Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Atonement: Christus Victor

THEOLOGIAN: Gustaf Aulen (1879 - 1977) Theologian, Ecumenist, and Bishop.
WORK ON SUBJECT: Christus Victor [1]
ANGLE: Transactional
THEME: Satanward [2]
“the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ—Christus victor—fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the ‘tyrants’ under which mankind is in bondage and suffering” —Gustaf Aulen [3]


The basic premise of Gustaf Aulen's work is that since mankind is under bondage to the Prince and Power of the Air, God's atoning work must undo the havoc his enemies wreaked on his creation. The Cross now becomes the battlefield where two rulers fight for the right to assert dominance over their property.

Hence, this theme can be considered Satanward; Jesus' primary objective is to defeat him. On that Beautiful Scandalous Night, Satan brought death to the sinless one—thus crossing a line bringing wrongful death. Therefore, Jesus is now the glorious victor. He can now say in Revelation 1:18:
I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. (NLT)
Consider that scripture contains a thread of competition between Satan and the Almighty. Note the temptation in the wilderness as Satan tried to lure Jesus into wrongdoing. It is conceivable that these trials do not simply stop after a few unsuccessful attempts. It is more likely that Satan simply modified his plans.

Perhaps Satan's missives came in the form of doubters and potential followers and religious leaders. What does Jesus say to Peter when the disciple rebuked him? Oh yes:
Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's." (Matt. 16:23, NLT)
You can say this is a figure of speech. I tend to agree, but it is interesting that this comment comes as Jesus tried to explain his mission: The Atonement. It also cannot be denied that the text of scripture clearly pits Satan against Jesus. After all, the name Satan means adversary.

As a final observation, it is Satan who begins Passion Week in Luke 22:3 when he "enters" Judas Iscariot and strikes a deal with the priests to betray Jesus to them.


There is also Old Testament precedent for direct satanic involvement in the course of human events. The Serpent of Genesis (a clear figure of Demonic suggestion) introduces and entices mankind to disobey God, thus ushering in The Fall. The criterion for those subject to death is laid out here; if you sin then you will certainly die. Finally, the epic battle between the Seed of the woman and this Serpent is predicted with the Serpent bruising the Seed's heel while the Seed crushes the Serpent's head. (Genesis 3)

The epic poem of Job also comments extensively on Satan's desire to manipulate and affect humans on this earth. The oft-repeated observation that Satan is accountable to God for all things holds true as Satan must request and receive permission before exerting any power in Job's life. There are limits to Satan's power. Hence, it stands to reason that when Satan put the innocent, blameless Jesus to death, the sentence would not hold up and Jesus must necessarily rise up victorious.


While it is completely orthodox to claim that the Lamb, freshly slain, is worthy to take the scroll and loosen the seals (Revelation 5), it is also possible to get lost in this discussion and take the figure too far.

It has been observed that this atonement theory takes a focus that is traditionally viewed as secondary and makes it the primary focus. [4] It would be easy to read the aforementioned Christus Victor argument and think that our primary problem was enslavement to the Devil when our real issue is, in fact, death itself.

God's holiness and satisfaction are also not properly highlighted. Mankind—the objects and recipients of The Atonement—are reduced to mere pawns on a cosmic chessboard, waiting to see who the final victor will be. In other words, it can be easy to read Christus Victor as cosmic vengeance rather than a redemption story.

Finally, God's love can be minimized. Souls are collateral in an ultimate struggle. Domination and sovereignty take the place of benevolence and kindness. While this might accurately describe Satan's motivation, God has higher and greater goals.


Christus Victor has a lot of great points and calls attention to several aspects of The Atonement that are sometimes forgotten in our current age when more emphasis is placed on the personal experience than an overarching cosmic reality. As with every paradigm, we must remember that the figure can only hold a snippet of the immense reality of God's atoning work through Jesus Christ and react accordingly.

1. "Aulen, Gustaf (1879 - 1977)." In Who's Who in Christianity, Routledge, by Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2001.
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. Aulén, G., Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (Macmillan New York, 1969 [1931])
4. Mccormack, Bruce Lindley, and Bruce Lindley McCormack. "Atonement." In Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, edited by Ian A. McFarland, David A. S. Fergusson, Karen Kilby, and et. al.. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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