The Atonement–Part 1

Part 1

In response to a question by Brian (comment 1) and my response (comment 4), I wanted to review some basic beliefs and then look into an area I have not dealt with significantly.

In that earlier post I stated, “that God can not co-exist with sin” and a good friend challenged me on the precision of my statement and wondered how that statement could interact with theodicy.

For those not familiar with the concept a very basic definition: A theodicy is an attempt to understand how one can justify a belief in a good God in light of the existence of evil. (This may rightly be them most difficult question a Christian will face in dealing with a thinking seeker or thinking skeptic.)

First to finish the previous conversation, I asked a friend who has done much more thinking and writing on theodicy, and who teaches philosophy to help me out. Part of his reply is below.

In the most straightforward sense, the claim that God and evil cannot co-exist is clearly not true. God exists. Evil exists.

It is not even true that evil cannot exist “in God’s presence.” Consider: God and Satan in the book of Job, for example.

What is true, is that creatures who are unforgiven and unrepentant cannot live in communion with God (at all, let alone for eternity). That is the death of separation that sin imposes on us. Of course, that then raises the all-important question: why can’t unforgiven and unrepentant creatures live in communion with God? And the answer to that question will depend on your theory of atonement.

This insight raises questions in two areas of theology, theodicy and the atonement. I was going to start with some thoughts on theodicy and then pick up on the atonement issues. But having just taught 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, I’ll start with the atonement. (I know this will be too long for one post, so I’ve already labeled this part 1).

The subject of the atonement
The Doctrine of Atonement asks the Question:
How can a Holy God accept sinful man?
How can sinful man be acceptable to a Holy God?

The two questions focus on two directions of salvation:
God-ward aspect of salvation.
Since God is holy want can He do to accept sinful men?
What must God do?
What must be done for God?
The man-ward aspect of salvation.
Since man is sinful what can he do to be acceptable to a holy God?
What is required of man? (works, faith, etc.)

A definition of the atonement would be simple if we were using bumper stickers–“At one with God” makes a simple statement, but don’t answer may of the questions.

Throughout history there have been many theories of the atonement (which I’ll mention in a minutes) because at the point of defining the atonement we must understand:
Theology Proper–the study of God (His Character, standards and self-established rule of operation)
Christology and soteriology–the study of Christ (His nature, His work on the cross and His purpose)
Anthropology/hamartiology–the study of man and sin (his condition and resultant ability)
and in some ways ecclesiology and eschatology (at least personal eschatology).
And in each of these areas there is considerable difference of opinion.

So (contrary to what post modernism might want us to believe) our theology must be integrated (whole) and consistent. But not only should our theology of the atonement be consistent more importantly, it must be a reflection of Scripture.

At this point I feel the need to list a couple presuppositions:
God exists and has revealed himself in Scripture. He has revealed Himself to be orderly and devoid of self-contradiction. (What I am not able to explain is that the absence of self-contraction may not be the same as logical. That is, there are things that seem logical or logical deductions that may not be true because of other revealed truths.)

As theologians have sought to define the atonement some have put more weight on logic other on biblical texts, some depended on one particular metaphor others on clear propositional statements, etc.

So here are some of the categories into which theses theories fall:
View that have Satan as the object of atonement (Ransom to Satan and Recapitulation)
Views with man as the object of the atonement (Example and Moral Influence)
No object (Accidental theory)
Views with God as the object of atonement (satisfaction, Governmental, penal substitution)

There are additional new views to be discussed later.

I’m going to tip my hand by posting my definition of the atonement and then in the next post try to defend it.

1. The atonement is the cross-work of Christ in which
2. He died once (for all) (Sacrifice)
3. in our place (Substitution)
4. paying the price for our sin (Redemption)
5. that satisfied God’s holy wrath (Propitiation/Satisfaction)
6. allowing us by faith
7. to be made new creature (Regenerated, imparting eternal life)
8. by being declared righteous (free from all sin past, present, and future) in Christ (Justification)
9. which enables us to have a relationship with God (Reconciliation)
10. leading to a transformed life (Sanctification) empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Next time we’ll look at a several awesome passages, let me whet your appetite.

2 Corinthian 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (ESV)

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)

Author: Steve

I love to study the Bible and I love to engage with others in learning. I had been privileged to do this on a regular basis through church ministry and through part-time teaching at a local Bible colleges. Helping individuals learn to feed themselves through their own study of God’s Word is joy-giving to me. Influencing groups to do life and church from a biblically grounded, theologically faithful perspective is my passion.


  1. Thanks for the clarification Steve. I really appreciate being able to bounce ideas around the community, even from a distance.

    I have to admit I haven’t been back in a while to check ur response because I lost the link. But I just got your support letter for the DR and your blog address was at the bottom! It’s bookmarked now. Looks like a great opportunity. I will be in Guatemala at the seminary again this year.

    Tell the family Michelle and I said hi.

  2. Great to hear from you.
    I do hope to come back to theodicy in the future.

    Send me some picture, I’d love to see what the place looks like now.

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