My Atonement Theology

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

11 Responses

  1. I like this… still need to process some of the language of the letters of Paul and the book of Hebrews that suggest “the perfect sacrificial lamb” which invokes the scapegoating “blood to wash sins” kinda ideal… but I think this leaves room for folks who appeal to that atonement theory.

    I lean Christus Victor myself when it comes to atonement… but I also lean a bit more towards the Eastern view where it wasn’t just the death that did the atoning, but Jesus life. As McKnight put it in his Jesus Creed book, Jesus plowed the deep snow ahead of us, snow that we couldn’t plow ourselves, so that we can get to the clearing where we can dance with the snowflakes…

    • Yes, for a while I wanted to completely scrap any of the language associated with PSA. I realized, though, that some of that language is in Scripture and I couldn’t completely ignore it. As I heard more about Girard, for example (still haven’t read him directly), I came to realize the truth in his claim that it is a human instinct. Instead of with PSA saying that the sacrificial/scapegoating instinct is good because God demands it, though, I came to see it as far more in line with the character of Satan and the powers of the world. Therefore I would see this understanding primarily as a form of the Christus Victor motif.

      • Acts4Verse12 says:

        I’m a novice to non-PSA theories, so please excuse my ignorance. In a nutshell, how do you people deal with the sheer weight of Pauline reference to sacrifice-based, law-fulfilling, wrath-averting language?

        • The big difference between how I would understand those texts and how PSA would come down to who it is that is demanding the sacrifice, the law, the wrath. PSA says that it is God who demands those things. My theory, built up from Rene Girard and others, would say that it is humanity and/or Satan who demand those things. So yes, Jesus did save us from the sacrificial system, from the law, and from wrath, but that doesn’t mean that those things are fundamental to God’s character or were ever his idea.

          This Christus Victor understanding was the dominant view for the first 1200 years of the church but Anselm felt like it gave Satan too much power. Then Calvin – a lawyer – made it even more of a legal binding that comes from God. I believe that Paul has been heavily misrepresented as a legalist God proponent in the 500 years since.

          If you really want to dig in deeply, I recommend The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver, one of the many inspirations that got mixed into my working theory above.

          • Acts4Verse12 says:

            Thanks, Ryan. I appreciate your time and effort. I’ll get hold of the Weaver text and go from there. Blessings to you.

        • I’m going to add a bit more to my original reply displaying below. In the early 20th century a man named Gustav Aulen revived talk in atonement theory by categorizing in 3 basic ways: satisfaction (including PSA), moral influence, and Christus Victor. His way of dividing the categories basically comes to this question: who is the object of Jesus’ death? In satisfaction, it’s God; in moral influence, it’s humanity; in CV, it’s Satan and/or evil more broadly. I have some elements of the second but primarily fall in the third. In very broad terms, today you’ll most often see satisfaction in Catholicism and its derivative PSA in evangelicalism, moral influence in the Protestant mainline, and CV in Pentecostalism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

  2. Rchee Bereckla says:

    I follow and I don’t follow…

    You always give me things to think about =)

    • Considering you were one of the first – maybe the first – to make me realize that not everybody accepted PSA, you had your own small part to play 🙂

      If you have follow-up questions just come back to comment here or shoot me an email.

      • Rchee Bereckla says:

        really?! cool =D

        Huh…I don’t even know what PSA is exactly…but you know me, I don’t ever know exactly how to verbalize what I believe, but I know what I agree or disagree with =P haha

        I definitely will, I have a bunch of marking and reports to do but after I will re-read this and do a bit more thinking =D

        • PSA in short: God demands penalty to be paid for our sin. Jesus paid penalty on our behalf, thereby saving us. Minor variations/emphases like whether it was more a matter of God’s wrath needing to be released or an abstract demand of retributive violent justice that God was bound to submit to. Developed by John Calvin in 16th century as a variation of satisfaction theory developed by Anselm in the 12th.

          Before that the dominant view was what you told me: ransom was paid to Satan (rather than God). There are a crazy number of variations of this motif, called Christus Victor, and how it worked out but that’s the general idea. See one of my replies below about Gustav Aulen and his 3-part categorization as a really basic starting point to atonement thinking. You (accidentally, perhaps) introduced me to that CV motif.

          • Rchee Bereckla says:

            Huh, that’s cool =)

            Now I’m going to think about this even more – break is coming up, so I’m quite excited =)