Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Noted theologian/author, Justo González, is a retired member of the Río Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church, has published more than 90 books, including The History of Christian Thought from Abingdon Press, has this to say about early church theologian, Anselm:

"Anselm was without any doubt the greatest theologian of his time. He paved the way for the greatest scholastics of the thirteenth century... With Anselm a new era began in the history of Christian thought".(1)

Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 10th century, coined what has become the dominant view of atonement for modern times: THE SATISFACTION THEORY OF ATONEMENT.

Anselm thought the dominant theory of his time, the ransom theory, to be an insult to God. So Anselm sought an explanation of the atonement that would explain why Jesus Christ had to be both truly human and truly divine and that would be both rational and fully consistent with scripture and Church tradition.

In essence, Anselm's theory states that "Christ paid a debt that all humanity owes to God because of disobedience. God's justice demands payment of a satisfaction or else the order of the universe would be disrupted. The needed satisfaction is like a debt to God's honor that humanity must repay, but humanity is incapable to repaying it without suffering complete loss in hell. God in God's mercy provides a perfect substitutionary sacrifice that satisfies God's own honor and preserves the moral orderof the universe."(2)

This theory has much significence to us today because there was this guy named John Calvin who adopted it and interpreted in a completely biblical model- which is now known as "THE PENAL SUBSTITUION THEORY". After the Protestant Reformation this model pretty much dominated all others to the extent that most people today see what happened to Jesus on the cross in terms of this theory.

1. Does this idea take the Trinity seriously?
2. I'm struggling with the the idea that God (the Father) is so at odds with humanity, however God (the buddy christ) is the compassionate friend who will do anything it takes for his friends. Does this make God too schizophrenic? Does this make God (the father) abusive towards God's son?
3. Why did God have to have a blood sacrifice to appease God's honor, wrath, disconnect with humanity?

I have questions right now but no actual formal thoughts on this right now. Sorry. Feel free to chime in though and let me know what you are thinking. Maybe it's because this has been what I've grown up thinking that I feel the need to question it a bit more closely, or maybe it's simply because I'm a borderline heretic. :)



UPDATE ON THE SANCTUS FRANCISCUS SYMPOSIUM NEXT MONDAY NIGHT: I'll be meeting with the Staff Parish at Blakemore UMC next Monday evening between 7-8pm to discuss candidacy process and gain their recommendation to Charge Conference. So the symposium will now be from 9-10pm (central standard time). I hope you'll drop in.

works cited:
1. Gonzalez, Justo, The History of Christian Thought, vol. 1; (Abingdon Press, 1987)
2. Olson, Roger, The Story of Christian Theology, (InterVarsity Press, 1999)


the reverend mommy said...

You geek you.

Number three -- if you come up with a good answer, let me know.

I wonder if GOD required a blood sacrifice .... or did WE.

Never did understand blood sacrifice.

see-through faith said...

I think when we look at God we see a God who not only allowed Job to suffer but actually orchestrated it. To our way of thinking that's sick

I think God allowing his son to die - orchestrating it- using him as bait - falls into the same category.

what say you?

I'm not sure God really needed a blood sacrifice (we did) but it was the way he set things up - all religions had a blood sacrifice and that's part of what Holy Communion is about today. we drink the wine in rememberance of the blood that was spilt out for us, don't we?


John Wilks said...

This model makes God seem a bit like Javer from Le Miserables- the relentless enforcer of law who, in the end, cannot punish the man in whom he sees a redemption and so Javer executes himself for Valjean's crimes.

But you know, that model isn't entirely bad.

Our sinful state is much like Valjean's petty thievery. Valjean is, of course, a criminal. But life circumstances forced him to be a criminal. And so Valjean is both criminal and victim- deserving both punishment and mercy.

And so it is with us- who are sinners all, but all victims to sin. God cannot overlook our crimes, but cannot ignore the crimes done to us and our potential for redemption.

And so part of God's very essence became human, lived innocently, and took on both our victimization and our guilt- creating the opportunity for something pure and redeeming to replace our corruption.

It is not all I would say about the atonement- many of the other models have much to say. But this one works rather well and seems to explain the central purpose behind the cross (notice I said central, not solitary- atonement is far to complex for one explanation and one purpose to suffice.)

In human terms, such an approach might seem unstable, even schizophrenic as you suggest. Such zeal for justice in tension with a desire for mercy would indeed drive a human being to madness.

But let's avoid the trap of anthropomorphizing God. Remember, only a part of God, only Jesus, is human. But the Triune God is far more complex and exotic than we often allow. When we speak of God as being totally just and righteous on the one hand, and yet utterly loving and merciful forgiving on the other, we are dealing with a scale of depth in substance and will which dwarfs our own innate abilities to a degree we cannot fathom. There has never been a mere human being who could be completely upright every day, all the time, nor has one managed to be entirely loving and always forgiving with every single breath. We cannot be one or the other- and being both seems an intolerable paradox to us. And yet, do we not teach that God is larger than this paradox, that God is both just and merciful in every way? What, then, are we really saying about God?

So yes, in essence, I am affirming the theory of Anselm by hitting the mystery button when it comes to God's nature.

But let me ask you: if you could find one single explanation of the absurdity of God's very Logos suffering the indignity and torment of crucifixion- an explanation which fully satisfies every objection of human reasoning- would you have a theory worthy of so vast and strange a Being as God?

Anonymous said...

I think the reason that God seems to be at odds against human beings who sin is because of his holiness. In Isaiah 6:3 the angel proclaimes, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." The mulitple use of the word holy is very important I think. Since he is holy by nature, our sin cannot be tolerated in his presence. Therefore, some kind of penalty or disproval must be instituted. We all know that the Bible states that the wages of sin is death and God told Adam in the garden that if he disobeyed he would die. The shedding of blood pays that penalty. Jesus death on the cross fulfills the demands of a holy God who simply because of his nature cannot overlook and be tolerant of our sin. I guess I have the potential for being a good Calvinist. Also, Jesus as my "buddy" seems to distract from his magnificence.

Eric Lee said...


I don't know a whole lot about atonement theory yet, but I'd encourage you to check out my friend Josh's Master's thesis on atonement theory. My professors have said that it's good, and he writes well. He's been posting the chapters to his thesis on his new blog for people to read here:


Josh will be studying under Steve Long in the fall to start pursuing his PhD in being one buffed vegan Christian theologian.

Peace bro,


gmw said...

Q1 & Q2. This theory does seem to me to be at odds with the Father and Son working together for the redemption of humanity, so yes, I think there is a Trinity-problem with. It seems to pit the Father against the Son, or in the words of an illustration in Joel Green's "Recovering the Scandal of the Cross," it seems to say something like: "Jesus saves us from God (the Father)".

Q2. I think it's better put that we're at odds with God than the other way around. Semantics? Maybe a little, but I think they matter here.

Thunder Jones said...

Hurry up and get to Abelard!

St.Phransus said...

he's coming and it's going to be QUITE THE POST indeed!!!! :)


the reverend mommy said...

Abelard -- not someone you would want to bring home to your mother. Or your uncle, for that matter.

(obscure humor, here.)

Totally disagreeable person, Abelard.

gavin richardson said...

are you setting us all up for something completely obscene?


the reverend mommy said...

Obscure. not really obscene. Well, maybe rated "R" for sex and violence. And graphic surgical procedures....