Tuesday, January 1, 2008

atonement, evangelism and us

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?


Jordan D. Wood said...

Tyler, I am both ignorant and unable to speak on this issue, and I've always heard the saying, "It's better to remain quiet than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." But even so, here are a few initial, uneducated reactions:

1) On which view to take.
I know that my answer is ignoring your plea, but I would not be honest if I "picked one" of the views, even as one that "takes precedence" in scripture. All three have been proposed in church history precisely because by and large, all three have scriptural backing. It is astonishing to me, however, that "proponents" of such a particular view can't imagine an act of God accomplishing more than one thing at the same time.

(for example, you have the infamous Mark 10:45 that seems to favor penal substitution, or Paul's "He became sin for us." Col. 2:15 seems to support christus victor, and so on--you know all of this.)

2) Another hesitation/question presents itself to my mind: to what degree do we separate the "atonement-act" of Jesus with the rest of His "work" or "ministry." In other words, is atonement slapped onto to the end as a kind of "side project," or is it a sort of climax, or something that fits into the entire program of Jesus?

3) An interesting observation may be made on the perspectives of each atonement theory:

It seems that each picks up a different emphasis (though this is not to say that things are as neat as this may sound): Penal Sub. seems to emphasis the forgiving of past sins, and kind of new start. Exemplar seems to focus on the present, in that we can now look to Jesus, the true Son, and know how to live as a true child of God. Christus Victor seems to look toward the future--that because of what Jesus did, God will indeed one day triumph over all enemies in totality.

Thus, it is interesting that seen in this light, it really isn't hard to see A) how one could be seen as being THE legitimate "work" of Jesus' atonement and B) how really, though, they are all complimentary and it is unnecessary, perhaps even false, to "choose" one over the other.

Atonement, then (in my view), functioned more like a story (surprise surprise) than a To-Do list. It was not merely (one of)the most important items for Jesus to check off of His list of various, only-connected-because-of-who-gave-the list activities. Rather, the "activities" are all facets of the same, complimentary plot, with certain events (i.e. atonement) forming the climax.

When seen in this way (which is of course not original to me), we can understand how the atonement as a climactic event accomplished much at once--it "took care of" what was in the past and at the same time set the course for the future (our present) and beyond.

This post is entirely to long, so suffice it to say on the topic of evangelism that, in my view, to exclude any of these facets is to mar the Gospel's relevance/power for today.

Alex said...

Tyler, are you going to make an inductive study list when you go through the NT? Since my paper for Third Quest is so similar to yours, I'll be doing the same, but I'd love to get a copy of your notes - see where you are going and where you're being taken. I'd love to read and hear more of your thoughts.

I also would like to second what Jordan said. I have trouble with the "pick one" question, although I totally understand why you asked it.

Oh, and you said the Exemplar view came out of the 19th century. I was wondering, didn't Abelard propose a similar view, in response to Anselm? I thought he did...

As far as evangelism goes, I need to think more on that. It is such a great question. All I can come up with so far is that we need to emphasize the same old story: Jesus died for us. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to belileve in him for eternal life."

Tyler, I wish also to bless you in your study and look forward to the things you will teach us, the Spirit working so powerfully through you as you seek to know and be known by God.

Unknown said...

I want to refrain from commenting on anyone's response until after more people have left some comments. I'll look forward to what you've got also Alex. My readings of the gospels so far are very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Since I'm lazy and I'm on vacation, this will be brief.

I like the past-present-future idea, but I would also suggest this as a reason for having multiple views of atonement:
The penal view is about what the cross means to God. The christus victor view is about what the cross means to the devil. The examplar view is about what the cross means to us. This third view also needs to include what Paul says about "reconciliation." It answers the question: "How should we then live?"

Any single view of atonement is inadequate, especially when applied to a different party. For example, the penal view without the examplar/reconciliation view enables the sinner to continue sinning. It takes care of God's problem but does not change our conduct. It is applying a view to the wrong party that makes it look foolish.

Anonymous said...

I haven't yet read the other comments and I am still on vacation with family so this will be short (I'll write much more soon). For now I'll just mention a few things.

1. I agree that this issue is absolutely crucial for everything we do as Christians.

2. Penal substitution is not actually what Anselm taught. Anselm taught the concept of satisfaction, which is similar but different. It is based on the ideas of debt and honor (per the feudal system of Anselm's day). God has been wronged by human sin; we have dishonored him, our Lord, and we must repay this debt. Because we cannot repay this debt we must be punished. If we could repay it, we wouldn't be punished. What Jesus did - as both God and man, which is the burden of his book on these matters, Cur Deus Homo ("Why a God-man?" or "Why God became Man") - is repay (or "satisfy") the debt, thereby cancelling out the need for punishment. Calvin (and his heirs) is responsible for what we currently call penal substitution.

3. Your basic three-part typology was made famous by Gustaf Aulen's book Christus Victor. He sort of gets all the views a bit wrong (exegetically and historically) but his helpful typology lives on.

4. I think that all three are rooted on Scriptural points and images, and are thus all appropriate ways of talking about the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection. I do, however, affirm the Christus Victor view as more primary than the others. (Greg Boyd has a great defense of this view in Nature of the Atonement: Four Views.)

5. I think that all the views usually suffer because they are severed from the covenantal/eschatological in which they originally made sense. I think that the primary accomplishment of the atonement was the inauguration of God's New Age or New Creation or Heaven within historical time. All of the blessings associated with that age - the defeat of evil, freedom from bondage, forgiveness of sins, peace and justice, etc - have become realities here and now because of what happened in Jesus death and resurrection (and the giving of the Spirit, of course). I think they are better understood as 'eschatological blessings' rather than 'atonement theories' in their own right. The eschatologically understood narrative of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection provide the internal core around which these (and many more besides) metaphors rightly revolve. More anon.

6. This effects evangelism because it affects our entire understanding of Christian existence. We are the people of God's New World, left behind (wink, wink) to continue the work of the coming of God's kingdom. Specifically, our understanding of the atonement strongly influences: (a) what we tell people is wrong with them and the world, what it is they are being saved from, (b) what is involved in the conversion we are calling them to, what has changed in them (or in God towards them), (c) the ways in which their lives will or must change if they choose to confess Jesus as Lord, etc.

That's a start...

Mark Moore said...

While your three views are helpful they are not Scriptural. The dominant biblical metaphors (1) scapegoat (Jesus winds up being both the goat that takes the sin into the wilderness and the one that is slain) and (2) the Passover Lamb. In addition you have four Pauline words that function as four further metaphors: 'redemption' from the marketplace, 'justification' from the courts, 'reconciliation' from the home, and 'atonement' from the temple. I would encourage you to chase these terms and images before the standard three views.

You should also know that the Exemplar view shows up in Anselm's younger contemporary Abelard. It is not modern liberalism that first generated this.

You might look at the growing martyr tradition in addition to the OT as a background to the growing ideology of substitutionary atonement (4 Maccabees 6:27–29; Azariah 1:15–17; 1QS 5:6; 8:1–4; or later in the Talmud, B. Sota 14a).

Speaking of substitutionary atonement, it is exegetically inescapable and Mark 10:45 must be the starting place historically with its use of the word 'ransom' (lutron) and 'in place of' (anti). Though other texts clearly speak to the issue: John 11:49–52; Acts 20:28; Rom 3:23–25; 2 Cor 5:14–15; Gal 3:13–14; 1 Tim 2:5–6; Titus 2:14; Heb 9:22; 1 Pet 1:18–19; 1 John 2:2.

A huge issue for me is whether the atonement is individualistic (for my peccadilloes) or whether it is part of Jesus' plan for national redemption. I strongly favor the latter and criticize the exemplar as well as the penal substitution models for obfuscating this important fact. While I believe in both the exemplar and substitution theories, they do allow the death of Jesus to be appropriated by the individual without recognizing Jesus' political agenda for the nation of Israel.

Anonymous said...

hi tyler,

i would second investigating the emerging martyr tradition, as well as call your attention to this book:


Andy Rodriguez said...

Sorry. I have been a lookie loo, or whatever you called us. I may have something to say a little later, but right now I am late for a meeting.

Michael DeFazio said...

Here is a second round of thoughts, for what they're worth...

1. There are two things I want to especially affirm from Jordan's comments. First, I consider it extremely important to understand Jesus' death as intimately connected with the rest of his life. This is a point Mike and I go back and forth on, but for now I remain convinced that a major point in any view's favor would be consistency with Jesus' ministry. That being the case, the idea of Jesus defeating the powers of evil must be central to our understanding of the significance of his death and resurrection. Second, I think he is right that there is a story at the heart of all this, as the existence of our Gospels suggests. James McClendon argues persuasively for this in Doctrine, though he doesn't go far enough in my opinion. (He also develops what Kenny is talking about, speaking of various metaphors as Godward, humanward, and devilward (or evilward).)

2. I (humbly, tentatively, even fearfully :) ) question something Mark said, namely that the dominant metaphors are scapegoat and Passover Lamb. I don't want to deny the centrality of either theme, but I don't think they are alone in the center. I think the idea (metaphor, theme, image, etc) of Jesus defeating the devil or "evil powers" belongs there as well; not only do the Gospels present Jesus' ministry as a confrontation with Satan, many passages interpret the cross and resurrection explicitly in these terms. Here are just a few: John 12.31-33; 1 Corinthians 15.54-57 (note the verb tense of v. 57); Colossians 2.15; Hebrews 2.14-15; 1 John 3.8; Revelation 12. In addition to these rather explicit statements, the portayal of salvation as deliverance from the devil / freedom from bondage to sin (cf. 2 tim 2.26; Gal 1.4; 4.3; Col 1.12-13, 14; 1 Pet 3.21-22), the emphasis on the cosmic significance of the cross in Ephesians and Colossians (where it sort of realigns the cosmos by putting the powers back in their place), as well as the fact that Psalm 110 (which is about 'the Lord' being victorious over his enemies) is the most often quoted OT passage in the NT, evidence the centrality of this theme (even if it is alongside others).

3. Having said that, there is obviously much I would want to affirm from his comments, notably the importance of looking into the martyr tradition, the exegetical inescapability of the substitutionary motif, and the importance of the Pauline words. On this latter theme, stay aware of the wider significance of these words as well as the basic meaning, such as the Exodus-theme standing behind "redemption", the covenantal context of "justification," etc. And his final paragraph is worth the price of Ozark tuition. (On the individualistic misuse of the exemplar idea, part of Mark's burden, so far as I understand it, even though he might not put it this way, is to recapture the biblical signifance of the cross as a model or pattern for Christian behavior by re-emphasizing the corporate and political nature of "taking up the cross" and following Jesus. It is "our" example, not just "mine." So he is actively correcting this obfuscation, for which I am increasingly grateful.)

4. I would encourage you to dig into the idea of representation as well. I think some passage have been wrongly intrepreted as substitutionary rather than representative, such as 2 Cor 5.14: “We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Strictly speaking, this is not substitution; substitution refers to a situation in which A undergoes X for B, with the result that B doesn’t have to undergo X. But that’s not what Paul said. He said A (Jesus) underwent X (death) for B (us), and therefore B (we) underwent X (death) as well. This would be better characterized as “representation” than “substitution.” I think Wright's thoughts on the idea of "representative Messiahship" are extremely instructive at this point. If I could rewrite my DOC paper on "in Christ," I would camp out on this idea.

5. Notice how possible it is for the NT authors to mix these metaphors, making it obvious that they are not competing theories (not that anyone is saying they are). For example, check out 1 Peter 2.21-25 and Colossians 2.13-15.

6. Here are some resources I suggest you look into at least a bit: chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, A Theology of the Cross by Charles Cousar, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Joel Green and Mark Baker, chapter five of Doctrine by James McClendon, chapter twelve of Grenz's Theology for the Community of God,and chapter three of Wright's Evil and the Justice of God. I'm sure you'll find great stuff I'm not aware of, but these will get you started well.

I'll continue my tradition of six points and stop for now. I look forward to hearing more thoughts from you and others.

Michael DeFazio said...

Only two this time:

1. You ought to think about the place of contextualization in communicating the atonement. Two good books (in addition to Green and Baker) are Jesus Christ Our Lord by Norman Kraus and Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church by John Driver and C. Rene Padilla. I don't know what I think about all of this. Well, I guess I do a little bit. Some contextualization is necessary and obvious, but often those who appeal to this (like Green and Baker) do so at the expense of hard thinking about how the various models may work together to form a coherent whole.

2. I just posted an analysis of Anselm's view of the atonement here. It may prove helpful at least in understanding his position and influence.

So when are you going to jump in here? And where is everyone else?