Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Talkin' 'Bout Atonement

One of the things that first got me interested in theology was a quest to understand why Jesus had to die. Christians on every street corner are ready to tell you, "Jesus died for your sins." But ask, "Just how does that work, exactly?" You're either going to get the puzzled look of someone to whom the question has never occurred before or a nightmarish vision of God's "perfect" justice.

Blessed be the day that I finally heard the Christus Victor theory of the atonement. I first had it explained to me in some detail by a guy on Beliefnet who went by the name of Sharktacos.

Now, Sharktacos (Derek Flood) is working some articles he's written on the subject into a book, and he's blogging his way through the process. Check it out at The Rebel God.


Tom in Ontario said...

I've never come across a completely satisfactory theory of atonement.

There's "the classical theory," a soteriology of rescue, or a ransom theory. I think this theory gives too much power to "the devil" requiring some payment by God.

Then there's the sacrifice theory where God requires the death of the "only-begotten Son" in substitution for the impossible debt of humanity.

Now for Abelard, the sacrifice made on the cross was not to make amends for anything but to reveal a new and deeper understanding of God's love. The result of this demonstration of love that is communicated to us through the word, the church, and the Holy Spirit is that we can love God, humanity, and all of creation because of God's love for us. It seems to rely on our being moved by love to a change of our whole attitude. Somehow, to me, avoiding the description of Christ's death as either ransom or sacrifice loses the meaning or purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection.

I'd say the third option is the best I've heard but even there I get a nagging feeling that it's not complete either.

Andy said...

I think you're right. No theory is completely satisfactory.

My feeling is that we need to have a rather mystical view of the cross (as opposed to doctrinal). For me, theories of the atonement at best give me models for approaching the mystery.

melissa said...

Even though it's not on-topic, I figured this post was as good as any to say thank you for your blog and all of the important (Lutheran) theological grapplings that you do here. I just recently decided to add to my blog a list of other blogs that I enjoy reading, and I hope that you do not mind that I've included you on that list. Thanks for your insight and thoughtful writing.

Sharktacos said...

Hey Andy,

thanks for the writeup :)

Question for you: I'm trying to find the English trans. of Luther's "Operationes in Psalmos". I found it in the Weimar Edition (v 5) but then found that this is actually in Latin not German(!) Do you know which volume of the American Edition this is in? or of somewhere else that it is published (a collection in a book or online)?

Andy said...


Thanks for the word of encouragement. I sometimes wonder if anyone but me is getting anything out of this (although I'd probably write even if it were just for myself).

Andy said...


I've been neglecting my blog a bit for the past week, so I'm not sure how long ago you asked. Sorry if it's been a while.

Anyway, the American edition of Luther's Works has his lectures on the psalms in volumes 10 through 14. Volumes 10 and 11 contain the early lectures and are probably the ones you're looking for.