Gustaf Aulen’s classic work, Christus Victor, has long been a standard text on the atonement. Aulen applies a “history of ideas” methodology to historical theology in tracing the development of three views of the atonement. Aulen asserts that in traditional histories of the doctrine of the atonement only two views have usually been presented, the objective/Anselmian and the subjective/Aberlardian views. According to Aulen, however, there is another type of atonement doctrine in which Christ overcomes the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, at the same time that God in Christ reconciles the world to Himself. This view he calls the “classic” concept of the atonement. Because of its predominance in the New Testament, in patristic writings, and in the theology of Luther, Aulen holds that the classic type may be called the distinctively Christian idea of the atonement.
Dig deeper into Lutheran thought with Andrew George Voigt’s Biblical Dogmatics.
“The most marked difference between the ‘dramatic’ type and the so-called ‘objective’ type lies in the fact that it represents the work of Atonement or reconciliation as from first to last a work of God Himself, a continuous Divine work; while according to the other view, the act of Atonement has indeed its origin in God’s will, but is, in its carrying-out, an offering made to God by Christ as man and on man’s behalf, and may therefore be called a discontinuous Divine work.” (Page 5)
“The real beginnings of a thought-out doctrine of the Atonement are found in Anselm of Canterbury, who thus comes to hold a position of first-rate importance in the history of dogma. By the theory of satisfaction developed in the Cur Deus homo? he repressed, even if he could not entirely overcome, the old mythological account of Christ’s work as a victory over the devil; in place of the older and more ‘physical’ idea of salvation he put forward his teaching of a deliverance from the guilt of sin; and, above all, he clearly taught an ‘objective’ Atonement, according to which God is the object of Christ’s atoning work, and is reconciled through the satisfaction made to His justice.” (Pages 1–2)
“Anselm and Abelard. These two are commonly contrasted as the authors respectively of the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ doctrines of the Atonement; the latter term is used to describe a doctrine which explains the Atonement as consisting essentially in a change taking place in men rather than a changed attitude on the part of God.” (Page 2)
“The main idea is clear. The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil. These may be said to be in a measure personified, but in any case they are objective powers; and the victory of Christ creates a new situation, bringing their rule to an end, and setting men free from their dominion.” (Page 20)
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