11 February 2009

On Atonement

I've been having a back and forth with my friend, Christopher Orr, on the atonement. I disagree with the notion that Lutherans hold to a single view of the atonement to which they subordinate all the others. I think this can be demonstrated not only from our hymnody but also from classic Lutheran preaching of the resurrection itself. A few examples:

First, Dr. Luther: "Death and the devil look upon Christ as though he were another Lazarus, Isaiah, or one of the other prophets, and contemptuously think: we have devoured and swallowed up these individuals, no matter how high and mighty they were; we will devour and gulp down this one, too - he shouldn't be more than a snack. But here death and the devil ran against a wall as they smash headlong against this man who could not die. He could not die because of His divinity, for it is impossible for God to die. Nor ought he to have died according to His human nature, for he had no guilt, and therefore death had no claim on him. Death has a claim on all mankind, even John the Baptist and all the other saints... But death has no claim on Christ. For this reason it seizes him wrongfully and blunders. Death and the devil at first are not aware of this, that they are confronted with an individual who cannot die, nor ought to die. Death and the devil conspire together to devour the world, and then also Christ, whom they cannot devour. Death and the devil come with all their might and try their best. Christ takes neither sword nor armor; neither gun nor ammunition, but remains altogether quiet and permits sin and death to rush and strike against him without lifting a finger, and lets himself be floored as they will. By such a quiet strategy he overcomes sin, death, the devil and hell." House Postil II:9,10

Second, Dr. Gerhard: "When Christ was born, the angels hovered in the air and let themselves be seen as a heavenly host, while their Price and Ruler, Christ, still had to strive against the devil and his entire kingdom. Here at the resurrection of Christ, however, the angel seats himself. He shows that the battle has ended and the victory over all our enemies has been achieved through Christ - in the same way that a valiant hero and warrior usually stood tall as the slaughter raged on, but sat down and rested when the strife had ended and the enemy had been subdued." Postilla I:316

Third, Dr. Walther: "Holy Scripture presents the resurrection of Christ as absolutely necessary for the work of the redemption and salvation of man. The apostle Paul clearly says, 'And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith in vain... Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.' From this, we must conclude that Christ's resurrection is not only a stone in the building of our salvation, but the keystone of it. It is not a shining jewel in the crown of redemption, but the crown itself. Without Christ's resurrection, the world would still not be redeemed. With the resurrection of Christ, a person can rejoice in His birth, be comforted in His suffering and death, and boast in His cross.... In His suffering and dying, Christ began, as our army leader, as the Prince of our salvation, and as our David, the great struggle with our enemies: the Law, sin, death, and the devil. When He rose, He fulfilled the Law, conquered sin, stripped death of its power, and crushed the head of the devil." God Grant It, p. 344-347

Fourth, Dr. Nagel: "If you let go of Jesus, treat Him as dead, regard anything as more sure than He is, you are back in the prison of sin and death, the big cemetery, the same old story, on the way to the grave. Whenever there is anything that tempts you to despair, to conclude that God has quit, that He doesn't care, that it is all a bucket of ashes - between that and you stands the Lord Jesus, crucified for you and risen for you. Before they can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they've already done their worst. This is not just head stuff, it is life stuff. You will know how sure, how true, how freeing, and enlivening those words are in the doing and living and telling of them. Jesus lives, and by His Words and Spirit He puts His death and His life into you. You are baptized. 'Your life is hid with Christ in God.'" Sermons of Norman Nagel, p. 120


orrologion said...

Just to make sure we are talking about the same things, are you saying that objective, forensic justification is just one of many equally valid views of the atonement in classic Lutheranism?

In what way do these other views of the atonement relate to the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls?

How do your views differ from the views of the Reformed, Roman Catholics and Orthodox views of the same?

(Not looking for a paper, mind you, but these are the underlying questions it seems to me - and questions that keep us 'conversating' about the same things).

orrologion said...

The way we keep referring to each other as 'friends' will have us mistaken for John McCain on the campaign trail soon. :)

I should also note that my profile photos should in no way be taken as implying I am a Mason. (That's mainly for any Orthodox reading this from Eastern Europe.) :)

William Weedon said...

Objective, forensic justification is a fruit of our Lord's Passion and Resurrection for which we can give most hearty thanks. But it is not the sole fruit of that Passion and Resurrection. The CHIEF article is not some article of justification abstracted from the Justifier, but this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, put to death for our sins and raised for our justification. HE is the Lamb of God and He is the Chief Article, as it says in SA II - both in Who He is and in what He has done.

In describing "what He has done" Scripture supplies us with a richness of language that simply defies the bounds of dogmatic schemata. Part of that richness is a forensic declaration of pardon, divine amnesty. But the same gift may be variously described, and is so, not only in Sacred Scripture, but also in Lutheran theology, piety, and preaching.

William Weedon said...

P.S. The citations from the sermons were to demonstrate that Lutherans have and still do preach our Lord's resurrection in ways other than simply as the Father's acceptance of the Son's sacrifice of love, the vindication of His self-oblation. We do preach it that way too, of course. But it's not the only way. Not by a long shot.

orrologion said...

I think it's funny that the "first and chief article [singular]" is followed by 5 points in the SA:

" The first and chief article is this,

1] That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25.

2] And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6.

3] Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f

4] Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ.

5] Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us."

Your comment that Jesus "is the Chief Article" is fascinating. Very Orthodox, especially given the focus on christology (rather than soteriology) in the early centuries of the Church.

However, I still see these 'Chief Articles' as being focused on objective justification with the Who as being merely the necessary requirements for the whole 'system' to work (an infinite price needed to be paid, but by a human...).

I don't disagree that Lutherans do preach and have preached things other than objective justification. It's not as if you don't also preach creation ex nihilo and proper christology (apart from the filioque, of course). It still seems - even in your quotes and in the SA - as if objective, forensic justifucation is the defining, unique characteristic of Lutherans as Lutherans. This preferred 'jargon' (terms and definitions) and the preferred system of a God that needs to be paid rather than a God who simply forgives underlies any other imagery used, or aspects of salvation and the religious life discussed.

That being said, I take your word that what you are explaining is what you believe, preach and see as the valid, classic and correct teaching of Lutheranism and the Scriptures. I have great respect for what seems to me to be a better, more historically consistent (patristic, pre- and post-Reformation) way of seeing the Christian faith. I can only pray that Lutherans and the unchurched are receptive to it.

William Weedon said...


It certainly was so expressed because it was at the heart of the contention with Rome, remembering of course that the SA were drawn up for presentation at the Council (to which the Lutherans were finally not invited).

The God whose justice must be satisfied, however, is finally not something that Lutherans created, but which they received from the Tradition to which they were heirs. The LOVE that prompted God to satisfy this justice by becoming man and so achieving a great redemption for humanity by recapitulating the human race in the person of His Son is also part of the received Tradition.

My big point in the post, though, was simply to underline that Lutherans have and employ different ways of speaking of the resurrection of Christ, and the classic Chrisus Victor motif is certainly one of them.

Chris Jones said...

It seems to me, Chris, that like many Orthodox you are looking at Lutheranism and seeing the Reformed. To say that "justification is the chief article" is not the same thing as saying "a particular theory of the atonement" is the chief article. "Forensic justification" is an important way of looking at the atonement because it excludes human merit from salvation, preventing us from thinking that we can put God in our debt. That does not mean that it is the only way to look at the atonement, but it does mean that the errors which it excludes are errors which must be excluded.

If the Lutheran Confessions authoritatively exclude other ways of understanding the atonement, I am not aware of it. I do not think the language you cited from the SA does that.

I hasten to add that, as I have stated before, I am not comfortable with the "chief article" language. What constitutes the "chief article" depends on what errors are prevalent, and what truths are at risk, at a particular time. I think it is clear that justification was indeed the doctrine most at risk at the time and place of the Reformation; but not for all times and all places.

It is also true that in all of the dogmatic controversies in the history of the Church, the motive for defending orthodoxy is ultimately soteriological. The Reformers' concern for justification in the face of Roman errors conforms to that pattern.

orrologion said...

The God whose justice must be satisfied, however, is finally not something that Lutherans created, but which they received from the Tradition to which they were heirs. The LOVE that prompted God to satisfy this justice by becoming man and so achieving a great redemption for humanity by recapitulating the human race in the person of His Son is also part of the received Tradition.

Very true and important to remember. The real question being: is it accurately representative of Holy Tradition or the tradition of the Apostles and Fathers?

"Forensic justification" is an important way of looking at the atonement because it excludes human merit from salvation, preventing us from thinking that we can put God in our debt. That does not mean that it is the only way to look at the atonement, but it does mean that the errors which it excludes are errors which must be excluded.

This, too, is very good. I agree, but I see this as merely an example of Luther and the BofC giving the best possible answer to the wrong question - a question that was part of the received Tradition cut off from the broad consensus of the Church and holding itself up alone as the touchstone of orthodoxy (the theological equivalent of the papal claims).

William Weedon said...

Sometimes the Orthodox way of looking at the West's tradition makes me chuckle... :)

Phil said...

I hope that one day we are wise enough to discern which theory of the atonement God the Father subscribes to.

Sarcasm aside, my point being: the only adequate "theory" to describe the Atonement is the Atonement itself, revealed in Scripture. What makes forensic justification an appropriate description of the Atonement is its clear presence in Scripture. It is unique to Lutherans only to the extent that the Human Religion which infiltrates the Church here and there tends to subjectify the objective.

God is generous in explaining the "what" of what He has done. Opposite science, He doesn't dwell on the "how" but focuses on the "why". So we simply take whatever "how" He has recorded in Scripture, with no authority to add to or take from it.

Scott Larkins said...

Pr.Weedon....me too;)

Been reading many a books on Orthodoxy....still don't get it. I'm, as C.S. Lewis said "A Western Man".

Weekend Fisher said...

One of (Lutheran theologian) Gerhard Forde's main points in the book Where God Meets Man: The Down-to-earth Theology of Martin Luther is that modern Lutherans have often let fall apart various views of atonement that in Luther / classic Lutheran teaching were still together.

That Christ alone, and Christ crucified are our theology -- this is straight Luther, because it was first straight Paul.

Take care & God bless

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Perhaps another image is appropriate. One might think of the "Chief Article" as the key stone of the arch (and yes, I know the Arch is Roman and not Greek. . . although one should note that Constantinople was the New Rome, so they get arches too instead of just columns).

The Key Stone is the place where the focus is placed - and if it is removed then the arch is to crumble. However, that isn't to say that it is the only important aspect of doctrine. . . in fact, if you remove any piece of the arch, the arch will crumble.

Rather this - all truths of the Christian faith are held together in Christ, and if Christ is not the one who is the Justifier of man kind, the rest of doctrine is of no benefit to man. The mysteries of the Trinity are wonderful, but if I am damned, well, I'm still damned irregardless of the wonder.

Justification and Redemption is the lynch pin of theology - if God is not the One who Justifies, if He is not the One who redeems, who brings His people back out of their bondage, be it in Egypt, in Babylon, or in Sin - the faith becomes merely an academic object of speculation.

Is that a fair image of a Lutheran approach?

William Weedon said...


I think that is excellent. Quite well stated. Hence the "for our salvation" of the Nicene Creed. Very good.

orrologion said...

My experience in WELS was far more focused on Objective Justification as the center of everything else, not as 'merely' the necessary keystone of an arch necessary for the entire edifice. I have always and continue, as I think I said above, to rejoice that Pr. Weedon and others call Lutheranism back to a more holistic confessionalism.

Justification and Redemption is the lynch pin of theology

Still, while I see where you are going with this and welcome it, what is at least an overemphasis (to my reading of both the Bible, the Fathers and church history) on a particular formulation of a particular doctrine with specific definitions of terms and their interactions being a received aspect of a single stream of the Tradition in a single part of ancient Christendom - Luther's doctrine of objective, forensic justification by grace alone through faith alone, based on Scripture alone.

While holding up the various images and theories and important, necessary aspects of salvation up as parts of an arch, part of an edifice, etc. it still comes down to the fact that Lutherans see their doctrine of Justification as the doctrine of Redemption, which is the "lynchpin" and "keystone" of the whole thing - without which everything would tumble down.

That has been my only point. To me it is a critique, to others, I am sure, it is essential, a great gift and the genius of Luther and Lutheranism. To deny that it is the chief and primary article upon which all else stands or falls seems inaccurate in theory and practice - even when I acknowledge that there is a whole heck of a lot of other things that Lutheranism teaches, preaches, prays, sings, etc.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"Still, while I see where you are going with this and welcome it, what is at least an overemphasis (to my reading of both the Bible, the Fathers and church history) on a particular formulation of a particular doctrine with specific definitions of terms and their interactions being a received aspect of a single stream of the Tradition in a single part of ancient Christendom - Luther's doctrine of objective, forensic justification by grace alone through faith alone, based on Scripture alone."

See, here is where I would have some qualms with the Eastern view of "Tradition" - the terminology has become static. One can point to a point in History where the term "Trinity" was unknown in the Church, but in defense of the Faith, it was introduced to differentiate right and wrong ways of speaking of the God-head.

You also have other terms and concepts that are considered vital to Christianity which are formulated - Homoousias - the definition of Chalcedon - which are considered vital. Yet introducing these terms and ways of speaking did no damage to the Apostolic Tradition - rather they clarified where Satan attempted to induce doubt and error.

New heresies are still introduced - and thus need to be refuted - and I would argue by something more than simply saying, "That's not a way of speaking in the Tradition we have received." "Trinity" was not part of the way of speaking of, say, Ignatius of Antioch. That does not me we ought reject it as not being part of the ancient tradition. It was not wrong to begin speaking of the Trinity. . . just as I will say, in light of the errs of the 13th and 16th that it is fine and salutary to speak as Lutherans do. Modern errs are just as important as ancient errs.

The fight against heresy doesn't end in 787 - it still continues on. This is why I find the Eastern response of "I see this as merely an example of Luther and the BofC giving the best possible answer to the wrong question " (which is a thoroughly consistent response historically speaking) to be less than satisfying. Heretics always ask the wrong question, be they Arians or Nestorians (both of which spoke from positions within the established Church) - but an answer must be given.

This is not a creation of doctrine or a change (any more than Chalcedon "created" the hypostatic union or changed the faith) but a clarification given on the basis of what was handed on to us in the memoirs of the Apostles. We see the need for this to continue - the East doesn't.

orrologion said...

Thank you so much for that, Rev. Brown. Very thoughtful.

However, I think you misundestand at least the full scope of what we Orthodox mean by tradition and, by extension, conciliarity.

The fight against heresy doesn't end in 787 - it still continues on... Heretics always ask the wrong question, be they Arians or Nestorians (both of which spoke from positions within the established Church) - but an answer must be given.

The Palamite controversies of the 1300s, and the Eastern Church's responses to the Reformed, to Vatican I and to phyletism are examples of heresies and 'wrong teaching' long after 787. The Orthodox struggle over how to properly engage with non-Orthodox Christians and non-Christians (ecumenism) is actively debated in all corners of the Orthodox world today with a growing consensus against it in most quarters.

As to the example you gave, though, the counter argument is that of Monophysitism. Not only were the wrong questions of Arius and Nestorius wrong, so too were many of the answers provided by their opponents. The 'right questions' and the 'right answers' took the broad, diverse spectrum of the Church as a whole to offer an orthodox, catholic enunciation of the mind of the Church. A new heresy arose that had to be answered in ways consistent with, but not previously addressed by, the Fathers that went before.

A number of eastern Christians sought to hold a single Father - and only his earlier writings, at that - as The Touchstone of orthodox, catholic Christology: St. Cyril of Alexandria. Their own reading of this single saint also led to a fracturing of this aconciliar heresy into Eutychianism, Monophysitism and Miaphytism. I'm sure there are others, or have been over time. All this arose from the misplaced zeal of true defenders of the Faith who thought they were the last true believers on earth and that the whole Church apart from them had fallen.

By contrast, the major Patriarchates (apostolic foundations) in Rome, New Rome, Jerusalem, the monks of Palestine, and major portions of the Patriarchate of Antioch, and all the churches in Anatolia were in agreement on Chalcedon.

An even better, more stark example was Nestorius. One man, one patriarchate with the entire Christian world against him and no other major regions (except for Persia due to pagan, Persian protection for political ends) in support of his teaching.

Even Athanasius had major regions (Rome) and large portions of the eastern Christian clergy and population behind him, as did Maximos (Rome, then Jerusalem; Cyprus, etc.)

The Orthodox issue with Rome isn't really about any of the things it's about. It is about the lack of conciliarity, it's about the fact that Rome set itself up as the only necessary Church, set itself and its own mind up as The Criteria of orthodoxy regardless of the rest of the apostolic foundations throughout the world (cf. Irenaeus). Conciliarity is a safeguard against someone or a local church mistaking their own personal or local tradition for the fullness of truth: it is verification of a tradition being apostolic and not just ancient or venerable or well-loved or even well-thought out (cf. Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent; the Catechism of the Catholic Church; etc.) Rome went off on her own like Egypt did; like Nestorius and Persia did; like Germany (then Scandinavia) did; like England did; like every 'little pope' (cf. Khomiakov) does.

I'm writing a little bit for my blog on this, but I should also note the historical reality of the Church of the first millenium. It was East vs. West, it was Easts vs. West.

Taking Irenaeus' line regarding apostolic foundations, there was only 1 church of that sort in the entire West (Rome), which is why it became so venerable and respected in the West. It was the leading Church due to its martyrs - especially Peter and Paul - and due to its importance as the 'crossroads of the world' at that time thus representing within it the entire Church.

The Easts were a different story. Culturally and linguistically it was far more diverse - with Greek as a lingua franca and Greek learning its 'canon' - and there were Apostolic foundations everywhere. These were venerable churches that vigorously and strenuously maintained the traditions of their fathers, and the apostles, and which acted as touchstones of orthodoxy that could be compared to each other for verification and accuracy.

This effected the 'balance' of interactions on any given topic. It is only retroactive revisionism - or papal claims - that can see 'The West' and her traditions as equal player to the vast, diverse body of saints and Fathers in the Easts - which is not to take away from the importance and holiness of saints such as Gregory, Leo, Ambrose and even Augustine, it's just that their 'narrow tradition' cannot be held up as defense for the idiosyncratic aspects of their doctrine and faith over and against the broad, divers, apostolic and conciliar orthodoxy and catholicism of the Easts.

Mind you the same goes today in Orthodoxy. Schmemann is highly regarded here and in Western Europe, but he is not so highly esteemed as a touchstone in the rest of the Orthodox world. Conversely, Fr. Seraphim Rose is 'controversial' in North America, but highly regarding in the rest of the Orthodox world. Conciliar jockeying and reflection on the proper reception of Catholics and Trinitarian Protestants and whether ecumenism of some sort or another has a place in Orthodox life are areas that are still in the process of being thought through and decided, conciliarly. This is going on in much the way described in a signature quote of Pr. Weedon's: "Harmony in the Church cannot last unless pastors and churches mutually overlook and pardon many things. (Ap V:122)". Fr. Stephen Freeman says much the same thing in his "The Ecclesiology of the Cross":


Paul McCain said...

Dr. Robert Preus always made a point of filling a chalk board with all the Greek and Hebrew phrases used to describe the saving work of Christ for us. The point here is that while, of course, the Scriptures are filled with many ways of describing the work of Christ on the Cross, the fact that indeed the death of Christ is a matter of a forensic justification of the whole world is also very much a Biblical truth.

If one suggests that substitionary atonement and forensic justification are not Biblical notions, this is to err. To say that these are the ONLY ways the Bible describes the saving work of Christ is to err.

But at the very heart of the Gospel itself is the great "for you" of Christ's vicarious satisfaction for the sins of the world.

orrologion said...

Fr. Stephen Freeman once made a comment that there is a difference between 'substitution' - which the Orthodox accept - and the assumptions regarding 'satisfaction' that are often merged with it and mistaken for it. He discusses it here and in related posts, and their comments:


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

This ends up becoming a point of sadness for me - a point where I see the East as being so close but just missing. It is one thing to appeal to Catholic tradition. . . but if the West is cut out, it is by definition no longer "Catholic" (and the same critique holds true for Rome acting apart from the East post 1054). A regional or directional body cannot be universal - Roman Catholic is an oxymoron.

The Great Schism wasn't just a slice of the Church Catholic going off - it wasn't just a small group sliding away, determined to be on their own - it was a Schism - where the Church Catholic was torn asunder. Thus the appeal to being the Catholic Church and holders of The Catholic tradition. . . it falls flat. It is as though a father who divorces his wife were to say, "I am the family - who cares about my former wife" - You can't say that. . . you may be part, but you are not the encapsulation of the family. The family may be present where you are. . . but you aren't it and can't claim to be. . . .

I think both Rome and East have a hard time accepting what the impact of the Great Schism is - and it is this impact that drove the Lutheran idea of the need to search for the True Visible Church - for Christians to seek to align themselves with that Body in the Greater Church Militant which rightly (or even most rightly) confesses the Catholic Faith until the day when this Schism is healed.

Folks will look at Sola Scriptura and say, "It is flawed because there are too many interpretations. You should instead hold to the tradition." I look, and I behold the Schism and then reply, "Which tradition, and on what basis?"

orrologion said...

The Church was catholic when it was just a smattering of people meeting in homes - even when one of those communities fell away into heresy. It was as catholic then as it was in 1053 or at Nicea II. The Orthodox have lived cheek by jowl with the effects of even earlier schisms. An acknowledgment of separation and a naming of heresy is not the same as lack of care; is it possible for an avowed Monophysite or Nestorian to be 'in the Church' - the Fathers of the Councils didn't seem to think so, regardless of their thoughts on the unnamed Chief Article.

My only point was that a single string of the Tradition can't be held up as The Tradition. The West is geographically large, but relative to the Church of the first millennium it was not as important or large as subsequent history has made her out to be. Ephesus was an important city, but her venerable status as the final home of both the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John could not counter the practically worldwide disagreement over their tradition concerning the celebration of Easter. Those who refused to be conformed to the image of Christ's Body removed themselves from the Church in their stubbornness and self-choosing, a theological parochialism, of sorts.

Of course, relative to Protestants and Catholics today, they didn't DO any of these things, they are merely the descendants of those that made these choices - which is why Orthodox tend to be reticent about throwing the term 'heretic' or 'schismatic' around.

I am under no illusions as to the difficulty of these choices, either. It isn't always clear what the right course of action is, and who is right - it is often the case that the biggest 'jerk' is right (I lump the average Greek and Great Russian in this category, as well as many an old time denizen of Rome); heck, Luther's a jerk, too, as was Thomas More, etc. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has read a history of dogma book and found oneself forgetting which side was which and agreeing with the heretics - well, maybe it's only me (this happened especially when I didn't know all the names already so fell for the thesis and the antithesis).

Whatever things Rome and the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox disagree about (just 3 streams to choose between, a pretty good reliability rate if one were to choose between tradition and sola Scriptura, to me), I have to agree with phrase immediately preceding Newman's famous phrase regarding history and Protestantism:

"...this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this." ('An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine', Introduction 5.1)

Of course, 'safe truth' is in the eye of the beholder and strength and energy of belief alone is no guarantee of being 'right' - look at today's court ruling involving vaccines and autism and the vigorousness of arguments on both sides - which is why I have such great love for Pr. Weedon, you and others that do not shrink from a well thought out explanation of your view without resorting to silliness and anonymity. You are credits to your church and vocations and I thank you for a very enjoyable conversation on important topics.

I fear we should leave it here so as not to upset the apple cart, and will allow you all the last word(s).

Atychi said...

I'm way in over my head here, but I'll throw this out.

It seems there are at least 4 models of salvation/atonement we can see in Christian history:
1) Incarnational/Recapitulation. "God became man so that man could become divine"; "what God does not assume, God does not heal."

2) Christus Victor: Christ trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowed life (this model is well represented by Pastor Weedon's quotations in the original post).

3) Christ the Illuminator/Teacher; i.e., the Educationsal View. Also very popular throughout the history of the Church and articulated in various forms. See especially Paul's "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." Or Christ, "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect." We can see the employment of this model of atonement early on, outside of any discussion of "merit" or of "faith versus works." See _The Didache_ or _The Epistle of Barnabas._

4) The Sacrificial View; i.e., Christ the Victim. This one needs little comment as it is the dominant model used in the West. Chrysosotom (especially in his Homilies on Hebrews--gee, go figure :-)) relies heavily on sacrificial language. This form of atonement language, of course, is used most forcefully (and primarily) by Anselm in _Cur Deus Homo_.

I give these four categories not to argue over them or try to figure out precisely what they mean (though we may have to do this). These are simply thumbnails of the four models. I put them out there to see just how "literally" we take each of these models. I could be wrong, but it seems that the Orthodox take 1, 2, and 3 quite literally. When we say ". . . so man could become divine," we mean it. We mean that Christ took on human nature and healed it and redeemed it. When we say "atonement" what we really mean is "at-one-ment" ("Partakers of a divine nature"). We mean the same thing about Christus Victor (I used the quote above to demonstrate just how literally we take it--this comes from the liturgy celebrated at Pascha). Death has literally been trampled down; human body and soul have been reunited and have been offered back to God; and these two facts ought to direct the way in which we live our lives. Christ the Illuminator, I imagine, everyone takes literally (just not seriously--this worthless author typing this most especially).

So now it comes to #4. I'm not so sure the Orthodox take it literally the way we take the other ones literally. We can be downright hyperbolic about the importance--the literality--of the Incarnation and on Christ's victory on the Cross. But we hem and haw at purely sacrificial/substitutionary language. We try to put it into the context of # 1-3. But we don't really try to put # 1-3 in the context of #4. It seems that #4 operates for us at the level of "metaphor," or at least at some non-literal language that must first be redeemed by or understood through the Incarnation.
So when we say "sacrifice," we don't mean forensic satisfaction, as that doesn't necessarily work within or even complement the other 3 models. Only "sacrifice" as a metaphor redeemed comes to mean something to us literally.

I'll stop here.

William Weedon said...

At the tail end of *Chytraeus on Sacrifice: A Reformation Treatise in Biblical Theology*, John Warwick Montgomery gives a critique of Aulen's thoughts in *Christus Victor* - his summary is simply that each model of atonement retains an important part of the Biblical revelation and corrects what is lacking in the others. The huge blessing of the Victor atonement is that it shows God's love as the cause of the whole redemption, and he freely admits that in this sense it "presents the more ultimate biblical truth." The whole is worth reading - pp. 139ff.

Atychi said...

To put it another way (and also to admit that I'm still in way over my head):

To understand the Crucifixion (in whatever way one can comprehend this mystery) I need to read is Athanasius' _On the Incarnation_. Not only do I not need to read Anselm's _Cur Deus Homo_, but I probably shouldn't, as it would steer me amiss (unless one takes David Bentley Hart's reading of it seriously, which I am tempted to do).

In other words, I don't need both models of atonement to understand the atonement. I must "understand" the literal nature of a model of atonement based on recapitulation; this is non-negotiable and the fount of humankind's theanthropology (which is simply anthropology understood Christologically):

I'll share two quotations from Athanasius that I think demonstrate that the Orthodox do not NEED to employ a model of atonement based on satisfactory atonement (though for sake of understanding of the faithful may employ the language of this model):

"It was by surrendering to death of the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required" (Chapter 2, paragraph).

***I've cited this passage because it seems that there is every opportunity for Athanasius to employ the language of "satisfaction" or "forensic justification." Yet he doesn't. More to the point, he doesn't need to. The Incarnation simply trumps the human conception of a "justice" predicated upon forensic justifcation. He's trying to set up the literal groundwork from which all other formulations of atonement must spring (inclduing the literal Christ Victor and Christ Illuminator).

Second quotation:
"For by the sacrifice of His own body He did two things: He put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and He made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us hope in the resurrection. By man death has gained power of men; by the Word made Man death has been detsroyed and life raised up anew. That is what Paul says, that true servant of Christ: 'For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. Just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (Chapter 2, paragraph 10).

Please know, Pastor Weedon that I'm not disagreeing with the overall tenor of your post (in fact, I think it's quite good). But I balk at giving juridical language (be it satisfaction or forensic justification) the same status as the language employed in the other models of atonement because I believe there is a very literal level to the language of the other models. Again, God REALLY did conquer death and REALLY did restore life. God REALLY did become Man so that man could become divine. I just can't say the same thing about forensic justification. I simply can't say, "God REALLY did become man to restore His honor unto Himself eternally because of the Transgression." Nor can I say, "God REALLY did become Man to become a sacrifice to appease his wrath/honor." Nor can I say literally, "God REALLY did become Man so that there could be pronounced a divine verdict of aquittal pronounced on the believing sinner because Christ has taken his place." Yet I fully admit to this language being biblical; and, at the level of language and metaphor, read through a LITERAL Recapitulation, I find the language beautiful.

Thanks for a great post, Pastor Weedon.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I find that the danger with which we always flirt in discussions of the atonement is that we battle over different "theories" of the atonement (This is where Forde always went wrong).

Dr. Masaki gave a brilliant lecture at Symposia (I think last year) about how Lutherans no more have a theory of the atonement than they have a theory of the Lord's Supper.

The basic point is the point of McCain's wonderful little anecdote about Robert Preus.

The Scriptures speak of the atonement in a number of different ways. These are not theories of the atonement to be held in tension with one another. They are the realities of the atonement and are to be fully and boldly confessed.

Ransom, forensic justification, conquering death and the grave, bearing the sins of the world, etc. are not "theories" of the atonement. They aren't even metaphors. They are realities. They are what Christ actually did.

When someone is kidnapped and held for ransom in Colombia, that isn't a real thing that you can use to understand the metaphor of Christ ransoming us.

Instead, if you want to understand what ransom is, you look at Christ... then you can understand what's going on in Colombia. First things first. Second things second. And when Jesus says he ransoms us, justifies us, propitiates for us, etc... He means it.

Atychi said...

Maybe Sproul's (false?) dichotomy is a place where all of us can meet?

From his _The Gift of Salvation_:

The raging issue of the Reformation was the ground by which God declares us just. The Reformers insisted that the sole ground of our justification is the righteousness of Christ wrought for us in his life of perfect obedience. This is done by imputation. This means that God transfers to our account the righteousness of Christ wrought in his own person and that this righteousness is “counted” or “reckoned” to us by imputation. . . . Rome, on the other hand, believes God will declare just only those who are really just, who are inherently just. . . . Hence the issue was this: Is our justification based on the righteousness of Christ in us or the righteousness of Christ for us? . . . The Reformation doctrine is one of synthetic justification, meaning simply that we are justified by virtue of something added to our person that is not inherently ours. In contrast, the Roman view is one of analytical justification, by which we are declared to be just because analysis indicates we are truly just. . . . (64–65).

If imputation is essential to sola fide and sola fide is essential to the gospel, then manifestly, as long as the doctrine of imputation remains on the table, the gospel lies there with it (82)."

2 questions, then. Do we (whoever this "we" may be) accept this as a false dichotomy, or is there something there?

Now, can I also ask a hyperbolic question (which I think has something to do with the above--and may help us cut to the heart of the matter)?

Was the Crucifixion necessary or was it purely gratuitous (and perhaps I'm thinking here of sola gratia)? Is the crucifixion necessary (because of God's need of/desire for/the fact that it would be contrary to his Nature otherwise justice) for our salvation from our fallenness; or is it simply a gratuitous, not necessary, expression of Divine Love (Mercy). Again, from a Lutherean perspective, is it both? If so, how could salvation have been accomplished without the Crucifixion (mind you, not simply perfected, made perfect, witnessed perfectly, etc.)? How could salvation of man been accomplished without the Crucifixion?

Of course, I mean all of these questions within a pedagogical arena. None of them is supposed to be accusatory. There is no "gottcha" element here. I really want to see how a liturgically- minded, Patristics loving Lutheran would answer the above questions.

A hearty thanks, again, to Pastor Weedon and Lehman for their patience with regards to my ignorance or outright stupidity.

William Weedon said...

Dear Atychi,

Sproul is not a Lutheran, obviously, and he doesn't write from our perspective. It is true that the entire righteousness of justification rests in Christ, but not solely in His work, but in both His divine-human person and in that person's sole obedience to His Father. This is a perfect and whole obedience He offers to the Father as representative man, giving to Him that obedience which all humanity owes and none could render. But we never let the "grace" come unglued from the "gift in grace" which is the Holy Spirit, who indeed renews us in this same obedience, although only in a partial and fragmentary way, our whole life. Said another way, Lutherans would find absolutely NOTHING to object to in this observation of Schmemann:

"And the holiness of the Church is not our holiness, but Christ's, who loved the Church and gave Himself for her 'that He might sanctify her...that she might be holy and without blemish' (Eph 5:25-27). Likewise the holiness of the saints as well is but the revelation and the realization of that sanctification, that holiness that each of us received on the day of baptism, and in which we are called to increase. But we could not grow in it, if we did not already possess it as a gift of God, as his presence in us through the Holy Spirit." (Schmemann, Eucharist, pp. 23, 24)

Lutherans do not believe that any necessity can be laid upon God, who is and will always be above and beyond all categories of necessity. As Dr. Nagel taught us at seminary, if God has to perform according to a necessity then you've laid something ahead of God Himself and created an idol. The crucifixion was not something necessary for God; it was something that God freely embraced and planned (glory to His wisdom!) as something necessary for us and our salvation. Rather than asking "couldn't He have done it some other way," faith bows before what He did do and gives Him all glory and praise.

Yet, just to be clear, Lutherans believe (I'm quoting Jacobs here):

"Man was created in order that God might assume man's nature, cover all the faults and defects of that nature, pay the penalty for all sins and bear all the sorrows of that nature, that man's nature, thus redeemed, might rise from its humiliation and mortality, to share eternally the blessedness and glory of God's own nature."

We can't stand apart from the cross and view God's eternal purposes. They are revealed in and through the cross itself.

One last point, it strikes me as particularly perilous to pick and choose among the the Scriptural descriptions of our Lord's atonement those which are real and literal and those which are reduced to less real and metaphorical. Pr. Lehmann's words above were wise and right on: we don't operate with "theories of atonement" but with facts of atonement about which the Lord has made known what needs to be made known for our salvation, while leaving much shrouded in mystery into which we cannot and dare not probe. Here is holy ground indeed in which we best doff the shoes of human standards of reason and merely rejoice at the gifts that the Blessed Trinity bestows. To us as Lutherans, then, "He made Him who had no sin to be sin for us" is a joyful gift to be celebrated, not a metaphor to be deconstructed to fit into some Socinian notion of God.