. As I understand it, but I really haven't yet done much study on the issue, there are three main views of the atonement: (feel free to offer correction or critique).
(1) Penal Substitution: This is the view fully developed by Anslem in the latter part of the 11th century. The basic idea is that God is so holy that he cannot allow sin in his presence. The problem is, of course, humanity is sinful. So how can he be both righteous and holy and allow sin in his presence? Well, his wrath must be appeased to maintain his righteousness. But in his divine grace God punished, or let his wrath out on, Jesus (his only son) in behalf of sinners. Jesus' righteousness is imputed on sinners when they receive salvation. Thus, God's holiness and righteousness is maintained and he graciously saves sinners. In Jesus we receive a substitute for our penalty. This is probably the most popular view that one hears in protestant churches.
(2) Christus Victor: This is a view that is arguably present among the early church fathers, though probably not fully developed. There are lots of nuances here, as with each view, but the basic idea is that in the cross Jesus has won a decisive victory over the enemies of God's people. The enemies include the devil, sin, death and "the powers." The cross is not so much about God appeasing his own wrath as empowering sinners to live in salvation. Jesus defeated the enemies that sinful humans could not when he righteously submitted to them. It is not that sinners have Jesus' righteousness imputed on them, but rather the faithfulness of Jesus becomes available to Christians. On the cross Jesus won a victory that Christians participate in.
(3) Exemplar: This is the view that arose out of 19th century theological liberalism. Sin and death are not really the point. In the Bultmunnian sense, these ideas must be demythologized. Sin and death are the powers that hold sway over people from living the kind of life God wants people to live. Therefore, the cross is not about "saving" people so much as it is about showing people the kind of life they ought to live. The cross is the example for us to follow.
Now, it seems to me that on some level each of these views contains elements of truth. The question however remains, Which view is primary? Which view sums up Jesus' understanding of his own death? What view sums up Paul's and John's and the rest of the NT writers understanding. My goal with the paper is to find which view takes precedence in the scriptures. Though the OT serves as the obvious backdrop the main focus will be on NT texts. My plan is over the next week or so to read through the NT and look for atonement. From this I will determine key words and passages to focus on for the study. I would also invite others so suggest key passages or words. What are the arguments you have heard that persuade you to one view or another? Why do you have a problem with one view or another?
My goal here is to have something that will look at the biblical text and provide us with some guidance in understanding Jesus and the gospel. Hopefully this will help us be more faithful especially in regard to evangelism. This project will be somewhat dependent on you. Help me to be a better Christian by interacting here. Answer these questions (and others above):
What are the key passages for the atonement?
How relevant is church history for this debate?
If you had to choose one view which would it be and why?
How does our view the atonement affect evangelism?