Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thinking About Atonement w/Andrew Sung Park

This is the second post in an ongoing series on Andrew Sung Park’s excellent new book “Triune Atonement: Christ’s Healing for the Sinners, Victims, and the Whole Creation.” Here we consider the first half of Park’s evaluation of atonement history. Each of the eight theories will include what Park sees as the strengths and weaknesses of each.

1) Ransom Theory: This early atonement theory asserts that due to the Fall, humans are captives of Satan (or a similar symbol of evil). God tricked or trapped Satan by baiting him with the ransom of Jesus’ blood/soul/humanity. In the end, Jesus’ divinity/resurrection destroyed Satan. This is the atonement model used by CS Lewis in his Narnia books.
  • Strengths: Some biblical support; is realistic about the reality of evil; holds cross & resurrection together.
  • Weaknesses: Takes scripture too literally, making God a trickster – it’s metaphor only; humans sinned against God, not Satan – no reason for the latter to hold humanity to ransom; if Jesus purchased us back, then all should be free today – but this is not the case.
2) Christus Victor: Christ conquers the power of death & Satan in a cosmic battle for humans who are held captive after the fall. While Ransom has a negotiation with a legitimate opponent, this is a battle with Satan as enemy. Through suffering, dying, & rising, Christ defeats Satan, reforming the human race.
  • Strengths: Some biblical support; integrates death & resurrection; acknowledges human struggles beyond just other individuals (‘powers & principalities’); is realistic about the reality of evil.
  • Weaknesses: despite Satan’s defeat in the past, evil still continues & sinners remain in bondage today; too celestial, not terrestrial enough – humans do not participate in history of salvation, just as passive observers; puts all the blame for evil in the world on Satan when humans are largely responsible; does not differentiate between sinners/sinned-against.
3) Satisfaction Theory: The activity here isn’t between God & Satan but God & humans. Sinners must pay for defiling God’s honor & to satisfy His justice. The human race sinned against an infinite God & so are infinitely guilty, requiring an infinite satisfaction. This payment must come from humans, but they cannot offer anything infinite – only God can restore God’s honor. A God-Man is needed. Jesus represents humans & provides infinite satisfaction through his death, restoring God’s honor and reconciling Him with humans. In a trinitarian way, Jesus offers his humanity to his divinity.
  • Strength: moves away from transaction between God & Satan, thus involving humanity rather than Satan…but even here the theory fails.
  • Weaknesses: God’s justice is understood as retributive rather than restorative or gracious; humans not involved but are passive – only between God & Jesus; ignores the power of Satan in the world; unclear about whether it is for all human death & sin (past, present, & future) – if so all humans are already saved, if not we need another God-Man; does not integrate resurrection with cross; Jesus’ humanity not separable from his divinity, so offering his humanity to his divinity is “absurd.”
4) Moral Influence: Rejects idea that God required sacrifice to forgive & transactional theories. Christ’s death (suffering, blood) moves us to repent and, along with the rest of Jesus’ life, the cross provides an example for human love. The law does not save, but loving our neighbor does.
  • Strengths: stresses God’s love; involves human participation through repentance – cross doesn’t appease God but transforms human hearts; emphasizes Jesus’ whole life (not just death) & encourages us to follow not just worship him.
  • Weaknesses: holds that Jesus came to die to show us God’s love, but Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom & establish God’s reign – death was not the primary goal; overlooks the power of Satan or reality of evil in our daily life; does not integrate the resurrection with the cross; does not address how the cross liberates the sinned-against, but only the sinners.

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