Home > Philosophy of Religion Articles > Atonement

info.gif Atonement: "Christian doctrine that Christ has in some way solved the problems created by human sinfulness, especially the problem of alienation from God. All Christians affirm the reality of the atonement, but no one theory of atonement has found universal acceptance. The most accepted theories include moral influence theories, satisfaction theories and Pena- substitution theories."

Evans, C. (2002) Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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    Bayne, Tim and Greg Restall


    A Participatory Model of the Atonement

    "In this paper we develop a participatory model of the Christian doctrine of the atonement, according to which the atonement involves participating in the death and resurrection of Christ. In part one we argue that current models of the atonement – exemplary, penal, substitutionary and merit models – are unsatisfactory. The central problem with them is that they assume a purely deontic (or moral) conception of sin and fail to address sin as a relational and ontological problem. In part two we argue that a participatory model of the atonement is both exegetically and philosophically plausible, and should be taken seriously within philosophical theology."
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    Blocher, Henri


    Biblical Metaphors and the Doctrine of the Atonement

    "When arguments are attuned to the music of the times, there is reason for vigilance—but the arguments are not thereby disarmed or disproved. They must be heard and weighed. The case against the traditional 'evangelical' doctrine of the atonement, inasmuch as it is based on the recognition of metaphors and some views of metaphorical function, will be examined first. The second move will be to gather available helps to measure the import of biblical metaphors for one who proceeds to build a theology of Christ’s work of redemption."
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    Boersma, Hans


    Eschatological Justice and the Cross: Violence and Penal Substitution

    "Recent objections to penal substitutionary views of the atonement argue that they valorize violence. This essay argues that, to the contrary, penal substitution may be viewed as a warrant of eschatological justice that offers hope both to victims and perpetrators of violence. A rejection of all penal justice would contribute to the cycle of violence. Penal justice is a last resort for the sake of God's future eschatological justice. Christ's voluntary self-sacrifice also entails that God takes the punishment for sin upon himself, thus offering the hope of eschatological justice to all."
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    Boyce, Kenneth A.


    The Divine Exposure of Evil: A Defense of the Penal Substitution Model of Atonement

    "In their book, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Evangelical scholars Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker provide a thorough going criticism of the penal substitution model of Christ’s atonement – the view that on the cross Christ bore the wrath of God or took upon himself the punishment for human sin – as popularly expressed in Western, especially American, Evangelical circles. In this essay I respond to Green’s and Baker’s critique, arguing that the language of the penal substitution atonement model, properly understood and interpreted, provides a Biblical, theologically cogent, and appropriately contextual (for Western societies) expression of the meaning of Christ’s atonement."
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    Collins, Robin


    Girard and Atonement: An Incarnational Theory of Mimetic Participation

    "...I will Girard's more general theory of the mimetic basis of culture--which could be plausibly considered to form the heart of this cultural theory--is an exceptionally rich resource for the further development of an alternative, thoroughly nonviolent theory of the Atonement, which has deep roots both in scripture and in Church tradition, particularly that of the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Fathers."
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    Collins, Robin


    Understanding Atonement: A New and Orthodox Theory

    "I...argue that the Satisfaction and Penal theories of the Atonement are so unsatisfactory that we would be better off simply to accept the doctrine of the Atonement as a mystery than to accept one of them...After critiquing the traditional Western theories, therefore, I shall develop, in a philosophically careful and clear way, a much more adequate theory."
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    Evans, C. Stephen


    The Need for Atonement

    "...I think that the moral experience of the non-religious person contains intimations of the need for something like an atonement. This is what we should expect if Christianity is true, for Christians believe that God is the creator of all persons, and that all persons therefore have intimations of God’s reality and even dealings with God, though they may not recognize that it is God with whom they have dealings."
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    Hare, John


    Moral Faith and Atonement

    "Today I am going to talk about faith in the possibility of virtue. This faith is required, I suggested yesterday, because of the structure of the moral gap. In this structure there is a gap between the moral demand and our initial capacities, which are not adequate to the demand. What is necessary is some kind of transformation of these capacities...I am going to talk today about some Christian doctrines which are tied to the picture of the moral gap; they suppose that the third part of the moral gap structure, namely the at least possible holy being, intervenes so as to change human moral capacity so that it becomes adequate to the demand. God, in other words, calls us to obey his law, by which we stand condemned, and then enables us to live by this law."
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    Hare, John


    Moral Faith and Providence

    "I am going to talk to you today and tomorrow about moral faith. Today the subject is faith in Providence. Tomorrow it is faith that we can be morally good people. I will start today by making three introductory points about the shape of morality as a whole, as this has been described in modern moral philosophy. I will then try to reply to the objection that moral faith is inconsistent with a pure commitment to morality. The main substance of the talk will be a defence of the claim that morality requires the faith that being morally good is consistent with being happy."
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    Kuhns, Dennis R.


    Atonement and Violence

    "The purpose of this paper is to explore the significance of the Christian doctrine of the atonement in relation to violence. That violence is very much a part of human beings is self-evident. From the murder of Abel to the present, human history is soaked in blood—so much so that we can say with Sigmund Freud that we are homo homini lupus, 'Man is a wolf to man.'"
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    Marshall, I. Howard


    The Death of Jesus in Recent New Testament Study

    "...[F]our things should be distinguished. First, there is the motivation for the death of Christ, which the New Testament uniformly understands as the love of God the Father...Second, there is the character of the death of Christ. It is basically understood as the offering of a sacrifice, but this theme is expressed in various ways, such as the bearing of the curse due to breaking the law or as the payment of a ransom. Third, there is the effect of the death of Christ. It is the means of redemption, justification, and reconciliation, in addition to the more straightforward and consistent interpretation as sacrificial atonement for sin. And fourth, there is the relationship of the death of Christ to those who benefit from it. Through faith in Christ the believer is joined to him so that such a one participates in his death and its benefits, the result being that this person’s sin is removed, the person is reconciled to God, and there is reproduced in him or her the character of the Saviour."
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    Marshall, I. Howard


    The Theology of the Atonement

    "A biblical understanding of atonement is concerned above all with the restoration of mutual, undistorted, unpolluted divine/human relationship, not with the appeasing of a God angered by the misdeeds of his creatures.’ This statement by Alan Mann is representative of the view of a number of theologians who reject the concept of penal substitution as the principal means, or even as a subordinate means, of understanding the significance of the death of Christ...I shall argue that the doctrine is well-founded in Scripture and that it is defensible against the objections brought against it."
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    Miller, Glenn


    Why Can't God Just Forgive Sin, Instead of Demanding Justice?

    "Every authentic human being should scream in outrage at crimes against the elderly, at vandalism of the poor, at oppression of the disadvantaged, at domestic violence, at greed and power-oriented oppression and marginalization, at child abuse..., at institutional hypocrisy that remains arrogantly insensitive to the real needs of real people...Moral outrage by moral agents at moral atrocities is a mark of moral authenticity-why would we expect the Author of moral agents to be 'less moral' than we?...Outrage and lament are the proper, sensitive, and morally appropriate responses to injury and oppression. I suspect that 'forgiveness' of moral injury, if not preceded by moral outrage or confrontation over the unjust injury, is nothing more than selfish apathy, insensitivity to the rights and worth of the victim(s), or fear of confronting the oppressor/treachery..."
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    Montmarquet, James A.


    Incarnation and Atonement

    "In the opening sections of this paper (II-V), I am critical of...atonement theories, including that of Richard Swinburne. My main aim here (sections VI-VIII), however, is more exploratory. My explorations eventually lead me to adopt, then to modify greatly, Philip Quinn’s suggestion that the atonement be conceived as an unplanned, spontaneous expression of fatherly mercy, prompted by the death of a favored son. On the resulting account, there is one central act of forgiveness – for the murder of Jesus and, by extension, for all lesser offenses."
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    Moser, Paul K.


    The Crisis of the Cross: God as Scandalous

    "The Passion of the Christ suggests that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is scandalous. How could an all-loving God allow His innocent Son and Prophet to undergo barbaric torture and death by Roman crucifixion? Surely, accordingly to many philosophers and other people, this could not be part of an all-loving God’s plan. The torture and the death of Jesus by Roman soldiers are, we hear, incompatible with God’s loving intentions. Likewise, according to many people, The Passion portrays 'needless violence' and 'misrepresents' the person and mission of Jesus–recall the seemingly endless scourging of Jesus and its bloody aftermath. These objections come from philosophers and others of widely divergent perspectives, including many Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists. Are such objections answerable? If so, how?"
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    Nicole, Emile


    Atonement in the Pentateuch

    This is the first chapter of The Glory of the Atonement. Emile Nicole presents "a more careful study of the OT sacrificial system" to "help readers of this new century to understand its particularities and typical limitations as specific means to enhance, preserve and anticipate a concept of propitiation worthy of the justice, love, mercy and grace of the holy God."
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    Porter, Steven L.


    Rethinking the Logic of Penal Substitution

    "The Christian understanding of the atonement vexed human minds from the start. The apostle Paul records that the crucifixion of Christ, commonly taken to be central to the atonement, was a 'stumbling block' to the Jews and 'foolishness' to the gentiles. But he goes on to claim that it was 'the power of God and the wisdom of God' to those called. It is my assumption that while the doctrine can certainly be perceived as a stumbling block or as foolishness, its actual nature displays the power and wisdom of God. The problem is to explicate exactly how this is so. More precisely, the problem of the doctrine of the atonement is to provide a rationally defensible explication of how Christ’s person and work are efficacious for the salvation of human persons."
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    Porter, Steven L.


    Swinburnian Atonement and the Doctrine of Penal Substitution

    "This paper is a philosophical defense of the doctrine of penal substitution. I begin with a delineation of Richard Swinburne’s satisfaction-type theory of the atonement, exposing a weakness of it which motivates a renewed look at the theory of penal substitution. In explicating a theory of penal substitution, I contend that: (i) the execution of retributive punishment is morally justified in certain cases of deliberate wrongdoing; (ii) deliberate human sin against God constitutes such a case; and (iii) the transfer of the retributive punishment due sinners to Christ is morally coherent. Whatever else might be said for and against such a conception of the doctrine of the atonement, the plausibility of the theory presented here should give us pause in the often hasty rejection of the doctrine of penal substitution."
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    Reichenbach, Bruce R.


    By His Stripes We Are Healed

    "The doctrine of atonement looms rich with imagery over the theological landscape. Through the centuries Christian theologians have employed diverse motifs—the economics of ransom (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa), judicial proceedings (Anselm), warfare and conquest (Aulen), educational training by example (Socinius, Abelard), and sacrificial rites—to interpret the complexity of the atonement. To these Isaiah adds another: healing through the suffering of another. Though this motif is at times alluded to, I have yet to find it carefully elaborated. In what follows I will explore the healing motif, develop how it might assist our understanding of the atonement, and assess it in light of a serious critique of the atonement itself. My intent is not to replace or supersede the other motifs but to further enrich them."
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    Reichenbach, Bruce R.


    Inclusivism and the Atonement

    "Richard Swinburne claims that Christ's death has no efficacy unless people appropriate it. According to religious inclusivists, God can be encountered and his grace manifested in various ways through diverse religions. Salvation is available for everyone, regardless of whether they have heard about Christ's sacrifice. This poses the question whether Swinburne's view of atonement is available to the inclusivist. I develop an inclusivist interpretation of the atonement that incorporates his four features of atonement, along with a subjective dimension that need not include specific knowledge of Christ's sacrifice."
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    Stump, Eleonore


    "Aquinas on the Atonement", in Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2003)

    "As Aquinas explains it, Christ in virtue of his passion really does solve the problem of human evil and really does make people at one with God. Whatever the details of other theories of the atonement, they must explain how the atonement solves the problem both of past and of future sin; and they must do so, like Aquinas’s account, in a way which does not undermine God’s justice and mercy or human nature." - Reproduced with permission of author.
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    Williams, Thomas


    Sin, Grace, and Redemption in Abelard

    "Various theories of the Atonement have been put forward, and none has ever received the kind of broad and enduring support that would entitle it to be regarded as the orthodox view. Nevertheless, some theories have better credentials than others, and Abelard got himself in trouble by revising or denying some well-credentialed twelfth-century views and--according to his detractors, at least-- embracing a most unsatisfactory alternative...In the end, it is not Abelard's supposed exemplarism but his unusual account of grace that might justify calling him a Pelagian."