Understanding Atonement: A New and Orthodox Theory. Robin Collins, Professor of Philosophy Messiah College. Acknowledgements. I would like to thank Rebecca Adams, my spouse, for much helpful insights and input as I have worked to develop and present the Incarnational theory.
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Professor of Philosophy
I would like to thank Rebecca Adams, my spouse, for much helpful insights and input as I have worked to develop and present the Incarnational theory.
Doctrine of Atonement: Simply states that “through Christ’s Life, Death and Resurrection we are saved from sin and reconciled to God.”
**The doctrine of Atonement states in a simple way what all Christians can agree upon with regard to what Christ accomplished by his life, death, and resurrection.
Theory of Atonement: Explains how Christ’s life, death and resurrection save us from sin and reconcile us to God and why it made sense for God to use this method.
Have you ever asked yourself Why Christ Had to Die? Has this ever struck you as puzzling? Why couldn’t God just forgive us of our sins? A theory attempts to answer these questions
The Ransom or Bargain theory is often confused with the so-called Christus Victor “Theory.” Christus Victor stresses that Christ’s death defeated (i.e., gained victory over) the forces of evil. Typically, however, advocates of Christus Victor do not explain how Christ’s death accomplished this, and thus it is not a theory in our sense but closer to a view of what Christ's death accomplished that emphasizes the often neglected statements regarding his defeating the forces of darkness.
**First developed by St. Anselm in the 11th century
**First developed by the protestant reformers
Our sins accumulated a debt of obligation (satisfaction theory) or punishment (penal theory) so large that we could not pay it.
2. The moral order (or “God’s honour”) demands that the debt be paid or the sin be punished.
3. Christ paid the debt for us or accepted the punishment, thereby satisfying the demands of Divine Justice.
4.Therefore, God no longer needs to punish us but can shower his mercy and blessings on us.
St. Anselm. Woodcarving
Satisfaction Theory: Since God the Son is united with God the Father, doesn’t this simply amount to God’s paying God’s self? Or who pays the debt we owe God the Son for our sin against him?
God Pays God:
God transfers money from one of his accounts to another
Penal Theory: How can justice be satisfied by one person accepting the punishment that another deserves, especially given that God the Son is the One sinned against? Doesn't this amount to God punishing God’s own self for our sins? Does this make any sense?
Or ask Yourself: If someone stabs you, does your further flogging yourself pay for the crime they committed against you?
By further hurting themselves, are these men paying for the sins of those who wronged them?
??Does this sound like the gospel to a starving child in India, that because of her (or Adam and Eve’s) sins she actually deserves much more suffering than she is experiencing in this life?
Historical Origin: First Proposed byPhilosopher and Theologian Peter Abelard in the 12th Century. Was later popular in liberal theology.
Basic Claims: Christ saves us by providing a perfect moral example of love,obedience, and humility to follow and by revealing the loving character of God.
God had to share in what we are in order for us to share in what God is.
Eastern Orthodox Church
Robin Collins has attempted to systematically develop this idea into a theory in two articles. (They are posted on the web at www.robincollins.org) He calls this theory the Incarnational Theory
Step 1: Salvation = Unity with God = sharing in the life of God. (Jesus' analogy of vine and branches; Paul's analogy of the body of Christ)
Through the Incarnation and Passion, God entered as deeply as possible into our human life-situation of death, suffering, and vulnerability and thereby overcame the alienation between God's self and us.
Peter Paul Rubens.
Christ on the Cross.1620
A fully human/fully divine Life was created in Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection.
By partaking of this life through being grafted into the true Vine, we are saved from sin and reconciled to God. This allowed for us to share in the life of God, thus saving us from sin and bringing us into unity with God.
Through the Incarnation and Passion, Christ made active (or “alive”) within the Godhead virtues (such as courage, faith, and love) of a kind that we need, can actively partake of, and exercise in our present human life-situation of vulnerability, alienation, uncertainty, and the like.
Sophia and her three daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love. (From a Russian Icon)
Apart from the Incarnation and Passion, in general virtues of the kind we need could not exist in “active or living form” in God for they are too closely tied with our life-situation of vulnerability, uncertainty, and Alienation.*
*These virtues could, however, exist in dispositional form in God
God in His Glory: From Versailles Chapel of Louis XIV
fear and vulnerability…
These new virtues can be thought of as part of the new resurrected, fully divine/fully human life that is in Christ.
“Truly, Truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life…for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who drink my blood and eat my flesh abide in me and I in them” (John 6:54-55)
By entering fully into the human life situation of alienation, suffering, vulnerability, and uncertainty, and yet acting in complete trust and love, Jesus created a new “antibody” for sin. By partaking of this new antibody, the disease of sin is progressively wiped out in our lives.
** Note: In a blood transfusion, the blood types must be compatible. Likewise, for us to share in God’s life of righteousness.
Faith and Trust
In the Face of Fear
Doubt, and Uncertainty
LOVE in the face of fear,
and unjust victimization
The New Life in Christ and the New Anti-Bodies for Sin: The fully divine/fully human virtues in Christ, such as Courage, Faith and Love.
Last Supper. Leonardo da Vinci
1. The lamb is analogous to Christ, the offering of its blood is analogous to Christ's offering his life over to God and others in love, hope, and trust.
2. Thus the laying on of hands can be seen as analogous to our identification with, and thus sharing in, that love, hope and trust expressed by Christ on the Cross--a sharing that results in our redemption.
Sacrifice is understood along the lines of Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
“All who were baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death . . . . and if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5)
Only by partaking of his death can we experience his resurrection life.
“being united with Christ during his death involves sharing in Christ’s experience of true human vulnerability and brokenness during his death, and hence becoming “crucified” to the world-system of status and psychic and spiritual bondage. Yet, at the same time, to partake of Christ’s death is to also to share in the perfect love, hope, and trust that Christ exercised during his life and passion, a love, hope, and trust that in turn overcomes our alienation towards ourselves, others, and God, thereby resulting in resurrection life.”
“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Mark 14:22
Among other things, the broken bread could be thought of as representing Jesus' entering into human brokenness and vulnerability. Partaking of the bread, therefore, could be thought of as representing our fully experiencing our own vulnerability through Christ and thus “dying” to our false illusion of invulnerability that we construct to protect ourselves. This in turn allows us to partake of the resurrection life. (Is this why eating the bread comes before taking the cup?)
Children pick up their desires, how they view the world, and their orientation from the world unconsciously from their parents. The parents virtues or vices “rub off” or are transferred to the child.
The new, fully human/fully divine virtues are progressively transferred from Christ to us, thus saving us from sin.
Galatians 2:16: “We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through the faith of Jesus Christ”
Galatians 2:22: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.”**
Philippians 3:8-9: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through the faith of Christ”
**Typically translations use “faith in the Son of God” instead of the “faith of the Son of God.” However, A. A. Just claims that because of Richard Hays book on the topic, the tide is starting to turn towards the “of” translation in these and several other passages.
**Perhaps, however, both translations contain complementary elements of the truth
1. Almost all cultures have recognized that there is something wrong with human desire that cannot be fixed by self-effort.
2. Many of these cultures – e.g., Chinese, Buddhist, and Hindu – have recognized that humans need a new source of desire.
3. Jesus offers this new source of desire that is completely geared towards our actual life-situation of vulnerability, alienation, and sin. We can be fully ourselves – and face our own vulnerabiltiy, etc. -- and yet partake of this new source.
Therefore, this understanding of the gospel directly addresses a need they already recognize.
It says Jesus suffers with them “outside the gate” (Hebrews 13:12), yet at the same time gives them the love, courage, and faith they need.