Violence in Atonement Models

Violence is a huge issue. It is something that is all around us. We run into stories about violence and killings everyday. For many who have been victims of abuse or some sort of violence, thinking about the violence in Christianity is something difficult for them. There are many whose past includes various forms of abuse and tragedies. In response, many Christians who have been victims of some sort of violence have struggled with the thought of a good Father killing His only Son. Some have seen it as some sort of divine child abuse. Some do not like the idea of penal substitution or other forms of substitutionary atonement.

Over the years, the church has had several different atonement models, something we should discuss in a future post but will bypass for now. As the problem of evil and violence has been one of the biggest issues for atheists and non-believers in believing God, this is also a struggle for many believers in how they think about atonement.

Recently, I was asked to read a paper by Denny Weaver called “Violence in Christian Theology” (which can be found here). I would suggest reading his paper to have a greater understanding of what he and other Christians are struggling with (please note, while he does touch on some of the atonement models, I do not believe they are all captured correctly as he is trying to make his own point about his model). Some will agree with his view while others will not. Some may even say it is not-essential and move on. What this prompts us to is what do we think about our salvation and in particular how does atonement work. What did Jesus really do? What was the process in accomplishing this work? And also, what is my own personal atonement model?

We must think about what we believe Jesus did, what the Father did, and though some things may be uncomfortable to think about, truly reason and conclude about the tremendous sacrifice of Christ, the punishment he endured and paid for us, and the atonement that believers have. We must wrestle with what is a part of atonement and how it works. As we wrestle with these ideas and concepts, we begin to go to a place of greater appreciation for Christ. The Cross starts to get bigger. Our salvation becomes sweeter. Our love for Christ grows. Our love for the Father, His plan, His sovereignty increases.

As we discuss atonement and the many violent aspects of it, it is important to remember our audience. We can’t hide or distort what Christ did or His sacrifice, but when we talk to victims of violence and abuse, we must be sensitive. We must tell of the substitution and the satisfaction and the victory. But as with all things, we must know our audience.

As we read Denny Weaver’s article, we were asked to reflect on it and think about certain questions. I would encourage you as well to reflect on your beliefs and what you believe about atonement. Here are my responses to the questions:

  • According to Weaver, why is violence such a major part of most evangelical atonement models? Who is the source/cause of the violence?
    • According to Weaver, violence is a part of divine retribution. Since sin creates an imbalance, the violence in the atonement models assumes that the imbalance is corrected by the punishment of death. Weaver uses the analogy of the criminal justice system to show that doing justice means to inflict punishment, which is understood as violence. Weaver points to other models where Jesus, in passive submission, endures unjust suffering for the sake of others. All forms of atonement assume the violence of retribution or justice based on punishment, God’s law or honor receives the necessary death that it demands for justice and to pay that debt. Since sinners cannot pay their own debt, Weaver says these atonement models depend on God-induced and God-directed violence. God is seen as the divine avenger or punisher and as a child abuser, who arranged the death of one Child for the benefit of the others.
  • Do you agree with Weaver’s answer to that question?  Why or why not?
    • The sacrifice and death of Jesus was a violent act. I would tend to agree that violence found in atonement models is a major part of the language and story. What Jesus did and accomplished for believers by His substitution, representation, and identification will cause one to think of the suffering He endured and is a major theme of the atonement models. The death of Christ cleansed us from sin and satisfied the wrath of the Father. Redemption for sins was accomplished through the blood of Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice is a part of the story of atonement. In addition, much of our language about atonement uses warfare or violent language, including a number of violent metaphors. Violence is deeply embedded in our psyche and world.
  • Granted that you might not agree with Weaver’s model of the atonement, does he point out anything you should consider in your own theology?
    • We are to care for all people and show courtesy, respect and charity. We are all created in the image of God and people for whom Christ died. Christians should seek justice for the oppressed and marginalized.
    • While we cannot conform to the way of the world or change the Gospel message, Weaver brings up a good point to consider when presenting the Gospel, especially to those who have experienced violence and abuse. We need to be mindful of the language that we use when presenting the Gospel message. If we are not careful, the way the Gospel is presented could sound like an endorsement of violence or abuse to certain audiences.
    • Weaver mentions that what sinners need is the resurrection of Jesus because that is where the victory of the reign of God is. As we also saw in class, many atonement models focus on the death and sacrifice of Jesus and do not mention the resurrection to the degree that it deserves. For me, the death and burial of Jesus is not the only thing to be mentioned in discussing atonement, but His resurrection and victory over death should be brought up or thought about more to help speak of the atonement.
  • Is it possible to move away from the violence in the atonement while remaining faithful to the biblical text?
    • Yes, I think it is possible. First and foremost, we must remain faithful to the biblical text and story. At the same time, it is good to be aware of the audience and think about their background. It is good to be intentional and careful of the metaphors and descriptions that are commonly used in describing the events. Substitutionary atonement cannot be discarded for the satisfaction of God’s wrath as they are essential components of the story. It is important to be careful of the language and expressions.

Salvation in the Old Testament – Was faith in Christ necessary?

In the previous post we introduced the question about what did salvation in the Old Testament look like and was faith in Jesus needed to be saved. We introduced the topic in that post and will further clarify the response in this one.

Individuals in the Old Testament period were saved by grace through faith. Salvation has always been by grace through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8-9); it has always been in Christ and is based on His sacrifice. “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ. The sacrifices pointed forward to the death of Christ in the future. The requirement for salvation in every age is faith. The object of faith in every age is God. It’s the content of faith that changes in the various dispensations.”[1] Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s promise of a Messiah (Gen 3:15; Isa 9; 53), but it was historically impossible to have Jesus as the content of their faith. The concept of faith has always been important because “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Heb 11:6), and it is displayed in the lives of both Old and New Testament believers. It seems that Old Testament individuals did not understand the “redemptive significance” of the prophecies concerning Christ and His suffering, nor is it apparent that they understood that the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Jesus Christ as the church age believers do.[2] The sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed toward the sacrifice of Christ and those done in faith brought temporary forgiveness (Ps 32:1-2; 103:12) because of the sacrifice of Christ that was to come.

“Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (cf Gal 3:8-9 with Gen 12:3). In Galatians 3:11, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 saying “the righteous shall live by faith.” Hebrews 11 displays the faith of the Old Testament believers was evident as Scripture says their faith was “counted to them as righteousness,” (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3, 5-8; Heb 11:7). The Old Testament people had the promise of the coming Savior and that He would “save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21; cf. Isa 53:5-6). The people of the Old Testament were saved in the same way we are today, by faith in the Savior. For the Old Testament believer it was the promise of the Messiah because God had only revealed a certain amount to the people of the Old Testament period.

The difference between the faith of the Old Testament believer and a New Testament believer is the content of faith. Thus, God’s requirements for what must be believed is different based on the amount of revelation He has given. Since Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He has given us a more complete revelation of the Messiah in the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, did individuals in the Old Testament period did need to know about Jesus to be saved? Yes, individuals were saved by grace through faith in Christ based on what God had revealed about the promised Messiah, Jesus, who would bring complete atonement. Since we have the complete picture, our salvation is based on the death of Christ, our faith is the requirement, and the object of faith is God. The content of our faith is different than Old Testament believers because we know that Jesus came to this world, died for our sins, was buried, resurrected, and will return one day.


[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 115.

[2] Dallas Theological Seminary, “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article V, The Dispensations,” internet, 2015, accessed Sep 6, 2015, http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.


Bibliography

Dallas Theological Seminary. “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article V, The Dispensations.” Internet. 2015. Accessed September 6, 2015. http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.

Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.

Salvation in the Old Testament

We now turn our attention to the overarching theme of soteriology, or the study of salvation. We will journey through this topic by taking a few critical stops along the way to look at some key ideas and themes. Again, I am just a student and not a professor or an expert. I do not have all the answers or even a majority. I am thinking about this and struggling with some of the ideas associated with soteriology like many have done in the past (see all the various denominations with various differing thoughts on salvation) and continue to do today. These are some of the ideas and thoughts that I am thinking about and wrestling with.

We start this journey by looking at salvation in the Old Testament, in particular two questions:

  • Did individuals in the Old Testament period need to know about Jesus to be saved?
  • If not, why do so many Christians today say one must have explicit faith in Jesus to be saved?

How one reads and interprets this question can cause a different response. The question itself is not the clearest because it can depend on how deep or theological one wants to go. The answers to these two questions will be provided in two posts. First, a cursory overview post that will lead into the next post which gives more background and detail. However, the point of answering these two questions is not to write a book on it or even a lengthy paper, but it is to answer them in a short and succinct manner. There are numerous books out there that dissect this at length if you want to know more information but we just want to keep it high level for this exercise.


I believe this is a very interesting and intriguing reflective question. After doing some research, I could definitely see different sides of the argument and how interpreting the question differently could cause some confusion or different answers.

The answer to the question is “no” they did not need to know about Jesus because it was impossible for them to know about Him since Jesus had not been revealed or accomplished His work. However, if the question is “was the promised Messiah a part of their faith?” then I think the answer is yes. From the protoevangelium of Gen 3:15 to the sacrificial system pointing to an ultimate sacrifice to the prophecies in books like Isaiah and Micah, there is a progressive revelation about the coming Messiah. Their faith was not specifically in Jesus since that is impossible and He was not yet revealed, but their faith would include the coming of God’s promised Messiah. This latter way is the way I interpreted the question and wrote my response.

Conclusion to Representative Imputation of Sin

Today we close this topic on the imputation of sin and summarize the past few posts. In the previous post, it was determined that the representative model was the best model for me because it provided the best answers on the imputation of sin.  I have included a bibliography of all the sources I used for this paper in case that helps and anyone wants to do further research. This post will close our discussion on anthropology and will help us move forward to the next theological topic.


We die for the sins of one man, yet grace abounds through one man. From one sin the sentence of condemnation was passed, but free justification from many sins is offered. We have been condemned for a sin which we had no personal or voluntary participation in, so how much more shall a person live on account of a righteousness that is cordially given. If all are united in Adam and condemned for his offense, so also are all who are in union with Christ be justified on the basis of His righteousness. As one man’s disobedience constituted humans as sinners, so the obedience of one man constitutes believers as righteous (Rom 5:18-19).[1]

The sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity from the fact that he was their natural head and representative. It is also shown by the principle of representation pervading the Scriptures and the principle of imputation involved in other doctrines of the Bible. The evil consequences on the apostasy of Adam are expressly declared in Scripture to be a penal infliction.[2] Finally, it is shown on the ground on which the providence of God is administered. This is shown on the basis that the sins of one man can be justly imputed to another, which is also seen in the concept of justification. Justification is a declaration that the demands of justice have been satisfied.[3] It proceeds on the assumption that the required righteousness belongs personally, inherently or by imputation to the person who is justified or declared to be just.[4] The person and work of the second Adam are the one glorious solution of the problem of the first Adam, and the triumphant vindication of Divine justice and mercy. This is the main point for all practical purposes, and in this all Christians can agree.


[1] Ibid, 203.

[2] Ibid, 201.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


Bibliography

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1938.

Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993.

Cunningham, William. Historical Theology. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1864.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. 2. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997.

Lange, J. P., P. Schaff, F. R. Fay, J. F. Hurst, and M. B. Riddle. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Miley, J. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1892.

Murray, John. The Imputation of Adam’s Sin. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1959.

Reid, D. G., R. D. Linder, B. L. Shelley, and H. S. Stout. “Sin.” In Dictionary of Christianity in America, section “S.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990. Logos Bible Software.

Shedd, William G.T. Dogmatic Theology. Edited by A. W. Gomes. 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub, 2003.

Spence-Jones, H. D. M., ed. The Pulpit Commentary: Romans. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.

Sproul, R. C. The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994.

Strong, A.H. Systematic Theology. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907.