Reviews - What do customers think about Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement?
Triumphing over the powers Jul 15, 2008
This book provides an historically-faithful alternative to the substitutionary and exemplary models of the atonement. Its strength lies in its presentation of a vivid and robust picture of the work of Christ. Its (the book, not the model) weakness is its simplistic reductions of other theologians' thoughts.
Overview: The Christus Victor model presents the work of Christ as a triumph over the devil, powers (demons), bondage of sin, and the "law." Accordingly, given its Eastern overtones, the atonement and the Incarnation are inseperable. Christ united humanity to his nature to redeem it. He redeemed it (still united to his nature) on the cross.
This is to be contrasted with the Latin views of the atonement, which are narrowly penal. The Latin views incorporate merit and penance in the atonment model. For Aulen, this move removes the work of God from the work of Christ in redemption.
Criticisms of the work: This is why I give it 4 stars. I do not think he dealt as fairly with St Anselm as he could have. David Bentley Hart (*Beauty of the Infinite*) has shown how St Anselm and St Athanasius do not fundamentally disagree. Another problem I had is that biblical students need to see that the Bible incorporates all 3 models of the atonement (Mark 10 = substitutionary; Colossians 2:15 = Christus Victor; Peter 2:21 = exemplary). Aulen also used language that begged the question in favor of his position.
Aside from the above criticisms, this is a paradigm-shifting book.
Why does Jesus Die? Jul 10, 2007
I was going through my shelf the other day and came across a 1969 edition and recalled a conversation I had with the folks at Wipf and Stock a few years ago about reprinting it and lo, there it was on this site.com! Very cool guys. Why I haven't reviewed this book earlier surprises me, since it was seminal in modifying my views on the atonement from an American Lutheran to a more Eastern Orthodox position.
So why does this book matter? Aulén challenges the status quo answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die and what effect does the resurrection have? Raised Lutheran (Missouri Synod), I was taught a very Anselmian version of God's rationale for the events of our salvation which the author of this book takes to task (or at least demonstrates to be a modern development). We sinned in Adam, are guilty for his sin, and the offense to God's justice demands His wrath be taken out against us. Jesus takes the wrath of God upon himself, so when the Father sees me He really sees Jesus and doesn't take His anger out on me. Of course there is a biblical basis to some of this, but not to the exclusive extent that this theory holds over most of Protestant theology (although, as the author points out, Luther himself had a more nuanced version in his theology with the "blessed exchange" of the natures in Christ and, by that virtue, our own in Christ). Such a model focuses heavily upon the death of Christ, and personally I can remark that often the incarnation and resurrection were taught as an afterthought.
Aulén begins his work by stating the problem of the atonement and its possible answers, tracing the history and role that the Anselmian, Latin version has played, commonly known as the substitutionary theory: Jesus takes my place under the wrath of God. Then Irenaeus is used as the example of the earlier and more universal theory of the early church and New Testament: Christ tramples down sin, death and the power of the devil by his incarnation, death and resurrection. This is the classic model of recapitulation in Christ.
Then the Middle Ages are examined with the roles of Tertullian, Cyprian, Gregory the Big One and Anslem, among other notables. Here the classic idea is beginning to wane and almost disappear under the weight of the Latin model. Although Luther moves markedly to the classical model, he still employs terms and sometimes the meaning of the Latin model, which has further solidified it in his tradition. He concludes with some analysis of post-Luther developments and posits that a return to the original model is a needed corrective. A very comprehensive and packed slim volume indeed!
Other books of interest may include How Are We Saved?: The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Traditionby Kallistos Ware, Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian by Jordan Bajis, and for a Lutheran reappropriation of the classical idea, Union With Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Lutheredited by Braaten and Jenson.
I would find it most interesting to look at this whole question through liturgical theology, since how we understand the sacrifice of Christ, along with his taking on and renewing our nature, is intimately bound (think of the Mass as Sacrifice, Recapitulation, partakers of divinity etc); For Christianity is primarily a doxological religion. This would refocus our attention upon the necessity, nature and role of the sacraments/mysteries. PhD/ThD thesis anyone?
Binding the strong man and plundering his house Dec 2, 2006
The author draws a sharp contrast between the atonement theology of the apostles, the early church fathers, and the Lutheran catechisms on one hand, and the atonement theology of Anselm, medieval Roman Catholicism, and later Protestant orthodoxy on the other hand. He demonstrated that the fathers did not hold to "the ransom theory" at the exclusion of the objective reconciliation of God by his own victory in Christ over the curse.
As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I found more interesting than convincing the argument that the observed divergence between Luther and sixteenth-century Lutheranism goes beyond differences in emphasis. For example, the author did not appear to sufficiently appreciate the relevance of Lutheranism's teaching, in opposition to Calvinism, the communication of attributes between the divine and human natures of Christ.
The biggest contribution of the book may be the case that Luther's joyous proclamation of Christ's victory over sin, death, Satan, the law, and God's wrath represented a Pauline development of the atonement theology of the fathers.
An extremely useful contribution to theological study Dec 6, 2004
Aulen's aim in this work is to explain the doctrine of the atonement as it was held for the first 1000 years of Christianity, and to explain how and why the church has deviated from it.
I am a lay theologian and I have read a lot of theological works, but this book stands out from the rest. I now feel that I didn't properly understand Christianity prior to reading this work.
Aulen doesn't interact much with scripture, and confines himself to a historical account of what various people in the church believed at different times. However his fundamental thesis is clear: that the Bible and the early church have a view of Christ's work that is majorly different to what is commonly received today in the Western Church.
Though Aulen was a Western theologian, Eastern Orthodox believers will also benefit from Aulen's clear and insightful exploration of the doctrine of the Greek Fathers. Aulen's account of the atonement is Orthodox, and far clearer than what I have seen expressed elsewhere in Orthodox writings.
A provocative and important analysis of the Atonement Apr 26, 2004
No Christian committed to the teaching of Scripture would deny that the doctrine of the atonement is the heart of the Christian gospel. The Scripture clearly teaches that Christ's death as an atonement for sin will result in the salvation of the world. But the dominant view of how the Church has understood how this works has changed dramatically over the last thousand years. Most modern Christians (not including those in the Orthodox Church) have a system of how and why this exchange took place which was not articulated until Anselm in the Scholastic period. This system in all it's most important intricacies is held by most as not only essential orthodox dogma but as the center of the Christian faith.
This book brings the view of this system (and the view that later opposed it) under the microscope as no other work has done before. Aulen analyzes these views in light of the dominant teaching of the Church for the first millenium of Church history (known as the "Classic/Patristic/Greek" view). He also has some interesting insight into the strength of Martin Luther's atonement theology.
My personal qualms with this work are that 1. he lays out the Patristic view as the teaching of the Bible but is not very convincing 2. Luther's views on Law and Wrath do not line up with Biblical teaching and are certainly not the pinical of Christian teaching on the atonement 3. he does not understand the history of the doctrine of the Reformed Church and therefore lumps it all together. BTW this is a problem with a lot of modern critics of teaching on the atonement (& justification) in the Western Church, including my favorite N.T. Wright.
Though I have quarrels with some of Aulen's views, this book brings a most important issue into focus and does a great job of starting a conversation between differing wings of the Christian Church. Thank you Wipf & Stock for reprinting this invaluable work.