Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 114: Atonement Theology, part 1: Leading Theories
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 114: Atonement Theology, part 1: Leading Theories

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Jesus’ death was a scandal to early Christians. If he were really the son of God who could work miracles, why did he allow himself to be humiliated, tortured, and murdered? Why did he not walk away from the cross? How could the son of God be executed like a common criminal? Christians, in struggling with these questions, have proposed various atonement theories that suggest that Jesus died to atone for human misdeeds. As the next essays will show, currently popular atonement theologies have problematic theological, sociological, and political implications. I will then describe J. Denny Weaver’s formulation for atonement theology, which I find very compelling, in part because it is consistent with the notion that God is all about love and mercy and not about violence and scapegoating.

Christus Victor (Christ the victor) was the predominant atonement theology of the early church, and it has taken two forms. In the ransom version, the devil once held human souls in captivity. God ransomed the release of human souls by offering up Jesus as ransom payment, and Jesus’ death appeared to be a victory for evil. However, God had deceived the devil, and in raising Jesus from the dead, there was victory for Jesus and humanity.

Another Christus Victor theology has depicted a cosmic battle in which Jesus was killed during the battle between God and the devil. The resurrection constituted a victory for God and definitely placed God as ruler of the Universe.

These Christus Victor images are not very popular today. The ransom theory posits that the devil has the power and authority to demand a ransom of God, which, critics have argued, belittles God. Similarly, the cosmic battle theory uncomfortably depicts the devil with power commensurate with that of God. Next week, we will turn to atonement theories that are far more popular today, which remove the devil from the drama. Please keep in mind the Christus Victor image, however, because the atonement theology that Weaver proposes includes a substantially modified notion of Christus Victor.

* The upcoming series of essays on atonement theologies has been heavily informed by J. Denny Weaver’s article “Violence in Christian Theology” Cross Currents July 2001.

Go on to: Part 115: Atonement Theologies, part 2: Satisfaction Atonement and Moral Influence Theories
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