(Saving Power, Intro & Conclusion) Values, Categories, and Criteria

Let’s walk through the main elements of our reading and I will pose some questions saving-power.jpgat the end. Think of the questions as catalysts for thought. Reply to any or all of them if you wish, or open up an entirely new thread of discussion. Here we go.

Behind Schmiechen’s aim in writing this book lies a problem he identifies early on: “If one cannot find a way to confess the saving power of the cross, then Jesus becomes irrelevant and the church has no good news” (1). He adds later,

“At the heart of the churches’ struggle to find their identity and mission are the Christological questions posed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When ordained and lay leaders are not clear about atonement, there can be no confidence regarding vocation, ministry, or the future of the church” (345).

Toward enabling the church to more clearly articulate the saving power of God Schmiechen provides values and criteria with which to evaluate and utilize not one but multiple theories of the atonement. For those of us whose theological gears have been milled on the penal substitution theory, we may find ourselves most comfortable with that view and without knowing it we may suppose it is the only valid way of witnessing to the atonement. In the faith statements of many Protestant Evangelical churches and institutions in America, you will find substitutionary language related to the work of Christ. Schmiechen is keen to push segments of the church that have dedicated themselves to one view (or “limited” depending on your perspective) to broaden their language and theology in order to proclaim the multiple theories of the atonement: “The church, as well as the spiritual life of individuals, needs this variety in order to comprehend fully the nature of sin and grace” (340).

In order to evaluate the atonement theories we find in the New Testament and in the tradition, Schmiechen identifies three values that should guide us as we take stock of the various theories:

1. Symbolic Value – An atonement theory should employ an image in order to symbolize something about Jesus that connects saving power with some form of human need. Images might be metaphors (Lamb, Bread, Vine, Shepherd) or a title (Lord, Word, Suffering Servant) or a proper noun (Teacher) a word describing some thing or event in Jesus’ history (cross) or a phrase (“Jesus died for us”) (5).

2. Theological Value – A theory must connect Jesus with God and appeal to central affirmations about God as well as interpret the agency of God in the story of Jesus. (6)

3. Contextual/Evangelical Value – Atonement theories carry the burden of connecting Jesus’ story with believers in new times and places – identifying needs in unique contexts and portraying the saving power of Jesus in new ways. It must name elements in the human condition that signify our fallenness in relation to the saving power of Christ. Put simply, ” The evangelical value requires that the gospel proclaimed be faithful as well as relevant” (8).

Finally, and most importantly it seems to me, Schmiechen offers five criteria for evaluating both the form and substance of different atonement theories and the use of those theories in the proclamation of God’s saving power. All five criteria incorporate the symbolic, evangelical, and theological values previously stated at the beginning of the book. Thus, these five criteria function both as “essential components” of atonement theology, serving a normative role, and also as evaluative tools. For those of you in my class this summer, you will remember the question I asked at the end of our discussion of atonement: What are the essentials of our atonement theology? At the time, I was working from a “theological hunch” that the diversity of material in the Biblical witness should move us toward a synthesis of atonement essentials rather than fighting over which theory is “most true.” Having now read Saving Power, I wish I could have used it for our discussion in class to give us a framework for that process of identifying essentials while not sacrificing coherency.

1. From Image to Theory – An atonement theory must be able to develop a particular image into a comprehensive interpretation of Jesus Christ. The image must correlate a specific problem (guilt, bondage, sickness, etc…) with God’s saving power (sacrifice, liberation, healing, etc…) and do so in a manner that demonstrates precision in language.

2. God’s Opposition to Sin, Death, and Demonic Powers – In light of the great struggle described throughout the Bible – the tension between a holy God and sin, Satan, demonic powers, and death – an atonement theory must show the correlation between the problem and God’s saving power. In other words: In light of the problem what does God do about it. Perhaps a critical thing to note here is Schmiechen’s worry about any theology that looks to human capacity to save over against God’s power to save. Notice:

“To the extent that sin, demonic powers, or death as a tyrant are non-existent, then there really is no need for atonement. The same conclusion may be reached if the problems are resolved by human agency or mind or will” (319).

3. The Purposes of God – Against a theology in which the only two characters of the story are God and the individual, an atonement theory must witness to the purposes of God in the entire creation: “Human needs and interests are relevant but are not the only issue and certainly not the ultimate issue” (333). Clearly Schmiechen has segments of the American church square in his sights for he explicitly refers to the “egocentric perspective of American religion.”

4. Persons in Community – Atonement must be proclaimed in the context of and toward the end of community in Christ. “The greatest American heresy is that one can be Christian without belonging to a community of believers bound by Christ” (335).

5. God’s Initiative – Theories must be assessed by their ability to affirm God as the primary subject, rather than the object. This means the rejection of any theory in which God is made the object of action by Jesus Christ or humanity in general.

Question 1: Do you agree that the church needs all the theories of the atonement in order to proclaim the cross effectively? Why or why not? Should a church or institution witness to God’s saving power without committing themselves wholly to one view? Is that possible?

Question 2: To which of these criteria do you find yourself most drawn? Why? Or, which of the above criteria do you think is most relevant for your setting?

Question 3: Related to #2, what does this criteria offer us as we evaluate atonement theories and what worries does it address? How might this particular criteria speak to the current cultural setting in which we witness to God’s saving power in America?

Question 4: Related to #3, has this vision for the atonement been a part of your experience either in your faith formation or in your theological education? If not, why do you think that is the case? What might it look like for that to change?

Question 5: As we think about ministry, this is an issue in which our theology and ministry are intimately connected. Every time we talk about the cross, whether consciously or unconsciously we use language that trades on certain images or that gives prominence to certain themes. What would it look like for our witness to the Cross to be more multiform, drawing on multiple images of atonement? Since we cannot make use of every theory in every opportunity we have to witness, preach, or teach how do we go about choosing which image/theory is best for a particular occasion (assuming we are not teaching from a text that uses certain images)? Perhaps even more messy, if we believe one image/theory is deficient in witnessing to God’s saving power how do we deal with those concerns in ministry settings when that theory is being used?

15 thoughts on “(Saving Power, Intro & Conclusion) Values, Categories, and Criteria

  1. Warning: Few people have ever accused me of not saying enough.

    Question 1: do we need all views of the atonement to proclaim the cross effectively?

    Schmiechen makes a convincing argument for the general need of all views of the atonement. Specifically, he points out the fact that the scriptures speak about the atonement with a variety of language. Therefore, to be faithful to the scriptures in our presentation of Christ and the Cross, we should also speak with a variety of language regarding the atonement. Moreover, the nature of human sin and fallenness is profound and complex, therefore, as one talks about the atonement, one needs to be able to speak of it in such a way that it adequtely and comprehensively addresses the entirety of humanities sin problem. As Schmiechen says on 314, “A theory must be able to correlate the saving power with a specific human need, placing both elements into a larger theological context.”

    However, that implies that in any given situation, we should be attentive largely to the specific human need present. That is to say, when speaking of the atonement, we should seek to speak about it with the language that most fully addresses the particular human need present in a given relationship, or community, or life situation. Moreover, I believe that there are many situations in which one view, or a combination of one or two views will speak significantly more effectively to given situations, and that other views and language will be very ineffective in addressing specific human need.

    The language Schmiechen uses to describe this is that a particular view must possess an image with symbolic value that is able to be expanded and thus speak to the specific human need.

    Having affirmed the usefulness of various views in various settings, it is also necessary to identify the complexity involved in relating the views to one another because there are aspects of certain views of the atonement that create problems when held up next to aspects of other views.

    It is in this process of systematicaly comparing various views that I believe decisions regarding priority must be made. Schmiechen identifies three connections that theories make as they formulate. 1) between Jesus and God, 2) between and the known world of Jewish scripture and religious practice, and 3) between Jeus and the disciple’s experience with Jesus before good Friday (316). Expanding on these connections, Schmiechen highlights how a theory of atonement must address God’s opposition to Sin, Evil, and Demonic powers. In formulating ones understanding of the atonement, certain decisions must be made. For example, one must decide how much power the evil forces have in theis struggle with God. Is this truly a battle between two opposing forces both with very real and effectual power in the universe, or is God simply wielding what appears to be evil for the sake of a greater good (bringing ones view on issues of free will and the sovereignty of God into play). If one decides that the demonic powers do hold a significant amount of effectual power, then this must be accounted for in all views of the atonement in each views own way. Therefore, while it may be going to far to determine one completely governing view, there are aspects of certain views that, if affirmed, must be accounted for by adjusting ones presentation of other views.

    I beleive that it is those types of decisions that lead people to affirm the priority of certain views because of larger theological affirmations that more easily coincide with certain views. The answer then it to strive to incorperate all the biblical images so that they speak in their own powerful ways while mutually affirming the larger wittness of scripture to the way God is at work in the world (some other significant theological frameworks for formulating one’s view of the atonement include: nature of the trinity, God’s use of violence, he equality of all believers, the implications of the imago dei in all humans)

    Question 2:Which criteria?

    I believe that the criteria of community is most important for three reasons. First, as alredy quoted in Eilers’ summary, America suffers from a great heresy of individualism. Because the Church is the body of Christ, God’s instrument in the world, ones proclamation of the atonement must build that body to the end of building the kingdom and most importantly glorifying god. Second, I beleive the need for community encompasses the need for relevance. That is to say, I believe that it is largely in community that the message of atonement has relevance for humanity. Third, my experience tells me that it is in community that the message of the cross is most powerfully experienced and therefore, ones proclamation should further the creation of that community in which the truth is experienced. As Schmiechen notes on 354, the church is God’s instrument for bestowing saving power upon humanity.

    The church is intended by God, with it he actively opposes evil powers, it is the place of the community of Christ, and he alone initiated the church through Christ. The creation of community is foundational to any view of the atonement.

    Question 3: What does this criteria offer us?

    In the second chapter of 1 Peter, the author urges his readers to “rid themselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.’ This is because Peter would later go on to identify how essential the unity of the body of Christ is to the churches effectiveness in wittnessing to the watching world. In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul makes the same exhortation, pleading for the Jewish and Gentile Christians to live together in community for the sake of the gospel. James makes the same exhortation in his denunciation of favortism and his warnings about the danger of the tongue. By placing community as a central criteria for evaluating one’s view of the atonement, one is following a teaching present throughout the scriptures. Namely, that it is in the corporate body of believers that the fullness of the gospel is revealed to the world.

    When ones presentation of the atonement builds the community of the body of Christ, then one is inherently furthering the spread of the gospel. This must be on the front of our minds as we formulate our view of the cross becasue the cross must be effective in drawing people to Christ and we must not get in the way of that.

    Question 4: my experience?

    One reason this is such a clear need in my mind is that the view of the atonement that I grew up with left me without much understanding regarding how to be part of Christ’s community. I grew up with a very strong Penal Substitution presentation of the atonement. While I was certainly clear on my sinfulness and need for forgiveness (which is certainly central and must be present in any view of the atonement) I found myself often lost when it came to questions of how to live that out in a wittnessing body of Christ.

    The development of this in my life and in my theology came largely through experiences of Christian community and how powerfully transformational that community is. In a way I am working backwards. I know how powerful that community is and I am now beginning to see the ways scripture teaches us to build that community. Because I agree that the atonement is central to all that the church does (Schmiechen, 1), I believe this is a perfect starting point for theologically understanding Christ’s call to be the body.

    Question 5:Ministry Significance?

    This is where the rubber hits the road. While there is a need for the atonement to address issues of humans needs as identified in scriptures and while thinking theologically. There is a parallel track in which cultures of the church create their own needs, which influence the ways we present the atonement. Because of the fact that so much of american Christianity has been rasied so thouroughly on the Penal Substitution view of the atonement, I believe that means we need to compensate for those years of preference in one direction with a balanced emphasis on other views. Specifically, I believe that many aspects of the Christus Victor view provide much of what my experience tells me the church is lacking. I certainly want to avoid the danger of over compensating and swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction, but there does need to be a compensation in order for many people to have the balanced view that is scriptural.

    Because there is such a rich variety of views to draw from, ministers must seek to present the atonement in such a way that addresses the deficiences present in the community in which they minister.

    I have a few more thoughts, but I have to go, so I will post this now and maybe post some more later.

    looking forward for this discussion to get started! I apologize for any spelling or typing errors present, I am simply not good at proof reading.

  2. Karl –

    Insightful comments on the criteria of community. I agree with you. Community is not only a powerful reflection of the work of the atonement, it is also a powerful instrument toward proclaiming the power of God in the cross.

    I do have some questions regarding your language of “compensation” under number 5: Is compensation really our only option? While I don’t disagree that American Evangelicalism has overemphasized the Penal view, to the exclusion of other theories in many cases, wouldn’t another option simply be a fully orbed, multidimensionaly proclamation of the atonement? Toward “compensating” for the overemphasis of the penal view, won’t an emphasis on Christus Victor (or choose another theory if you like) just lead to a generation of people weened on that theory with no context for the penal view or other theories? Don’t forget, only some of the people hearing the message we proclaim today have been affected by past imbalances.

    Kent Eilers

  3. Question 1: Do we need all views of the atonement to proclaim the cross effectively?

    I want to thank Dr. Schmiechen for answering this question in his book with a holistic perspective that spoke to the need for diverse atonement images without promoting the idea that the need is because we are a diverse world of individuals.

    This question raises one issue in my mind, at this point in time. First I am struck with the limited nature of image. Imagery is indicative not mimetic—that is to say that imagery points to an event rather than imitates it in order to explain the meaning of the event. I must credit my old art professor, Dr. Rossin, who made the distinction between indicative and mimetic clear for me. If I want to describe to you ‘hula dancer’ he told me that there are two ways to go about it. One way is to physically point with my index finger to the actual hula dancer; this would be an indicative gesture. The other way is to imitate the movement of the hula dancer myself, performing the dance, and that would be a mimetic action. When we discuss atonement imagery we are discussing indicative imagery. Imagery, in the case of the atonement, calls on physical symbols that we know and experience in the world and the accompanying language to point to something transcendent. The trouble is that imagery points to more imagery, which points again to more imagery—and this pattern continues as long as there are more images and themes to call upon, but this indicative description never actually touches the transcendent event that it describes (what actually happened at the atonement)—it never sufficiently presents it for what it is.

    What I have just said here is very nihilistic, I realize, and it is precisely the sort of discussion that a postmodern philosopher would employ to make a laughing stock of religious narrative, but, believe it or not, I think this discussion may be encouraging for the theologian. For one thing, it humbles me to realize that I won’t be able to grasp the transcendent and dynamic event of the atonement, being the finite thing that I am. On the other hand, the limited nature of imagery means that I have the freedom to explore multiple atonement theories, realizing that imagery may be helpful, but never conclusive. One set of imagery will never adequately describe the work of Christ, but perhaps a better understanding of the event will be grasped when Christians consider the strengths of different views—not simply because imagery is limited, but because scripture gives us multiple images. Because of the nature of imagery it seems appropriate that the dynamic and transcendent event of the atonement calls for a multifaceted canon of imagery.

    Question 2: To which of these criteria do you find yourself most drawn? Why? Or, which of the above criteria do you think is most relevant for your setting?

    1. From Image to Theory – An atonement theory must be able to develop a particular image into a comprehensive interpretation of Jesus Christ. The image must correlate a specific problem (guilt, bondage, sickness, etc…) with God’s saving power (sacrifice, liberation, healing, etc…) and do so in a manner that demonstrates precision in language.

    I am most drawn to the first criterion, but not because I think it is a criterion that can be reached by any one atonement theory. There are three reasons why I don’t believe that a set of imagery will sufficiently explain the atonement:

    1. Imagery is indicative (Question One)

    2. Imagery changes because language changes. When a language changes there is a change in meaning put forth by the imagery within the language, but the atonement has eternal meaning, and the message does not change.

    3. The responsibility of interpretation of imagery is individualistic. The meaning of the atonement would differ too much from individual to individual if the atonement was explained by imagery alone—especially a single model of atonement imagery.

    Even though I do not think it is possible for criterion one to be accomplished with any atonement model or any multiform canon of atonement imagery, I do think that criterion one should be tenaciously pursued by the Church community because imagery and symbolism are clearly justified as tools for understanding theological truth in scripture. The importance of imagery for theological explanation is affirmed scripturally for the atonement, but I also think about how it is used by the prophets, who spoke on behalf of God.

    Recently I read the book of Hosea. Hosea marries the prostitute, Gomer, to picture the relationship between God and his people, Israel. It is interesting that God calls Hosea to actually live out this imagery, even though, after a certain point, the imagery breaks down and is neither sufficient in describing God’s characteristic of justice nor his characteristic of love. There are many other images in the Bible that describe these traits in very different ways. If God is like a husband to Israel, the adulterous wife, then how is Israel also a daughter, a son, a well watered garden? The imagery of Hosea breaks down if pushed further than it meant to be pushed. Yet, it seems that the limited nature of the imagery in Hosea did not deter God from speaking to his people in a highly symbolic way.

    Question 3: what does this criteria offer us as we evaluate atonement theories and what worries does it address? How might this particular criteria speak to the current cultural setting in which we witness to God’s saving power in America?

    Imagery is justified and necessary, even if it will not be comprehensive for our understanding of the atonement. On the other hand, clarity, precision of language, and the absence of paradox are things that I think we should pursue. It seems that it was a single-minded approach to atonement imagery that brought views like penal substitution and the sacrificial view to the strength that they have today. For example, the sacrificial view has been thoughtfully developed in both Calvin’s Institutes and the Roman Catholic Church [both before and after Vatican II], as Schmiechen writes in chapter one. Because of their approach to the sacrifice atonement view, their assumption that one atonement theory could adequately explain the event, the atonement theory of sacrifice is so developed that we can find the holes in it, the points of paradox, but it was a dedication to a single atonement theory that brought out the strengths within the view. Would we eventually lose sight of the distinct strengths and problems of the atonement views, like the sacrificial view, if we stopped pursing individual theories? Perhaps our goal should be to pursue a primary atonement view to the point of paradox. I think we can pursue a primary theory, and at the same time keep several other theories in mind.

    In the main stream American mind today there is great comfort with religious pluralism. As a result of the consumerist culture, people are no longer hesitant to mix religions and glean spirituality from many different sources. This mindset is postmodern, and oftentimes illogical in the case of religions that stand for contradictory things (the Christian Buddhist). One benefit of postmodernism for Christianity is that it doesn’t squash the efforts of theologians to engage and explore multiple theories (in our case, atonement theories), and to postulate how they may fit together. I want to be clear here that I think Schmiechen makes it apparent that he explores different atonement theories because it is scriptural—not necessarily because he is a postmodernist—but to answer question three, when I reflect on the current culture setting in America, postmodernism comes to mind. Perhaps for a postmodern crowd of evangelicals Schmiechen’s approach to atonement imagery has special credence.

    Question 4: Has this vision for the atonement been a part of your experience either in your faith formation or in your theological education?

    I wouldn’t have been able to reflect on my atonement beliefs in this way if I had not gone to seminary, because theology that wasn’t a part of my denomination wasn’t often explained to me fully. I realize that I have had a multiform atonement theology from my childhood, consisting of both penal substitutionary and sacrificial imagery. Looking back now, I am grateful for understanding both of these views of the atonement because having both views in mind reveals that the atonement is community oriented (sacrificial) and that which frees me from personal sins committed (penal substitutionary). Also, because both views of the atonement explained the work of Christ from the perspective that he was the fulfillment of the Jewish law and the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the people of God, I never had any confusion about the purpose of the Old Testament, and I never felt removed from the people of God, the nation of Israel. I identified with God’s people. While I was growing up, this double model of the atonement affected certain other parts of my theology—especially my ecclesiology—for the better, making it easier for me to identify myself as being part of the Church, even though I was a Baptist.

    Question 5:

    If we have the conviction that there are multiple atonement theories presented in scripture, then we should also comfortably understand the context in which different imagery is used, and let context be our guide for the ways we use atonement imagery in ministry. If we really believe that it is a multiform atonement theory that best suits a scriptural account of the Gospel, then we should ask God to keep us from being lazy exegetes. We must ask the question why one atonement model is presented in certain parts of scripture and not in other biblical situations, and then try to apply the same discernment as we lead our congregations, bible studies, classrooms, and neighborly relationships in understanding atonement theology. My answer here sounds like an awful lot of work, but like all tasks in ministry, we are not alone in this, but called to rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, discernment, and the preaching of the Gospel.

  4. By the way, my weird blog name is “Sudor Gnem,” but I will try to remember to sign my name from now on. Sorry for any confusion!

    -Sarah Lodwick

  5. Sara –

    Excellent! Your comments regarding the distinction between indicative and mimemic imagery is very instructive and illuminating(You weren’t by chance thinking of Rene Gerard’s work regarding the crucifixion as a mimemic act that uncovers and overturns the scapegoat practice? Check out Gerard’s I saw satan fall like lightning). Considering the scriptures give us a “canon of imagery” and we as Evangelicals consider the scriptures to be authoritative, then we cannot discard a particular image because it fails to suite our cultural setting. It will be interesting to explore the imagery of sacrifice next month in light of this.

    Your comments regarding the use of imagery and its limits (even in scripture), seem to say that you are arguing for a “hermeneutic of humility” as it relates to our interpretation and appropriation of biblical images. Is that right?

    Your concluding comments seem justified simply by the way Paul uses reconciliation language in 2 Corinthians. The contextual issue with the Corinthians was one of reconciliation which warranted that particular atonement imagery: relational healing. As you said, why should we not feel equally free to tailor the atonement imagery we use for the setting in which it is being used?


  6. Question 1:

    I find myself in a strange situation. After two tours in Iraq I found myself asking: do I believe? Three years later I am left with all the academic tools seminary has to offer, but faithfully wanting. Subsequently, I am teaching at an urban Denver high school for juvenile delinquents, teen mothers, gang members, and drug addicts. Now I find myself asking: what is the point of believing? What do I tell the girl who told me her father, uncle, and grandfather had raped her, her mother committed suicide, and now she is left alone in the foster care system: “Jesus loves you, died for you, and has a wonderful plan for your life!?” Not only do I feel ill prepared, but I am also reminded of my own ineptitude when reading Schmiechen, “if one cannot find a way to confess the saving power of the cross, then Jesus becomes irrelevant and the church has no good news” (1). All this to say, YES the church needs multiple ways to “get at” the atonement or it risks falling woefully short of the biblical implications for the atonement. Western evangelicalism for far too long has reduced the atonement to a patriotic consumer driven individual self-help guide, and sadly people like my students (not to mention the rest of us) are the ones who suffer. In order to properly confess the saving power of the cross churches and Christian institutions must find relevant ways to express atonement theology without falling prey to the lust of doctrinal exclusivity. Certain atonement theologies might work in the wealthy Denver suburbs, but they fail when preached to those who are broken, marginalized, or exploited.

    Question 2:

    The form of Christianity that was taught to me as a young believer failed me. I could no longer “maintain” a relationship with God on my own and consequently developed a “functional view of religion.” Hence, I find myself most drawn to The Purposes of God criteria, in that it takes into account the meta-narrative of the redemption story. Atonement no longer becomes about “me” and what God has done for “me,” but his faithfulness in regards to his divine will. In regards to my setting I find the most relevant criteria to be Persons in Community. In ministering to students who have been buffeted by life, I find that my words and actions often fail. However, when as a community embodying the message of Christ the church comes together to support or act on behalf of someone, I then see the transformative aspects of a holistic approach to the atonement.

    Question 5:

    I believe it is imperative to include multiple images of atonement in our ministries, or else we fail to encompass all that the atonement signifies. Pragmatically, this is not an easy thing to do, but I believe blogging is as good a start as any. Humble dialogue is always a good foundation. We need to begin to incorporate different aspects of the atonement in our seminaries, churches, and ministries so that we have different images to pull from. Once we have different images in which to pull from then the process of choosing relevant images per individual settings should take place in the midst of a communal hermeneutic, allowing those serving and being served to define what image speaks to the saving and transformative power of Christ within that community.

  7. Ben –

    Well said! Your passion is refreshing – stoke it and don’t let anyone or anything pour cold water on it.

    Regarding your comments to question 2: Can we still emphasize the relevance of the atonement for the individual without having an individualistic witness to the atonement? Maybe what I am getting at is this: While also being drawn to the atonement theories that capitalize on God’s purposes on the grand scale (and not solely the individual “me”) I would not want to swing the pendalum so far the other way that one’s atonement language leaves out the individual completely. It seems to be the challenge of talking about the “whole world” and the “whosoever” at the same time (Jn 3:16). I will be interested to see how you work this out as our discussion continues.


  8. I apologize for my tardiness coming into this first discussion, and as such, feel I have little to contribute regarding the specific questions posed beyond what has already been said (mostly by Karl). Having said this, I have a few observations regarding specific turns this discussion has taken.

    -In response to Karl’s call for an emphasis on the Christus Victor view, Dr. Eilers said, “Toward “compensating” for the overemphasis of the penal view, won’t an emphasis on Christus Victor (or choose another theory if you like) just lead to a generation of people weened on that theory with no context for the penal view or other theories?”
    In analyzing any view of the atonement, or any theology in general, what purpose does theology serve if it does not impact our lives? In this context, the most effective understanding of the atonement seems to be the Christus Victor view. By understanding the atonement in the context of ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth and destroying Satan’s power, the Christus Victor view brings an urgent message for citizens of the Kingdom to enable redemption on this earth and take back power from Satan that is no longer his. The penal substitution view has no such impact on the Kingdom. If there is an urgent message in the penal substitution view, I apologize for my ignorance. Therefore, if primacy is given to Christus Victor, this is appropriate (notice “primacy” implies that the other views are still present in our understanding).

    -I really don’t want to sound like I’m picking on Dr. Eilers. These are simply some humble observations. I have always understood Girard’s work on mimesis to have less to do with cultural setting than to emerge from a hermeneutic of peace. Perhaps that very hermeneutic emerges from a particular cultural setting. On the other hand, the work of many “mimetic scholars” point to understanding the peacable Kingdom of God. If a particular theological model in any area does not seem to align with the message of the Kingdom, it is necessary to take a closer look. Perhaps we misunderstood the symbolism that led to our model, or we misunderstood the message of the Kingdom. I would contend that Girard is certainly trying to argue that the model is wrong (Book II of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World). Ironically, Girard understands Jesus’ act on the cross as being meant to expose the very scapegoat model that it has come to be understood as through the centuries…but that is neither here nor there at this point.

    I also apologize for my lack of specific citations. Perhaps when my thesis is completely revised I will have time for such niceties as online academic integrity.

  9. Kent,

    I have been thinking quite a bit about the idea of compensation I first posted, and your responce. I have come to deliberate on the issue along these lines: 1) Is our goal to present the atonement with absolutely NO emphasis whatsoever on any particular view rather, to have a “fully orbed” presentation, always striving to hold all the biblical models and images together?

    The first responce I have to that is wondering whether or not that is a fair way to formulate the question, so, I would be interested in everyone’s reactions to that formulation…

    Second, I am led to ponder whether or not there are certain “priorities” in scripture. Are the certain theologies that are more important than others, that should take a front seat or a back seat in our formulation of the body of Christ and in our building of the kingdom? If so, what implication does that hold for various views of the same theology, such as the atonement?

    I am inclined to think that there are priorities in theology, Jesus himself gave a very specific answer when questioned, “what is the greatest commandment?” To me, that seems to suggest that in our understandings of God, of the church, of ourselves, of the world there are things that are more important and things that are less importnat. There is even language in scripture given to us, the “weightier” matters.

    Therefore, I am struggling against the thought that our goal is truly to hold all the scriptural atonement images as completely equal as we formulate for ourselves and minister by presenting the saving power of God throgh the glorious atonement…

    Finally, in responce to something that Ryan said, in my understandings of the various views (as they currently stand, with the full realization that I have much to learn and understand still) the Christus Victor view seems to hold a priority (or more fully present the “weightier things,” or deal more with the “greatest commandment”) because: 1) It more fully engages the full reality of the love of God intersecting with the nitty gritty of our every day lives, 2) It seems to inherently create the saving community of the church by very nature of it’s presentation of God’s saving power, 3) Its creation of the church is more holistic, and finally 4) I find it leaving me with fewer questions than any other view (this is to draw on a principle of biblical interpretation that any view of scripture we take should answer more questions than other views without simultaneously introducing new, unnecessary difficulties).

    And a final confession, I fully understand that my own biases are playing into some of these formulations. Specifically, I have real issues with the lack of concern much of western Christianity has for the poor (and I mean specifically the physically poor), the oppressed, and the outsider. I also take issue with the general lack of respect for God’s glorious and prescious creation that I see in many forms of Christianity, and finally, I find there to be a strong connection between individualism and selfishness/self-centeredness that is saddening considering the radical alternative to which I believe the gospel calls us. Therefore, because of those biases, I admit, I am inclined to the Christus Victor view because I find it to answer more of these questions than other views.

    Finally finally, I hope and pray that when I put myself out there with the conviction that I believe is coming through with my words, it is always understood to be a longing to engage even more fully in dialogue, disagreement, and Christ centered wrestling with the word of God. So, please everybody feel free to respond to me with as much and more convictions as I take great joy in working the craft of theology by passionately and respectfully engaging one another for God’s glory. And if at any point I come across as disrespectful, I give me deepest apologies as that is never my heart.


  10. At Kent Eilers’ invitation I welcome the opportunity to participate in the discussion. He has summarized in a very accurate and helpful way themes from the book. I hope my responses will not be an intrusion into the discussion.

    1. One purpose of the book is to overcome the imperialism of claiming one view is the only right view. Therefore it will not be a step forward to substitute a new one for the preferred view of your tradition. So I am open
    to the language of “fully orbed” or a more “comprehensive” view of atonement.

    In theory, we ought to be able to go off to some wonderful place (e.g., at the foot of the Rocky Mts) and construct a unified view. I think that ultimately they all fit together but we are also called to be faithful in particular situations. In fact, that is why we have many theories.

    Perhaps we have to live with the glorious variety for a while-the same way we live with four gospels and many letters in the NT. Certainly there are “priorities” but they usually mean different things in different places.
    Context does not mean relativism. There may not be one priority for all times and places, but in certain situations there may well be a priority. So I am reluctant to say one theory is most adequate or even that they are all equal. If theories are valid it is because they witness to some aspect of saving power.

    2. I assumed the piece by Sarah represented a non-western critique of descriptive language. Then it turned that the writer is probably a westerner, protesting the dominant empirical view from within the West. When I re-read the piece, the words were the same, but I interpreted them differently. Thus we have the possibility of multiple contexts of two authors and two ways of reading the same text. Given the finite character of human beings, and the prohibition against graven images,and the plurality of contexts, I don’t see any choice but to acknowledge the fragile and limited character of language. That’s why we have to re-do theology in each generation and write a new sermon for Sunday.

    3. The distinction between indicative and mimetic is important. But religious language tries to unite the two, i.e., to describe something with such power that the language draws the listener into the reality. This is
    why I think theories begin with an image, i.e., a word that catches our imagination and prompts us to look beyond the descriptive. If language is only descriptive, it would be flat. But I can not imagine how it could be totally mimetic, since that would assume it is the Word itself. I think God
    uses things of this world to reveal God. So we say that even Scripture must be given life by the Spirit. I am also reminded that there have always been two ways of testifying to the resurrection: reciting the words of the witnesses (descriptive) and the experience of the power of Jesus and the Spirit in our world, community, and our lives (mimetic). History tells us never to separate the two approaches.

    4. Re. Rene Girard. I do not think he is an example of sacrifice defined by the Letter to the Hebrews, since that sees Jesus as our High Priest and views his sacrifice leading to salvation. The Girardian approach sees God
    using the cross as a judgment against ritual violence (scapegoating). I am willing to call it #11.

    5. Re. Benjamin Peters search for the appropriate response to a victim of violence: When I wrote that we must be confident in proclaiming the cross I did not mean that that would give easy, instant answers for difficult
    situations. It might, however help one to know what not to say and provide some options for responding. Sometimes simply being with a person is the first way of being gracious.

    Peter Schmiechen

  11. Dr. Schmiechen, thank you for joining our blog this month and for your gracious critique of our comments. The insights that you wrote are helpful for me.

  12. Ryan –

    Good remarks. I agree with you that theology should and, when done well, does impact our lives positively but I’m not sure the Christus Victor theory is the only option when it comes to theories of the atonement that impact life this way. This will be a topic of conversation I hope throughout out discussion so I don’t want you to feel like I am saying anything close to definitive at this point. Let me say this however, I do not think those who hold to a penal substitution view think the atonement has no impact on the Kingdom – YET I think you are right to note that the way in which the penal substitution view is often articulated, preached, etc…does not display well the inherent connections that can be found there. It is often articulated in a far too individualistic way. Let’s keep this one on the burner and we will surely return to it when we read about the penal theory. If you are interested in reading one contemporary reformed theologians who believes the view can be reformed (and finds it too individualistic), read Hans Boersma, “Violence, the Cross, and Divine Intentionality” in Atonement and Violence edited by John Sanders. He develops this further in Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross (Eerdmans, 2004).

    Regarding your comments about Gerard, I think you misunderstood me. I was not drawing a connection between Gerard and his followers and the issue of cultural settings. The Gerard remarks I made to Sarah were only as an aside in light of her comments on mimetic imagery. If this is the smallest misunderstanding we have during our discussion –we are doing great :)

    Karl –

    In response to your first question regarding “compensation”: As you can see from Dr. Schmiechen’s comments above, the intent of his work is to move the church toward a more “fully-orbed” proclamation of the atonement. That relates to my comments about compensation in the following way: I am pushing us to work out Schmiechen’s thesis and that would require a proclamation that would give priority to God’s saving power and not give priority to one view or another or only do so based on the context in which the message is witness to. Still, whichever theory would be employed, if we take Schmiechen’s argument, then the emphasis is on saving power.

    Concerning whether we can discern certain “priorities” in scripture: Yes indeed we can. As it relates to this discussion, if we take Schmiechen’s cue then we should see the priority of God’s saving power displayed to and for the world in the crucifixion. Does the Kingdom of God have such priority as well? Certainly. And I think when we get to the discussion of the penal view we will see that it may need some reworking in order to due justice to that priority.

    I appreciate your candour regarding “biases” etc. Certainly we all have them and you are wise to put yours on the table. If you remember from our discussion of The Nature of the Atonement in class last summer, it was just that issue that Joel Green was urging Dr. Schneider to do. My advice: try and keep an open mind for the sake of our discussion. I know you will.


  13. Most likely it is the naïveté of youth, and if so, it stems from an honest desire to see systemic change both in our churches and the world. In seminary I (we) were told that the eschaton was present and powerful in our contemporary settings, and now I (we) desire to be instruments of change stoking the fires of revolution! And so, we either gravitate to the “weightier” matters and seek change, or wallow in a cynicism that leads to complacency. However, being products of Denver Seminary we are adherents to the “both/and” tension, and in this case I see the need for the employment of said tension. I want to allow for a “fully orbed” approach to atonement theories, but for the purposes of systemic change I want to “hang my hat,” so to speak, on the “heavier” theories that simultaneously speak to our generation and cultivate change in our world. Thus, I am left with this question: where is the line between a “fully orbed” approach and upholding the status quo? I fully agree with Kent’s statement that we should “give priority to God’s saving power and not give priority to one view or another or only do so based on the context,” but I want to nail the theses to the Wittenberg door (or in this case I’ll settle for Cherry Hills) and actualize change in our generation. Again, maybe this is naïveté, but I feel stuck between the pendulum and the status quo.

  14. Ben –

    “Stuck between the pendalum and the status quo” – I won’t soon forget that. By wanting to “hang your hat” on the “heavier” theories I hear you saying that you want to emphasis the theories of the atonement that are “heavy” particularly because they speak or resonate with your setting, your culture. That is what makes them “heavy”. Is that right or are you saying something else? If that is what you are saing, then I don’t think you are arguing for something different than what Schmiechen is contending for in this book. Specific theories which employ certain imagery are potent precisely because (1) they are true and speak to how the world really is in relation to God and (2) they resonate with whatever setting in which and to which you are situated, called, empassioned, etc…In that setting they should be used – just not to the total isolation of other views. By Schmiechen’s reasoning, the central message is God’s saving power and whatever theory employs the imagery most affective for your setting is the theory that should or could drive proclamation.

    Am I off the mark on interpreting your comments this way?


  15. Pingback: Views of the Atonement « Signposts 02

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