Title: Theories of the Atonement Part 3
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 Romans 5. I originally thought this teaching series would only be a couple weeks. Of course here we are on week three and we have at least one more week to go on this topic. I know this is different than our normal Sunday and thus it is more challenging for you to engage with what we are talking about, but I trust that you are learning.
But for those who are REALLY struggling, I’d like to do two things for you.
First, is the promise that at the end of our study we will spend a little time compiling all the truthful and key concepts from each atonement theory into 1 theory. We’ll call it the CBC theory of the atonement. The great thing about that theory is that it is one that we can continue to hone and modify as we come to more and more truth in God’s word. After we establish our CBC theory on the atonement, we will also spend some time applying our theory to our lives.
But for today, let me jump the gun a little and provide you some motivation to listen and learn as much as you can from this study. And really it comes down to two concepts.
1.) The truth of all these theories should impress upon you the depth, breadth, richness, and fullness of the atonement of Jesus for you. Not simply that he died for your sins… but more than that. You will know how, and why, and to what extent. And that is valuable information for those who are His followers. Not just information for your head, but information for your soul. Because becoming intimately acquainted with the ever-expanding truth of what He accomplished from incarnation to ascension, and what he is STILL accomplishing for His sheep today, will only lead you to praise and worship Him for who He is. Not just one attribute like love or justice – but all of Him. God is worthy of praise and I hope that understanding the atonement will cause you to spontaneously break out in praise for what He has done!
2.) A second motivation for learning this material is that most heresies and false gospels originate from the pages of scripture. Very rarely does a cult or false religion reject the bible entirely. Even paganism views the teachings of Jesus in high regard. And many of these theories that we have studied and will study, become the backdrop of various false gospels and cults. Not that they are in themselves false or cultic, but have been used to further a false gospel or a cultic faith. So how do you make sure the gospel you preach is not a false one? The best way to present the gospel is from a heart that knows the gospel. How can you tell someone what Christ has done, when you are fuzzy on the details? Granted, to a certain extent, we are all kinda fuzzy on the details… but we shouldn’t desire it to stay that way.
And would it encourage you to know that I too am not exactly thrilled about this series? I’d much rather be preaching. But… I too am learning with you. I am expanding my understanding of what Christ’s atonement accomplished. Learn with me 😊
So let’s quickly review where we’ve been.
[Slide 2A] Tell me about the Recapitulation Theory? And when I ask that question I am asking for the originator, the date, and a description of it in your words.
[Slide 2B] Irenaeus. AD 180. Jesus was the divine do over for Adam and all humanity is now given back what was lost in Adam.
[Slide 2C] Tell me about The Ransom Theory.
[Slide 2D] Origen. AD 246. God paid Satan’s desired ransom of Christ’s soul for the release of the souls of mankind.
[Slide 3A] Tell me about the Less defined Substitutionary Theories that arose around this time.
[Slide 3B] Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Jerusalem and others. Between AD 200-500. That Christ’s was primarily a substitute for our sin.
[Slide 3C] Tell me about the Satisfaction Theory.
[Slide 3D] Anselm of Canterbury. Somewhere between A.D. 1094 and 1098. Being serfs of God who had greatly dishonored Him, Christ came to satisfy our honor debt with God.
[Slide 4A] Tell me about the Moral-Influence Theory?
[Slide 4B] Peter Abelard. A.D. 1135. Christ died to demonstrate that God is love and to influence mankind to return that love and trust God.
[Slide 4C] And tell me about the Supererogation Theory.
[Slide 4D] Thomas Aquinas. A.D. 1270. Christ’s life and death earned a treasury of Merit with God that can be applied to justify someone through observing the sacraments
[Slide 5 (blank)] Very good. See you are learning! Alright let’s pray before we dive into our next major theory of the atonement.
I.) [Slide 6] #6 The Penal-Substitutionary Theory – Luther, Calvin, and other reformers - Circa A.D. 1540
i. Penal has to do with penalty. The reformers understanding of the atonement was through the lens of the entire bible from the old testament and through the new.
ii. They perceived that God was not simply displeased with our sin, nor did our sin simply change our disposition toward God, nor did our sin merely dishonor God, nor did our sin merely enslave us to itself, death, or Satan, but rather and most importantly, our sin was a criminal and treasonous act against the God of this world.
iii. That act has not only separated us from God, but put enmity between us. God is wrathful against us for our sin.
iv. However, we need to understand God’s wrath before we move on here. God’s wrath is not that he got angry and lost control. Rather God’s wrath is His calculated, holy, and righteous choice to with evil in the word He created. He created all things good and therefore has not only the right, but the responsibility to justly act out against all that is not good in His creation.
v. That wrath is demonstrated in this life primarily by allowing people to continue in their sin. That wrath in this life is primarily distributed to mankind in allowing them to experience the fullness of their own wickedness.
vi. But in the next life – in the second death – God’s wrath is put to evil in a more punitive way. God casts all of wickedness, all of hell, all of death, all of sin, all of evil into the lake of fire to burn forever. Therefore we could say that God’s wrath, fully understood, is an absence of God’s mercy. Mercy is not giving what has been earned. In the second death and even here on earth, God’s wrath is demonstrated by giving to the person what they have earned or what they want.
vii. [Slide 7] God’s wrath rests on all those who have sinned against God and all have sinned.
viii. So Christ becomes our substitution. He takes our place and bears the wrath of God for us. He became a curse for us. Not only to bear the wrath of God, but also to take away our sin.
ix. Others call this theory the vicarious atonement. A vicar is a person who stands between one party and another. Christ becomes the shield that bears the wrath of God so that we may be spared His just punishment for our sin.
x. Christ’s atonement not only removes the liability for our sin, but appeases the wrath of God for our sin. This is done not only by the death of Christ but by His life. His obedience to God, His righteousness is applied to our account, imputed to our person and our sinfulness was applied to His account and He was judged by God on the cross for it.
xi. [Slide 8] In Christ then, we are reconciled to God, not only bearing the wrath of God for our sin, but also being given the righteousness of Christ which leads to life.
b. [Slide 9] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. Romans (the whole book really) 5:6-11 – Christ’s life and death have reconciled us to God and declared righteous
ii. I Peter 2:21-25 – He bore our sins on the cross having lived a sinless life. He did so that we may cease from sin and turn back to the shepherd from which we have wandered.
iii. [Slide 10] I John 2:2 – Christ is the atonement (appeasement of God’s wrath and removal of sin’s liability) for our sins and the whole world.
iv. II Corinthians 5:18-21 – Christ reconciles us to God by taking our place and bearing our wrath.
c. [Slide 11] Strengths: What are some strengths of this theory?
i. Purely biblical – in everything it says there is nothing that is non-biblical or fictitious.
ii. Has been the Protestant orthodox position for almost 500 years.
iii. Resonates well with a guilt/innocence society and fits well with the legal understanding of our sin.
iv. Is holistic in regard to the scriptures. Incorporates the Mosaic law, covenantal and ritualistic practices as images of exactly what God was going to do.
v. As such, it establishes a link between the law of God and the Grace of God which sets them with each other and not opposed to each other.
vi. Makes much of God’s Holiness and man’s sinfulness
vii. And it explains perfectly why God would forsake His own Son, the second person of the Godhead.
d. [Slide 12] Weaknesses: But what are some weaknesses of this view?
i. While it gives considerable weight to the cross of Christ as His atoning work, the resurrection and even ascension of Christ is almost unnecessary if this was the sum total of the atonement.
ii. Satan, the forces of darkness, and the unseen realm are almost irrelevant in this view.
[Slide 13] The next theory is a reaction to the reformer’s understanding of the atonement. And as far as reactions go, it is quite the pendulum swing.
II.) [Slide 14] #7 The Example Theory – Faustus Socinus - Circa AD 1578 (completed) 1594(published)
i. Absolute rejection of any theory advocating satisfaction of God or any other entity.
ii. Meaning that Christ’s death was purely and totally for us and for no other reason.
iii. Socinus would conclude that God satisfying his wrath and honor by pouring it on Christ is absolutely contradictory to the concept of God being merciful and offering forgiveness. You cannot make someone pay for a debt and claim to be merciful. Nor can you forgive a debt and then exact payment from someone – even if it is payment for another.
iv. God’s mercy extends to all men of all time and therefore God has chosen to forgive all men of all time.
v. [Slide 15] Therefore, Christ did not come to pay for mankind’s sins or to free men from sin, death, Satan, or God’s wrath. Instead Christ came as a wonderful example to us.
vi. Jesus was a human and a human only. Not God. He demonstrated the greatest commandment of loving God with all his heart by loving Him unto death. He demonstrated what humans are capable of.
vii. Therefore, Christ’s death fulfills two human needs
1. He shows us what it means to totally and completely love God. We must exhibit this same love if we hope to be saved.
2. He inspires us by showing us that humans really are capable of loving God. If he can do it so can we!
viii. Incidentally, this is the doctrinal backdrop of Unitarianism. So if you have ever heard someone say – I am a unitarian – this is essentially what they believe.
b. [Slide 16] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. I Peter 2:21 – He was an example for us
ii. I John 2:6 – whoever claims to live in Christ must walk as Jesus did
c. [Slide 17] Strengths:
i. As with the moral influence theory this theory does point beyond the cross as to how the cross of Christ does affect our everyday lives
ii. Ultimately it is true that Christ IS our example of what it means to be holy and love God and others.
d. [Slide 18A] Weaknesses:
i. [Slide 18B] Let me just say first… that this theory is heresy. That is probably the strongest statement I have made thus far in these theories of the atonement. And believe me, I do not say it lightly. So let me defend my harsh words. It is heresy for two reasons.
1. The Nicaean, Athanasian, and Apostles Creed all affirm the fact of Christ’s humanity and deity. Socinians deny the deity of Christ. That alone, makes it a heresy. But wait, there’s more.
2. At the council of Carthage in 416 and again in 418 the doctrine of Pelagianism was condemned as heresy.
a. Pelagianism teaches that mankind is made free to choose between good and evil. Essentially that man was born neutral and when they sin it was their choice but they also had free will to choose to do what God had asked of them. To the extent that a person does not need any supernatural work in them or supernatural influence over them to live a holy life, but instead, that they can simply choose to be holy.
b. In essence this is what the example theory supposes. That man is capable of obeying God on his own and Christ is merely a reminder that that is possible.
ii. Not only is it heresy – but it has to ignore vast quantities of New Testament scripture that speaks on Christ being a substitution, redemption, ransom, atonement, propitiation, mediator, etc. In short – to date in our study – this view is the first that I have to implore you to outright reject.
iii. We could take some positives away, but when 90% of the apple is rotten, you don’t eat 10% and discard the rest… you just discard the apple.
iv. What we lose in casting aside this theory, we will make up for with other theories later.
[Slide 19] The next theory is a reaction to the Socinian theory, and thus presents a moderate position between penal substitution and example.
III.) [Slide 20] #8 The Governmental Theory – Hugo Grotius – Circa AD 1617
i. Grotius’ primary concern was a reaction to the Socinians. He was opposed to the antinomian or anti-law perspective it fostered for having no penalty for not living for God after Christ’s example
ii. So his response was to create a theory that accomplished something similar, dealt with God’s law against sin but also equally communicated sin’s seriousness.
iii. [Slide 21] God, since He is Omnipotent, did not HAVE to require any punishment for the sins of mankind.
iv. He could freely forgive their transgressions. However, in a town or country where the executors of the law refuse to enforce any such penalty for breaking it what tends to happen? People run amuck.
v. Therefore, although God could forgive all mankind of every sin, He knew that that would only encourage a low view of sin and discourage obedience and holiness.
vi. Therefore, God being the governor, chose to demonstrate the seriousness of sin by crushing His Son on the cross. In doing this however, God would simultaneously relax his law so that Christ’s death would generally apply to all mankind and their sins, not particularly to each man’s specific sins, because in his view, that was not possible.
vii. [Slide 22] So the cross of Christ does two things.
1. It is the avenue by which all man’s sins have been wiped away and his justice satisfied under the new relaxed law of God.
2. It serves as a dire warning to mankind to forsake sin because its penalty would be similar to Christ’s.
viii. Thus the law of God is upheld but the sins of mankind are dealt with.
b. [Slide 23] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. Isaiah 42:21 – God wanted to magnify His law
c. [Slide 24] Strengths:
i. God is the ruler of all things and is therefore just to demand holiness from His creation.
ii. This view, at least in its conception, attempts to uphold the seriousness of sin.
d. [Slide 25] Weaknesses:
i. Bluntly, this theory is almost devoid of any real scriptural support. In his writings, Grotius points to a lot of scripture to establish that God takes His law seriously, and that God punished Christ for sin, but he virtually ignores how the bible proves the major tenants of this theory. He probably does this, because the bible does not support the major tenants of his theory.
ii. &nbnbsp; While attempting to make sin serious, he actually contributes to sin being less serious. If sin is so serious – why would God relax His law? If sin is so serious, why would God’s wrath not be against sinners?
iii. This theory also has elements of Pelagianism in it as well. In that mankind are all freed of sin and can choose to be good or evil. The only real difference between Socinian’s teachings and Grotius’ teachings is that there is a penalty if you don’t choose to be holy.
[Slide 26 (end)] Alright, that is probably enough for today. Next week we will look at 3 more major theories of the atonement, and either next week, or the week after, we will cobble together our own theory, and apply that to ourselves to both praise God for His atonement for us through Christ and better prepare ourselves to preach His truth to the nations.