Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Atonement Theology: Introduction


In recent weeks, I have considered various theories of The Atonement that have been held by Christendom and how they inform our faith. Typically, I avoid such speculation because there is room for divergent beliefs in the actual mechanism of The Atonement because they tend to grasp at earthly figures to describe heavenly truths. Thus, I tend to echo C. S. Lewis' sentiments as follows:
"The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work." -- Mere Christianity, Ch. 4 [1]
Yet, as I read up on the theories, I find incredible depth and scope to Christ's work. In this series, I will attempt to recreate arguments for the three most common theories of the atonement and explain how they relate to the Christian experience. Further, I plan to show how, when taken to an extreme, each of these theories falls apart when taken past the point of good use.

So each theory enlightens truth when considered properly and obscures truth when abused. At the end of this study, we will likely say that The Atonement is like Christus Victor in this sense, but not in another, where it is like Penal-Substitution, except where a Ransom applies. In other words, most Christians probably have a blended understanding of these theories and can find some harmony between them while rejecting aspects that are not profitable.

The Atonement: A Definition

The word Atonement is actually one of the few theological terms that derive their origin from the English language [2]. It may be read as: "at-one-ness." Or to bring to unification/reunification. In this sense, it is synonymous with reconciliation -- to be made friends again.

Propitiation is another word that regularly appears in Atonement discussions. This word refers to the turning aside of God's anger toward sin [3] and to thereby regain favor with Him. It is a general term for the deterrence of God's holy wrath so we can approach Him.

A narrower term that falls under propitiation is expiation. Expiation means to make amends or to make reparations [4]. It's typically used in a tit-for-tat situation. You hurt me so before I accept you back, you must do the following... You must make reparations or make it up to the offended party. The goal is to make things right again.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary describes the relationship between propitiation and expiation as follows:
"Expiation speaks of the process by which sins are nullified or covered. Propitiation, taking a personal object, speaks of the appeasement of an offended party--specifically the Christian God--from wrath or anger. Expiation falls under the concept of propitiation. In Scripture, it cannot exist without propitiation." [5]
Thus, The Atonement is the process by which man is reunited with God. The Fall is presupposed as the problem to which God has responded. His Holiness is the barrier which Man cannot hurdle. His Love is the motivation which drives the action. But how is this accomplished? This is the question that theologians have wrestled with for centuries.

The Atonement: Two Angles

The two major angles from which The Atonement is typically viewed can be described as transactional and juridical. A transactional viewpoint describes The Atonement as a "price paid" or "just for the unjust." On the other hand, a juridical viewpoint describes The Atonement in legal terms, showing how God is satisfied by The Atonement.

Note that both views have a place in scripture. In subsequent posts, we will explore that place and what happens when these theories are taken further than their usefulness. Truly, the biggest problem we have is when we take the figures too far and apply them where they have no business being applied.

The Atonement: Three Views

As mentioned, in this mini-series I will explore three views of The Atonement, highlight the key Theologian(s) involved with each theory, the philosophical strengths and weaknesses of the theory, and the scriptures from which these theories are derived. Note that these theories grow from Church development and the influence of many Church Fathers. Hence, while one person may be named or credited for each theory as the principal promoter, several Church Fathers likely contributed to the development of these ideas.

Specifically, the three views that I will consider in this mini-series are:
  1. Christus Victor
  2. Penal-Substitution
  3. Ransom

1. Mere Christianity, by Clive S. Lewis.
2. Eddy, P R., and J Beilby. "Atonement." In Global Dictionary of Theology, edited by William A. Dyrness, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
3. "Propitiation." In Macmillan Dictionary of the Bible, by Martin J. Selman, Martin H. Manser, and Stephen Travis. Collins, 2002.
4. "expiate." In The Macquarie Dictionary, edited by Susan Butler. 6th ed. Macquarie Dictionary Publishers, 2013.
5. "EXPIATION, PROPITIATION." In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England. Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.l
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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