Theology of Atonement and Salvation

Topics: Jesus, Christianity, New Testament Pages: 8 (2714 words) Published: June 13, 2013
The view and understanding of atonement is one of the widest in Christian theology. Unlike the dogmas that define the theology of trinity and incarnation and bring unity to Christian understanding, the theology of atonement has many different views that are widely held. The theology of atonement is one of the most important for Christians to understand, as it shapes our images of God, our understanding of salvation and how we are saved. In this essay, I will be looking at different theories of atonement and how they make a difference to our theology of salvation. I will argue that different understandings and theories of atonement affect our theology of salvation by highlighting different aspects of salvation and answering the theological question that is found in the theology of salvation, ‘how are we saved?’. I will first define atonement and its origins. I will then proceed into looking at the extent of atonement and the objective and subjective nature of atonement. I will then look into more detail of five theories of atonement that have been derived from the objective and subjective views over the ages; ransom theory, satisfaction theory, moral influence, Christus Victor and penal substitution, and their implication of our understanding of salvation, by what they highlight in the theology of salvation and how they answer the question raised above.

The theology of atonement is about the restoration of the broken relationship between God and man that was accomplished in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Atonement is derived from at-one-ment and can be defined as reconciliation. Sin has put up a barrier between God and humanity and Jesus’ life death and resurrection break down that barrier and atones us, so that we can once again have a right relationship with God. However, we must make sure to distinguish between atonement from reconciliation, which as an act is restoring a right relationship with God, is understood to be the purpose of atonement. All Christians believe that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, however, not all agree on how he saved humanity. This is why and where the diversity of atonement arises. The understanding of how exactly God went about the act of saving and restoring humanity with himself, as there is no distinct answer found in the bible, has brought out many different understanding of atonement over the ages.

The first issue that arises when looking at atonement is the extent of atonement. Who did Jesus die for and atone? There are two common answers to this question. The first is limited atonement, which believes that Jesus died for the elect. The elect being God’s sheep and his Church and this is who atonement covers. This view is part of Calvin’s five points. The view of limited atonement arises from the misinterpretation of the words ‘the world’ and ‘all’ in the New Testament. The opposing view, also the historical view, is general atonement, where Jesus died for all of humanity. This view is the classical view held by most Christians. Jesus Christ died for us all and it is up to us to accept his salvation. The result of limited atonement on our view of salvation is that it leads to predestination and takes away our role in accepting salvation. In accepting this limited view, we become a people elected and predestined by God and salvation becomes God’s choice and not our own. However, with the view of general atonement, Jesus Christ has done it all for us and has freely gifted us salvation. It is now our choice to accept his gift and to receive salvation. Therefore, believing in the historical view of general atonement means that God has atoned us all and it is up to as to accept his gift of salvation.

Christian theories of atonement have been commonly categorized into two groups by theologians and scholars; subjective and objective. Though these categories are arguable, as Olsen calls them misleading and artificial because all of these theories can be both, for the sake of...


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[ 2 ]. Stephen Finlan, Options On Atonement in Christian Thought (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Pr, 2007), 1.
[ 3 ]. Erwin Fahlbusch et al., eds., The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub Co, 1999), 156.
[ 4 ]. Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 115.
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[ 12 ]. Peter Schmiechen, Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 26.
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[ 15 ]. Michael Winter, The Atonement (problems in Theology) (New York: Continuum, 1994), 63.
[ 16 ]. Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (USA: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 258.
[ 19 ]. James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2006), 12.
[ 21 ]. Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (USA: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 259.
[ 22 ]. Peter Schmiechen, Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 104.
[ 23 ]. Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (USA: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 259.
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