Friday, June 26, 2020

Substitutionary Atonement

What a surprise when someone sent me a link to an article promoting Anselm's substitutionary atonement as the most appropriate and appealing model for speaking of Christ's work today.  That was unexpected.


Bartlomiej Staniszewski is a philosophy student interested in history, theology, and economics. Born in Poland and raised in London, he is Roman Catholic.   His introduction states:

In this essay, I will argue that the most viable model of atonement today is what AulĂ©n calls the Latin model, proposed by Saint Anselm, in which atonement (reconciliation between God, humanity, and the world) is achieved by Jesus Christ taking on and satisfying man’s debt towards God. I will argue that Anselm’s view, under the correct reading of Anselm, 1) is an appropriate development of the view held by the Early Church, as opposed to in particular the Moral view and 2) is the only view that guarantees the full reconciliation of man and God, as well as the full victory of Christ over death, hence making it the most viable model of atonement.
In his conclusion he states:
. . . only Anselm’s view provides a full Atonement. Anselm’s view is an appropriate development of the view held by the Early Church and guarantees the full reconciliation of man and God as well as the full victory of Christ over the devil, and so is the most viable model of Atonement today.
The Satisfaction view of the atonement was formulated by the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) in his book, Cur Deus Homo. In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the obedient sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ.  Anslem did not believe man could render to God the honor due Him and therefore God had to intervene and make satisfaction himself. Yet this satisfaction could benefit man only if it was made by man.  Thus the incarnation is central to this view that only the God-man [Jesus Christ] could satisfy God and give to Him the honor due Him.

It is distinguished from the Penal Substitution view in which Christ bore the penalty for sin, in place of sinners and benefiting those united to Him by faith. In this view Christ's death is substitutionary in that He pays the honor instead of us but not penal in that His death does not satisfy the penalty of our sin. The Reformation saw not only the offense but the justice of God at work. God's righteousness demands punishment for man's sin but in His grace God not only satisfies the punishment and supplies the sacrificial victim to bear it.  Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) more fully developed  Anselm’s view into one that included the concept of a “treasury of merit” which became the general understanding of the atonement in Roman Catholicism to this day. 

The Reformation rightly emphasized that Scripture is replete with references, Old and New Testament, to support the extension of Anselm's view.  God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ; Christ, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve for our sins. This was a full payment for sins, which satisfied not only the righteousness of God but also the wrath over and against sin. Only then could God forgive sinners without compromising His own holiness and righteousness. The language is forensic and, while it does not preclude the other models or descriptions of Christ's atoning work, it is certainly preeminent.  That said, it is refreshing to find that people are still talking about atonement at all in an age in which sin has been largely banished from the vocabulary of much of Christian preaching and teaching.


2 comments:

Unknown said...

Without making an argument for or against penal substitution, it appears to me that there is a contradiction in this posting: the article written by Mr. Staniszewski reads, in part, “It (meaning Anselm’s view. GAM) is distinguished from the Penal Substitution view in which Christ bore the penalty for sin, in place of sinners and benefiting those united to Him by faith. In this view Christ's death is substitutionary in that He pays the honor instead of us but not penal in that His death does not satisfy the penalty of our sin.”

A few lines further, the posting states, “The Reformation rightly emphasized that Scripture is replete with references, Old and New Testament, to support the extension of Anselm's view. God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ; Christ, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve for our sins.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

jwskud said...

I find it amusing that a Roman Catholic could say, ". . . only Anselm’s view provides a full Atonement," when the doctrine of his church teaches only the insufficiency of Christ.

Perhaps he's really a Lutheran?