Atonement Part III

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I want to outline Weaver’s proposal for a narrative Christus Victor atonement theory along with some commentary. First off, one thing I find difficult when discussing the atonement is how intimately entwined it is to salvation. Salvation, as it was presented to me, mostly called for a cognitive recognition of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and how this enabled God to forgive me of my sins. Now granted that this acknowledgment on my part ought to include some sort of emotional response (guilt/joy/gratitude), but it seemed that the affective aspect was second. While some would argue that you need to have faith in the Christ-event, others would use the word belief. I don’t know if I could make a firm distinction, but I usually conceive of belief as being more cerebral than faith. Here I should briefly point out the passage in Matthew 25 that discusses the goats and the sheep, where Jesus emphasizes how one’s actions towards the oppressed in the society will ultimately decide one’s fate. So, certainly we’re out of line by solely emphasizing the cognitive/existential realm when Jesus stresses a relational/ethical realm as well. Another thing that is strange about this approach to salvation is it presupposes an atonement theory that prioritizes Jesus’ death and resurrection. This approach is clearly driven by and for the individual. It does not stress collective evil, merely one’s own faults. This emphasis often leads to Christian’s de-emphasis of more systemic evils (economic or political). I think a more Biblical approach (from the synoptics not John/Paul) would focus on the Kingdom. For instance, Jesus statements in the opening chapter in Mark, “The time is at fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good news”. Repentance here does not merely require recognition of personal iniquities but a switching of allegiances that calls one to join forces with the Kingdom against the powers and principalities.

Weaver’s view of atonement corrects for some of these mistakes. For one, its  is more holistic. Hence, he resists the temptation to fetishize Jesus’ suffering on the cross (like Abelard). Second he rightly stresses Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God, which includes a nonviolent approach to conflict. Thus, when Weaver discusses the one-sided dialogue that occurs in the Garden and the cry of dereliction from the cross, there’s no question of what God’s agency is in Jesus’ death. Jesus has confronted the evils of Rome nonviolently in accordance with God’ will. I would argue that this understanding better explains the prayer in the Garden. Given, Jesus’ demands that the disciples bring swords in Luke 22:35, I believe Jesus’ submission to God’s will was not to die on the cross, but rather to not exercise violent means to resist his arrest (read Yoder’s Politics of Jesus). While Jesus probably anticipated his fate because of the growing unrest  that was brought about by the temple clearings, this understanding does not lead to the perverse notion that God requiring Jesus to die because it’s part of the plan. From the beginning of his ministry to his death, Jesus consistently refuses political power and violence, instead he advocates a nonviolent Kingdom where the oppressed and downtrodden are the first to enter. Weaver also demythologizes the Satanic and demonic elements of the ransom theory into the evil of the powers and principalities that violently disrupt human relationships and society. He understands Jesus’ resurrection as being God’s vindication of Jesus’ righteousness as well as the vanquishing of evil through weakness, suffering, and love.

Next time I’ll discuss Rene Girard’s unique anthropological view of atonement.

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2 Responses to “Atonement Part III”

  1. Wesley Says:

    I’m quite fond of Weaver’s take on atonement. Particularly the non-violent “vanquishing of evil through weakness, suffering, and love.”

    Could it be that these ‘other’ atonement theories (ransom, penal substitution, etc) were thought up to slide away from the potent ethical and relational questions posed by Jesus? Maybe they didn’t quite have the malicious intent I’m accusing them of.. regardless, it seems to me (and I think you’ve rightly pointed this out) that other atonement views miss on this aspect of Jesus ministry.

    Maybe I’m just echoing what you’re saying in this post, but I think it has some important implications for theology today: that other atonement theories “fetishize” the cross and ignore the relational/ethical callings of the Christians life. Faith then is not merely cognizant, it is action. It is what one does in the aftermath of ‘knowing.’

    You mentioned early in the post that you find it difficult to discuss atonement without discussing salvation. Is this because the two must be talked about in pairs? And is your difficultly in having to talk about them in pairs? Are you suggesting that we talk about atonement without talking about salvation (and maybe even vice versa)? What is it about the relationship between atonement and salvation that you find difficult? Is it that these ‘other’ atonement theories seemed to emphasize a ‘belief’ in order to achieve salvation (the affective second response)? If so, then I agree. Just a clarification.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    One thing that was helpful to me about the fetishizing of the cross is that if all Jesus did was suffer for one morning then we have to ask what’s so special about the last day of his life? Jesus suffered with the poor in Palestine throughout his entire life. While his death was brutal, it seems a mistake to solely view Jesus’ suffering through the cross. He was tempted by Satan, rejected by his contemporaries, misunderstood by the disciples, and ultimately killed for threatening the powers of Rome.

    With regards to salvation and atonement I think one cannot clearly understand atonement without it having some relation to the salvation of the world. Atonement deals with the forgiveness of sins and liberation of humanity. I hesitate to schematize some understanding of salvation because I simply don’t know what salvation means. If we view salvation more through the lens of salvation for the creation of the world (which would also include one’s self) then I believe that gives us a more holistic and demanding view. This notion that we could isolate a moment in time when we achieved (or the Holy Spirit helped us reach, the wording is difficult) salvation seems problematic given its ultimate emphasis on some defining moment in time when some sort of cognitive recognition coupled with existential encounter that fundamentally changes one’s orientation to the world. Merely focusing on the ethical aspect seems insufficient. However, I do think the notion of rebirth and salvation must be held together. I just really don’t know anymore. I also care less than I used to, but that’s because I tend to bracket questions about the afterlife viewing them mostly as being an escape from the world.

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