at*one*ment: Ransom/Christus Victor Theories

Today, our guest blogger is Scott, sharing his thoughts on atonement.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15)

The topic of Atonement is the deep end of the pool because it takes us into the unfathomable depths of God, His motivation within the realms of salvation and unmerited grace, our sin, guilt, victory over death and so on…Sometimes when reading such deep theological weighty material one might consider duct-taping their heads to keep it from exploding.  I will attempt to keep it simple, so please put the duct-tape away.

Let us explore one of the most ancient aspects of atonement – Ransom theory and in conjunction “Christus Victor”.   “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15). Jesus has bought us back from sin and death with a price. That price was His life, His blood, even the prospect of “becoming” human in our weakened state and misery is solidly placed within this atonement theory.  Taking it a step further, Christ didn’t negotiate a ransom, but instead replaced us with Himself in certain death.  One can take this theory a bit too far however, and I would caution anyone from doing so:

Essentially, this theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the Devil at the time of the Fall; hence, justice required that God pay the Devil a ransom to free us from the Devil’s clutches. God, however, tricked the Devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom, for the Devil did not realize that Christ could not be held in the bonds of death. Once the Devil accepted Christ’s death as a ransom, this theory concluded, justice was satisfied and God was able to free us from Satan’s grip.”— Robin Collins, Understanding Atonement: A New and Orthodox Theory

Can you image some sort of business deal taking place between man and devil?  Just think of it for a moment, Satan sitting down at a board room table with the first two humans on earth and saying, “Okay, Adam and Eve, you have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not if you would just sign here on the dotted line that you belong to me.”  It seems rather silly doesn’t it?  And if we were to explore this further the notion that Collins puts forth in the above quote indicates that God “tricks” the Devil…I find this to be inconsistent with the character of God.  He is not one to bluff or trick, He is the same at the beginning of creation as He is today and will be in the future.  He didn’t need to trick Satan.  Christ becomes the ransom for His beloved creation – Humankind.  True, they were captives to original sin and everyone since the fall was afflicted with sin.

Jesus broke through.  Jesus came to take our place.  Perhaps I am mixing in Substitionary penal atonement here, and I apologize.  My understanding of ransom theory, to me, is inexplicably linked to this notion that Christ has paid our price for us with His own body and blood.

Christus Victor Jesus won the victory for us in and of His death and He has atoned for our depravity.  If we were to look closely at this concept we would step in and observe the cross.  We would pay special attention to the details of His agony on the cross.  We would identify with the thief upon the cross next to Jesus who was told by the Savior “today you will be with me in paradise.”  Yes, we would place these moments under the microscope and celebrate the exact moment in which Jesus exhaled His human breath for the last time as He uttered “Into Thy Hands I commit my spirit.”  This atonement theory is all about His death which becomes our victory of Satan and over sin.

Guilt? I would contend though that when it comes to Christus Victor we should recognize that there is need to acknowledge our guilt.  Some modern contemporary preachers would lean more towards a Christus Victor theory while making it into something that it was never intended to be. Can we have victory over sin and death without the recognition of guilt and shame?  Some have put forth this idea and guilt is absent from the equation.  While I believe guilt should absolutely be acknowledged, I do not think we should remain there wallowing in it like some sort of salvationless pig in the mud of sin and shame.   Yes, Jesus has bought to us victory, but as we explore this at the foot of the cross, may we take an introspective look at our own hearts and lives.  May this introspection lead us to the empty tomb and into a deeper commitment to the Resurrected Christ.

Splitting Hairs? I believe that as one explores the various theories of Atonement one can begin to see the magnificence of the cross and that of the resurrection.  As we explore some theories that make sense and others that we have a harder time accepting, may it only harden our resolve to know Him more!  I do not believe that we are splitting hairs with Ransom Theory and that of Christus Victor.  Ransom theory predates the later theory and to me provides better understanding of what Christ’s atonement means…but is there more? Short answer: yes. I wouldn’t stop and gaze too long solely at this interpretation of atonement. Perhaps to me, there are a few other theories that speak more eloquently to my heart and that of my personal ideology.   There you have it. Did you really need that duct tape? I didn’t think so, but perhaps we have indeed waded a little further into this theological pool than you thought possible while gaining a little bit more understanding.

Thank you for wading in with me.

To read more thoughts and ideas of Scott’s, you can visit his blog here.

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