Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Forde on Atonement - Part 3

In the section of his essay subtitled “Theories Aside”, Forde brushes away the other two atonement theories as faring no better than vicarious satisfaction. The theory of moral influence centers on the idea that Jesus' sacrificial act was needed to serve as an example to inspire human selflessness and faithfulness. Forde merely asks a few rhetorical questions.

“How can God possibly be “justified” in sending his Son into this world to be cruelly murdered at our hands just to provide an example of what everybody already knew anyway? If the cross does not actually accomplish anything new, is not the price too great? Is not a God who would do such a thing fully as thoughtless and cruel as the God of vicarious satisfaction?”

He disposes of Gustaf Aulén and the “victory motif” just as hastily. Under this theory, Christ’s work in incarnation, death, and resurrection was required to conquer Satan and the demonic powers that hold us in slavery to sin and death. But Forde says that under this theory, like the others, the actual act of us killing Jesus is ignored.

“Once again the killing has been covered up. Jesus’ death is somehow necessary to defeat the demons. We are exonerated because the demons did it. God, too, is exonerated in the process because he can appear as the hero of the piece, the mighty conqueror of the demons.”

Forde points out that this theory seems to undermine God’s sovereignty, as he again asks the unanswerable questions.

“Why should the cruel death of Jesus be necessary to defeat the demons? Surely if God is God, he could just put the demons out of commission whenever he wished.”

He then briefly references the troubled history of atonement theories, pointing out that even the early church fathers struggled with this question, as they pondered the idea of “ransom” and debated to whom the ranson was paid. He also notes that the vicory motif, popularized by Gustaf Aulen in his 1931 book, Christus Victor, was the classic view that both Anselm (vicarious satisfaction) and Abelard (moral example) were contending with in the 12th century when these theories were first developed. Thus we have come full circle.

Having brushed the theories aside, Forde restates the issue before moving toward his goal.

"So we come back to our original question: Why the murder of the innocent one? What does that accomplish for us—or for God? What is “the word” of Christ? What does he actually do for us that God could not have done with greater ease and economy in some other way? The crucial and persistent question emerging from discussion of the various views seems always to be that of the necessity for the concrete and actual work of Christ among us.

It is, of course, ultimately the question of the necessity for Christology at all. Cannot God just up and forgive and/or cast out demons? Or to use another current form of the question: Is there not grace aplenty in the Old Testament? Or in nature? Or in other religions even? Why Jesus? Why the New Testament?"

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