The Narrative Arc of Christ’s Saving Work

Early on in his masterful book The Cross of Christ John Stott quotes Emil Brunner’s statement: “The Cross is the sign of the Christian faith, of the Christian church, of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ…. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understand the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ” (44). To my mind, this emphasis on the primacy of the cross is healthy and biblical. The cross is the center of our salvation and the heart of our faith. There is always, however, the danger of centrality morphing into exclusivity, such that the periphery…

Transfiguration and Atonement

In the last few posts I’ve been outlining the themes of satisfaction and recapitulation in the atonement theologies of theologians like Anselm, Irenaeus, and Athanasius. We’ve seen that Anselm, in the midst of his argument in Cur Deus Homo for a satisfaction view of Christ’s death on the cross, can also claim that Christ’s incarnation restores human nature to its creational goal of incorruptibility and “blessed immortality.” These two ideas were not mutually exclusive for him. We’ve also seen that Athanasius, while not following Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation in all its details, and putting more focus on the role of…

Athanasian Atonement = Recapitulation (Irenaeus) + Satisfaction (Anselm)

I gave Athanasius’ De Incarnatione (hereafter DI, all quotations from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1997 version) a careful re-read on a flight the other day, in order to compare his treatment of atonement with those of Anselm and Irenaeus, which I outlined in my last two posts. In DI, the themes of satisfaction and recapitulation merge together. The treatment is somewhat like a blending together of the main emphases of Irenaeus and Anselm. With Irenaeus, Athanasius affirms that the incarnation accomplished the restoration of human nature from corruption to incorruptibility. Yet he does not follow Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation exactly:…

Irenaeus’ Doctrine of Recapitulation

Now that the quarter is over, I had a free morning to give Irenaeus’ Against Heresies a quick skim. It was interesting to see how other doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth, the Imago Dei, creation by God alone (contra Gnostic views of creation), and the Holy Spirit all play into his understanding of recapitulation, as evidenced by the quotes below. It is evident also from these quotes that Irenaeus places a strong emphasis on Christ’s death as a crucial part of his recapitulation, although I think in the end he leaves the precise role of Christ’s death ambiguous. There…

Anselm, Irenaeus, and Recapitulation

A question that has emerged for me in the final few weeks of my atonement seminar is this: is it possible to affirm both an Irenaean/Athanasian view of Christ’s birth (recapitulation) as well as an Anselmian view of Christ’s death (satisfaction)? If so, what is their logical relation? Within atonement theology, there is a tension between approaches which emphasize Christ’s death exclusively, and approaches which emphasize the entire narrative arc of Christ’s incarnate life, including his death. Can we, for example, say that Christ’s birth, life, and resurrection are not merely saving, but in some sense atoning? Does atonement begin…

Atonement as a Type

I am continuing to enjoy my atonement seminar. I will be reading my critique of J. Denny Weaver’s The Nonviolent Atonement in class today, which will be fun. So far I would describe my theology of atonement as being refined in this process in two ways: 1) I believe more solidly than before in PSA (penal substitutionary atonement). In all my reading, I have not yet come against any argument against PSA that has been convincing to me. In fact, my consistent observation has been that arguments against PSA tend to rely on caricature and false dichotomy. Many fail to…

Barth on Atonement

Our second reading in my atonement seminar was paragraph 59 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, which deals with his doctrine of atonement. Each week all seven of us do the reading, and then one of responds to it with an assessment paper, which is read and discussed in class along with the reading. This week was my turn, so I logged in a lot of hour struggling with Barth and trying to respond to him sympathetically and critically, in light of his concerns and intended meaning. The focus of my response paper dealt with Barth’s understanding of the nature of…