Atonement Doctrines

Discussion in 'Theology' started by lunamoth, Jan 8, 2009.

  1. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2004
    Messages:
    3,915
    Likes Received:
    0
    OK, I've got my Christian Theology reader handy (Alister McGrath, third edition) and I'd like to discuss atonement theology. :)

    I'll preface by saying that I'm interested in this topic because there are some flavors of atonement theory that I find unhelpful, to say the least. One being the theory predominant in American Protestant churchs, that of substitutionary atonement. I think what I find most distasteful about it that it implies that God requires a human sacrfice in order to forgive. Anyway, perhaps through this discussion I can learn more about this theory of atonement.

    Right.

    So I'll start by giving a couple of atonement doctrines and from there we can explore these and add others.


    1. The cross as a sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice on the cross was able to do completely what animal sacrifices in the OT could only do in part, and thus needed to be repeated. I think that it is this concept that lead to the idea of substitutionary atonement alluded to above. I have no trouble with the idea of Christ giving himself up in self-sacrifice, but I have a harder time accepting that it was God demanding this sacrifice in order to forgive us.

    A quote:
    2. The cross as a victory. This theory centers on a number of themes that point to a decisive victory over the forces of evil and oppression. One aspect of the victory theory is that of Christ's death as a ransom. The ransom theory, however, creates certain 'issues,' namely, 1) a ransom implies that someone is held captive (OK, I can see this, we are captive to our sin, brokenness, incompleteness), 2) payment is required (again with the payment! seems to forget about grace), and 3) someone to whom the payment is given (Satan, giving Satan somewhat more power and credit than fits with my understanding of Satan; seems to give Satan some power over God).

    So, the Victory theory, like the Sacrifice theory, has a lot of heavy-weight proponents among the early church fathers. Origen, Gregory the Great. I am much more attracted to the idea of Christ's work on the cross achieving a victory over death, sin, than I am to the idea that God required some kind of payment. The only problem is, well, exactly how was that victory achieved?

    One way I very much like it phrased is this: that Christ's self-sacrificial love, perfect non-resistance to the evil that WE poured out onto him, that love was so strong that it conquered death and extinguished evil. Maybe like a fire sucking all the oxygen right out of the room. Although I don't have the reference handy, I am pretty sure I got this image of Christ's Victory from reading NT Wright.

    The Victory theory lost appeal with the age of the Enlightenment, primarily because of it's emphasis on the devil. I think perhaps today we have a new theory of Victory atonement being developed by theologians such as NT Wright. The Victory theory also seems very adaptable to the ideas of liberal theologians, if Paul Tillich and Rudolg Bultmann are considered to be in this category.

    A nice quote from Oxford theologian Paul Fiddes:

    At the end of the day I don't think we really understand how atonement 'works.' It is of the realm of Mystery. It is our choice to trust in the truth of that Mystery, and to follow Christ as best we can, and know that our salvation lies most essentially in being united with him.

    Have at it!
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2009
  2. Joedjr

    Joedjr A Sometimes Member

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Messages:
    341
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hi lunamoth,
    I have to confess that I don't have any wonderful theology books to quote from, but if you read 1John 1-3 I think he agrees with you.
    Joe
     
  3. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2004
    Messages:
    3,915
    Likes Received:
    0

    Good stuff Joe. :)

    5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1)
     
  4. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Hi Lunamoth —

    Well, on early Church stuff, I reach for my J.N.D Kelly "Early Christian Doctrines" — always a useful read.

    This is an interesting topic because there is no doctrinal definition of atonement in the Catholic Faith. Whilst man's Salvation derives from Christ's Passion on the Cross is a dogma, quite how man is saved remains a mystery. There were a number of theories in the early Church, but none were entirely satisfactory and no dogmatic statement on the 'how' of our redemption has been made, or indeed is necessary ... we are saved by, through, in and with Christ. What more, in reality, do we need to know?

    Having said that, my favourite is the Recapitulation theory.
    This was propsed by Irenaeus, the first systematic theologian. It was founded on the Pauline concept of the two Adams (Corinthians) but the term derives from Ephesians.

    Whilst the general assumption is that what was lost in Adam, by sin, is recovered in Christ, this is not quite accurate. Christ promises a degree of union with God that was never accorded to Adam. In Adam, before his sin, man could aspire to the fullness of human nature and possibility. In Christ however, man transcends his nature and is incorporated into the Divine.

    Physical (sometimes Mystical) theory
    This assumed man's salvation is assured as a result of the Incarnation alone, and renders the events of his life, including the Cross, death and resurrection, as subsequent and accidental. Often presented as a derivation of Recapitulation, nevertheless it is the root of the dispute evidenced in 1 John. It ignores that fact that Christ's incarnation was not an end in itself, but rather a prerequisite of 'the hour' of his fulfillment.

    Realist theory

    This theory asserts that it is by the Passion that we are saved, but tends to focus rather too heavily on sin/suffering/death in my opinion. Whilst I do not question the salvific nature of the Passion, I do think the West can dwell too excessively on the negative.

    Ransom theory

    You don't like it ... I don't like it ... not many Christians do like it. The trouble is, it's there in Scripture:
    Matthew 20:28
    "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
    However, the question is, to whom is the ransom paid? Origen suggested the devil, but was rejected by other Fathers. How can the devil hold God to ransom? So the ransom was then paid to God ... but is that the kind of giuy God is? A loving parent does not hold his own children to ransom. So it was always unfortunate.

    Victory theory
    There is a version of the Victory theory that holds that Jesus' Divinity was hidden from Satan, and Satan assumed, being 'Prince of this World' that the dead Christ was his. Big mistake. Not only did he overstep himself in taking down the Son of God to Hell, but Christ allowed such an action — God does not commit evil, but rather draws some good from the evil act — so that He could bring out the dead into the light of eternal life.

    Substitutionary theory

    This is a bit tricky.

    Yes we, as I think you, believe Jesus suffered the Cross on our behalf, we call it vicarious substitution, and actually to accomplish something we could not do ourselves (resurrect). But it is always understood that Jesus is the innocent victim, the sinless one who took on the burden of our sin.

    However ...

    Some post-Reformation denominations hold that a death was required by God to expiate man's sin, and so the Son willingly gave Himself up to the Father. In short Jesus was sent here to die because that was what God demanded.

    We refute that as an heretical doctrine that suggests the Father requires the death of an innocent. Whatever people may assume of the Old Testament, God is not some wrathful god in the Odin mould demanding vengence to satisfy some sense of justice.

    (This is why I say since the Reformation man has been rationalising the Mystery out of Christianity)

    The way I see it follows Irenaeus, Athanasius and indeed all the Fathers.

    Jesus Christ is God become man. The Divine takes on a human nature. "God became man that man might become God" Athanasius says, but importantly "God became man, He did not come into a man" which rules out the possibility of some order of possession (as in the case of the prophets), or of sublimation, or of the same thing happening to us — that nonsense about 'being Christed' and so on.

    The Fathers insist that Jesus Christ was God and man, He joined His divine nature (ousia) to our human natiure (ousia) and manifested as a hypostasis (an instance of a nature) — 'two natures in one person' we say.

    But we are not dual-natured. We are pure human nature. But the Fathers say, as does Gregory Nazianzen, "what is not assumed is not saved" — by joining His perfect nature to our imperfect nature, we can rise out of our own imperfections into the perfect — we are perfected by the Holy Spirirt.

    That is the promise of His life.

    As regards His death, I go with you:
    He died as He did because He had to experience the utter fear, loathing, incomprehension and sense of abandonment of death as we understand it ... the final privation of the last vestige of life ... not slipping off quietly during the night, but hoisted up for all to see (another instance of an esoterism in plain sight — nothing was more visible than His death, whereas His birth is shrouded in mystery), the humiliation of the cross, the mockery, the jeering, the abuses, the insults ... raised up as death as entertainment ... the final dimension of 'abandonment' and 'lostness' — how can anyone feel more alone, than watching one's audience laugh and feast and idle the time away as you die?

    I believe in His divinity He overcame death and so opened a way from death to eternal life for us, through His humanity — the flesh is raised, not just the soul — if the flesh is not to be raised, Christ would never have taken on flesh in the first place, nor necessarily 'proved' He was in the flesh to his disciples by eating, etc.

    So I accept Fiddes:
    My only proviso being, living in Him, we do not have to suffer the Cross as he did. Eternal life is not like discovering how to ride a bike.

    I believe this:
    "Because of His measureless love, He became what we are in order to enable us to become what He is."
    Irenaeus of Lyon

    Thomas
     
  5. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2004
    Messages:
    3,915
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hi Thomas, Thank you for your reply.

    This reminds me of theosis, would that be similar?



    I have considered this idea as well. It's hard to understand the death and resurrection as a requirement without God forcing it to happen. This theory avoids that whole can of worms.

    I'm not clear on exactly what this theory says. Will have to look into it more.
    I suppose the word 'ransom' captures the idea that there is something we can't do for ourselves, and that we are captives. But then it falls apart, IMO.

    I get out of it victory over sin and death, in that we can face death without fear, rather than victory over Satan as you describe above. Our ability to have eternal life comes, in part, from knowing that death has no sting.

    Yes, that is exactly the problem I have with that theory.

    All nicely said, thank you! About the last part, do you think that Christians today kind of forget about their own resurrection? I have not read his book yet, but NT Wright talks about how for Christians it is not 'life after death' but 'life after life after death,' meaning I think the resurrection of us all. On the one hand I think that life after death, resurrected or whatever, will be so different from fleshly life that there's not much point in wondering about it. On the other, there is a tendency to think about it, in American Christianity anyway, as a disembodied 'spiritual' life. Do you think there are important theological implications behind those two ways of looking at it?

    Thank you again for taking the time to write all this up in response. I will continue to think about it and follow up!
     
  6. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Messages:
    21,279
    Likes Received:
    1,705
    New Thought Atonement Doctrine, seems to agree along the lines of number two, a victory, a demonstration.

    (short version) Late 1800's early 1900's 'New Thought' grew out of Christians in the Transcendental Movement.

    In New Thought which proclaimed to be old thought atonement is the opposite of duality, and the catch phrase was at-one-ment, or I and the Father are one, developing an understanding that Christ is teaching us of our permanent connection to source.
    Further New Thought concepts on at-one-ment can be found:
    Atonement
    The Science of Mind: Part III. Special Articles: The Atonement
    Star of Boston: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy by Helen M. Wright - Part 2
     
  7. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Yes ... same stable. St Athanasius is usually accredited with coming up with that doctrine, but it is in Irenaeus first.

    Having just done an essay on the question, I thought I might start s thread on theosis.

    +++

    That's a good point, and yes, I think you're right.

    The trouble is, Christians today tend to assume certain things based on sentimentality rather than philosophy or theology. There is also a tendency to assume things which aren't Christian at all, but based on Hellenic thought which so permeated Western thinking. Like the distinction between soul and body, for instance.

    There is a tendency to assume everyone will enjoy everything equally, for example, founded on romantic notions of egalitarianism. The Bible says no such thing, and the Fathers, from Irenaeus on, agreed there are 'degrees' in the Divine Life — but maybe this is ther stuff of authentic Christian esoterism:
    "And some fell upon good ground; and brought forth fruit that grew up, and increased and yielded, one thirty, another sixty, and another a hundred. And he said: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Mark 4:8-9
    Irenaeus saw the 'good ground' as the soul in which the Word takes root. The Word then produces fruit in the soul, and by this, the nature of the beatific vision. So some will experience beatitude at 30%, some 60%, some totally. For each individually however, the experience will be perceived as total for that self ... utter paradise.
    Again, "In my Father's house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you" John 14:2.
    As the Fathers say, some mansions are big, some small, some close to the centre, some further away ... in the Celestial City, the New Jerusalem, not all will live in the Palace.

    I think modern Christians tend to ignore the implication of these and other texts.

    Agreed.

    Yes. It's flat wrong, and stems from the Hellenic understanding of the soul.

    Man without a body is not fully man, nor fully angel. The state between death and the General Resurrection is an intermediate state, and may well be passed entirely asleep ("those who sleep in Christ"). Only those who, by the degree of personal sanctity, are consciously aware of being members of the Mystical Body of Christ remain thereby 'conscious' in that Body in the afterlife ... to whit the miracles of the saints and the many testimonies of their intervention ... those who have not attained this conscious awareness (which is a simple disposal of the self towards God), are unconscious of it in life, and remain in that state thereafter. Doesn't mean they are condemned, just that they are asleep.

    "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed." 1 Corinthians 15:52
    The dead who rise incorruptible are those who have passed through the Judgement. 'In a twinkling' because subjectively, they only just died a moment ago.

    I think so. For the Church more than any other.

    +++

    As it's you, and as this is the Theology Board, I shall offer a personal theological speculation:

    People say they don't have to belong to the Church to get to God. They're right. You don't.

    But you can choose to sleep in Christ until the last trump, or you can choose to work with Him towards that end. If the latter, then you engage consciously and subjectively (with your whole being) in the life of the Mystical Body which, on earth, is His Church.

    That's the kind of job I want. That's why I am in the Church.

    "And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me ... And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
    Luke 9:23, 27.

    That's the challenge of Christianity. You can be good, and get to God ... but to be a disciple requires something else, ands the first step is the denial of self and the acceptance of the Disciplina arcani, as it was known from the very beginning, and which is generally forgotten today.

    That's what the Church is, the Mystici Corporis Christi, and that is what a range of early Christian esoteric texts explore, such as the Mystery of the Triforme Corpus Christi.

    (Which a certain brother, in a certain monastery, holds ready for me ... all I have to do is learn to read Latin, and I have access to texts which haven't been seen for a thousand years!)

    Thomas
     
  8. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Hi Wil —

    I think, up until the Romance Movement, there was little religious challenge to the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, that God called the world into existence from nothing, in Christian circles. I'll have to check that, but I can't think of an instance at the moment.

    Until then, the distinction between Creator and creature was absolute.

    Movements such as the ones you reference stem, I believe, from the Romanticism that spread through the Industrialised world in the latter part of 18th century. It was a revolt against the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific rationalization of nature, and new interpretations of Scripture were put to work to serve this revolt.

    A painting, a music score, a book, is often intimately associated with its creator, and indeed they might have 'put themselves' into the work, but they are not the work, they are the origin of the work ... this distinction, it seems to me, is lost by pantheism and panentheism.

    Philosophically, it renders God subject to change, alteration, movement, temporal and spatial determination, growth and decay. If one abandon the philosopher's argument of the Absolute, then you're stuck with a God who is less than He might be ... we then would surely be 'children of a lesser god' — a God determined by the relative, by contingence and accidence: not the God of Scripture, nor the God of the Philosophers.

    All the above is just my opinion ... but I am working on a thread on the Doctrine of Theosis, the Deification of man by the grace of adoption, that addresses many of the issues raised here from a tradition Christian perspective.

    Thanks for the contribution. I've still to read through the links you've offered.

    Thomas
     
  9. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Hi Wil — Further thought on your post.

    I think the traditional Christian idea is to preserve the utter transcendence of God. If we trace the development of religious systems in the region, I think two tendencies emerge.

    One is of gods who are, in some means, dependent upon man, or rather exist alongside man in a simbiotic relationship. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, when the hero erected an altar after the flood subsided (echoed in Noah), the gods fell upon the sacrificial offering because they were starving.

    One is the Olympus idea, where the gods live totally apart, in another realm, but yet oversee and indeed interfere in human affairs. The occupants of Olympus however do appear subject to the same vices as man, lust, avarice, jealousy, etc.

    The Hebrew idea was (I believe) radically different. A God who is all powerful, and in no way dependent upon man, yet wishes to engage him in a covenantual agreement, in which man is the beneficiary entirely it would seem. All God gets out of the deal is a people ... and who needs people?

    +++

    Traditional Christianity pushes the idea even further, taking on the ideas of the Greek philosophical tradition, they see a God who is absolutely 'Absolute', whilst simultaneously, and equally, utterly 'Immanent' on the other. The resolution of the apparent dichotomy is the particular genius of orthodox Christian theology.

    I think many of the pantheistic ideas propose a God who knows Himself through His creatures ... but then as His creature is fallible, God's self knowledge would be equally fallible.

    So I think I'm saying that any philosophical system that renders God fallible, and subject to determination, change and alteration, growth and decay, etc., offers a lesser God that the traditional: such a God is not quite as Divine, not quite as Perfect, not quite as True, not quite as Real, not quite as Beautiful, as the traditional idea of God.

    On the other hand, the points you make do raise fundamental questions about the relationship between Creator and, as you evidence, can be read to suggest that God lives in His creature:
    "And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7).
    Is not that life then, which animates the material form, God's own breath, God's own life?

    And again, one of my own favourites "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

    I think it is in how we understand these and other texts that shape our theology and thus our belief.

    Thomas
     
  10. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Messages:
    21,279
    Likes Received:
    1,705
    Namaste Thomas,

    I am at a loss, should we start another thread discussing whether New Thought believes G!d to be fallable, decaying, etc. as you opine?

    It seems not the topic of this thread nor supported by the evidence as required by this board??
     
  11. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    That might be useful. It seems to me it does, from the text cited.

    I have prefaced my comment as 'personal opinion', but you are right — if anyone should set a standard here, I should. I shall rectify that forthwith.

    Thomas
     
  12. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    In response to Wil, and to rectify my lack of substantiating evidence for my argument, as an immediate post I offer the second of the 'Five Ways', first posited by Aristotle and utilised by Aquinas:

    The Second Way applies in this instance, 'The argument from contingency' (ex contingentia):

    1 Many things in the universe may either exist or not exist. Such things are called contingent beings.
    2 It is impossible for everything in the universe to be contingent, for then there would be a time when nothing existed, and so nothing would exist now, since there would be nothing to bring anything into existence, which is clearly false.
    3 Therefore, there must be a necessary being whose existence is not contingent on any other being or beings.
    4 This being is whom we call God.
    (cf Summa Theologicae Q2 a3)

    The argument stems from point 4.

    If man is divine by nature, as your argument supposes, and not by adoption, as Scripture states:
    "But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name." John 1:12
    That the power is given by God implies the power is not endemic nor implicit to human nature — man cannot be made the son of God under his own power.

    If, as your sources say, man is inherently divine, according to his own nature, then he is not a contingent being, which our experience tells us is not the case.

    If, as pantheism and panentheism suggests, God is both God and man, then God is subject to all that man is subject to, including ignorance, error and sin.

    +++

    Further argument:

    The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.
    (ST Q2 a3)

    This argument offers a First Cause to which everything is subject, but which in Itself is not subject to anything.

    Thomas
     
  13. Penguin

    Penguin Member

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2006
    Messages:
    448
    Likes Received:
    2
    Part of a fantastic post Thomas and I'm with it all so far, we like heavy stuff :D

    I picked this area out to discuss a sub-question about it if I may. What about people who have done bad deeds and sinned heavily in life. For instance if somebody is conscious of and has participated in murder in their human life. When does the form of condemnation/forfeit/judgement, whatever you want to call it, implemented in the state of "sleep" What and when is the wake up call to face our sins we did on earth?
    Many thanks.
     

Share This Page