Reflections on the Atonement

Moral Influence

I contrarily like and dislike this theory. On the one hand, it brings out a deep truth about God’s love for us, a recognition and knowledge of that love being a wonderful thing, but on the other hand it seemingly diminishes the work of Christ to a sort of theatre, a mere evocative production that in itself has no more weight than a Shakespearean play. I love Shakespeare, and I uphold the value and power of narrative in human affairs, but if that was all, if the death and resurrection of Jesus was valuable only for its message, then why need it be literal? This theory always seems to be leaving the door unlatched and unguarded to those who would make of Christianity a bloodless and powerless bedtime story, a moral lesson. Moral lessons and fairy tales are good and right, wonderful for what they are and necessary for a fulfilled life, but the actual act, the real flesh and blood of Christ, has a weight to it far greater than Shakespeare.

Christus Victor/Ransom

Growing up on Narnia, I can’t help but lean toward this theory. It is simple, understandable, and familiar. This worries me: Is it too simple? in being understandable, does it reduce the whole of Christ’s work? and in being familiar to me, is it a blind spot? I don’t have a perfect answer to this; I could always be fooling myself. Either way, I have always found the objection that this theory portrays God as deceptive a ludicrous challenge.

I like to play chess now and again. One strategy in chess is to sacrifice important material, a knight, a bishop, a rook, or even your queen, for overall victory in the game. When you loose material, especially a queen, that is seen as a setback, a loss. If the game were to end at that point and a winner decided, the one who had taken the most would be proclaimed winner. In chess you are not deceiving your opponent if you offer up some prized material, or at least not unless you use the word deceit in a very broad manner. Your opponent and you are calculating. One of you may make a mistake in that calculation. Your opponent may take material which will in the long run lead to his losing the game, but in that case, you have not hidden anything from him. He sees the board and everything on it as do you, the only difference is that you can see further along in the game than he can (hopefully).

This analogy breaks down, however, when you consider that Jesus is, in a very literal sense, the King, the piece for whom capture means the end of the game and your opponent’s victory. In fact, the sacrifice of the King is literally against the rules of chess. But I think the main point still holds: It is a disingenuous way to use the word deception as it is used in criticizing the Ransom theory. It wasn’t that God sold Satan a bag of goods; Satan knew what he was doing in killing Jesus, he had won—but, as Lewis wrote, there is a deeper magic. Was Satan deceived? Using the word very liberally, we might say he was deceived or tricked, but let’s not pretend he didn’t know whom he was killing. The facts themselves were plain—it was the fallout which Satan either failed to realize or realizing, imagined manageable.

On the whole, there are bigger problems with this theory: On what grounds does Satan have a right to collect a ransom?

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