Monday, January 16, 2006


Today was my first day in the classroom for my "Theology of Atonement" class this semester at Trevecca. Some of you may know that Trevecca has a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies program that is structured for working pastors in ministry. I'll be in the classroom all week this week and then again in April- all the rest in between will be done from home.

Dr. Scott Daniels is the professor for this class and he is wonderful. He admitted to us today that he was interested in teaching this class because like us he wanted to know more about it the atonement and thought that how we view the atonement really shapes how we share Christ, how we worship, the music we use, and ultimately how we view God.

He started class off with a devotional reading from Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. He read the story of a group of Christians who were students at Reed College and the wonderfully incarnational yet unorthodox way they experienced Christ on campus.

The booklist that we have looks really interesting:
On The Incarnation: by Athanasius
Christus Victor: A Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement: by Gustaf Aulen
Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement: by Anthony Bartlett
Problems with Atonement: The Origins of, and Controversy abut, the Atonement Doctrine: by Stephen Finlan (click here for a book review on another of Finlan's books)
The Nonviolent Atonement: by J. Denny Weaver

Some of the interesting things we'll be discussing this semester? hmmmm..... looks like good stuff:
1. Calling into question common metaphors of atonement (such as the substitution theory)
2. Analyze Biblical metaphors of sacrifice and atonement (notice that paul had multiple view of atonement and there's no one dominant idea of "sacrifice" in the Bible)
3. Understand historical aspect of ideas of atonement (looking at the difference of Western thought and Eastern Orthodox thought; clue: Wesleyans in our theology actually look more Eastern than Western.)
4. Contemporary Critiques on Atonement Theory (such as feminism and liberation theology)
5. Wesleyan View of Atonement (where substitutionary theory may not work very well)

Ultimately where we are going with this class is going to be what Dr. Daniels calls a "Narrative Christus Victor" view of atonement. I'm assuming that J. Denny Weaver's book is going to be the most informative in that idea but I suppose I'll have to read and find out.

I'm excited because this all seems really good. More to come soon!!!


gavin richardson said...

sounds cool, i'm sure i'll hear alllllll about it in a day or two.

hey is the k.rector in town?

daniel greeson said...

oh man...

sounds like a lot of fun....

and a lot of things to discuss....

gmw said...

Sounds great. Makes me miss school. I like the sound of "Narrative Christus Victor." I'm definitely in the Christus Victor camp on atonement, but I also am in the narrative camp in terms of biblical theology, etc...hadn't thought to put the two together as straight-forwardly as that.

Weaver sounds interesting, but I must confess, though not a penal substitution guy, I am suspicious about this "non-violent" atonement stuff. Probably clearly up my own ignorance of it would help immensely, but I'm curious about the perspective because the cross was quite violent. Christ was non-violent in the way he handled the cross. I think it's doubtful that his body looked as clean and nice as much classical artwork presents it.

Eric Lee said...

Yeah, totally sounds interesting. My good friend Josh just finished his thesis in the MA in Theology program at PLNU, and he wrote it on atonement. I hear it was a good paper. Maybe drop him a line over at once he starts up his blog there.



Scott said...


I am missing not having classes this semester. This one sounds great! By the way, David Bentley Hart does some interesting things with Anselm's account of the Atonement claiming that Anselm has not been read in his own Trinitarian context. Dan Bell references this in the last chapter of Liberation Theology.

Tell everyone hello.

Grace and Peace,

Zoomdaddy said...

I think the traditional models of explaining the atonement are complimentary. For example, Christus Victor is a wonderful expression the totality of how Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom of God, whereas substitutionary atonement explores the lengths to which God is willing to go in order to reconcile justice/mercy, sovereignty/free will. I think to chuck out one scriptural lens in favor of another will ultimately leave us with a path that could lead to heresy if followed far enough. Cases in point, substitutionary atonement can be so focused upon saitsfying God's wrath that we forget that it was out of love God provided a sacrifice. Or taken to an extreme, Christus Victor could lead to an intense duality reminiscent of Manicheans or Zoroastrians. I think if we hold these interpretive lenses on the atonement in a creative tension, we will become less tempted to fall into theological extremes that are potentially heretical.

St.Phransus said...

good thoughts lenny,
i think we also have to be careful not to project too much of the cultural baggage that has been added to the scriptural metaphors that paul, peter, jesus speaking of himself and others used when speaking of what was going on with the cross.

for instance the idea of substitutionary atonement did not hold that it was God's wrath that had to be reconciled through the crucifixion until the 1800's. Prior to that the common understanding was that it was God's honor that had been disgraced.

So we do have to be careful in how we interpret what scripture is indeed saying. But I understand what you are saying.


gmw said...

yes, there is so much within the pages of Scripture that reflects cultural assumption foreign to our own as westerners, like the conventions of honor/dishonor/shame.

The penal substitutionary theory of atonement takes up language from the NT, but infuses it with modern understandings and assumptions about that language rather than understanding the terms and metaphors within their original culture.

but it's absolutely correct that we need not lift up one metaphor to the exclusion of others. That's one of the contentions that Green and Baker make in their book: that modern evangelicalism has taken one theory of the atonement (and the least biblically grounded at that) and made it the only correct way of understanding atonement. The problem is that: (1) it's not a biblically well-grounded theory when one considers its history, and (2) that its adherents make it the singular theory when in fact the NT writers used multiple metaphors to attempt to get their minds around what happened on the cross and how it works.

John said...

That sounds fascinating! I am green with envy.

c said...

hey jonathon,

i'm taking a class on atonement at lipscomb this semester from dr. lee camp (wrote mere discipleship). should be interesting. we're reading christus victor and weaver, as well as nt wright, mcclendon, yoder, joel green, boff, as well as the old schoolers like abelard, anslem, aulen, calvin, etc. i'll be interested in reading what you all discuss. good day.