some quick thoughts on models of atonement

30 11 2006

1. sacrificial (salvation is bought by blood) – the nature of God is presented here as one who demands blood sacrifice, but the OT states that God demands obedience rather than sacrifice.
2. judicial (salvation through punishment on our behalf) – often presented as a way of reconciling justice and holiness with the mercy and love of God, but unpopular in post-Christendom context as Christianity is moving away rather than towards the seat of power and judgement (but perhaps this can be reconciled).
3. merit (salvation Christ won favour of God) – to what extent does Christ have to win the favour of God for our salvation (marcion theology).

– vulnerable to questions concerning the definition of sin (wrong done to fellow people but ultimately to God) criticism of deontic models which make God seem petty.

4. exemplary (set an example for us) – fails to deal with sin as an ontological reality.

5. participatory – through participation in Christ’s death and resurrection we become alive to God in Christ Jesus. Our person is changed as we put off the old person and become a new person (the old person is morally culpable). I fear this either lends itself to a dualistic (Gnostic) understanding of human nature, or to a bizarre metaphysical proposal.

6. a hybrid of the participatory model that recognises salvation deals with the ontological and relational problem whilst our sin is dealt with as a deontological problem through Jesus suffering in our place.

– in this theory of atonement biblical language of ransom, suffering, and sacrifice remain valid and are supported by a true and Trinitarian understanding of God’s nature, whilst the emphasis remains upon the relational within the participatory model. And of course none of this denies the significance of Christ’s death as a witness and example of resistance against the domination system.

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