Saturday, April 09, 2011

Christus Victor Hoopla

Over at CT Mark Galli has an article on The Problem with Christus Victor where he notes the increasing popularity of the Christus Victor (CV) model for the atonement, but thinks it can down play notions of personal sin and guilt if not cojoined to the theory of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). He concludes: "Here, I'm simply suggesting that Christus Victor may not be a theory that Protestants, and evangelicals in particular, should tie their wagons to. While it brings to the fore some crucial and forgotten biblical truths, it's clearly a secondary atonement theme in the New Testament. And at least for today's Protestants, it has an uncanny tendency to downplay a sense of personal responsibility, which in the end, sabotages grace. In my view, more than ever in our day, we need Christus Vicarious."

Tom Schreiner argues similarly in his response to Greg Boyd in The Nature of the Atonement. Several posts have appeared around the biblioblogosphere about Galli's article including the Anglican Priest, Through a Glass Darkly, Brambonius, and Already Not Yet to name a few.

I agree that CV and PSA go together because Jesus is only Christus Victor because he is also Agnus Dei. PSA deprives the Satan of his key weapon: accusation against the saints! However, I think CV is the the most comprehensive model of the atonement for several reasons:

1. Canonical: The first and last intimations of the atonement in Scripture are about the victory of Jesus' death (Gen 3:15; Rev 12:11).
2. Historical: CV appears to have been more popular in Church History as a model for the atonement than any other. Though PSA can be found in the fathers as a minor key, CV can be found among the Reformers as a minor key too.
3. Biblical Theological: CV links together a lot more themes than PSA does. CV brings together kingdom, atonement, resurrection, and new creation.
4. Pauline: Note how Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 both start off with the sacrificial nature of Jesus' death, but then climax in affirmations of divine victory! PSA is the basis for CV, but CV is then the goal of PSA.

I like the words of John Calvin on the subject: Finally, since as God only he could not suffer, and as man only could not overcome death, he united the human nature with the divine, that he might subject the weakness of the one to death as an expiation of sin, and by the power of the other, maintaining a struggle with death, might gain us the victory … But special attention must be paid to what I lately explained, namely, that a common nature is the pledge of our union with the Son of God; that, clothed with our flesh, he warred to death with sin that he might be our triumphant conqueror.[1]

[1] Institutes II.12.2-3. Calvin also wrote: “And so, by fighting hand to hand with the power of the Devil, with the horror of death, he won the victory over them and triumphed, so that now in our death we should not fear those things which our Prince has swallowed up” (Institutes II.16.11).


Lynne said...

Thank you. That's the neatest and most succint summary on the topic that I've seen. I really don't get this new sport of competitive atonement theories

FrGregACCA said...

Christ is indeed Agnus Dei. But being agnus dei is EXPIATORY, not,in the first instance, propitiatory. (That which is expiatory, which cleanses from sin and heals and restores humanity to communion with God, is indeed pleasing to God; therefore, Christ's expiatory sacrifice is, in a secondary sense, propitiatory.)

Lynn: the problem is that PSA turns God into something no entity worthy of the name could ever be.

"God is love". The father in the Story of the Prodigal Son IS the Father of Jesus Christ without qualification.

Peter Gurry said...

Greg, does your definition allow for retributive justice to be meted? It seems it only allows for it to be averted. If we lose God's retributive justice, what motive do we have to avoid it? Paul's logic in Romans 12:9 seems to require a divine wrath that is not just avoided but is poured out. Human revenge is not finally an issue of love but of idolatry: we aren't God.

Only a misunderstanding of PSA makes God unworthy of the name. And only simplistic notions of love and wrath require them to remain hermetically sealed off from each other.

Peter Gurry said...

Mike, just curious, but when you say, "CV appears to have been more popular in Church History as a model for the atonement than any other," are you distinguishing ransom to Satan from CV or are they close enough in your mind to equate the two?

FrGregACCA said...

Peter: re: retributive justice. To what purpose? Only to bring about repentance. Any other purpose is simply a matter of vengeance, and this is certainly true when placed on an eternal scale.

Re: Romans 12: 9, we are called to "hate what is evil" because evil is inherently destructive of us and of all creation: "the wages of sin is death". Sin is very much an existential matter.

The ultimate wrath of God is poured out, not for sin per se, but because of the refusal to repent, to accept the solution, the remedy, for sin, which is Christ. See, for example, John 3:18 and note St. Paul's reference to being saved from the wrath "to come".

I of course disagree that only a misunderstanding of PSA slanders God, but I would be interested in your rationale for saying that.

Even if that is too strong, and I do not think it is, PSA certainly reinforces the notion that salvation is first an external, forensic matter and not primarily an internal, existential question of the human condition.

God's "wrath" is a manifestation of love in that it is motivated by the desire to bring people to repentance (or, to rescue victims of those who have not repented, as in the first Passover). In the end, however, for those who definitively reject God and repentance, this wrath is a matter of experiencing God's love, which is really the Divine Presence itself, as something intolerable in that those who are so tormented have chosen to embrace something as being more important than love. Please see the link I posted above.

Also, CV and the Ransom
Theory can be separated, but they most properly go together.

FrGregACCA said...

Peter, it is clear that you are referring to Romans 12:19, not 12:9. However, all this is saying that inflicting payback is above our paygrade. "I'll handle it," says the Lord.

This does not require that we posit a God who requites evil simply to wreak vengeance, especially since we know that God desires the salvation of all, that all come to knowledge of the truth, and "reaping what we sow," besides the obvious causal connection, carries the same idea, that of inducing repentance by experiencing the consequences of one's sin.

Peter Gurry said...

Apologies, I did mean Rom 12:19, Greg. Thanks for the catch. I'm not exactly clear on how you're interpreting God's vengeance though. Why is retributive justice necessarily evil?

And for the record, retributive justice is, by definition, not meant to lead to repentance. Perhaps you meant something akin to restorative justice? The purpose of retributive justice is to punish wrongdoing; to give someone no more and no less than exactly what they deserve. This is simply a matter of definition.

Also I'm not sure what the difference really is between "sin per se" and refusing to repent? Is the latter not a particular instance of the former? If not, why does it warrant God's wrath (however you define it)?

I appreciate your attempt to reconcile God's wrath and God's love, but I don't see how equating the two as you do actual resolves anything. Perhaps it is more clear in your essay linked to above.

Thanks for the interaction. I appreciate your thoughts.

John Thomson said...

With Lynne on this.

I see the force of Gen 3:15 as primal. It (CV)expresses the goal while PSA describes the means.

FrGregACCA said...

John, the means are not in question: they are the life, ministry, voluntary death (by unjust execution), resurrection, and ascension of the Eternal Son of God made human, followed by His giving the gift of the Holy Spirit and thereby constituting the Church, His mystical body.

This is what Gen. 3:15 predicts. However, PSA, like CV and the others, is an INTERPRETATION of how these means results in our being reconciled with God and healed from sin.

Peter: I do understand the difference between retributive, restorative, and other types of justice. However, your description, and the usual definition, begs all kinds of questions regarding who "deserves" what and why "punish" wrongdoing in the first place. IOW, is "retributive justice" perhaps an oxymoron? It seems to me that what we call retributive justice is meted out primarily to deter others from doing the same or similar things and/or to protect and vindicate the victims of wrongdoing. Retributive justice is never, as far as I can tell, a matter only of someone getting "what they deserve." "The rain falls on the just and the unjust."

Romans 12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:25. In this context, “retributive justice” is indeed a matter of protecting God’s people from those who would unjustly deprive them of their rights and of vindicating them before their persecutors. The same would apply, it would seem, to St. Paul’s use of this as well. In other words, God protects God’s people, but God doesn’t do vendettas.

Regarding sin per se vs. the refusal to repent, to rethink, and to accept God’s remedy for one’s fallen and debilitated condition: Obviously the latter is an instance of the former. However, if we can compare sin to smoking which causes lung cancer, then spurning repentance is like refusing to quit smoking and not getting the cancer treated. Does that make sense? Again, this fits with what we read in Acts 17:30 as well as what I cited previously. "How can we escape if we neglect such great salvation?"

Re: Divine wrath and love. There is one statement in the Bible that describes God ontologically: “God IS Love.” Therefore, everything that God does, that God is, must be grounded in the Divine Love that IS God. This begins with the Trinitarian nature of the Divine Being and moves on from there.

John Smuts said...

I take your historical points about CV Mike. I also agree that it is both / and.

However, the reason why I think PSA has become a kind of link model is that it is more fully trinitarian than the other models - certainly more so than CV.

Peter Gurry said...

Greg, I'm afraid you're misusing your terms. By definition, retributive justice is not restorative for the person on the receiving end of it. It may vindicate and protect those who the perpetrator has wronged, but for the perpetrator it is, by definition, not restorative. Hence it is a false disjunction to say that "God protects God’s people, but God doesn’t do vendettas."

If you want to talk about forms of justice that don't involve people getting what they deserve, that's fine. But for clarity, those forms should not be called retributive.

Regarding your unease about the questions raised by retributive justice, let me make a few points. First, retributive justice is quite clear about why wrongdoing should be punished: because it is exactly deserved. No more, no less. The seriousness of the crime warrants an equivalently seriousness for its punishment. But you are probably really meaning to ask how we could ever know with precision when a punishment is exactly equivalent to the crime, but that's really a different question. In God's case, I'm quite confident that he is up to the challenge. This is also provides one of several reasons why humans are forbidden from doing what God rightly does: taking personal vengeance. (As I said earlier, personal revenge is an issue of idolatry.)

Thanks again for the interaction. I harp on the issue of definition only because my conversations with opponents of God's use of retributive justice has shown me that they are often rejecting what they do not understand.

FrGregACCA said...

You're welcome, Peter. If what you are saying is the case, then, in fact, "retributive justice" is an oxymoron.