03 August 2019

Jack Kilcrease’s book on The Atonement

People loved by God, I cannot recommend highly enough Dr. Jack Kilcrease's book on The Atonement. HT to T. R. Halvorson at Steadfast Lutherans for his review of this book. I'd heard of it, and heard it praised, but T.R.'s review got me very curious to dig in. I'm so glad I did. If you've ever been puzzled (as I was indeed) at how the vicarious satisfaction AND Christus Victor motifs of the atonement (which can certainly appear contradictory) actually form a quite coherent whole, particularly in Luther's thought and the thought of Lutheran Orthodoxy, this book will prove enormously illumining. My only sadness in the work was that (as theologians so often tend to do), he did not give any attention to the role of the two motifs in Lutheran hymnody. Lutheran hymnody is where Lutheran theology comes to its most practical expression. Luther's hymns tended to favor heavily the images from Christus Victor. You see this above all in "Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice," "A Mighty Fortress," "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast" and in "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands." Christ is the hero fighting for His Church and conquering by His death.

Yet the images blend in others. Think of Gerhardt's great "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth" (and pity it was so reduced in LSB!): "The guilt of sinners bearing, and laden with the sins of earth...that spotless life to offer." Vicarious satisfaction. And yet the heroic task laid on Him by the Father, who is NOT against us, but precisely FOR us: "Go, forth, My Son, the Father said, And free my children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The rod and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of your salvation." Christus victor, but conquering precisely in bearing "the rod and stripes." And as the believer steps back to look at the union of these two motifs: "O wondrous Love, what have you done? The Father offers up His Son, desiring our salvation. O Love, how strong You are to save! You lay the One into the grave who built the earth's foundation."

The unifying theme, of course, is the great exchange which is not exhausted by the incarnation, but reaches to the depths of Calvary and the cry of dereliction. And yet, the incarnation is not neglected. In fact, think of how Gerhardt could sing at Christmastide in a hymn that far exceeds any English carols I have ever heard: "Should we fear our God's displeasure, Who, to save, freely gave His most precious treasure? To redeem us He has given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven." Pure Christus victor. God on our side sending the Savior. "See the Lamb, our sin once taking, to the cross, suff'ring loss, full atonement making. For our life His own He tenders and His grace all our race fit for glory renders." Pure vicarious satisfaction. And then in a glorious unity of themes, the Child calls out to us from His manger bed: "Softly from His lowly manger Jesus calls one and all: You are safe from danger. Children from the sins that grieve you, you are freed; all you need, I will surely give you." And so the explosion of joy: "Come, then, banish all your sadness! One and all, great and small, come with songs of gladness. We shall live with Him forever there on high in that joy which will vanish never."

Similarly hear the great exchange in another Christmas hymn: "He undertakes a great exchange, puts on a human frame, and in return gives us His realm, His glory and His name" (better auf Deutsch: und gibt uns in Dein Vaters Reich die klare Gottheit dran). "He is a servant, I a Lord, how great a mystery! How strong the tender Christ Child's love, no truer friend than He."

The great Good Friday hymn "O Darkest Woe" also unites both motifs: "Thy Bridegroom dead! God's Lamb has bled upon thy sin forever, pouring out His sinless self in this vast endeavor. // O Virgin's Son, what Thou hast won is far beyond all telling: How our God, detested, died, hell and devil felling." I could go on but this post has gotten too long. It was merely meant to commend Jack's fine work, T.R.'s great summary, and to comment on how the Lord Jesus becoming the victim who freely offers Himself in obedience to the Father to live the perfect life of love and to bear in His body the sins of the world and their penalty, and THUS putting to flight the enemies of the human race: sin, death, the devil and evil spirits and even silencing the power of His own Law to condemn us, is not merely taught and preached with gusto in our beloved Lutheran Church but also sung into the hearts of young and old. Okay, okay. One last one:

"O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! For sinners You became a child. You came from heaven down to earth in human flesh through human birth (I first learned this as You came from heaven to fulfill Your Father's great and holy will). O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! With God we now are reconciled. You have for all the ransom paid, Your Father's righteous anger stayed. O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild! Joy fills the world which sin defiled. Whate'er we have belongs to You; O keep us faithful, strong and true. O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild!"


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

It is my sincerest wish that you will write a book that centers on hymnody. I don't know how it would play out, but your love and knowledge for the Faith as we sing it is delightful. We don't have nearly enough of this from an orthodox Lutheran perspective. The Companion to be released in November will be a treasure, I'm sure, but you give so much light and joy when you speak and write about hymns. Please do this for the Church!

William Weedon said...

Alan, I would certainly like to do that, but FIRST I would like to write a brief and accessible Introduction to the Lutheran Liturgy. That’s my goal for the coming year. I think I’m supposed to crank out one a year for Jeff.

Larry Luder said...

Know it more side tracking, but love your hymn studies on Issues Etc.

Anonymous said...

Pr. Weedon,
The vicarious atonement model seems to be falling out of favor or, at least, has been the object of criticism and even objection as portraying the some sort of divine child abuse...the Father viciously punishes the Son for others' sins to even out the score of justice.
Any comments, thoughts???

William Weedon said...

Larry, thanks! I love doing them.

Dan, by all means, read the book. He treats of it well. The essence of his unpacking the unity of both the vicarious satisfaction and the Christus Victor (he usually calls it the classical), can actually be discovered in a saying of St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the Catechetical lectures: “These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth. For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.--St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XIII