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...