Title: Theories of the Atonement Part 2
FCF: We often struggle understanding exactly why Jesus was incarnated, died, and was raised to life again.
Prop: Because most of the theories offer elements of truth, we must keep what the bible affirms and discard the rest.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Isaiah 53. Well this week I have retooled the way I compose teaching lessons vs. sermons and I think I have come up with a lesson that won’t take us an hour to get through. 😊
A couple house cleaning items I want to take care of before we begin in earnest.
First, I want you to know that everything we have and will discuss in this study can be given to you in printed or audio format. Even the slides can be printed for you. So if you feel like we are moving too fast, you can catch up if you would like to. If you weren’t here last week and would like a proper introduction to this topic you can find that in the first lesson on our website or we can get you a physical copy of the audio or the manuscript.
Second, I want to make an observation and an encouragement. Last week there were a few – our usual suspects – who were active in giving their opinions on the matters we are discussing. If you are pretty sure that is you – I’d ask you to keep it up! However, I know there are some here who thought about expressing their viewpoints but were ok with staying quiet and letting the others talk. I’d like for you fight that urge today. If you have an opinion, share it. We all benefit from each other’s input. If you are afraid of being wrong – don’t be! This is topic where most opinions are going to be valid and even if you are wrong, be encouraged to know that we often learn the most when we start from a wrong perspective. They key is to be humble either way and humility isn’t staying quiet necessarily, it is being selfless.
[Slide 2A] Let’s take a moment to review where we’ve been and then we’ll dive into our next Atonement theories.
The first major theory of the atonement was what?
[Slide 2B] The Recapitulation theory.
Put together by who?
[Slide 2C] Irenaeus.
[Slide 2D] AD 180
Someone want to summarize this view?
[Slide 2E] Jesus was the divine do over for Adam and all humanity is now given back what was lost in Adam.
The second major theory of the atonement was what?
[Slide 2F] The Ransom Theory
Who developed this theory?
[Slide 2G] Origen
[Slide 2H] AD 246
And how would you summarize this view?
[Slide 2I] God paid Satan’s desired ransom of Christ’s soul for the release of the souls of mankind.
[Slide 3A] And we covered another grouping of theories which were up to around A.D. 500 but were never clearly defined. What were they?
[Slide 3B] The Substitutionary Theories
Who were some major church fathers who put forward these ideas?
[Slide 3C] Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Jerusalem and others.
[Slide 3D] Between AD 200-500 – CORRECTION TO LAST WEEK
What did this view teach?
[Slide 3E] That Christ’s was primarily a substitute for our sin.
[Slide 4] Of course last week we spent much of our time evaluating these theories. And although all of them have some elements of truth that is taught in scripture, we also noted that all of them were at their best incomplete and at their worst, teaching non-biblical fiction.
As we noted, for various reasons the Ransom theory held out as the primary theory of the atonement for nearly 800 years. The next theory we talk about builds on the concept of substitution considerably and cements a Godward focus to the atonement. This theory would quickly become the new standard position in the church.
I.) [Slide 5] #3 The Satisfaction or Commercial Theory – Anselm of Canterbury- Circa A.D. 1094-1098
i. Feudalism became a practice in the western world in around AD 1066.
ii. Feudalism is a hierarchical system set up from the King all the way down to a peasant. A King essentially owned all the land of his country. Nobles would serve his King in battle in exchange for titles and land grants by the King.
iii. People who lived on the land that the King granted to the noble, would become the nobleman’s serf. Essentially these serfs would work the land and do labor for the nobleman in exchange for provision and protection.
iv. Blended to this was a certain amount of loyalty and honor. What I mean by that is, there was a certain dependence and even love between the serfs and the noble. I mean whose seen Downton Abbey? Right? There was mutual respect. But when a serf was disloyal or disrespectful to his lord – what would happen? There would need to be some payment or some punishment doled out. With Downton Abbey that is actually depicting the end of the feudal system.
v. But when the feudal system was in its heyday, a disrespectful serf was not fired – rather they were put in dungeons in the nobleman’s keep or thrown off the land. They certainly weren’t sent to the King. The nobles were his serfs.
vi. Why this discussion of feudalism?
vii. Well obviously because I wanted to talk about Downton Abbey right? 😊
viii. No. But understanding feudalism is the key to help us understand Anselm’s Satisfaction theory.
ix. Anselm sees all of creation as owned by God. God is the creator of all and therefore he owns all.
x. Even Satan is owned by God and therefore God would never pay a ransom to him to buy back something that was still His.
xi. However, what had happened with our sin is that one disobedient serf named Satan had then led other disobedient serfs, angels and humans, to disobey their Lord and thus cause God to be greatly dishonored.
xii. [Slide 6] Therefore, the dishonor upon God of all mankind reached such a terrible level that it demanded satisfaction. God could not simply wipe it away, it must be satisfied. However, there would be nothing that humans could offer God to satisfy his dishonoring except that they be condemned and thus his dishonor would be satisfied, although they would be lost.
xiii. So He came as a human, lived perfectly toward His Lord, and died a dishonorable death which is only infinitely heightened by His divine identity also. Not only does he give honor to the Lord by his death, but to an infinite degree because not only was he innocent but he was also God Himself.
xiv. Thus the death of Christ not only honored God but provided an extra credit of honor.
xv. Why would God do this for us?
xvi. Anselm said that since angels who had dishonored God could not be made up for, God would provide the extra honor so that the number of angels that had been lost could be made up for in the number of men. God would punish the rest.
b. [Slide 7] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. Hebrews 12:2 – He disregarded the shame of the cross for us
ii. Isaiah 53:3 – He was despised and rejected and not esteemed
c. [Slide 8] Strengths: What are some strengths of this theory?
i. Finally a Godward look. God is offended.
ii. Certainly shame and God’s honor are on the table to a certain degree. There is our shame and God’s honor at stake.
iii. It incorporates the angels and forces of darkness in the grander plan of God.
iv. Jesus did bear our shame on the cross – of that we are sure. And he died a shameful death.
v. There are certainly aspects of satisfaction to the atonement. Satisfaction toward God.
d. [Slide 9] Weaknesses: But what are some weaknesses of this view?
i. It is primarily based on logic and not scripture.
ii. The bible does not specifically say that God sought to right his dishonor or to restore the number of fallen angels with humans. This is myth and fiction.
iii. Is it God’s honor that is actually hurt by the sin of mankind or is it something else? Honor doesn’t seem the fullest expression of what happened here.
iv. Clearly this theory was developed because of his environment and not because of sound biblical research.
[Slide 10] The next theory actually happened as a reaction to the Satisfaction theory.
II.) [Slide 11] #4 The Moral-Influence Theory – Peter Abelard – Circa AD 1135
i. Peter Abelard, a French philosopher and theologian, attended some of Anselm’s lectures on theology. He was not at all impressed with Anselm’s conclusions on many things including his theory of the atonement.
ii. Abelard’s theory of the atonement goes from objective to subjective. Up to this point, most theories of the atonement were focused on an entity outside of humanity from which we must be saved. Whether that be God, Satan, death, sin, or a combination of them. Those theories are what we call – objective. Because the payment and atonement went to someone besides us.
iii. Abelard saw the atonement in the opposite way.
iv. Rather than God being personally dishonored, or that we were personally indebted in some way to God or Satan because of our sin. Rather than God needing justice or appeasement, the only thing God sought for man was to restore the relationship between them.
v. Abelard would say that since man’s sin in the garden they have always met God with fear and ignorance. As such, there was some sort of relational disconnect between who God is and what we understand Him to be.
vi. Christ came and died then, not to appease God’s wrath or break the devil’s power – instead He came and died as a demonstration of love to humanity. In demonstrating that love, he provided influence over the heart of man to return that love to God and trust in Him.
vii. This theory will come up again in our march through the history of the church – because although his theory was not well received by the church at the time – modern theologians have expanded on this theory. And interestingly enough they have expanded it in some positive ways. More on that when we get to it (not till Horace Bushnell in 1866) 700 years or so.
b. [Slide 12] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. Luke 19:10 – Christ came to seek out and save the lost - not to die or to atone for sin
ii. John 18:37 – He came to the world to testify of the truth
iii. II Corinthians 5:19 – God is reconciling the world to himself through Christ and his influence
iv. Romans 5:8 – God demonstrates his love toward us in Christ’s death
c. [Slide 13] Strengths:
i. It places emphasis on the Love of God and the divine nature of Christ to come and die for His own.
ii. Jesus said that there is no greater love than when one lays down his life for his friends. And Jesus laid down his life for those He would call friend. So it is obvious that His death was definitely a demonstration of God’s love.
iii. This also shows a more relational aspect to the atonement and encourages an ongoing relationship to God from the atonement.
d. [Slide 14] Weaknesses:
i. All we have to really do is read verses 9-10 of Romans 5 to begin to dismantle this theory. Although God demonstrated his love toward us in Christ’s death even Paul says… it is much more than this…
1. Declared righteous by His blood
2. Saved through Christ from God’s wrath
3. While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son
4. AND MORE STILL – we have been saved by His life. Why? Because we had no life of our own. We were dead. It is hard to “influence” a dead thing unless you first give it life.
ii. In short, this theory is perhaps the weakest yet. It totally refuses to acknowledge any need for mercy or forgiveness from God and thus ignores much of scripture and God’s hatred and intolerance of sin.
iii. Sin is lessened from an offense against a holy God down to the means by which we have come to misunderstand God. This is true – but so much more.
iv. Essentially the greatest weakness of this theory is that it makes so little of our sin and so much of God’s love, that God’s love is cheapened. And this theory in its modern view has expanded and is the backdrop of much of the marketing and mega church movement. Lessening sin and emphasizing God’s love. What they do not realize is that when you deemphasize sin – you neuter the power and passion of God’s love for us. It is while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. When we make sin as horrendous as the bible does – God’s love shines so brightly it is blinding.
[Slide 15] The next theory happens chronologically next, but fits better with Anselm’s theory than it does with Abelard’s theory.
III.) [Slide 16] #5 The Supererogation Theory – Thomas Aquinas – Circa AD 1270
i. This is not the super irrigation theory – we are not talking about a well-watered field.
ii. However, it may be closer than you think
iii. Thomas Aquinas took Anselm’s theory and took it one step beyond.
iv. Where Anselm looked at Christ’s atonement as an infinite sacrifice that amassed a surplus of honor to be applied to the honor debt of some of mankind…
v. Aquinas understood not only the death of Christ but the life of Christ to be effective.
vi. Supererogation means to be far more than sufficient or going above and beyond what was expected or what duty required.
vii. In other words, Christ’s incarnation, life, suffering and death provided a “treasury of merit” by which Christ not only atones for past sin but also future sin.
viii. Aquinas went on to outline exactly how a person might gain access to this “treasury of merit.”
ix. He specifies that this treasury of merit is accessed by the sacraments.
x. Sacraments to Aquinas were the “cause of grace” or they are said to “contain grace”
xi. It was by the sacraments that Aquinas said God would infuse justifying grace to men. These were the means that God ordained to appropriate Christ’s atonement to men.
xii. The two sacraments are baptism and penance.
xiii. Through baptism, original sin and past sins are washed clean and through penance sins committed after baptism can be forgiven through the same treasury.
xiv. This quickly became the core of Roman Catholic Doctrine and developed into the system of works for salvation that they currently believe in.
b. [Slide 17] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. Romans 4:6, 11 – Abraham received a sign to seal his righteousness that was counted to him through faith
ii. Hebrews 4:14-16 – Our High Priest who did not sin offers grace and mercy to us so that we may receive help
iii. II Corinthians 12:7-10 – God’s grace for Paul to overcome his thorn in the flesh is linked with Christ’s strength.
iv. I Peter 2:25 – He bore our sins on the cross so we might die to sin and live to righteousness
c. [Slide 18] Strengths:
i. This is one of the first real theories of the atonement that indicates that there is a perpetual nature to the atonement. In most other theories they emphasize the once for all aspect of the sacrifice without emphasizing the once completed but with continuing effect aspect.
ii. There is a dependence on Christ’s cross and atoning work for this “treasury of merit” which has a continuing mercy aspect for dealing with not only past sins and our sin condition but even future sins.
iii. Grace and mercy seems to be the lifeblood of New Covenant inheritors in scripture. And Thomas is the first real theologian to see the cross as the pivot point to that truth. That we need mercy still beyond the cross.
d. [Slide 19] Weaknesses:
i. The weakness is not so much in the theory itself but in its application.
ii. There is a failure to distinguish between sanctifying grace and justifying grace.
iii. In Aquinas’ view that grace is communicated through Christ and his work, but is earned co-operatively through the effort of the individual to be baptized to remove original sin and to do penance to remove ongoing sin. This is unbiblical at best and leads to works-based faith at worst.
iv. It is my personal opinion that he also confuses the word grace and mercy. He speaks in mercy language in relation to dealing with sin – but ignores grace in relation to becoming progressively what God wants us to be.
v. Indeed, the Roman Catholic faith still hinges to a large degree on this doctrine and embrace Aquinas as a powerful supporter of their traditions and teachings.
[Slide 20 (end)] Alright, let’s pull up and out for now.
In addition to our 2 words of caution from last week, I hope and trust that you are seeing that all these men are good intentioned and deep thinkers. May we endeavor to be deep thinkers and to understand the truth of the atonement of Christ for us, so that we can communicate it to others better.