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Archive for the ‘Atonement’ Category

May 31st, 2016 by Toy Adams

Anselm v. Calvin

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt ...

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt an ontological argument for God’s existence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Church has never taken an official stance on what exactly it was that Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection accomplished in order to secure salvation for humanity. One of the most innovative theories of atonement is St. Anselm of Canterbury’s Satisfaction Theory. Unfortunately, most seminarians that encounter Anselm’s work do so through the lens of John Calvin’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) can be historically placed underneath the umbrella of satisfaction atonement, though it often comes with the temptation to identify PSA as the definitive satisfaction theory of atonement. As a student of Anselm’s teachings, I believe there are more powerful and deeply orthodox ways of understanding atonement in a satisfaction paradigm that do not involve Calvin’s theory. What follows is an attempt to distinguish Calvin and Anselm’s atonement theology from one another, concluding with a short explanation of why, in my opinion, Anselm’s theory is a better option.

Calvin’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement

To begin understanding Calvin’s soteriology, we must start with the fallen state of humanity. Humans are totally depraved, deformed by the curse of sin, and beyond any recognizable form of holiness in the eyes of God. God, being utterly Just and Holy cannot simply overlook sin, nor be in its presence. Therefore, sin had to be punished by necessity, which meant that unless God’s wrath was satisfied in some alternative way, every human being would have to be punished in the eternal torments of hell. Thus, that which needed to be satisfied in Calvin’s theory was the wrath of God toward sin, and Jesus was the substitute who took God’s wrath in our place.

Out of God’s love, God the Father sent God the Son to became a son of man and suffer all of the afflictions brought upon humanity by the curse of sin. Jesus, God’s only begotten son, suffered in body and soul all of which humanity must suffer; himself being innocent, he took the full curse of sin upon himself and subjected himself to the full wrath of God. Important to note is that Jesus didn’t just have to die, but had to die a death reserved for the worst sinners and criminals (crucifixion), after being publicly condemned by Pontius Pilate (in accordance with the Apostle’s Creed), and before descending into hell; all of this happened in order to undergo the full penalty of human sin. The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus, his victory over death and hell, and the sign of hope for the elect who will become purged from sin and redeemed by God’s irresistible grace.

Anselm’s satisfaction theory is often retroactively interpreted with Calvin’s theory in mind because many Christians are indoctrinated with the Calvinist understanding of atonement in their local Church before ever encountering the proto-scholastic thought of Anselm in college or seminary. This causes many distinguished aspects of Anselm’s theory to go unnoticed. For this reason, I will now present a brief synopsis of Anselm’s theory for contrast.

Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory of Atonement

To assess Anselm’s theory of atonement, we will begin again with the human condition. According to Anselm, humans were created by God and fell under the seduction of sin. Sin introduced dishonor for God in the place of honor, injustice in the place of justice, and disorder in the place of order. All of which thwarted God’s intended goal of a harmonious, heavenly city in which creation and God delighted in one another. As those who acted out of their free will, choosing to sin, humanity was obligated to make recompose for its sin, restoring God’s honor, and along with it, his justice and order. Yet humanity was unable to do such a thing because the affects of sin produced too heavy a weight for humanity to bear. God was capable of such restoration, able to give a recompense for humanity’s sins, but under no obligation to do so (meaning if he does enact such a restoration it’s out of his free will to do so and not an external indictment).

At this point God had two options. Either God could punish humanity for its sin, trapped as it were in a prison of its own making, or God could restore creation from its sin God’s self. Choosing the latter, God the Son chose to take on human nature in order to restore humanity to its former perfection.

God the Son became a human being, Jesus, and, being fully God and fully human, was capable of making recompense on behalf of those obligated to do so, satisfactorily restoring God’s honor among creation. Being a human, Jesus was already obligated to be righteous, but, being without sin, he wasn’t under the obligation to die. Thus, the giving of his life for God’s glory was the one thing that wasn’t otherwise required of him—something he could do to honor God like the martyrs who died for God’s glory (note: unlike Jesus, the martyrs were going to die anyway). Being fully God, Jesus is the greatest possible being, making his death the greatest possible injustice; thus the greatest possible good (God) underwent the greatest possible evil (crucifixion) for the sake of redeeming an undeserving humanity. And, by his voluntary death, Jesus secured the greatest possible reward. Since no reward could benefit Jesus, as he was already perfect, he was free to give his reward over to anyone of his choosing. God the Son therefore gave his reward over to the rest of humanity, enabling humanity to be liberated from sin’s bondage.

With these two distinct understandings of atonement parceled out above, let me explain what is problematic about Calvin’s theory and preferable in Anselm.

Why is Anselm’s Theory Better?

To depict the ways in which PSA is problematic one could refer to its implication of parental abuse, its glorification of retributive justice, etc. etc. Yet, I can sum up my concerns in one question. That is, in PSA, who is punishing whom? After all, it would appear that one person of the Trinity is punishing another, bound by an external logic of punishment that cannot be forgone in any other way. And, as Calvin’s theological determinism would suggest, this rather problematic depiction of Triune discord is what the Godhead had preferred all along out of all other possible options.

On the other hand, in Anselm’s theory, it is clear that God the Son wasn’t punished by God the Father, but that God the Father and God the Son shared the same will as coequal members of the Trinity. Moreover, God the Son voluntarily laid down his life to restore his own honor, along with the honor of the Father and the Spirit, as he was in fact fully God. Thus, in Anselm’s system, we can definitively say the Father didn’t punish the Son because Anselm is very careful in demonstrating that a distinction between the will of God the Father and God the Son is a failure to understand the Trinitarian backdrop of the incarnation. Anselm makes it clear that the person of the Son taking on human nature is part of the shared Trinitarian mission to avoid any form of punishment. By God choosing to find a way to make recompense, God is saying “no” to redemptive punishment and retributive justice. This isn’t quite so clear in Calvin’s theory. Since Calvin’s Godhead demands punishment, which means one person of the Trinity must punish another, it must be accounted for how PSA can maintain the unified will of the Godhead in each of its persons.

Anselm’s presentation is deeply orthodox in its understanding of the Trinity. In my opinion, it’s also more Biblical in its rejection of retributive justice, and its orientation toward sacrificial love over divine wrath. It’s my hope that from my brief synopsis above that I have articulated at least some of the many contrasts between Calvin and Anselm’s atonement theories. More importantly, I hope that everyone would take the time to read Anselm’s work with fresh eyes so as to discover many powerful qualities that I wasn’t able to dive into here.

 

Further Reading:

St. Anselm of Canterbury’s Cur Deus Homo (Eng. Why God Became Man)

Book II of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

March 2nd, 2016 by Joel Watts

Guroian (and Florovsky) on why PSA fails

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt ...

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt an ontological argument for God’s existence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know me. You know I don’t like the PSA model. I do not disagree, wholly, with substitution but find that as a general heading, it fits. However, I cannot subscribe to the theory that we need to satisfy God’s honor. Nor do I believe atonement is a transactional process — but rather is a change in being.

The twentieth-century Russian theologian Georges Florovsky sums up this alternative way of understanding salvation in two powerful statements. First, “the death of the Cross is effective, not as the death of an Innocent, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord.” In other words, Christ is victor, not victim. As victor, Christ turns the lethal instrument of the Cross into the medicine of new life for us. He reveals the dead wood of the cross as the tree of life and himself as lifegiving fruit. Second, “the Cross is not a symbol of Justice, but the symbol of Love Divine.” This theology of salvation wholly rejects the idea, which Anselm embraced, that God’s mercy is conditioned by God’s need to have his honor satisfied. The paradoxical nature of the Cross signifies that salvation is a profound mystery, a precious, impenetrable gift wrapped in the limitless, unqualified, and unceasing love of God. Salvation is not simply a forensic transaction that changes our legal status before God, but also a transformation of our very being that imparts to humankind a share in God’s own Triune life.1

By the way, <i>The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key</i> is a truly marvelous book.

  1.  Vigen Guroian, The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 52–53.
November 11th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Salvation from an Orthodox perspective

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt ...

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt an ontological argument for God’s existence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Combatting St. Anselm, since the 4th century….

Salvation is not merely a juridical change in our status from guilty under the law to justified in God’s sight (though it includes that). It is not accomplished just by the substitution or sacrifice of the wholly innocent God-man for sinful humanity. More important, a ruined, mortally wounded humanity needs to “be sanctified by the Humanity of God” in order to be restored to wholeness and perfected in God’s true likeness. First and foremost, salvation is an ontological event in our human nature that re-establishes the “original” possibility; the inherent, ingraced capacity of the human person for unobstructed communion with God.1

The bit about the “ontological event” sounds a lot like Wesley’s view that we are called to Grace in order to have free choice — that “‘original’ possibility.”

  1.  Vigen Guroian, The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 48–49.
December 29th, 2014 by Joel Watts

If Jim shain’t listen to the Papist, then what of the Reformed?

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17.

“Slow your roll, Jim” – God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poor Jim. I no longer know what it is like to have such a deficit in theology — so it is difficult for me to empathize with him. As he would not listen to the Papist, shall he then turn a deaf ear to the Reformed?

This is from a good Scotch theologian:

That oneness of mind with the Father, which towards man took the form of condemnation of sin, would, in the Son’s dealing with the Father in relation to our sins, take the form of a perfect confession of our sins. This confession, as to its own nature, must have been a perfect Amen inhumanity to the judgment of God on the sin of man. Such an Amen was due in the truth of things. He who was the Truth could not be in humanity and not utter it,—and it was necessarily a first step in dealing with the Father on our behalf. He who would intercede for us must begin with confessing our sins. This all will at once perceive. But let us weigh this confession of our sins by the Son of God in humanity. And I do not mean in reference to the suffering it implies viewed as suffering. Christ’s love to the Father, to whom He thus confessed the sin of His brethren,—His love to His brethren whose sin He confessed,—along with that conscious oneness of will with the Father in humanity, in the light of which the exceeding evil of man’s alienation from God was realised; these must have rendered His confession of our sins before the Father a peculiar development of the holy sorrow in which He bore the burden of our sins; and which, like His sufferings in confessing His Father before men, had a severity and intensity of its own. But, apart from the question of the suffering present in that confession of our sins, and the depth of meaning which it gives to the expression, ” a sacrifice for sin,” let us consider this Amen from the depths of the humanity of Christ to the divine condemnation of sin. “What is it in relation to God’s wrath against sin ? What place has it in Christ’s dealing with that wrath 1 I answer: He who so responds to the divine wrath against sin, saying, “Thou art righteous, O Lord, who judgest so,” is necessarily receiving the full apprehension and realisation of that wrath, as well as of that sin against which it comes forth, into His soul and spirit, into the bosom of the divine humanity, and, so receiving it, He responds to it with a perfect response,—a response from the depths of that divine humanity,—and in this perfect response He absorbs it. For that response has all the elements of a perfect repentance in humanity for all the sin of man,—a perfect sorrow—a perfect contrition—all the elements of such a repentance, and that in absolute perfection, all—excepting the personal consciousness of sin,—and by that perfect response in Amen to the mind of God in relation to sin is the wrath of God rightly met, and that is accorded to divine justice which is its due, and could alone satisfy it. (The Nature of the Atonement and Its Relation to Remission of Sins and Eternal Life, 1859; 134–36)

In Which I Respond to Joel’s 1871 Citation of a Papist in Support of a False Theological Claim | Zwinglius Redivivus.

I note this portion of Campbell’s text is quoted in Chris Tilling’s recently edited work on Beyond the New Perspectives.

December 17th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Review of @bakeracademic’s “Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts”

Adonis Vidu has no need to argue in his work, Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts, which atonement model is the most accurate. Rather, his purpose is to trace a path of model development next to evolving systems of justice, from the ancient world to the modern. Vidu matter of factly states, “the history of atonement thinking could be read as an ongoing conversation with the history of thinking about justice and the law.” (xiv) His book does not simply fill a gap, but may in fact help us understand atonement modeling as a contextual paradigm, perhaps loosening our tight grip on particular expressions.

Atonement, Law, and Justice has 6 chapters, with the first 4 examining the development of atonement and justice since before the Christian-era. Chapter 5 examines the atonement via various modern lens with the final chapter acting the the author’s view. Chapter 1 examines the development of justice and law in Patristic thought, although Vidu is smart in bringing in Homer, Plato, and other familiar pre-Christian influencers first. Nothing develops in a vacuum, not even Christian theology. As such, we encounter philosophy, before we are led to Augustinian theology (which is based on philosophy!). To be quite clear, our usual notions of the atonement as retributive justice are called into question — as well as they should,  if we are to be consistent with the cognitive environment of the New Testament writers. For the ancients, justice is order, but not necessarily equity. Thus, the gods were unrestrained in achieving that order, with little or no expectation between the deities and humans. Law was second, if not third. For the modern (American) reader, the notion of an executive pardon (refusing to punish a law-breaker) may be the best image here. It wasn’t until the Romans borrowed Stoicism that justice existed outside of social order, becoming an internal virtue.

atonement

Say what?

This move from justice-as-order to justice-as-equity fed directly into early Christian thought. After all, once justice becomes a virtue, then one can assign it to God. This then separates justice from non-justice, good from evil, and law from disorder, leading us into the rollercoaster of atonement models and justification theology. Where once the divine could contain deceit, evil, etc… the doctrine of divine simplicity started to take hold, giving way to a higher refrain of justice only complete in God. Because of this, we move from the ransom theories to a satisfaction model. Before I go too far into summarizing this chapter, allow me to simply suggest that this chapter is a hallmark in not only the study of Augustinian theology, but in early Christendom. In the end, Augustine’s move towards anchoring the sacrifice of Christ to a divine justice sets the stage for medieval atonement models.

Is God tied to or bound by law? That seems to be the discussion between Anselm and Abelard in the late medieval ages. More than that, however, is the shift (Vidu calls it a revolution) from law-as-specific to context, to a universal notion of law and legal remedies. Because of this universality in viewpoint, Anselm is able to offer his satisfaction theory, which precludes free grace. In other words, a wrong required a penalty. Abelard, on the other hand, moves away from original sin, but into a realm of what is desirable. Vidu shows that these two men and the third, Aquinas, are very much products of their time. Here especially, Vidu slows down and gives us a great depth of understanding as to how changing notions of law, justice, and universality shape the various atonement models during this time. Likewise, we are introduced to John Duns Scotus (p79 — 87) and left to wonder if the notion of atonement, as developed as it was by European developments in law and justice, did not contribute to the development of our Western society, ending with the separation of Church and State. I suspect that this portion of Vidu’s thesis is at least a remarkably important read in understanding Western Christianity, Christian civilization, and how our doctrines have shaped our current political realities. I cannot stress this enough — I desire more from Vidu on this subject, and would have sacrifice more time and pages to read more from our author on Don Scotus.

We are now ready to be reformed, which is the subject of chapter 3. Here, Vidu takes us through Luther and Calvin, who existed in Duns Scotus’ now secular shadow — where law was autonomous. If anyone has read anything from the New Perspective on Paul theologians (E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, or N.T. Wright), you will become immediately familiar with Vidu’s take here. Because the notion of the Law and what authority it has has been transformed in European society of the time, the same thing shapes Protestant theology. Luther and Calvin cannot be divorced from their time, but like several others before them, are shaped by it.

It is here that I question if the usual modern refrain of the Church shaping the World or the World shaping the Church. While Vidu’s book does not tackle this issue, I cannot help but see that when we had no Christendom, or no firmly established Christendom, Christians and their doctrine shaped the world. After a millenia of Christendom, the world shaped us. The one real stand-out during this time is Duns Scotus. While Aquinas gave to the Church Universal Natural Law as tied to Divine Law, Duns Scotus broke that a part, preparing a way not only for the separation of Church and State, but so too the separation of the Body of Christ in the West. 

Up until recently, legality and morality were thought to be the same. In our current world, we know better. Which is, perhaps, why so many Christians challenge the very idea of atonement. Secular law is decided by the State whereas, for the most part, moral law is still divine (or at least above the State). Names like Kant and Schleiermacher come to the forefront. Ritschl as well. And each, leading the way in the liberal Protestant tradition and thought, removes the exchange in atonement, making it subjective (according to Vidu). This is the sum of chapter 4.

Chapter 5 turns to post-modern thought, tackling the changing of terms and ideas from historic Christian lexicons to psychologist-influenced trends. His first engagement with a modern theology is with Andrew Sung Park, a seminary professor of mine at United Theological Seminary. Park incorporates Han into the equation, something Vidu takes to task. I should not like to decide who is correct here. From here, Vidu tackles feminist and postcolonial views on sin and atonement. Theologians and thought leaders such as  Foucault, Derrida, and Girard are given special treatment by Vidu. He treats each one well, giving them their voice — and then attempts to demolish their arguments. It is up to the readers to decide if he succeeds. Their arguments are met from the positive angle in chapter 6, where Vidu begins to shape his view on atonement, law, and justice.

There are few deficits in Vidu’s work. He does not take into account Jewish thoughts on justice and law. I would like to have seen how the rabbis fit into these paradigms. Further, there are no counters to the hegemonic West. Augustine is left without Cassian and Aquinas has no Gregory Palamas. I realize he is not writing an encyclopedia or multi-volume set; however, in getting into the cultural contexts, which themselves stand as comparisons one to another, a bit of the East should have been mentioned.

There are two important takeaways for me, personally. One, it shows a somewhat well-ordered path in developing the penal substitutionary atonement model. Note, never once does he argue for this view as the only view. This is interesting because of the development of other doctrines. Secondly, I think it shows the sad state of liberal Protestantism. Where we once had great thinkers, digesting 1900 years of theological and philosophical thought, we are now left with loud-mouth bloggers with little or no intellectual training. What thinkers we do have are often times shredded in engagements, retreating to catch-phrases like oppression, privilege, and bully.

I started this book with a distaste in my mouth. I do not believe in penal substitutionary atonement — although the atonement takes center stage in my theology. However, while I am not convinced that PSA is correct, I am convinced Vidu has provided the Church a rather important book in discerning the doctrine of atonement and allowing that it has developed. Also, I think he has called us to be mindful of our context and the way we approach issues of Christian thought. Finally, especially in chapter 5, Vidu gives us reason to suspect the liberal Protestant tradition along with post-modern thought may in fact be bankrupt when it comes to their stances on the atonement. It is expertly researched, meticulously crafted, and properly presented.

the portions in italics do not appear on Amazon. 

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