Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Atonement: The Christus Victor View

Lately I've been reading a lot of books on the atonement, partially because I'm trying to sharpen my theological edges, but mostly because preaching about the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14) has caused me to rejoice deeply--very deeply--in what Christ accomplished for his precious bride on the cross. In other words, I've been reading much that I might rejoice all the more. I want to see what Christ has done, as clearly as I can, so that I might worship him as I ought.

The book I'm reading right now is part of the "Four Views" series and is entitled, as you might expect, Four Views: The Nature of the Atonement (Intervarsity, 2006). The book presents the Christus Victor view (Greg Boyd), the penal substitutionary view (Tom Schreiner), the healing view (Bruce Reichenbach), and the kaleidoscopic view (Joel Green), in that order. Each author first makes his argument, and then each of the others briefly respond. Cool idea for a series.

Today I read the essay and responses on the Christus Victor. This view argues that, whereas the church has fashioned many "atonement models" over the centuries, the idea that Christ defeated Satan and his forces on the cross is the central one. It is the unifying meaning of the cross that does not deny other meanings but rather embraces and makes sense of them all. Boyd begins by surveying the motif of warfare, and especially of spiritual warfare, throughout the Bible, and then he attempts to show that the main thing Jesus Christ accomplished, through his life and death and resurrection, was ultimate victory in this warfare.

In some ways I found his essay compelling and feeding and inspiring, but overall I found it unconvincing. I don't mean to be uncharitable, but I don't think Boyd reads the Bible very carefully. For instance, he argues at one point that the redemption described in Eph 2:1-10 is predicated upon the fact that "all things" have been put under the feet of Jesus, which he interprets to mean the rulers and authorities et al. which become prominent at the end of Ephesians. I don't have time to go into details right now, but even a cursory reading of Eph 1 - 2 will, I think, show this reading to be unfounded.

More generally, while it is true that the life and death of Christ dealt a decisive blow against Satan and his forces, and while I was inspired to read Boyd's vivid account of that truth, I very much doubt that this truth is at the center of the center of Christ's redemptive purposes, at least in the way Boyd protrays it.

Each of the respondees basically said the same thing, in their own way. I found Reichenbach's critic most poignant: "Frankly, if Greg Boyd's thesis is true, a Christian should have some significant worries. It is not that Boyd's warfare model lacks biblical support or is illogical. Rather, making divine warfare the centerpiece of creation and redemption and giving enormous powers to Satan and his minions has serious implications for Christian faith" (54).

Amen. Christ is indeed the Victor over all the powers of darkness, but I think there are realities and truths that are yet closer to the center of his redemptive purposes.

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