(Theologies of the Cross)
by Robert Brooks
I. Meaning of the Word Atonement
“At – one – ment” — implies the reconciliation of opposing realities, especially points of views.
II. Early Views
A. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo? (Why the God-man?) Sin is an affront to the honor of God. The death of the sinless Christ restores God’s majesty and His honor. Anselm makes the atonement almost a legal act, rather than an act of love, both on the part of the Father and the Son. Anselm leaned too much on the metaphors of the medieval and feudal society of his day. Anselm’s is a totally objective view.
B. Abelard’s view is the classic “Moral Influence Theory.” That is its only purpose: to reveal God’s love, thus eliciting man’s love for God and hence good morals. This view ignores “total depravity” in sin. Man saves himself by good works. The wrath of God is ignored. Abelard’s view is totally subjective.
III. The Reformation Views
A. Luther evidences a penal theory, that is Christ took our place and bore our sins. Christ as a ransom and sacrifice occurs in Luther’s thinking.
B. John Calvin’s emphasis is on penalty and a sacrificial death. Christ is punished for our sins to satisfy the wrath of God and God’s justice. The sacrificial blood of Christ propitiates and expiates sin.
IV. Other Theories
A. Socinian (The Example Theory). God does not need to be reconciled; man only needs his morals bettered. Socinus refused to pray to Christ and denied a substitutionary atonement. He was Unitarian, denying the Trinity. He introduced baptism by immersion to the Dutch Mennonites who until then had practiced adult baptism by pouring.
B. The BushnellianTheory (Moral Influence). Here we meet the Abelardian theory in the Nineteenth Century. God is only a God of love, who seeks to elicit love in man. Shallow on the seriousness of sin, he was, however, a Trinitarian, but was repelled by revival emotionalism. Busnellians could easily slip into sentimentalism. Bushnell was, however, a respected pastor and penned the famous quote, “…there is a cross in God before the wood is seen upon Calvary. . . .”
V. Recent Teachings
A. Paul Tillich. Tillich asserts that the definition of the atonement is two-fold: an objective side and a subjective side. Origen was the first to advance an objective side – with Christ defeating Satan, who could not have power over the innocent One, Christ becoming victor over all the demonic forces. Origin’s view is totally objective (says Tillich), a “cosmic drama,” taking place with no involvement from man. In the New Testament, Paul sets forth an objective defeat of demonic forces. The victory is a cosmic victory for Christ through love.
Tillich maintains that man’s “existential estrangement” from God is taken upon Himself by participation. Accepting God’s (Christ’s) participation in the structures of destruction, man is transformed into the “new being” – salvation.
B. Jurgen Moltman (The Crucified God)
The cross is the “signature of all Christian theology.” He applies the Nicene Creed: It is “one substance with God, begotten, not created, God of God, light of light.” The Cross is something that took place between God and God. “My God, my God. . .” points to something that takes place within God. Jesus took our place, our sins as expiation. “God becomes the crucified.”
“He made Him sin for us.” (II Corinthians 5:21) “He became a curse for us.” (Galatians 3: 13) “God in His majesty,.. veiled in the flesh of Christ.”
C. Wolfhart Pannenberg
Pannenberg is the most erudite theologian today. His Systematic Theology will rule for decades to come. He views the expiatory sacrifice of Jesus’ death for sin as God the Father reconciling the world. He “made Him to be sin who knew no sin.” (II Corinthians 5: 21) “God put the sinless Christ in the place of sinners, so that He had to bear the judgment of sin instead of them.” (Galatians 3: 13) There must be an appropriation by the sinner in order for “at-one-ment” to take place.
VI. Views of this author
A. Sin originates at the moment the child exclaims, “Mine! Mine!” At that moment total inability occurs, which means the child becomes impotent to save himself. He only has enough “free will” to respond to the Holy Spirit. “…no man can say that Jesus is . . . Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12: 3).
B. The only ground for atonement is between God the Son bearing our sins and the judgment of God the Father. At the moment Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why hath thou forsaken me,” the Father judged the Son as if He were a sinner. “He made Him to be SIN who knew no sin.” (II Corinthians 5: 21) He became a “curse for us.” (Galatians 3: 13)
Why did Jesus cry, “Let this cup pass from me?” It was the “cup of His fury.” (Isaiah 51: 17) Was Jesus praying because He was afraid to die? If that were so, then Socrates surpassed Christ, for he died peacefully. No! The only pure One was agonizing drops of blood because He was tempted to avoid being judged as if He were a sinner. He was made to be sin, to be judged by the Father as a sinner! (II Corinthians 5: 21)
C. So then the relationship is first between God The Son and God The Father as the Father’s holiness is satisfied. This is the objective side. The subjective side is when the sinner gains enough insight to see the fathomless ness of the cross and surrenders to the Trinity. So, then, my view may be termed an objective-subjective synthesis.
“For nothing good have I whereby Thy grace to claim:
I’ll wash my garments white in the Blood of Calvary’s Lamb.”
Jesus Paid It All
Elvina M. Hall
Brown, Harold. Heresies. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1984.
Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Edinburgh: William B. Eerdmans, 1991.
Paul, Robert. The Atonement and The Sacraments. New York: Abingdon Press, 1960.
Strong, Augustus. Systematic Theology (Vol. II). Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1936.
Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology (Vol. II). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.