Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fierce God At War: Part II - Christus Victor

Jesus The Warrior

With all these furor going on about penal substitution, and whether or not Steve Chalke is possessed by a demon (OK I exaggerate!), I thought it would be time to push the debate on to a very much neglected theory of atonement: Christus Victor. For some reason it seems that when this phrase is mentioned, some folks just shake their head and mutter something about ransom to Satan being absurd. And with that, the entire theory is dismissed.

Enter Gustaf Aulén (1879-1978), a Swedish theologian and scholar, who authored a ground-breaking book on the atonement, entitled Christus Victor. Wikipedia picks up the story:

Aulén argues that theologians have misunderstood the view of the early Church Fathers in seeing their view of the Atonement in terms of a Ransom Theory arguing that a proper understanding of their view should focus less on the payment of ransom to the devil, and more of the liberation of humanity from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil. As the term Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) indicates, the idea of "ransom" should not be seen in terms (as Anselm did) of a business transaction, but rescue or liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin.
-- Wikipedia, "Christus Victor"

Far from being a rehash of the idea of Jesus selling his life to Satan to buy humanity back (the Ransom theory), Christus Victor is the idea and drama that Jesus came to fight against and triumph over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself.

If I understand this correctly (I haven't actually read the book), we would see the following elements included within this "theory" of atonement:

  • freedom and deliverance from evil spirits, the occult, etc. (Col 1:13)
  • the disarmament, shaming, and triumph over the Powers (Col 2:14-15, Cf. 1 Cor 2:6)
  • overcoming the "world" (John 16:33)
  • liberation from the elemental spirits/false gods (Gal 4:3,8-9)
  • the defeat, binding and assured future destruction of Satan and his evil angels (Heb 2:14, 1 John 3:8)
  • the victory over Death & Hades (Heb 2:14)
  • redemption from the curse of law (Gal 3:13)
  • freed humankind from Sin & Death (Rom 8:2-3)
  • the unification of mankind; the breakdown of hostilities and ethnic division (anybody got a verse for this?)

If the above isn't enough, some folks would even add reconciliation of the entire world to God into the bargain. Now, with such a great motif, is there any need for other theories of atonement? Well, actually there is, and I will blog on that very soon. But for those that whine on about "Penal Sub Only" (PSO*), let it be known that heavy-weight theologian N T Wright is a big fan of the Christus Victor theme. And those who listen often to Mark Driscoll will know that he often describes the atonement as Christ's victory over Satan, Sin and Death. Greg Boyd also holds to Christus Victor, and weaves it into his warefare worldview (which has been critiqued by Jeremy over at Parablemania). So dwell on this for a while, beforeI move on to talk about my grand theory of atonement... :-)

* - I just made this up, from the KJO = King James Only phrase...


paul said...

thanks alastair, good points well made.

A broader understanding of the different versions of the atonement can help us enrich our faith.

I think no doubt that we all have a version that is easier to understand, even penal substitution is not quite the 'feminist' cosmic child abuse scandal set into the story of God and is desire to be above all things because he has also been at the bottom of all things too - highest and the lowest parts.

Alastair said...

Thanks Paul. I agree!

Peter Kirk said...

The reference you are looking for for breaking down hostilities and ethnic division is Ephesians 2:14-17, although technically this refers directly only to the divisions between Jews and Gentiles.

Anonymous said...

You are misunderstanding the word 'reconcile' by forcing it to fit your conclusions. Way back when God stamped his foot in disgust repenting of having ever made mankind in the first place was not a mild retort. If it were not for the fact that the Way for God to create a man in the the express image of God's desire, a man that is one with God, the new type or species of man did not exist, there would never have been an ark. It is only because of God's oath stated to Noah in Gen. 9:5b this one phrase "and from each man too I will demand an accounting for the life of you fellow man" that mankind has even had a future. To redact the phrase "reconciling the world unto himself" to sentimentality is being further than being foolish, for it is insane. The word 'reconcile' is a judicial quantifier. The same as "when he comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin". All these heretical models of atonement you love so much, if you already haven't done so, you all need to go ahead and fashion images of them for you cannot be any worse off by doing that. The crucifixion of Jesus, in all of your models, have the absolute absence of two edginess. For it is not the one who has the power to destroy your body that is of concern. It is the One who has the power, and since the crucifixion of Jesus has occurred, to destroy both your body and your soul which he fully intends to do relative to the crucifixion of his only begotten son being the sin of murder caused by bloodshed. You can by faith obey the law and repent of this one sin for the forgiveness of all sins or you can be stupid and by being so your God damned asses are going in the fire forever in regard to this one sin. Yeah the world has been reconciled to God alright and you along with it, but there is a small narrow Way of escape if you have the faith to use it.
Theodore A. Jones

the divine passive said...

You should prolly read the book if you're going to comment on it for all to see like this. In fact, you should prolly read lots of books before you comment on theological matters in general. If you think Wikipedia references are the same as mastering ideas, I'm glad you're not my accountant.

I stumbled across this accidentally as I was doing research on this topic, and having read about six monographs and fifteen journal articles on Christus Victor, I can say with a credible degree of certainty:

you're clueless. Please go to school or read something that wasn't put out by somebody with cool hair.

Alastair said...

"divine passive" - normally I thank people for their comments but I trust you're understand if I don't in this case. I'm completly shocked at your arrogance and bad attitude. You seem to be clueless yourself with regard to blog etiquette and general manners. I wouldn't burst into your home hurling insults, and I'd appreciate the same respect from you as well.

I'm sorry my laymen's introductory article on Christus Victor wasn't up to your high expectations. Funny that after reading over 20 books/articles on the subject, rather than sharing with the rest of us what you have discovered, you come in here all puffed up with knowledge and can only hand out insults. If you know so much, how come you haven't suggested corrections to wikipedia's article or even post something positive here? Or perhaps even mail some of your books to me, as currently I cannot afford to buy every theological tome I come across.

Yes, you are right, this particular post was written in a hurry and with no original research. I'm the first to admit it. How I wish I had more time! But this blog is for those wanting to dip their toes into theological issues, clearly not for adept masters such as yourself.

Nik said...

Do we have to only subscribe to one particular theory of atonement? I see the differing options as all pieces of a mosaic, adding to our understanding. While Christus Victor has some positives, which you've pointed out, there's a downside or difficulty I have.
It paints Jesus as a bit of a square-jawed, clean-shaven super-hero, who cries out reassuringly "Don't worry, sir, ma'am, I'll save you!", before swooping in to rescue helpless humanity. Humans have no real function in this other than to be passively rescued.
On the other hand, it does emphasise grace over works..... Hmmm. I shall go away and think some more. :)