Tag Archives: Aslan

Substitutionary atonement and Christus victor


I was reading this article by Mark Galli of Christianity today on ‘the problem with christus victor atonenement‘, and, to be honest I found it a very strange article.

Update: While I’m writing here about the nature for substitutionary atonement, the framing of the gospel in christus Victor atonement like explained here by Ed Cyezewski is equally important, or even more important. Why do I always miss the most important part??

Firstly he does seem to impose a dichotomy between Christus victor atonement and what he calls ‘substitutionaty atonement’, and secondly he does seem for some reason to equate the second term with ‘penal substitution atonement’.

What’s behind the lingo and why do I find this strange? Let’s start with the second one. ‘Substitutionary atonement’ means in simple words that Jesus saved us by taking our place. That surely is an important idea in christian theology, from the beginning on, but it shouldn’t at all be equated with the so-called theory of penal substitution, which says that Jesus died in our place to take the punishment for our sins. The latter one is a relatively new invention in the history of Christianity, dating from the time of the reformers, and one only embraced by some protestants. Even the satisfaction model of Anselm, one of its precursors, did not see Jesus taking punishment in our place, but doing penance in our place as far as I understand. This article by Derek Flood on substitutionary atonement and the church father, which I linked to before, is very interesting for those who have time to read it all… The problem is that some christians for a reason unknown to me seen to equate the gospel with the idea of penal substitution. (what was the gospel then for all christians in the first 1500 years?)

I never really understood substitutionary atonement in the penal way, and I still have a lot of problems with that theory. (Some version of it could rightly be called ‘divine child abuse… God punishing Jesus in our place because he isn’t able to forgive us otherwise) but yet I’ve always seen the atonement as substitutionary. Jesus died for our sins.

Growing up as a pentecostel kid my idea of atonement was that Jesus on the cross endured all sin, disease and pain of the world, in our place. He absorbed it, and there destroyed it, and then rose from the death. That’s clearly substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal.

The second thing that shaped my understanding of atonement is probably the story of Edmund in the narnia book, who betrays the others and gets enslaved by the witch. Aslan then gives himself in Edmunds place to get killed by the evil one. This could be called classical Ransom atonement,(Jesus liberating us from enslavement to the devil by taking our place) which is probably the most important atonement theory of the first millenium, and it’s purely a substitution model of atonement, but still not penal substitution.

Now for the dichotomy Galli creates, I don’t know where he gets that idea to separate Christus Victor from substitutionary as if they can be opposites..I would think that Christus victor atonement and this Ransom motif are closely connected and two sides of the , same coin. Jesus on the cross suffered evil, sin and death in our place, and destroyed it and came out as Victorious!!

And here do we come to something else Galli seems to overlook: the definition of justice (and sin). Penal substitution seems operates on the idea that God needs to punish because He is just, and that He can’t forgive without having punished someone (and so Jesus taking the punishment in our place) but I don’t see why this would be. Why would the omnipotent God not be able to forgive? The problem with sin is tha it destroys, not only individuals and their relationship to God, but the whole of creation, and so it needs to be destroyed. There also is a lot of power in the Eastern orthodox emphasis on Jesus destroying death. But the question here is how do we view Gods justice: Is justice punishing the bad guys (everybody in this fallen world) or is it first and foremost setting things right? I would go with the second one, and say that Gods justice first and foremost is restorative, not only for individuals but for the whole of creation!

For those who like to read more on this discussiopn: Read more here on the covenant of love blog for the first post in a series on the subject. I also have a quote  from Scott Morizot (who I respect for his knowledge on the orthodox church and the church fathers) from a comment on the Jesus Creed blog:

Galli’s post is interesting. If Christus Victor is “clearly a secondary atonement theme” and substitutionary atonement is the primary and dominant theme, why did it take the Church a thousand years to come up with the latter? From an historical perspective, the claim seems absurd. I would also say he clearly misses the point even of the Orthodox prayer he quotes. The “consequent wrath of God” is not interwoven into it. The prayer thanks God for his goodness and long-suffering and for *not* being angry.

There’s a reason Passover is and has always been the dominant theme. The Paschal lamb in the Exodus story guarded those protected by its blood from the angel of death — from death, not from the collection of a debt for sins committed. So Christ breaks the bonds of sin and death and frees us from the powers who used them to enslave us for all time.

It is, I suppose, possible that some Protestants are taking some of the Christus Victor themes in a more shallow way than they have traditionally been taken. I don’t particularly have an opinion on that. But Galli’s characterization of the traditional Christus Victor view of Christ and the atonement is flatly wrong.

To finally close this post:  as we’re coming closer to Easter we shoul realise that the big day is not good friday, but easter. Christus Victor should be very important for all Christians, unless they have a truly ‘good friday only’-gospel.

Jesus is Lord, and Victor over death, sin and evil

He who was God, became the least of us and suffered with us

All praises to the slain lamb!!

shalom

Bram

related posts:
Rethinking my childhood atonement theory
Psalm 51 and atonement theories
Rob Bell on atonement or the bible versus (reformed) tradition

Prophecy, free will and the openness of the future…


This older post from Richard Becks Experimental Theology site has been popping up in the dutch blog- and twitterverse a few times lately:Why the anti-christ is an idiot. It’s kinda funny, but it also reminds me of old King Herod. I’ve always wondered what was going on in the guys head: he hears from the magi about a newborn king, and supposes it is the messiah of which the prophecies speak. So what does he do: he tries to kill the newborn messiah…

Isn’t this very strange? How can anyone in their right mind believe in the prophecy that tells about the birth of the messiah, and then still think that they can stop the rest of the prophecy by killing the baby? It’s a strange way of taking prophecy serious: believing in it and still believing you can change the end of the story in a way that workes out better for you…

It’s a strange subject: prophecy and the openness of the future. I as a Christian do believe in prophecy, including foretelling prophecy. (I even believe as a charismatic that it still happens today, even though I’m very sceptical about the wacko prophecies that arise out of some corners of the hypercharismatic world that never seem to be fulfilled) For example I believe that Jesus was the fulfilling of a lot of prophecies in the Old Testament, like the gospels tell us, and like Jesus told the guys on the way to Emmaus. So I believe God can, and does, show us the future. (And sometimes hide it in weird cryptical pictures that only are clears afterward…but that’s another story)

But yet I don’t believe in a God that micro-manages everything, but in free will. So even if God is above time the future is in a way ‘open’. We do what we do in free will. We might be influenced by our instincts, our DNA, our trauma, the Holy Spirit or even more evil spirits, whatever,… But our deeds are ours, and we more or less choose them. Otherwise justice cannot even exist. If God micromanages every very deed we do, He is the cause of our sin, not we. Then He is behind everything He says He hates in the bibles, which does not make much sense at all… (I don’t say that God should always follow our human logic, but this is evil nonsense and even blasphemy[1])

So I wouldn’t use the modern concept of the universe as a watch and God as a watchmaker (an idea which did much harm to christianity defending itself in modernity, sorry mr. Paley) The universe is not a machine (and neither is the human being, or any living organism) But more as God sheperding both this world and the lives of believers -and non-believers-. Leading it, and where needed influencing it, probably correcting it here and there, but letting the world mostly unfold in it’s onw free will. Except of course that when God wants to do someting, it will happen. God will maken it happen. After all, He is the Almighty…

I was thinking about the same concept when I was re-reading the silver chair, one of the narnia stories by C.S. Lewis, who in his non-fiction also speaks of God above time and seeing all time at once (I think it was in mere christianity) and who says to defend a traditional view there. In the beginning Aslan sends Jill on a quest to find the lost prince, and he also gives her some signs that she and Eustace should follow, which they mostly don’t. They pretty much screw op most of the time! But in spite of that, they manage to find the prince, and save Narnia from an evil witch who wants to enslave it once more… So Aslan is working towards something with the 2 children, and probably cleaning up the mess behind the scenes, but in the end he gets to the goal. It could’ve happened more easily is they had talked the old King, or not had gone to the city of giants, but still the outcome is there: the prince is found, and Narnia is saved!

God has an outcome, but that does not mean that the ways are fixed. So that means that foretelling prophecy might just be God telling what His plans are, not revealing a fixed future… Like Jonah foretelling the destruction of Nineveh, which doesn’t happen because the people change their mind…

So, is this ‘open theism’? I honestly don’t know. I guess I should read some Greg Boyd on the subject. I don’t know if we as humans can even understand how the relation is between eternity where God lives and our time… We probably are flatlanders explaining a goldfish in the terms of our 2D worldview. I believe that God created time as we know it together with our universe -so I reject process theology- and I also know that God the son entered time in the incarnation. Maybe it is a mystery. God does probably influence a lot more than we realise, and the paradox between free will and predestination might be solved from a view outside of this time…

But the future is calling us. The Kingdom of God is already breaking is into our world here and now sometimes. That which started with the resurrection will once be a whole new earth and a whole new heaven, and it’s inviting us to join in already. God is calling us, and will do all he can, and fulfill His promises. But that does not mean we have to sit back and wait…

shalom

Bram

[1] I am aware that some in the reformed tradition try to make sense of this kind of ideas, in order to protect their faith from problems that I don’t see, but that’s not my problem… It’s not my tradition and I don’t care any more about supposed calvinist theology and philosophy(of which some wouldn’t even be recoginised by old John Calvin) than I do about the infallibility of the pope. It only would distract me from the Christ and the bible to engage in such discussions, even when I see both reformed and catholics as my brothers and sisters in Christ.