Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Problems with Christus Victor

The following are some points of conflict I have with the Christus Victor atonement theory but not with the theory itself, rather with the theory as advertised. C-V to my mind, has a firm place in Christian thought, a facet in a multifaceted idea, a helpful view on a subject that we will never fully understand, a further approximation to assist us to understand what God has done for us. But what follows is what troubles me in its mode of presentation. I might be accused of laying it on thick, but I would counter that I'm not the only one.
  • Exclusivity: Instead of, "Here's a beautiful new/ancient way to look at atonement. Doesn't this make it richer?" we hear "Aha! we've discovered the true way. Free yourself from the evils of any other theory and embrace the truth!" The problem with this is that we are talking about something that is difficult to see from any distance because it's being done to us. Have some humility and don't be so sure you know how it works. Any of a number of pictures are needed to approximate the best understanding.
  • Mono-dimensionality: 1) To obviate the need for the legal aspects of atonement, Sin is explained away as merely one thing: variously, that which separates us from God, how we wound ourselves, how we reject the love of God. 2) God's person is portrayed only as Father, to the exclusion of Creator, King, Judge, etc. 3) God's essence is portrayed as only love, meaning only love in the sense that we would judge all his actions to be love, ruling out anything that we would not understand that way. Which brings us to the next point...
  • Co-Adulthood with God: We reserve the right to rule on any item in the written record or in the opposite theory as being outside of what a "God of Love" would do. It seems to me somewhat sophomoric. It's like teenage kids judging their Dad for what they can not understand. It's like my toddlers crying and clinging to me on the way out the door to work because they couldn't understand why a "Dad of Love" would leave them. My context is simply larger than theirs. Unless I work, they have no food or shelter. I am motivated by love and they can not grasp it although they benefit by it. How can we even guess at God's larger context? It's orders of magnitude greater than the difference between mine and my kids.
  • Moral Squeamishness: Much of what drives people to choose C-V above for example P-S (penal substitution) is horrification at the thought of God executing judgement on his own Son on our behalf. "Child abuse!" is the cry! This is a bit of a straw man, though. Jesus was in on the plot, too, don't you know? If sin was such a big problem that it required the sacrifice of the God of the Universe to deal with it, you may be sure that all of that God knew his own mind. Horrification is also directed at the whole idea of a deserved punishment. How could a God of Love (Eye roll!) allow such a thing to be?
  • Chronological snobbery: This label I borrow from C. S. Lewis who used it to cast into disrepute arguments for theories advanced on the basis of their modernity. In the case of Christus Victor, it's the inverse. Precisely because of its supposed ancientry, (it's oh so Patristic, don't you know) it's touted as the one true atonement theory. Actually when a theory was first thought of adds precisely nothing to its veracity or viability.
  • Disdain for the Rules of the Game: God, we are told, doesn't need Christ's sacrifice to forgive us. He can simply forgive us at his whim, as Christ seems to do for the paralytic lowered down to him through the roof. Besides the obvious question of why he didn't then simply forgive and restore us in the Garden, instead of condemning us to millennia of suffering, uncertainty and death, what comes to mind is, why, if God can be so arbitrary, is the story of Christ's coming so full of almost ceremonial elements like fulfilled prophecy and symbolic acts? Why was it done, as the Elephant's Child put it, just so? What's the whole "in the fulness of time" thing, if not evidence that there was a particular way that it had to be done. Oh no! But what about God's omnipotent forgiving power? I suggest that God really is subject to the justice he has built into the universe because to abrogate it, is to unmake the world.
  • Quick to Blame God: Well no, not really. But quick to take on the unjust accusations hurled at the Redemption story by the world (Not Fair! Not Fair!) and validate them by responding that God isn't really like that -- and by bending the story around the perceived slight. Presented with the same accusations, Paul for example, would probably instead respond that they come from those who can't endure sound doctrine. I'm thinking specifically of the meme where in the familiar picture of Jesus knocking at the door, he is offering to save those on the other side from what he's going to do to them if they don't open. This was advanced in a recent discussion on Facebook against P-S. Ludicrous. Because we have shut ourselves off to the simple idea that if you sin you are actually guilty and condemned, we are unable to receive the remedy to it and worse, accuse the one who offers himself on our behalf of starting the whole thing himself in some kind of abusive cycle. To which, I contend as above that we might just as well say he's "guilty" of creating the world.
  • Dismissive of Slights Against God: Mercy becomes a smoke screen. Because we understand that his loving response to our offences is always mercy (and I agree that it is!) the offences are discounted. But that is a trap. God the Creator does not deserve to have his beloved creation rebel. God the Redeemer does not deserve to have his redemption ignored. God the Father does not deserve to see his children reject his love. These are catastrophic and universal slights with an incalculable penalty. Of which, as John puts it, we are condemned already. So the only hope is to throw ourselves on his mercy, And by this we admit our fault and are proper candidates for mercy, for no one ever could have mercy on the virtuous, as they, whoever they are, really deserve the benefits that come to them.
  • Uncharitable to those of Other Views: Christian greats of the past who held staunchly to opposing views of Atonement are held up to ridicule. Jonathan Edwards, is one that comes to mind. Yes, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" is offensive to today's sensibilities, but it wasn't offensive to those who heard it. They were, as Luke puts it, "cut to the heart."  Also, derision seems heaped on those who hold opposing views, for if you follow an "abusive and judgemental" God, you must also have adopted his traits. To which one can only point to millions of elderly Christians now alive who are anything but abusive and judgemental but who hold by ideas of atonement which seem to you repugnant.


  1. i think maybe there is a contradiction or conflict between "Co-Adulthood with God" and "Dismissive of Slights Against God."

    i'm not sure you can keep both of those intact simultaneously.

    on the one hand you present us and our knowledge of the big daddy world that god works in as unaware children (to which i can relate, having had unaware children once upon a time.)

    on the other, we must be the stuff of peers or superiors, if rejection really means something to god.

    once upon a time, a long time ago, we had little kids that could throw a tantrum if things weren't going their way, and i have even heard "i hate you." but as a parent, you know the kids don't get it, they are responding with the only gusto they have against a world they see as truly unfair. but, you love them anyway and are NOT offended (though they truly meant it to the extent their little hearts could burn.)

    this is where the "who's the adult here" muted any sense of offense with understanding. sometimes i not only knew the cause, but could feel their pain of frustration. and that was just me as a mere mortal.

    maybe i'm actually saying, there is no such thing as slights against god - not by us mere humans at least.

    1. You've used this argument before and I still don't agree. It's like the question of the tree falling in the forest. Is there sound?

      It's also like the difference between Canadian and American Justice. In the States, you can get away with a lot if the offended party doesn't press charges. In Canada the Crown can proceed with out reference to the feelings of the victim.

      God's feelings about the offence are irrelevant to whether we are guilty or not. It's in the nature of the universe that we are. His response is an extravagant redemption that doesn't break the universe.