Ep36-The Compassion Theory of Atonement (Part 2) - The Problems of Theism & The Love of God Ch 6

Topics Discussed:

• Theories of Atonement
• The Ransom Theory
• The Satisfaction Theory
• The Moral Influence Theory
• The Governmental Theory
• The Penal Substitution Theory
• 5 objections to the Penal Substitution Theory

Show Notes:

Theories of Atonement

“Now it cannot be doubted that one can enjoy the benefits of the atonement without understanding it. Yet if we can show that the central redemptive picture of atonement presented in scripture is reasonable and if we can illuminate its role in our lives, then our gratitude for the Atonement would undoubtedly be enhanced.”

“A theory of Atonement should explain how and why Christ’s life, death, and resurrection save people from their sins and reconciles them to God.”

“I will mention a problem that plagues virtually all theories of the Atonement given the way I have stated the problem. Atonement presupposes that Christ has lived, died, and resurrected as the condition for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. However, the Old Testament presents numerous examples of God forgiving humans for sins; and in the New Testament, Jesus forgives people for sins before his death. Unless it can be argued that all of human history is focused on the cross in a timelessly eternal present, such examples suggest that forgiveness of sins does not require the temporally real occurrence of Christ’s life and death as its foundation.”

The Ransom Theory

Early church view

“There are various nuances to the ransom theory, but it generally asserts that Christ’s atonement constituted a ransom paid to the devil to redeem our souls from his dominion. It is based on the many scriptural statements that we are slaves to sin or in captivity to the devil”

“In a cosmic battle between God and the devil, Satan was able to establish his dominion over many angels and the earth; but his power and dominion over the earth were defeated in the death of Christ. God made a bargain with the devil which entailed essentially that, in exchange for the sinless soul and death of Christ paid as a ransom, the devil would release those in his power. However, the devil did not know that Jesus was God and would arise from the dead. Thus, God gained a victory over the souls of those in bondage to Satan by “redeeming” them or paying a ransom and Satan was defeated.”

The Satisfaction Theory

Anselm of Canterbury. Based on feudal system.

“To maintain his honor, God insists on adequate satisfaction for the encroachment on that honor by his “serfs.” Sin is analogized to the failure to render God due honor, an act of disrespect that injures his reputation and integrity as Lord. The impugned honor can be restored either by punishing those who impugned it, or by a third party. However, because God’s honor and dignity are infinite, no human being can satisfy the injury to God’s honor, for the satisfaction must be proportionate to the honor impugned. Man thus needed someone who had the capacity and “merit” to satisfy God’s honor. Only God is infinite, however, so only God can satisfy this demand. However, for satisfaction to be acceptable, it must be offered by those who have impugned God’s honor—which meant that only a human could satisfy the demand of God’s justice. Thus, to satisfy the demand of justice to restore God’s impugned honor, only a God-man would suffice. Thus, God expressed his mercy by offering himself to restore his honor as Jesus Christ. Moreover, to satisfy the demands of justice for all humankind, Christ offered himself as a sinless sacrifice so that the merit earned by “his death would bring satisfaction to God’s wounded honor for all human beings.”

The Moral Influence Theory

Response to satisfaction theory

“Abelard saw Jesus’s death as the perfect example of God’s love for humans. He argued that God does not need to be affected by the Atonement; rather, humans must be changed so that they can commune with the holy God. The problem is that humans lie in sin and fear and have chosen to be alienated from God because they are ashamed to be in God’s presence, as Adam and Eve were when they discovered their nakedness and responded by hiding from God. However, Christ’s willing death as God demonstrates that we have nothing to fear from God because he loves us. God’s love is manifest not only in Jesus’s death, but in his entire life. Jesus did not come to die, but to demonstrate God’s love. His death was only a consequence of human refusal to let go of its fear and accept God’s love.”

The Governmental Theory

Gods justice is the law. He can't simply forgive sins without upsetting the justice.

“in the Atonement, God preserves the integrity of his law and also satisfies mercy. The Atonement satisfied both God’s nature as merciful and just and also affected humans by acting in their best interest to maintain the integrity of the law. Moreover, the Atonement demonstrates the punishment that will be inflicted on us if we sin and don’t repent; thus, it acts as a deterrent to further sins and violations of law.”

The Penal Substitution Theory

Developed by John Calvin

“The focus of the penal substitution theory of the Atonement is God’s holiness which cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.14 God cannot simply forgive us when we have violated his law because his holiness establishes the standard of law and his justice demands that his law be obeyed. He cannot simply forgive without violating his own nature and justice. If the law is violated, God’s attribute of justice demands that punishment must be inflicted on the violator.”“However, God is also merciful and thus he accepts Christ as a substitute sacrifice on our behalf. When we are justified by grace, God does not see us but Christ’s righteousness; he therefore judges us based on Christ’s merits and sinlessness rather than our guilt deserving punishment. Thus, we escape the wrath of God because Christ is substituted in our place to receive the penalty of justice.”

“This theory of the Atonement assumes that there is an eternal law of retribution that God cannot annul without ceasing to be God; it assumes that the eternal law of justice is that a price must be paid if there is sin.”

5 objections to the Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement

“1. The Penal Theory Posits a Conflict between Father and Son.”

“Ericsson's response argues that there is no conflict between wrath and love because the Father offers his own Son to innocently suffer. Yet what would we think of a human father who demands that his son be whipped with thirty lashes because he is angry at someone else? Is that really love?”

Talk about “Doctrine & Covenants 45:3–5:
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—Saying: Father, behold the suffering and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified. Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”

“2. The Penal Theory Is Unjust”

“Punishing an innocent person in the place of those who are guilty is unjust.”

“Consider this popular story about the Atonement that has circulated widely in LDS circles. A schoolmaster establishes rules at the beginning of the year. Any student caught cheating will receive fifty blows with a cane on the bare back. Someone steals an apple from a student who is older and stronger than the rest of the students in the class. However, it is soon discovered that the youngest and weakest student in the class has stolen the apple. When he is caught, he explains that he stole the apple only because he was so hungry and his parents couldn’t really afford to buy more food. The schoolmaster insists that the rules that all the students agreed to must be enforced so there must be a punishment for theft. However, the stronger student is so moved by the younger student’s plight that he agrees to take the punishment in the place of the younger student. The schoolmaster then explains that there is a certain law that allows another to be punished in the place of the guilty party. So the schoolmaster beats the stronger student for the crime. The weak student is so moved by the strong student’s willingness to accept the punishment in his place that he loves the strong student.”

“. It was natural for Anselm to think of the Atonement in terms of satisfaction for crimes because, under feudal legal codes, guilty parties could simply pay to escape punishment for any type of crime, including murder and mayhem. The punishment for all crimes was pecuniary in nature.22 Thus, if one was caught committing a crime such as rape, one could either pay a fine or find a benefactor who would pay it for him. If the benefactor were willing to pay the fine as a gift, the criminal would get off scot-free.”

“the penal theory of substitution assumes that: (1) Our guilt can be legally imputed to Christ; and (2) The righteousness of Christ can be imputed to us though we are guilty and deserving of punishment. Such a view violates our most fundamental moral intuitions. Anyone who rejects original sin because it is unjust to punish someone for something that he didn’t do personally must also reject the penal substitution theory for the same reason.”

“Of course punishing Christ would be just if he were in fact guilty. Stephen Robinson suggests that penal substitution is appropriate because “Jesus did not just assume the punishment of our sins—he took the guilt as well”

“3.The Penal Theory Erroneously Assumes that Guilt Can Be Transferred.”

“The usual analogy used for the satisfaction theory is the paying of a debt by a benefactor for another who justly owes the debt. Yet monetary debts are formal and impersonal types of transactions that seem quite out of place when speaking of moral culpability.”

“Amulek himself suggests that this monetary sense of justice is off the mark when it is life itself that is at stake: “Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life his brother? I say unto you, Nay. But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered” (Alma 34;11–12”

“4. The Penal Theory Limits God’s Power to Forgive.”

“This view assumes that God can’t do what humans do—simply forgive one another without requiring someone to suffer.”

“God cannot overlook sin because he must uphold a system of justice in the absence of which he would simply choose to forgive us. However, it hardly upholds the law to punish an innocent person.”

“5. The Penal Theory Entails a Legal Fiction.”

“the penal theory asserts that, when a person is justified by grace, the righteousness of Christ is legally imputed to the sinner—and the sinner remains a sinner even though she is no longer under the dominion of sin. When God views the justified sinner, it is as if he sees Christ when he looks at us and thus sees only Christ’s righteousness and merit rather than our guilt and filth. God declares us righteous by grace rather than based on anything that we do. However, such a view entails that God engages in declaring a falsehood to be true.”


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