Discussion Reply: The Person or Work of Christ?
In addition, compose two replies of around 3 – 4 sentences apiece, which also must contain one Turabian citation. The student must only cite the course textbooks.
Respond to the following students replies in 3-4 sentences each
The Person and Work of Christ
Erickson makes the argument that the proper order of study in approaching the person and work of Christ is to first begin with Christ’s work.1 Despite minor difficulties with establishing the work of Christ first, it is less problematic than approaching the person of Christ first. He gives two reasons for this: 1) Greater coherence between Christology and soteriology, and 2) the desire to demonstrate the relevance of the doctrine of Christ.2 While acknowledging that both approaches are valued and neither should be ignored, he argues convincingly that it is possible to treat Christology in isolation of soteriology, but that “it is not possible to speak of what Christ does in our lives without relating that work to the nature of Christ, which it presupposes.”3
Therefore, in this author’s opinion, one should prioritize the study of Christ’s work, which leads to a deeper understanding of his nature than is otherwise possible.
Erickson rightly said that the position one takes on any theological doctrine affects our position on other, interrelated doctrines, and that we should desire that our doctrines fit together in a cohesive fashion.4
The “inadequate theories of atonement” must be viewed through this lens. Are the premises of any of these theories in conflict with other doctrines?
The Socinian Theory is that Christ gave as a perfect example of the type of dedication that God desires from us.5 That is a true statement; Christ gave us the perfect example. But if one believes in man’s total depravity, that man is incapable of coming to God and to Christ on his own, then he has to reject the Pelagian view (which they subscribe to) that man is capable on his own of fulfilling God’s expectations for us.6 Scripture makes clear that man cannot achieve righteousness on his own (even with Jesus’s good example). Romans 3:10-12 tells us, “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one,”7 Just because the Socinians believe that man is capable of following Jesus’ example, the fact that no one ever has perfectly done so makes their argument ridiculously moot. Romans 3:23-25a tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (emphasis mine).” As Grotius saw it, the Socinian theory was inadequate, because although Jesus gave us an example of how to live, “no consequences are attached for failure to live a holy life.”8
Finally, Erickson notes the Socinians have a conception of Jesus as merely human,9 and this is flies in the face of so many other doctrines of Christianity that the theory need not be considered any further.
The advocates of the Moral Influence Theory hold that Christ’s death demonstrated the great extent of God’s love for us, and that His nature is essentially love. In the process of highlighting God’s love for us, however, they minimize some of God’s other attributes such as His justice, holiness, and righteousness. God loves us so much, they believe, that we need not fear His justice and/or punishment.10 But just as God is perfect, His attributes are perfect and without contradiction. Is God a loving God? Yes. Is God a wrathful God? Yes. What we might think of as a contradiction in God’s attributes results from our limited human understanding. The Old Testament gives us many examples of God displaying wrath and punishing His disobeying people, and Proverbs 3:11-12 explicitly states that God is capable of both discipline and love. Because Moral Influence Theory contains many faulty premises, it too can be disregarded as an adequate atonement theory.
The Governmental Theory holds that the atonement had more to do with preserving God’s moral government, emphasizing the seriousness of sin, and holds that Christ’s death is a deterrent to sin by impressing on the sinner the gravity of His death.11 As we then turn from sin, so the theory goes, we can then be forgiven, and the need for punishment is no longer necessary. Erickson points out that this theory has no explicit Scriptural basis but is inferred from some of the general teachings and principles of Scripture. Romans 6:23 informs us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Christians try to turn from sin but are never completely free of it, and many non-Christians make little to no effort at all to not sin. As referenced above, Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. How this theory works out for people who do not turn from sin is not explained, but it should be obvious that a righteous God does not have two separate standards for two separate classes of people.
We come next to the Ransom Theory, which refers to the atonement as a victory over the forces of sin and evil. It holds in its original formulation that Satan had control of the world; that we humans were his captives; and that Satan demanded Jesus’ life as ransom for our release from his control. Whether or not Satan was “tricked” in the transaction is debated. But regardless, Satan found that he was unable to hold onto Jesus and did not foresee His resurrection.12 John of Damascus found this theory repugnant, and could not believe that God would stoop so low as to offer the evil one a ransom. He then proposed that it was not Satan that was defeated, but Death itself.13 While the Ransom Theory was the traditional view in the early history of the church, and while the atonement was, in fact, a victory over sin and death,14 this theory is too narrowly focused to serve as a general atonement theory. It is also the only theory that is directed not to God or man, but to Satan.15
The Satisfaction Theory holds that the atonement represents compensation to the Father. God is owed not only because we have dishonored Him, but He was injured in the process, and we as humans owe him damages or reparations.16 We cannot compensate God on our own, or even collectively, but a debt was owed God by humans. Only Jesus, who was fully human but whose life was of infinite value, was capable of satisfying the debt to God.17
Each of these theories are correct in some ways, or as Erickson put it, “each one possesses a dimension of the truth.”18
The Penal Substitution Theory incorporates all of the elements involved in the basic meaning of the atonement; Jesus’ sacrifice, propitiation for sin, substitutionary atonement, and reconciliation with God. Its parts are solidly backed by Scripture and are not conjecture, and it accounts for the atonement as example, serves as a demonstration of God’s love, demonstrates God’s justice, and triumphs over evil and death.
A working definition of an atonement theory that covers all of these elements would be something like this: The incarnate Jesus, second person of the Trinity who is coeternal, cosubstantial, and coequal with God the Father, sacrificed Himself by dying on the cross for us in an act of substitutionary atonement, His blood the propitiation for our sins, thereby demonstrating both God’s love and justice, and triumphing over evil and death.
1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 618.
4 Ibid., 714.
5 Ibid., 729.
6 Ibid., 716.
7 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced employ the English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).
8 Erickson, 722.
9 Ibid., 716.
10 Ibid., 717.
11 Ibid., 720.
12 Ibid., 724.
13 Ibid., 726.
14 Ibid., 723.
15 Ibid., 726-727.
16 Ibid., 728.
17 Ibid., 729.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.
Studying Christ and His Work
Following the early church’s belief in the coherence shared among the studies of Christology and soteriology, these ideas have been the focus of interchanging debates over the years. For instance, an attempt to separate these ideas took place during the medieval period. However, thinkers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries once again supposed, “the person of Christ and his work are inseparable.”
At one time when researchers thought that Christ and His work were inseparable, it was believed that Christology could begin with a study of the Christ or His work. When Erickson composed this twenty-first century textbook, he stated, “there is an acceptable way of beginning Christology with Christ’s work.” Human salvation would not be available if it weren’t for Christ living a perfect earthly life and then being crucified to pay the sin debt of all humanity. While theologians may support contrasting orders of study, I argue that studying the person of Christ (Christology) fittingly precedes studying His work (soteriology).
Recognizing the Priority of Christology over Soteriology
While Christ’s gift of salvation has the power to change an individual’s eternal destiny, soteriology would be impossible if it weren’t for Christ. As stated earlier, Erickson emphasizes that Christ’s character could be analyzed independently; however, studies of Christ’s powerful work to save in human lives (soteriology) is impossible without referring to the character of Christ. Eternal salvation would not exist if it weren’t for Christ; thus, I believe that Christ has priority over soteriology.
“Theories of Atonement”
The previous studies tend to emphasize inadequacies that I recognize within the “theories of atonement” mentioned in Erickson’s text. Yet, I will do my best to highlight evident mistakes pronounced in these differing theories across the years.
The Socinian Theory
This theory arguing “Atonement as Example” argue that Jesus’ death accomplishes a couple human necessities: 1. His death exemplifies the love that we should have for God to be saved. 2. The crucifixion serves as an example of the potential impact that our love for others may have on their lives.
Inadequacies are accentuated in believing, “All that is necessary, according to them, for God and a human to have fellowship is that the human have faith in and love for God.” This theory fails to recognize that accepting Christ’s graceful atonement through salvation is a necessity for having faith in God which leads to a loving and lifelong relationship with Him.
The Moral-Influence Theory
“The Atonement as a Demonstration of God’s Love” theory teaches that God expresses His love in the death of Christ and accentuates Christ’s divinity. Attempting to give God’s love more attention, less stress is given to God’s the righteous, just, and holy characteristics. In turn, his love is emphasized to protect humanity from living in fear of God’s judgement. These thoughts create a separation between God and people.
In comparison with my initial discussion, this theory is inadequate since salvation is a sinner’s deliverance from God’s righteous judgement and Christ’s atonement is reconciliation between God and sinners. Though He is a God of love, His righteous and just qualities are key aspects of soteriology.
The Governmental Theory
Erickson clarifies this third theory as, “The Atonement as a Demonstration of Divine Justice.” Comparable with the American government’s local, state, and federal laws, this theory addresses the importance of biblical laws, or sins.
Erickson identifies that the lawyer Hugo Grotius is one of this principle’s strongest supporters. Agreeing with my opening argument, Grotius emphasized that God’s holy and righteous qualities contribute to His salvation through laws broken by sin. Ruling all creation, God has the power to punish sinners. However, He sent His Son to suffer sin’s punishment once and for all.
According to the governmental theory, Christ endured the punishment to serve as humanity’s sin payment. When an individual refuses sin, forgiveness is possible. However, understanding this theory is incomplete until recognizing that the theory’s major point is not found in Scripture. Instead, the Grotius intellectually (and inadequately) created this theory through combining Scripture inferences.
The Ransom Theory
Argued as having the most standard approach to atonement, his theory debates “The Atonement as Victory over the Forces of Sin and Evil.” Gregory of Nyssa and Origen are credited with the early development of this principle. Ultimately, the concept shows that Satan controls the world.
The theory is generally based upon Jesus announcing He was created in flesh “to offer His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). However, it falsely asserts that humanity was freed from sin after Jesus paid the ransom to Satan. Despite the devil’s ability to cause worldly evil, God was before Satan. Jesus’ resurrection defeated Satan and offered God’s children power over death to sin through Jesus’ grace.
The ransom theory adequately argues that Christ’s death offered freedom from earthly sin; however, proclaiming that Christ’s death was a payment to Satan is inadequate. Truly, Jesus was sent to earth to create a pathway for humanity’s forgiveness from sin through His death and resurrection. Once again, Satan was defeated.
The Satisfaction Theory
“The Atonement as Compensation to the Father” theory does not describe payment to Satan and is the most factual principle concerning Jesus’ death. Additionally, it clarifies that Christ’s death fulfilled His Father’s plans.
Moreover, Gregory the Great and Augustine highlighted the growing studies of satisfaction: “by rendering some form of satisfaction, one could avoid punishment for one’s offenses.” So, satisfaction may have taken the place of punishment in private violation cases.
Since the satisfaction view was outdated by Anslem’s time, he questioned the reason God became man. His approach recognized that atonement and the incarnation were both necessities; additionally, he asserted that everyone belonged to God—both Satan and humans. Moreover, he emphasized there was no way for humanity to punish themselves for sinning against God. Since humanity was unable to withstand Satan’s evil, a qualified individual was required to stand in their place to defeat sin and the devil. This answered Anslem’s questions of Jesus’ reincarnation, as well as providing atonement.
Definition of the Atonement Theory
The acceptance of Christ’s atonement results in eternal salvation. This idea is best interpreted through my fifth discussion of the Satisfaction Theory. Accordingly, God sent His Son in human form (reincarnation) to stand in the place of sinners through His earthly death. Fulfilling the will of His Father, Jesus Christ rose from the dead to claim victory over sin and death. Faithfully accepting Christ’s human death and resurrection offers humankind atonement through the blood of Christ.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 617.
 Ibid., 618.
 Ibid., 716.
 Ibid., 717.
 Ibid., 717-8.
 Ibid., 720.
 Ibid., 720-1.
 Ibid., 721-2.
 Ibid., 723.
 Ibid., 723-4.
 Ibid., 724.
 Ibid., 726.
 Ibid., 727.
 Ibid., 727-9.