Title: Theories of the Atonement Part 4
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 Luke 19. Well I won’t linger long on our introduction. I will say that someone had mentioned getting a copy of all this information so they could look over it or have it for reference. At the end of the service on the table by the restrooms, you will find a summary of all the views we covered. I gave you the basic highlights of each along with my personal critiques on each of them.
Today we will conclude our study on these theories from a teaching and history perspective. I know some of you have struggled getting through it. I appreciate your endurance. I know others of you have greatly appreciated this very brief look at these theories. I’m sure in the future if we want to look more deeply into some of these, we can certainly do that in a small group setting.
Let’s review what we’ve learned before we continue on.
[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] 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 5A] Tell me about the Penal-Substitutionary Theory.
[Slide 5B] Martin Luther, John Calvin, Other reformers. A.D. 1540. Christ died to appease the wrath of God and rid us of sin’s liability.
[Slide 5C] Tell me about the Example Theory.
[Slide 5D] Faustus Socinus. A.D. 1594. Christ, a human only, died to prove that humans are capable of loving God with all our hearts.
[Slide 6A] Tell me about the Governmental Theory.
[Slide 6B] Hugo Grotius. A.D. 1617. God has relaxed his law and Christ died as a penalty to appease man’s failure as well as a demonstration of how much God hates sin and will punish it if people do not choose to obey.
[Slide 7 (blank)] So now we will bring our theories into the relatively modern age. Although there are some theories between the Governmental theory and the next one we will cover, they are not widely held, and there is not much we would say positive about them. So let’s move on to one that should be kinda familiar.
I.) [Slide 8] #9 The Moral-Influence Theory Revisited – Horace Bushnell - Circa A.D. 1866
i. Remembering back to Peter Abelard’s theory on the atonement, he saw the atonement primarily as subjective in the sense that Christ’s death did not pay an outside entity or free us from an outside entities power. Rather Christ’s death was a demonstration of the depth of God’s love for us.
ii. In that demonstration, God influences us to change our disposition toward Him and return that love.
iii. So how does Horace Bushnell change this theory?
iv. In Abelard’s theory, the influence of Christ was almost passive. Christ demonstrating God’s love could possibly cause men to be influenced to love Him.
v. However, in Bushnell’s understanding of the same concept – that influence is far more active.
vi. Bushnell would say that the death of Christ would influence our souls in a sense that it would actually remake us, re-creating us, making it possible now to return love to God.
vii. [Slide 9] He would say that our souls needed healing. That it was not that we simply had the wrong impression of God, but that we could not have the right impression of God. And therefore, he moves upon us in Christ’s death to not only influence us with such a great loving example, but to change our very hearts and lives from the inside out.
viii. He would say that Christ’s death satisfied 3 great human needs
1. Christ’s death removes the innate fear that we have of God by passively showing us God’s love for us and actively removing that fear from our hearts. (although he does not say how)
2. Christ’s death adds deep conviction of our sin. Not simply that we have violated God’s law, but deep personal sorrow is pushed upon us – again passively by Jesus dying for our sin we would feel that, but somehow also actively this deep conviction is installed in us.
3. Christ’s death inspires us to live holy lives. Again – passively by showing that even God is not unacquainted with suffering at the hands of evil, but also somehow actively transforming us to have inspiration put into us.
b. [Slide 10] 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 11] Strengths: What are some strengths of this theory?
i. In our culture we have conflated the idea of mercy and grace.
1. We often say – to extend grace to individuals by forgiving them. In this we mean mercy. The interesting dynamic is that we understand in some sense what grace is – unmerited favor -but in another sense we disconnect it from what that means.
2. Classical Greek used the word grace to describe a favorable wind or aid from the gods.
3. In a similar sense Paul uses grace in reference to Yahweh.
4. John Piper has said this. “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.” And I think he hits it on the head.
ii. So one major strength that Bushnell adds to Abelard’s existing theory is this notion of human beings not JUST needing absolution of sin – but also deliverance from it. Not just forgiveness but victory. Bushnell, although never using the word grace, nor outlining exactly how it all comes about through Christ’s death, does get to this concept – that God provides our ability to please Him. And in this – he has struck gold.
d. [Slide 12] Weaknesses: But what are some weaknesses of this view?
i. The weakness is of course the downplaying God’s wrath and justice in favor of His love. Both are true and intertwined.
ii. What about the extent of the atonement? Because it seems that Bushnell is saying that this is true for all men. Is that the case?
iii. The other weakness is that although he talks about God’s provision for us – he doesn’t really make it clear how that happens. In some ways he makes it seem like it is passive and up to us… but in others he makes it seem like it required God to reach in and change something.
iv. We are left mostly confused.
[Slide 13 (blank)] Just as Bushnell’s theory was essentially a remake of a previous theory, so also is our next theory.
II.) [Slide 14] #10 The Christus Victor Theory – Gustav Aulen – Circa A.D. 1931
i. Although this has a different name, this theory is also an adaptation to a theory we have seen before.
ii. Aulen would say that Christ’s atonement was primarily to break the power of tyrants of evil. These tyrants were many – sin, death, the law, and the forces of darkness.
iii. Christ’s death on the cross defeated these forces and enabled mankind to be freed from their grips.
iv. This differs from Origen’s ransom theory in that Christ was not paying Satan, but rather, he came as a spiritual general to shatter these entities power over us.
b. [Slide 15] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. I Corinthians 15:26 – death is the last enemy to be defeated
ii. Galatians 1:4 – Christ came to rescue us from the present evil age.
iii. Colossians 2:15 – very clearly the cross was his victory over the rulers and authorities (demonic entities – forces of darkness)
iv. I John 3:8; 5:19 - Jesus was revealed to destroy the works of the devil; the whole world lies in the power of the evil one
v. Matthew 16:18 – Christ designed His church to attack the strongholds of Hades.
c. [Slide 16] Strengths:
i. There is NO question from scripture that this concept is absolutely certain.
ii. Christ’s death dealt the fatal blow to Satan, sin, death, and the power of sin which is the law.
d. [Slide 17] Weaknesses:
i. The major difficulty with this view is that it doesn’t communicate how Christ’s death actually accomplishes the defeat of the forces of darkness.
ii. His resurrection clearly defeats death, but how exactly does his death defeat the forces of darkness, sin, or the condemning power of the law? This is never really explained.
[Slide 18 (blank)] The final theory we will cover is a very recent theory.
III.) [Slide 19] #11 The Scapegoat Theory – Rene Girard – Circa A.D. 1978
i. Girard supposes that there are innate desires in mankind. One of these desires is to imitate others or to mimic them.
ii. In so doing we see what others have, or who others are, and attempt to be like them.
iii. Satan then steps in and frustrates that imitation.
iv. Slowly as these frustrations grow people become more and more aggressive toward each other until violence breaks out.
v. That is when Satan presents a marginal person in the community that everyone can blame for the problem.
vi. [Slide 20] In that person – the whole community exercises their violence and kills or destroys or goes to war with that person or people.
vii. Once they are defeated, a temporary peace is achieved.
viii. This is what Christ’s death was. It was Christ coming to earth to show that we need not be envious of what others have and ultimately, he becomes the scapegoat that we all turned against.
ix. [Slide 21] In His death then, we are called to wake up and realize that in our zeal for imitation we killed the one we thought was guilty – when He was actually innocent. This should reveal the immorality and injustice of the scapegoat system and cause us to cease the violence.
b. [Slide 23] Passages that contribute to this view:
i. Aside from vague references to the gospels – None
ii. Certainly, in Leviticus 16 we see shadows of Christ being a scapegoat for us, but this is never a term used of Christ (that he was a scapegoat) nor is this what Girard is meaning by the phrase.
c. [Slide 24] Strengths:
i. Mankind is violent and covetous
ii. Mankind does not serve justice and tends to gang up on and oppress people groups.
d. [Slide 25] Weaknesses:
i. Primarily this atonement theory is the tool of the social justice movement to try to make Christ’s death about stopping societal ills rather than solving mankind’s real problem
ii. It ignores sin and depravity as the cause of all injustice
iii. It seeks justice over forgiveness and temporal earthly correction over the eternal Kingdom of God solution.
[Slide 26 (end)]
Ending the teaching portion of our study on the Atonement theories, next week we will get back to preaching, although we won’t leave the topic of the theories of the atonement. Rather than analyzing what our church fathers have thought and said, we will analyze what the scriptures teach. We will put together as cohesive as a picture as we can about the atonement of Christ that we can continue to add to as we continue to learn. Then we will apply it to our lives in some practical ways.
So if you have been one of the ones that says – “who cares what others say – what does the bible say is the reason Christ came, died, and rose again?” then you won’t want to miss next week.