In today’s episode, Kurt discusses four models of atonement examining each in light of Scripture: The Ransom Theory, The Penal Substitution or Satisfaction Theory, The Moral or Exemplar Theory, and the Christus Victor or Recapitulation Theory.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you again here this week in studio at the Defenders Media offices in downtown west Chicago, Illinois. Today we’ve got a show for you. We’re discussing models of the atonement, but before we jump into that, I just want to do a review of sorts, so if you haven’t had a chance. Last week I uploaded a talk that I delivered at a seminar in Richmond, Illinois. I was busy over at that event and was unable to do a live show as I’ve done with other events where I’ve been at, so if you’ve got that chance you can go listen to that, that was on the moral argument and atheist objections. Interesting topic. I don’t think we’ve dealt with that before. Today we’re going to be talking about the atonement and why that’s important. Yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow’s Easter so this just kind of fits right in right after the crucifixion of Jesus, at least according to the Christian church calendar, and so I had figured that there would be a lot of people, a lot of apologists out there talking about more apologeticky topics, historical case for the resurrection, how do we know Jesus really was crucified, that sort of thing. Instead, I decided I’d just do something on the models of the atonement which is something we haven’t covered yet. We’re going to be talking about four different approaches that Christians have historically taken. I’d love to get your participation in on this discussion today. If you want to join in, you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483, and you can also text in, if you text the word VERACITY to 555-888. I can see your text messages that way as well. You can also then find us on Facebook where we are livestreaming today’s show and if you’re listening to this on podcast recorded and you want a little more of an enjoyable experience, then you can watch us as we’re discussing these things, and by we, I’m talking about the panel. In studio, we’ve got Chris, the main tech main, and then David is joining us here to talk about the atonement models as well. We have slightly different perspectives, or should I say emphases, on how we understand the atonement, so we’re going to be getting into that today.
Let me announce this since we are doing the Livestream. If we hold up books, that means you’ll be interested to get them. I’ve got two copies here. Surprised By Faith by Don Bierle. A Skeptics Discovers More To Life Than What We Can See, Touch, Or Measure and these books have been gifted to us by Anako Press. If you want to win this book, here’s what you have to do. All you have to do is share this video. I’ve got two books. I will select two winners. Each person will win this book. All you have to do is share the video from Facebook, and that’s it. Hopefully we’ll get a couple few participants here and then I’ll contact you and get you the details to send that book your way.
Let’s move then into our discussion today on the atonement. Why is the atonement important? What does the crucifixion, I don’t mean to sound like a relativist here, but what does the crucifixion mean to you? The proper way of asking the question is, “How do you understand the important work that occurred when Jesus died on the cross?” We’re going to be looking at different ways. I invite you to open up your Bibles with me for this episode because we’re going to be citing and quoting from a number of Biblical passages and our goal, I’ve talked to David here, we’re going to have quite a discussion. We’re going to try to read these verses aloud to you so that way if you don’t have access to your Bible, then you can hear these verses as well. So how have Christians understood the atoning work of Christ? The way we’re going to structure the discussion is based on four models and there are really more than four. Some of them, I’m kind of combining to groups and so let me just briefly cover those for you. There’s the ransom theory, the penal substitution or satisfaction theory, the moral or exemplar theory, or the Christus Victor recapitulation theory. Just four groups, to the best of our ability, we’re going to be talking about what each of those mean and why we should dismiss some of them and why we should maybe accept multiple positions of the model and the reason why we’re talking about this and why we’re thinking about this is because the death of Jesus on the cross is one of the essential aspects to the Christian faith. Christians have believed that God sent His Son on a mission to save humanity and so what does that look like? How does that play out exactly? The death of Jesus on the cross is a very important aspect to our faith, but what does it mean? How does it save us? The crucifixion and the atonement, the work that Jesus did on the cross for us, is something that we need to consider and we need to think, maybe it doesn’t make sense. Why would God do that? The atonement models provide a way for us to understand why these things happened, why it was that Jesus died on the cross, and of course the good news as we all know is that Jesus rose from the dead so it was just a temporary measure when He died on that cross. So when He said that the work was finished, I think that’s very important that we consider what Jesus said, that it is finished. He didn’t say it’s over. Right? He didn’t say I’m done with that. He said it’s finished. It’s accomplished. It’s successful. To use another example in Biblical imagery, the race has been completed. Right? It has been won. I think that’s something to realize, that Jesus Himself knew that this work was important, and a little bit into sort of the human nature side of Christ, because He has a fully human and fully divine nature, the human side, the way I interpret the Garden of Gethsemane, is that there was some worry, there was concern. If there was any other way, He prayed to the Father, that that happen. Nevertheless, it happened this way, and He was prepared for it. He knew it would be this way. It’s a great thing to reflect upon how the atonement really saves us and what it means and when we consider and reflect and meditate upon these things, even upon these theories, we can begin to deepen our relationship to God and appreciate more the work that has been done and maybe not just is done but will be done in our lives, a continuing work, and some of the models will get into that because for some of it there’s more of an emphasis of the continuing work than for others.
Let’s jump in here on the discussion today and if you’re following on Facebook here, I’d love to get your comments on the atonement, and I’d love to interact with you as best I can, keeping tabs here on the stream. So the ransom theory, I’m going to be going back and forth between a combination of the internet for Bible verses and the physical copy I have as well. I’m going to be looking up a number of these verses as we go on the fly. I have the references looking down here. I didn’t want to have twenty different tabs up at once. The ransom theory basically posits that Jesus was the ransom price paid by God to Satan himself for what was owed, the price for humanity, and that’s just it in a nutshell. I’m not going to go too deep into the explanations. David, of course, you’re welcome if you want to to do so, but I figured I’d just give the brief summary there and look at a few Bible verses. This was a position that was posited in the early church by a number of church fathers, but it did not quite have legs, to use the proverbial phrase. It didn’t have legs. It was an idea that was there, but it didn’t really seem to catch on. People didn’t really run with it, so Mark 10:45 for example. You see this said.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Here, this verse seems to suggest that Jesus is giving His own life as a ransom. Who would this be to? The power of Satan, the power of sin that’s over us needs to be bought and paid for and so God has sent Jesus as the ransom price for that. David, I don’t have too much to say here on the ransom theory. I’m not sure if you had anything else to add. Are there any other verses that I missed in my prep work? What are some of your thoughts on the ransom theory?
David: Sure. So the ransom theory, has to be set up before we start to object it. What it is essentially saying is that we are, it affirms the Biblical notion, that, and this is a shocking statement, that slavery is endorsed in the Bible, and it is endorsed in the Bible because either we are slave/bondservants to God/Christ, or we are slaves to sin. As being slaves to sin, sort of our captor is Satan and this sort of debt price that we accumulate through our sins is credited of course and is responsible to Satan himself, that of course we have our responsibility, but Satan himself sort of has dominion over our lives and so this ransom theory tries to posit that Jesus has to pay Satan off to have us be free.
Kurt: A lot of Christians I think didn’t like that notion, that somehow Satan had power over God even, at least in this area, and so that didn’t quite fit well with a lot of Christian thinkers and so like I said, this view, while it was one of many models of the atonement, simply hasn’t found as robust of support in the Scriptures as other models.
David: I reject the ransom theory outright based on what is called, a very important doctrine of God, theology proper, which is called the aseity of God, which means that God essentially is self-sufficient. He is not beholden or restricted by anything or anyone outside of Himself. That includes Satan of course. He is not a sugar daddy, a cosmic bellboy. He is not, basically, subject to every whim of personalities at all. Therefore, if He says in Exodus 3, that I AM that I AM, He is not beholden to anybody including Satan, so therefore is a rejection of the ransom theory.
Kurt: Let’s move along to the next one I have here, and David, you probably would prefer I not put it second, but this is the most popular one for Protestants. It’s called the Penal Substitution theory, also called the Satisfaction theory, and I’ll just summarize, and David maybe you can explain it some too before we look into verses, but the Penal Substitution Theory is essentially the theory that Jesus took our place on the cross, that Jesus satisfied God’s justice, some might say wrath, and was our substitution and so this is the most popular one in evangelicalism today and it has a lot of Biblical support and so David, what’s your take so far before we can get into verses on this?
David: Sure. I totally agree, it’s taught throughout Scripture. We have an Old Testament and New Testament precedence for it, that as slaves to sin we are separated from God by account of our sin, and so there is a need for reconciliation and restoration to God because He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. He cannot just arbitrarily allow sin to map out its course, that its consequences are felt by us as humans, but as well that there has to be a sort of sudden justice to be enacted by a holy God.
Kurt: Right. And so this sort of model has found itself even in a number of songs that we sing and so I’m going to play for you here the second verse of How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.
Kurt: There in How Deep The Father’s Love For Us we’ve got these phrases, “My sin was upon His shoulders” and “It was my sin that held him there on the cross.” I don’t particularly like that. Maybe for the same reason that you don’t like the ransom theory, the aseity of God, so I don’t think sin had power over Jesus. I think it was His love for humanity, for us, that held Him there. It was not my sin. In terms of what could it be that kept Him up there, and we’re of course not talking physically. We’re talking immaterially. What were the virtues, the characteristics, for why Jesus would do such a thing? I don’t think it was my sin that held Him there. I think it was His love, but of course, the penal substitution theory, this fits with our sin sort of being the reason why He would die on the cross for us. Now of course, you being someone who affirms the penal substitution theory might say, yeah because He does love us, but the emphasis here seems to be sort of the justice of God. Right? Needing to be satisfied. And of course, you see this in Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? Why The God Man? I’m pretty sure Anselm, was one of the earlier folks to defend this position in terms of Christian theology. So let’s look at a few Bible verses on this. Here we’ve got 1 Thessalonians 5:9. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There you’ve got the contrasting wrath versus receiving salvation so what happens to people that don’t receive salvation? They end up suffering wrath and so that’s sort of what Jesus paid for us, for Christians. Then you also have, this passage is really packed with atonement language, and even can be supported by the different models. Colossians 2:13-15. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of the flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us. He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross,” So that’s Colossians 2:14. “Having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us, He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” For those that will continue to listen here the very next verse goes to a model we’re later going to touch on. “And having dishonored the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” This passage is really packed with the language I hear. David. Maybe this is one of the prime, there are some other passages that talk about the propitiation, but this is a good one for the penal substitution theory.
David: No doubt about it. We have Jesus on the cross as you had referenced earlier. It is finished in the Greek. We talk about the word that is said there. It is tetelestai. In the ancient world, when the warden of the prison, who was in charge of it of course, and a criminal were to escape, say five years into a ten year prison term, the warden himself would have to serve the rest of the time. If that criminal were to serve his ten years, he would receive a certificate in which that very word was stamped upon it. Tetelestai. It has been paid. Your crime has been fully paid for in jail. You have served your term. You are now free to go. Thus, we have not a potential salvific substitutionary atonement, but indeed there is a cancellation of our debt.
Kurt: It’s done.
David: It is done. It is finished. It has been paid for, and that also gets brought out to light in 1 John 4:10. His Son to be the propitiation of our sins, this very word signifying payment.
Kurt: Yeah. We also see it here in Romans 3:25. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of His blood to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” So here you definitely get this sense that there is a payment being made and that it’s for us and it’s for the purposes of God’s justice, in this case His righteousness, the justice being entailed by God’s righteousness, that Christ here is the sacrifice for us. I’ve also got here in my notes 1 John 2:2. Let me quickly look that up. “And He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” and then David, I don’t know what you think of this, and it continues, “And not only ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” So here Jesus is presented as the atoning sacrifice not just for the sins of Christians, but for the sins of everyone, for the whole world, all people, and maybe even beyond people too, as we’ll get into that at the last model we’ll talk about. Any other verses here that you’ve got in mind for penal substitution?
David: No. We can go ahead and move on to the next.
Kurt: Sure. And I’m sure when we’ll get more into the discussion we’ll be coming back. The next one is called the moral or the example theory, the exemplar. This one, you see a lot in terms of more theologically liberal circles, especially in Protestantism, you think continental theology from the 19th century. Schleiermacher for instance held this view. Basically that Jesus is the best, the greatest, human example, and of course there are a number of verses that support this view, but it should be stated that this view doesn’t really cover, there’s nothing that Jesus gives to us other than the example, according to this model. There’s no spiritual benefit other than that we try our best to be like Him. In 1 Cor. 11:1, Paul writes, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” You see this elsewhere in 1 Peter 2:21 which says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.” You do see this language of following Jesus as example, we’re called to be little Christs, disciples, but the problem is that those who affirm the moral exemplar theory, they might do so at the exclusion of the other models of the atonement and that’s where we should be concerned because the Scripture surely talks about more of that Christ’s death on the cross does actually mean something for us beyond being a nice example. There is something spiritual going on to this. There is a satisfaction of justice that occurs. There is a victory over death that occurs and so to sort of leave it as a merely moral example I think misses the picture, and of course, for people that reject, for a number of theologians that reject the spiritual world, that think that the Bible is just a good ethical book, this model would be compatible with their view, but I don’t think it’s consistent or corresponding to the truth. Of course the example/moral theory does fit and is compatible with the other models, but I don’t want it to be done at the exclusion of the other models because who cares? There were other nice examples too. Buddha. Gandhi lived a nice life. Maybe I should model my life after him. That would be my word of caution against the moral or exemplar theory. It lacks authority as a model for the atonement. When you think, what does it mean to have our sins atoned, it lacks authority. It lacks power there. I don’t know David if you have anything else to say on that one.
David: Yeah. They’ll add the teachings about taking up your cross, he who does not bear his own cross daily cannot be my disciple. That sort of fits into this moral theory of atonement. And of course they’ll also add that we are to be conformed to the image of Christ. They’ll use these verses to sort of support this, but they’re not pan-biblical. In other words, they don’t take the whole Bible and its testimony. They cherry pick these verses and try to extrapolate a whole theory upon it, and that is definitely at the expense of a more robust Gospel presentation.
Kurt: Right. Now let’s move to the final model and we’ll describe it and then we’ll go to a break and afterward have more of a discussion. The final model that here that we’re going to be talking about is the Christus Victor or the recapitulation theory which was first posited by Irenaeus. Basically, this view views Christ as the victor over death. He has conquered death. He has defeated sin. He has defeated Satan. He is the champion. He’s the victor. Right? What happens as a result of this victory is that God is renewing creation, that Jesus is the second Adam, and God has started anew, and so God is bringing all things, all of creation to Himself, and He’s reconciling all of creation to Him and so this is the process that occurs as a result of Christ’s victory. A number of Biblical passages to support this model. Because the Christus Victor position and recapitulation, they typically go hand in hand but they are distinct. Let me first bring up a couple of the Christus Victor verses here. 1 John 3:8. “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” So here you certainly get more of the spiritual language, the spiritual warfare, which those who listen to the podcast, I’m strongly sympathetic to, this idea that there is an otherdimensional warfare going on that we are not privy to witness but time to time in the Scriptures we read about and we currently see that spiritual warfare occurring, and I think it does occur in our own lives. At any rate, I’m getting off on a tangent here. Alright. John 12:31. “Now is the time for judgment on this world. Now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Here there’s this talk of Christ being the victor. He’s driving out the armies of Satan. He’s defeating them. Now let me move over to the recapitulation passages here, and again these two positions kind of go hand in hand. 2 Cor. 5:19. We have here, Paul writes, “That God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting peoples’ sins against them, and He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Finally. There’s a passage in Ephesians 1. Ephesians 1:10. It reads that “To be put into effect when the times reached their fulfillment, to bring unity to all things in Heaven and on Earth under Christ.” Again, it’s that when the times reach their fulfillment, that God, He’s bringing the unity to all things in Heaven and on Earth under Christ. So here, God is doing a great work by bringing all things in reconciliation back to Himself and that’s essentially the recapitulation view, the Christus Victor recapitulation model. We’ve got to take a break here, but when we come back, David and I are going to be talking more about these, I’ve got a passage from Wayne Grudem I want to read and access here. He makes a spurious statement regarding his own position that I think is probably uncharitable to Christian theology at large. Stick with us and if you want to get in on the discussion. You can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. Before the break, we were basically just giving an overview of what I’ve categorized as four different groups or four models of the atonement. Again, there are more than four, but some of them, they’re just so fine that I’ve tried my best to group them together. Laying those out, explaining sort of basically what they were and then Bible passages that have supported them and so before we continue that discussion though, it is time for one of my favorite parts of the show.
Kurt: Yes. That is in fact Justin Bieber, and yes he is asking the question “What do you mean?”, but we have used this to, if you want to listen to it again, we’re using it for “What do you Meme?” That’s the segment of the show. What do you meme? Here we’ve got, the meme we’re dealing with today really hits upon how atheists have interpreted the Penal Substitution view. Here’s the meme. I’ll put it up on the website when we load it up there later today. It’s Jesus in the Garden praying, “God. Are you there? It’s me. You.” Because God’s sending Himself to be sacrificed to Himself to save us from Himself makes absolute sense. Right? So here is a criticism of the penal substitution theory. I got into an interesting discussion last night over this which inspired this segment of the show. What I thought was really interesting was that for starters, if we’re going to be technical here, if we’re going to explain this meme, this meme commits a classical Christian heresy called modalism, or for those of you who have seen Lutheran Satire’s animated video on this, “That’s modalism, Patrick!” How is it modalism? To use the label that the church would recognize, it’s Sabellianism. The reason why this is Sabellianism is because there is no distinction between the persons. Right? The meme here says “Are you there God? It’s me. You.” Right? Jesus is, I don’t know, pretending to talk to Himself up in the sky. But that’s not the case in actuality. Right? If we’re going to hold to orthodox Christianity, and if we’re going to critique orthodox Christianity, not Sabellianism, if we’re going to critique orthodox Christianity, we have to recognize that Jesus is not praying to Himself. He’s praying to someone else. Himself is a pronoun. Pronouns refer to persons. Jesus is praying to the Father who is a person. Jesus is the Son, a distinct person, so Jesus is not praying to Himself, so we should not commit the heresy of Sabellianism or what’s categorized as modalism. That would be a heresy.
David: Mind if I jump in here?
Kurt: Yeah. Go ahead, David.
David: You have sort of the oneness or Mormons will ask these sort of, atheists will ask these sort of questions. This is not what I have liked to call celestial ventriloquism going on here in the Garden of Gethsemane. When they ask you to whom is Jesus praying to, the answer is simple. The Father.
Kurt: That’s right. It is to the Father and what I think is fascinating and in this discussion that I got in with a fellow on Facebook. He said, “Okay.” I’m paraphrasing my discussion. “Okay. So it is the Son praying to the Father. Isn’t it still crazy that a Son would sacrifice Himself for a Father?” And I said, “Is that really so crazy? I mean, is that really so ridiculous? I don’t think so. It’s not so absurd that a son would sacrifice his life for the father or for the father’s purposes. That’s not as crazy as the Sabellianism position here. I wouldn’t find that ridiculous at all as this person would and in fact we can think of instances where a son sacrifices himself for his father for whatever purpose there might have been or when a son repays a father’s debt. Those are very real scenarios and I wouldn’t think that it is ridiculous. That does it for “What Do You Meme?”
Kurt: What do you meme? Chris, I know you don’t like the Beebs, but that is one of my favorite segments of the show. Okay. Let’s move into discussion here. David. Put your dukes up. Here we go. I find myself, first let me say this. I think there are some theories that we should reject. Some models of the atonement we should reject. We talked about the reasons why we should dismiss the ransom theory and why the moral exemplar theory on its own…
David: Doesn’t cut it.
Kurt: Doesn’t cut it. When it excludes the other models it’s problematic, but some of these models are not mutually exclusive. You can hold to them in tandem and you can almost place an emphasis on one that you find best fits maybe primarily with the Biblical text and secondarily those others ones and as we were discussing before the show, you would primarily emphasize the penal substitution. I find myself these days, while I would accept the penal substitution view contra some Christians, I find myself holding that position as secondary to the Christus Victor recapitulation model. We sort of have a battle of different emphases here. Before we get into our battle, let me pull Wayne Grudem over here from Systematic Theology because he says something I think is pretty spurious and I’d love to get your view here on this. He explains here about penal substitution, this is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
“The view of Christ’s death presented here has frequently been called the theory of penal substitution. Christ’s death was penal in that he bore a penalty when he died. His death was also a substitution in that he was a substitute when he died.”
And here’s where he maybe gets me a little irked.
“This has been the orthodox understanding of the atonement held by evangelical theologians in contrast to other views that attempt to explain the atonement apart from the idea of the wrath of God or payment of the penalty for sin.”
When he says here that this has been the orthodox view, I’m not convinced if we’re going to, if we’re going to use a standard of Vincentian canon if you will of orthodoxy, what has been believed everywhere by all for all time. The penal substitution view doesn’t strike me as exclusively orthodox. It’s not the orthodox, it’s an orthodox position. Would you agree with me on my assessment there?
David: Well we can go to one of the most reliable sources on the internet, that’s Wikipedia. That’s of course tongue in cheek, and you can type in penal substitutionary atonement, and you’ll notice that they’ll make readily available to you the information that this was not a widespread orthodox view among the church fathers in the first few centuries of Christianity.
Kurt: Right. It was a later development. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It doesn’t mean it’s unbiblical, but that it’s something that later. I mean, when you’re dealing with the development of Christian doctrine, sometimes it took time to realize how to summarize and to synthesize what the Bible teaches. One of the most famous examples, the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. Okay? But the doctrine of the Trinity does appear in the Bible and that took the church fathers, that took the Christian church, awhile to figure out how to talk about these things. That’s why sometimes I like to call the development of linguistic Christian doctrine because the doctrine is already there. It just takes us awhile to figure out how to put it into words.
David: And to be generous to Wayne Grudem, maybe he might be thinking in that matter.
Kurt: Maybe, but he seems to be exclusive here to the penal substitution view, and one of my beef, this is the book I had when I was in college ten years ago. I think there’s a now updated edition, so one of my beefs with this edition is that he doesn’t even critique the Christus Victor model. He doesn’t even raise it, doesn’t talk about it, at least on this section on the atonement. For him to say that this is the orthodox model, I mean, okay. If you want to create a false trichotomy or something, say there’s this model and there’s all these other models that we reject. Okay. But there are other models out there, so maybe to be more charitable, maybe if he thinks that’s what’s in mind here, but I think he’s got something more specific. I think he’s got the view of the Protestant Reformers in mind here, that this has been the orthodox position, and it’s an orthodox position. It’s one of them, because there are a number of verses in the Bible that we can take either way. This is one verse here. It comes from 2 Cor. 5:21 that can be taken either way by people defending the penal substitution view or the recapitulation model and it reads here, 2 Cor. 5:21:
“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Kurt: Now for the penal substitution view where you sort of had imputed righteousness. Right? That’s how we become the righteousness of God, through imputation, but someone who views the Christus Victor model might say that this, that we might become the righteousness of God, this becoming takes time and so for example the Eastern Orthodox who place a stronger emphasis on the Christus Victor model here would have this sense of what’s called theosis. Right? God became mind so that man might become God or rather Godlike. There’s a becoming here. It takes time, but this is a verse that can sort of be supported by either model. It’s ambiguous. You see a number of verses like that. I know David, you had one before the show you had mentioned that could be taken either way. Was that in Matthew 1? What was that one?
David: Well we have Matthew 1:21 talking about the virgin birth obviously and we see there that Jesus will be His name and that He will save us from our sins.
Kurt: Yeah. That verse though, because He will save His people from their sins, that can be taken by a number of the different models to support their view. Right? The penal substitution view. Oh yeah. He’s saving people through this model. Right? Through satisfying the justice of God and the Christus Victor model might say, “Yeah. He is saving people from their sins because He is healing His people through what some would say is the model of theosis and that Christ’s victory over death, He defeats sin, this is how He’s saving His people.” There are some passages, and we need to be careful. We want to be careful thinkers and so when we come across a passage that might suggest one way, we need to make sure that interpretation is not necessitated by the text. We can get into debates and people can say “Matthew 1:21 supports my position.” Not necessarily. Right? Maybe it does, but not necessarily. Maybe it actually supports my position and let’s think about how compatible the verses can be with the models. We should really be careful thinkers.
David: The atonement is a three dimensional diamond. It shines from various angles into our lives and it definitely penetrates different times into our lives and has these effects upon us whereas one model will be applicable to a time in our life and once again, staying away from relativism, postmodernism, we definitely want to affirm that these truths are concrete in Scripture, but the danger at just looking in one point of view, streamlining, cutting out the rest, is definitely a danger.
Kurt: Right. And so we need to try our best to recognize when some should be rejected outright, but when others can be held hand in hand together, so for me I’ve got, the way I interpret the Scriptures, at least right now in 2017, is that I would place an emphasis on the Christus Victor model, that Christ is reconciling the entire creation to Himself, but I don’t think that it’s exclusive to the penal substitution view. I think that that could be a way to explain how this is occurring. I know some people would reject, some Christians would reject the penal substitution view, but I think that it’s still compatible with the Christus Victor model. For you though, you place more of an emphasis on penal substitution view. Maybe tell me a little bit more why that is.
David: The reason why, I guess this may be a surface level observation, but I’ve discussed the Christus Victor model, as wonderful as it is, I would say ultimately it does not save somebody, in other words.
Kurt: That be some fighting words.
David: Yes. If we just take the Christus Victor model on its own, it’s nice to say in terms of the problem of evil how we it reconcile us to God in terms of the healing of the pain that we feel from the consequences of our sins or those sins that are against us, those that other humans do towards us…
Kurt: And so we would take solace in the justice of God.
David: Yes, but what I’m saying to you is that the sin stain sort of remains there and metastasizes under solely Christus Victor view.
Kurt: Okay. So you’ve brought up a couple things there and I do want to make recognition of your note of the problem of evil because that’s something that the atonement models help to address, but first, the Christus Victor model on its own would say, some proponents, proponents that would disagree with penal substitution and exclusively hold to the Christus Victor model, they would say something like, Jesus does conquer death and He has saved His people. Right? So think of like a military leader who leads them to victory. He does save them. But there you point out you’ve still got the stain of sin. I think that the work of the Spirit is to purify and to sanctify the people and maybe it’s not instantaneous. Again, this is the exclusive, I’m not saying this is necessarily my view here, but maybe it’s not instantaneous with something that happens over the course of time, so for the Eastern Orthodox there isn’t the sharp distinction between justification and sanctification. Right? The justification being where God makes right in His eyes, that people are made right and reconciled to Him, but with sanctification, they’re made like Christ over time. Even Protestants sort of recognize that’s their view. The Eastern Orthodox, it’s kind of blended, that the justification occurs throughout the sanctification and this process is called theosis for their view, so the Christus Victor model on its own might still say that, no, Jesus does save His people. Sins are taken care of, but it’s not an instantaneous thing and it’s not a monergistic action. It’s a synergistic action, but I am also happy to recognize that there are differences for the two camps that sort of might take them exclusively. There would surely be differences with regard to theological anthropology or, I know it’s a big term, how Christians understand the nature of man. Maybe that leads people to their respective positions.
David: As a monergist obviously, the whole language of it being a process when we have just come off the first half of the podcast saying that indeed it is finished, Isaiah 64:6, all our righteousness are but filthy rags before a holy God. Those sins prior to our birth, born again experience, have already stained our lives and it doesn’t matter how much sanctification we get, those stains are definitely still there and, we especially people that have had that born again experience well after a time or a season of gross sin in their life, still feel the consequences of their prior sins and maybe even struggles on a daily basis and therefore the emphasis of the penal substitutionary atonement view where there’s an actual payment to be enacted, it brings a solace where the sinner is humbled by the fact that a holy God loved them so much that that sin has been cleansed and He is faithful to forgive us of our sins and the Christus Victor view, I guess we can get into, He cleanses us of all unrighteousness.
Kurt: Yeah. If I can describe them and do justice to their positions, the penal substitution view, it’s instantaneous, it’s a completed work, it really hits to the human relationship with God. The Christus Victor recapitulation model is not necessarily instantaneous. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s a spiritual battle in terms of Christ defeating Satan’s minions, but then it’s also an ongoing process for the human and again we’re just dealing with these exclusively so if they sort of dismiss, if both of those models are not compatible, the Christus Victor model, but also it deals with the reconciliation of the whole world, not just the human relationship. Is that a fair assessment? Maybe if I could ask you…
David: Let’s move into, and…now let’s move into when we can use them together.
Kurt: Sure. Yeah. So here I would say, and maybe this is my attempt right now to hold this position, is that through the penal substitution view, Christ is also victorious over the forces of evil by defeating sin, defeating death, and reconciling the whole world, the whole universe, back to the Father. I think that’s maybe how it’s compatible, but you look like you’ve got some book here. Is that N.T. Wright?
David: Evil and the Justice of God. Jesus suffers the full consequences of evil. Evil from the political, social, cultural, moral, religious, and spiritual angles all rolled into one. Evil in a downward spiral, hurdling toward the pit of destruction and despair that the Christus Victor model is essentially the belief that on the cross Jesus has won the victory over these powers of evil.
Kurt: Right. Oh. So maybe Wright holds to my position too.
David: He definitely emphasizes it. He says that the whole narrative of the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 and the culmination of the atonement is the final defeat of evil, the already but not….
Kurt: And I think that’s something, that at least evangelicals today, often forget. They maybe emphasize the penal substitution at the expense of the Christus Victor position and like I’ve said. I hold sort of both of them and it’s a matter of emphasis, but I think some Christians emphasize penal substitution at the expense of Christus Victory, because the story’s much bigger than me and God, and so if we’re only just emphasizing that God has just saved me, well, there’s a lot more going in the world, there’s a lot more going on in terms of spiritual battles and the recapitulation model sort of recognizes that, that Christ’s atoning work, and I don’t know, this might go against your sensibilities, that Christ’s atoning work goes beyond even just the human relationships, and it goes beyond even the Christian relationships. Christ’s atoning work is sufficient and maybe even applicable outside of the human-divine relationship, if I can say that.
David: We read Colossians 2:15 where He’s disarming the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross.
Kurt: But a verse like that, in terms of people that really emphasize penal substitution theory but don’t talk about Christus Victor, a verse like that should help people bring this up more.
Kurt: And I think maybe something like this even. So yeah, that’s just a good helpful sign that we need to consider the whole of Scripture when we’re looking at atonement models. We’ve got a few minutes left here David. I don’t know if you want to touch on anything else.
David: Yeah. I want to debunk sort of an objection that is also made towards the penal substitutionary atonement as you said. They’re some in Christendom that totally reject it viewing it, they sort of straw man this image of this angry, as Hitchens would put it, this North Korean dictator up there in the celestial realm, sending His Son so that He could punish Him. We learn in Isaiah 53, it pleased, and in the King James Version, it pleased YHWH to crush His Son, and they view this as sort of abhorrent. I’m quoting John Stott out of his book The Cross of Christ. He says that, “We must not then speak of God punishing Jesus or Jesus persuading God for to do so is to set them against each other as if they acted independently of each other or in conflict with each other. We must never make Christ the object of God’s punishment, or God the object of Christ’s persuasion, for both God and Christ were subject, not objects, taking the initiative together to save sinners. Whatever happened on the cross in terms of Godforsakeness (Quote unquote) was voluntarily accepted by both in the same holy love which made atonement necessary. The Father did not lay on the Son an ordeal He was reluctant to bear nor did the Son extract from the Father a salvation He was reluctant to bestow. There is no suspicion anywhere in the New Testament of discord between the Father and the Son. There is no unwillingness in either. On the contrary, their wills coincide in the perfect self-sacrifice of love.”
Kurt: Yeah. Right. And we need to remember that the Son was fully willing to do this, to do the operation rescue mission.
David: And I would also add there was no other way.
David: No other way.
Kurt: In terms of people, especially atheists, that are going to critique this model by saying that, well God was abusing His Son, this is something that’s certainly not the way that Jesus viewed it at all. He didn’t view it as God sort of abusing His Son.
David: Not at all, and we see this sort of objection from the atheistic camp. Listen. This is human sacrifice and they’ll use that language. In reality, we have an analogy we can use with a soldier in Iraq or Benghazi where a grenade is thrown into the rooftop and it’s going to kill both of them, but one of the soldiers lays or jumps on top of that grenade to save his comrade and that is what we see as an analogy of what is going and taking place in the Gospels. This is not human sacrifice. Rather it is self-sacrifice.
Kurt: Yeah. Let me also talk about this. Jesus says something on the cross. He says, “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?” And it seems like, uh-oh. Here we’ve got the Son saying, “Hey. What’s up? Why are you doing that?” A lot of scholars agree that Jesus is quoting from a Psalm here, Psalm 22. Now I haven’t done the research on this. I’m going to speculate. I was talking to my wife last night about this. That Jesus was actually quoting the whole thing and I think that maybe we simply don’t have that record. Why would the Gospel author write out the whole Psalm? It’s just a summary here. So when Jesus quotes this He quotes from Psalm 22, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from the words of my groaning. Oh my God, I cry by day but you do not answer and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our Fathers trusted, in you they trusted but were not put to shame,” and then the Psalm continues on and on, but it’s very important to recognize that context, that Jesus is fully aware of what’s going on. He’s fully aware of what will happen out of the tomb. So I think we need to recognize that it’s the Psalm that’s being quoted here that Jesus is citing. He’s not calling into question the faithfulness of His Father.
David: Not at all. We can see the contrast and it should be noted the contrast between the first half of that Psalm and the second half of that Psalm that would have been familiar to those onlookers on the cross there. No doubt about it. This Psalm is being something that was definitely sung at the time. It would have been familiar to those at the time. He’s definitely quoting it. We can go far far deeper into the discussion concerning whether there is a separation or there is not a separation. I would suggest that there is actually a paradox that it is both that is occurring. When this saying, one of the seven sayings, this in particular saying is occurring here, that’s the position I take. I think it’s both in a paradoxical way.
Kurt: Interesting. I’m going to have to open up that discussion in another episode. That does it for the show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a couple bucks a month. We’d love to have your support. If you like what’s happening here, week after week, when we’re punching out content for you here talking about theological issues, apologetic issues, when we talk about issues in politics or economics even, because these are issues we don’t want to shy away from. If all truth is God’s truth then that discovers truths we can discover in the political and economic world and just other issues in general. If you like what we do, we’d love to have your support. $5 or $10 a month. Just help us to keep us going. I’m also grateful for the continued support of our sponsors. Defenders Media. Consult Kevin. The Sky Floor. Rethinking Hell. The Illinois Family Institute, and Evolution 2.0. Thank you to the tech team today, Chris and David, and thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.