Category: Atonement

Atonement - Cross

Atonement Theology in History

To the surprise of nobody who knows me, the section on how atonement theology fits within history was one of the most exciting parts of The Nonviolent Atonement. Many people won’t accept this, but the simple reality is that our theological positions are always a function at least in part of our context. Most people realize that the context of the biblical writers is important and we can’t just pull individual verses out to support whatever we want. Unfortunately most do not realize that those who have gone before us also always had a context for concluding the ideas that they did. Atonement is no exception.

In the early church, Weaver argues, the mindset was strictly toward what he calls narrative Christus Victor. The most important element from the motif for this aspect of the historical discussion, though, is that it is a very earthly theory with practical applications as to how to approach power and oppression. Jesus saved the world through challenging power in a non-violent way. In other words, he didn’t use power to fight power, which just results in the same framework of “might is right” at the end of the day, and lays underneath many of the theories from the medieval period right up to now.

Atonement - Cross

Introducing Narrative Christus Victor

Over the last few months I’ve been slowing working away at reading The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver. As a programming note, I’ll work through the book in probably at least 5 parts: this introduction to the theory, atonement theory within history, how his theory fits and doesn’t fit alongside a few liberation theologies, a conversation with those who maintain satisfaction or penal substitution theory, and conversation with other similar contemporary atonement theologies.

Before I say anything else for this post, I need to warn you: there was a large gap between reading this section and doing the write-up. Normally I write notes as I read but this time I failed to do that. Plus it was a complicated section spanning about 100 pages so what I say here will be nowhere close to the kind of detail that Weaver offers.

And with those preliminaries out of the way…

So what it is narrative Christus Victor? It’s more of a motif than a detailed theory: Jesus has conquered, through his nonviolent life and teachings, the evils of this world, particularly oppressive societal systems represented by the Roman Empire or Caesar or (as in the imagery of Revelation) Babylon. Jesus’ suffering death was not the purpose of the incarnation; instead, it was the natural consequence of the kind of nonviolent resistance to the powers of the world that Jesus did and taught his followers to do.

Atonement - Cross

Atonement in The Passion of the Christ

This continues through a paper which I wrote for a course Jesus Through the Centuries a couple of years ago while in seminary, analyzing the recent film The Passion of the Christ. It has had little to know adaptation to this blog post. In this section I examine how the film portrays atonement.

Jesus as Suffering Penal Substitution for Sin

To begin with the question of the work of Jesus, there is clearly a strong sense of penal substitution atonement. This seems like the only appropriate place to begin an analysis of the film as the extent of Jesus’ suffering absolutely dominates the movie.  The film opens with an Isaiah quote frequently cited as evidence for penal substitution: “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by His wounds we are healed” with a date of 700 BC.[2] A large portion of the movie can be summed up by those few words.

Atonement - Cross

Penal Substitution vs Christus Victor

This Holy Week, Greg Boyd gave us a few short videos discussing why Jesus died. In the first, he discusses some of the problems with penal substitution theory. In the second and third, he explains Christus Victor (aka “classical” theory) instead. I haven’t dwelt on this discussion too much lately but it is a very important one and I have been finding myself more interested in it again lately.

Gender - Male and Female Gummy

Church History Matters: Contextual Theology

I have a pet peeve in a lot of conversations with other Christians (particularly but not exclusively conservative Protestants): most Christians seem to be not only completely oblivious to their history but also don’t think that there’s any reason to change that.

Even conservative Christians will usually admit that the Bible has context. They don’t necessarily try to understand it before concluding the absolute truth for all time from the text, but they will usually admit it is theoretically there when they are asked. They don’t, however, admit that theological development of the past 2000 years – in other words, how we’ve interpreted the Bible – also all came from a context.

Atonement - Cross

Flynnus Victor

In my first post on the themes of Tangled, I discussed its representations of gender. Particularly, I touched on how it generally is very positive toward women without being negative toward men. In this post I will be focussing on the final conflict of the movie and what it says about redemption.

Throughout the movie, there had been a fair bit of violence. The amount of violence shown was of course moderated to Disney standards, but it is often implied. At best this violence tends to postpone the problems, and at worst it makes it worse as those who were hurt come back to seek revenge. In the conclusion, though, we start to see some important changes in approach.

Here’s the scene: Gothel has taken Rapunzel back to the castle, but Rapunzel has just realized that she is really the princess and that Gothel has been using her for her entire life. At the same time, Flynn is rescued from prison and rushes to the tower to rescue Rapunzel. He yells the famous line from the original story: “Rapunzel Rapunzel, let down your hair.” Gothel by force tells Rapunzel to do so and she does. Rapunzel raises Flynn to the top of the tower only for Gothel to stab him as soon as he gets there.

Atonement - Cross

Problems with Penal Substitution Theory

I’ve circled around the topic before, but I thought it valuable to do a brief overview of what I see as problems with the penal substitution theory of the atonement. Some of these will also apply to the closely-related satisfaction theory dating to Anselm in the 12th century, but I am primarily dealing with the popular version of penal substitution theory common particularly in conservative evangelical churches. If you need a refresher, this understanding of the impact of the cross goes like this:

God created us perfect, but we sinned. For one or more of three reasons, depending on whose version you’re listening to, this damns us to Hell (spiritual separation from God for eternity):

  • God cannot relate to sin because he is holy. Therefore if we have ever sinned, we are separated for eternity.
  • God is just, and by that they mean retributively just (bad guys get punished, good guys get rewarded). All sin is equal so the retributive justice requirements are the same for everyone: spiritual death for eternity.
  • Wrath is a key component of God’s character, and when it is built up in response to our sin, it must be used.
Atonement - Cross

Tony Jones: A Better Atonement

With Holy Week right around the corner, it seems like an appropriate time to talk about atonement theologies. Tony Jones has recently released a new book called A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin. I haven’t read the book, but I instantly like the title, so I’ll try to get a hold of it whenever I have time for this strange concept of casual reading. In the meantime, he recently preached about the topic at Baylor University, so I’ve embedded the video below for your interest.

Atonement - Cross

Reflection: The Violence of the Cross

This reflection was initially prepared for my course Introduction to Christian Theology in Winter 2011.

As I read Migliore’s text for this week, specifically the section on the violence of the cross, I found myself almost wanting to cheer along. Before this section he had outlined the three main theories of the atonement, or why Jesus had to die. Most of my life I had really only heard the penal substitution view and it had always sat a bit uneasy for me. Each of the other two presented – Christus Victor and Moral Governance – as well as some other formulations that I’ve heard have given me much more peace of mind with the idea of the atonement. Since I intend to do my final research paper on atonement theologies, the only other part I’ll say for now is why the penal substitution view was tough for me to swallow. It was obvious that God wanted to kill me for my sins and no matter how many times I heard people try to temper that with the idea of grace or how many times it was explained that God was just, I couldn’t see why justice equated to a violent and cruel death.