Monday, December 18, 2006

Anselm, Violence and Substitutionary Atonement

Alselm's formulation of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement clearly won the battle through the ages to explain what was happening at the cross.  However, over the past ten years, I've not been satisfied with the concepts - the pit us against God; God against Jesus; etc.  It just doesn't seem to jive with the nature and character of God as I've come to see it.  I have referred to the work Christus Victor as a great work from the mid-20th century (by G. Aulen) presenting an alternative view - though the book is out of print and has been for some time. 

Today, Richard Beck makes a post that points out the recent controversy surrounding Anselm's formulation of the atonement which, Beck admits, is still the predominant view. The post deals with the new book, Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross, which analyzes theories of atonement and then favorably reviews Rene Girard's formulation. 

From the book, the obvious problems with Anselm's formulation are:

"To return to our simple image about Jesus stepping in between us and an evil bearing down on us, we can say that Anselm unequivocally states that what is bearing down on us is God and God's wrath. This radically bifurcates the God of justice and the God of forgiveness, and it appears to require a plan of salvation that sets Christ and God against each other." p. 300-301

As Beck rightly asks,

"In the end we have an emotional and theological puzzle. First, the bible unequivocally states that we were, in some profound way, "saved" and "rescued" by the cross. But saved from what? God? Saved from God!? That surely is confused. But if we are not saved from God, if God isn't the one delivering the blow intercepted by Jesus, where is that blow coming from? A second puzzle is that the cross is a bloody sacrifice. Consequently, if God is demanding this sacrifice, why is he so blood-thristy?"

Beck quotes from Heim's book's final chapter (p.294) a promising statement:

"The way forward is not to go around all these elements, but to go through them, integrating them in the biblical vision of God's work to overcome scapegoating sacrifice. The true alternative to distorted theologies of atonement will not be one that says less about the cross, but one that says more."

Beck intends to post a series of thoughts on this topic which I look forward to greatly.  I also intend to order the book.  If anyone has read the book, has other thoughts or questions on the atonement, I'd love to discuss it.


Al Sturgeon said...

Hey Jeff, in my own warped version of "penal substitutionary atonement," I had to postpone my vasectomy this week because I've ended up with the flu.

I'm just getting upright long enough to check my email, but not long enough to think. I'm going to forward your post to a good friend of mine who may want to comment on this. I hope he does - I'd love to read the two of you interacting...

juvenal_urbino said...

And I would be that friend, apparently. I've posted a link to your blog on Al's blog.

Hopefully, we'll get some cross-mojination. (No pun intended.)

Al Sturgeon said...

Hey Jeff, I guess the bulk of my 2006 reading centered around three folks: Stanley Hauerwas, Walter Wink, and most recently Brian McLaren (oh, and Lemony Snicket, too, but that's a different story).

I first read about the Christus Victor theory in one of them - since you've read McLaren a lot, was it him? (it was either McLaren or Wink)

It was Wink, however, in his discussion of the "principalities and powers" that planted the thought in my mind of the WORLD (i.e. Satan, whatever...) having a lot more power than I've ever given it credit. This gibes so well with the Christus Victor theory - less God sorting out his own sense of justice, more God in cosmic battle with the darkness.

What do you think?

(BTW, you've sparked a small discussion at "houseflies" that will probably go a different direction than the actual atonement theories themselves!)