The Thoughts and Adventures of Sarah Harris

theology, philosophy, health, cooking, and more

Archive for the tag “Theology”

Disability: Finding Value in a Society where “Doing” is Better than “Being”

Oddly, I don’t feel at all qualified to write on disability even though my sister, Bethany, is mentally disabled. Perhaps that is because I haven’t done much of my own research on this until now, or perhaps it is because while I can relate well with Bethany, I struggle in relating to all other mentally or physically disabled people. However, despite my feelings of inadequacy, I intend to spend a few blog posts reflecting on some articles on disability from a recent journal on the topic published out of Baylor University.

I want to spend some time talking about the value of human beings and from where that value is obtained. Living in a society where independence, autonomy, and success are among the most important things in terms of someone’s value, it is hard to see how a disabled person can be of worth. Perhaps this is why abortion of disabled children is so prevalent – because society believes it is a merciful act for these children to not live so as not to undergo struggles and be a burden to those around them. If what we value comes from this ability to “do something with your life” then the disabled person has little hope of belonging in this culture.

And that is exactly what we are talking about here: belonging. There is a huge difference here than say “accepting” or “including.” John Swinton, who writes on this concept notes the differences: “To be included, one just needs to be there; to belong, one needs to be missed…To belong, people need to respect our world and take time to seek out its value” (“Many Bodies, Many Worlds”, 23). We desire not just to be a part of a community of people, we want to be an integral part, a needed part. We want to be part of a community where we can be of value to the whole.

When talking about the value of the disabled, we are also talking about the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the people we typically ignore or shun because we are uncomfortable in their presence. From where do they all obtain their value?

Thomas E. Reynolds, who is the father of an autistic child and author of the “Cult of Normalcy”, really wrestles with this issue of how we view the disabled. He describes how culture views those that don’t seem to fit in:

If a disabled body leaks and cannot be contained, it disrupts etiquette expectations and is shunned for lack of “normal” functioning. Indeed, it is commonly perceived as deficient, faulty, and lacking in qualities esteemed by a group. It seems to be a body gone wrong and in need of remediation through cure, healing, or rehabilitative adjustment to participate fully in society (“The Cult of Normalcy”, 25).

As Reynolds wrestles with this problem it leads him to fight against this cult of normalcy. He believes we have to move past the dichotomy of “‘us-them’ —especially as couched in terms of ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal,’ ‘whole’ versus ‘incomplete’ or ‘faulty’—in order to undo the standard ‘ability-disability’ binary” (Ibid., 29). If we merely try to include those who are different than we perpetuate this “us and them” dichotomy which insinuates that while those who are normal have value to contribute to the community, the abnormal do not. Thus, we include them out of pity or kindness or some form of love, but not because they are actually able to contribute something of worth.

What then gives the disabled person value? If they cannot produce something tangible, if they simply need but (seemingly) cannot to give in return, where do they find their worth? In order to answer this question, we have to look at what it means to be human. This we will look at in the next blog post.


Reynolds, Thomas E. “The Cult of Normalcy.”

Swinton, John. “Many Bodies, Many Worlds.”

Both articles found in: Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics. Disability.


The Atoning Work of Christ: The Christus Victor Theory

What is Christus Victor?

While there are different versions of the Christus Victor view, the main idea is that mankind has been held captain by sin, Satan, and death and that Christ came to defeat those evil forces so that we might be reconciled to Him. In each of the different authors who I will present, you will see some slight variations, but in general, this is the outline of the Christus Victor view.

Although this viewpoint is rare in the protestant tradition, one pastor who supports  this view is Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church. In the book The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, Boyd contributes a chapter to defend and explain the Christus Victor view. Boyd emphasizes that Satan has dominion over this world and is holding us captive. Therefore, salvation, in part, is deliverance from Satan.  Boyd analyzes Acts 26:17-18 which states:

“I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (NRSV).

In light of this passage, Boyd states that because God has set the Gentiles free from the power of Satan, “they would be in a position to ‘receive forgiveness of sins’ as well as a place among the community that is set apart (sanctified) by God. Salvation clearly involves forgiveness of sin, but this forgiveness is itself rooted in a person getting freed from Satan’s grip” (Boyd, The Christus Victor View of the Atonement, 3).

Salvation is not necessarily from God’s wrath or hell, rather, salvation is something that affects the whole of creation. Christus Victor, as presented by Boyd, is not about “my personal salvation”, it is about the salvation of the entire world of which we are only a small part (4).

Even Christ’s life was part of this conquering of Satan and evil powers. Boyd gives numerous examples of this, for instance, when Christ heals on the Sabbath he is “waging war against the powers and exposing the systemic evil that fuels religious legalism and oppression. He was conquering evil with love” (5).

“Everything about Jesus’ life must be understood as an act of defiance against the powers, precisely because everything about his life was an act of self-sacrificial love” (5).

While in the penal substitution view, Christ died as our substitute and took God’s wrath upon Himself in our stead. In the Christus Victor view, Christ died as our substitute and took upon himself all the natural consequences of sin that we would have experienced, that is: death and suffering.

While the Christus Victor view is often presented as the idea that God bought off Satan – that Jesus was the ransom payment to the devil, Boyd states that this idea of ransom in scripture is not meant to be taken literally.  “The word ‘ransom’ simply means ‘the price of release’ and was most commonly used when purchasing slaves from the slave market. Hence, the Christus Victor model can simply take this to mean that Christ did whatever it took to release us from slavery to the powers” (6).

I do want to make mention of one other person who has greatly influenced the rise of Christus Victor, that is Gustav Aulén who wrote in 1931. His book is considered a classic and he provides a historical analysis arguing that the traditional viewpoint of the Church Fathers is the theory of Christus Victor and that it wasn’t until Anselm’s theory of Penal substitution that Christus Victor became less known. Aulén’s book is well worth the read.

Where did it originate?

Although in the first several centuries after the time of Christ, there was no theory called “Christus Victor,” strong elements of the view can be seen throughout the Church Fathers from as early as the 3rd century if not before. Some of the Fathers that presented this view of the atonement were Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, and Origen, to name a few.

For this post, I intend to focus mainly on Gregory of Nyssa’s  (335-395 AD) explanation of the atonement found in The Great Catechism because more than the other fathers, he delves into this idea “tricking” Satan which is often one of the biggest criticisms of Christus Victor.

Gregory’s line of thought starts out by acknowledging that man has been deceived by “the great advocate and inventor of vice,” Satan (XXI). The Devil spread the glamour of beauty over the hook of vice, and man, in his ability to freely choose, took the bait. Man became “fettered prisoners” and in “bondage of slavery” to Satan (XV). God, having made man in his image took pity on mankind and desired to free them from their plight.

Gregory goes on to describe Christ and his great miracles and how when Satan saw that Christ had such power, he “saw also in Him an opportunity for an advance, in the exchange, upon the value of what he held. For this reason he chooses Him as a ransom for those who were shut up in the prison of death” (XXIII). In exchange for mankind who were captive by sin and death, Satan accepted Christ as a ransom:

“In order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it, the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish; for it is not in the nature of darkness to remain when light is present, or of death to exist when life is active” (XXIV).

And so, what then, is atonement for Gregory? It is the Christ victorious in that He triumphs over Satan so that life is brought to those who were once doomed to die, it is cleansing for those who were once polluted with sin.  He does this by paying a ransom to Satan which Satan eagerly receives not knowing that Christ is God.

The main critique of course, is that in veiling the deity of Christ, God deceives Satan. This seems to go against God’s character. Gregory later defends his case against this notion, but I will not be going into depth on it here. The reason being, that the Christus Victor theory works perfectly well without God having deceived Satan. As Boyd says, the idea of ransom in scripture was likely not meant to be taken literally.

The idea of the atonement for Gregory continues even further and does not stop merely at Christus Victor but we’ll look at his ideas as well as other Church Fathers ideas on this in the next blog posts.

What was the cultural context?

St. Gregory was, of course, influenced by the culture around him, and wrote The Great Catechism mainly as a logical explanation of belief so that Christians could defend their faith. Gregory was largely influenced by another Church Father, Origen, who also held to the belief that the ransom could not have been paid to God (because God was not holding sinners captive) so the ransom had to have been paid to the Devil.

What did the cross achieve under this view?

Christ lived a life of love to actively fight against the forces of evil, Christ died to fulfill the law of sin and death, and in his resurrection, he defeated sin death, and Satan so that they no longer hold power over us. We, in participating in that death, are able to live in participation in the life of Christ.

Which scriptures support this view?

1 Corinthians 15:24-26 – Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Romans 5:17-19 – If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous

Romans 6:9-11 – We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Acts 20:28 – Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Hebrews 2:14-15 – Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

All Scripture was taken from the NRSV.

What are some common criticisms?

  • It makes sin an objective force outside of man’s nature, eradicating personal guilt and need for forgiveness and  grace.
  • Satan is given too much power, even an equal to God.
  • In some versions of Christus Victor, God seems to deceive Satan which would go against the good character of God.
  • This view puts too much emphasis on Christ as Divine rather than Christ as human.

This blog post is the third blog in a series on the different atonement theories. My first post on “penal substitution” can be found here. The second post, on “moral influence theory” can be found here. The next post, on the recapitulation theory can be found here. Please feel free to comment below with thoughts, criticisms, or opinions in regards to the posts.

The Atoning Work of Christ: Moral Influence Theory

This blog post is part of the Atonement series where I intend to present all the main views of the atonement. While it may seem silly to study other views aside from your own, there are huge implications to believing one view over the other. I am writing this series so that I can further understand these views and their implications. I hope you will share in this journey of discovery with me. The first post on the atonement can be found here.

What is the moral influence theory?

The moral influence theory of the atonement focuses on Christ as the moral example that we should follow. Christ came not as a substitute to pay a debt to God or the devil, Christ came as God incarnate to unite himself to humanity so that in his love for humanity, he would awaken in us an “answering love” (Franks, Robert, A History of the Doctrine of the Work of Christ in its Ecclesiastical Development, 189). It is out of Christ’s love that we desire to repent of our sins and live a moral life like Christ.

In opposition to the penal substitution theory and Christus Victor (which will be explained in an upcoming post), Christ’s death on the cross was not actually necessary. Hastings Rashdall a theologian who supports this theory explains that the death of Christ came simply because death comes for all humans:

“Some sort of death….was a necessary element in any really human life. And the particular mode of death was the outcome and culmination of the mode of life which He had chosen. The death was not His act, but the act of the Jewish priests, the Roman magistrate, and the Roman soldiers…[I]n the eternal counsels of God the death of Christ was allowed because it was foreseen that a life ending in a violent and self-sacrificing death would be a better proof and pledge of the Messiah’s love than any other kind of life; but the death showed no less love because, from the point of view of Him who died, He was dying for His disciples in the same sense in which all His ministry was for them (The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology, 441-42).”

Instead of a focus on the death of Christ, moral influence theory focuses on His life. Christ as the God become Man is a revelation of Himself to humanity. And even in Christ’s suffering and death, we can see His character of love revealed to us.  As a result of Christ’s love, we will be persuaded to a life of repentance and regeneration.  This theory then “tends, in short, to represent Christ’s death as only a part, though a necessary part, of that whole incarnation or self-revelation of God, the object of which was to make known God’s nature and His will, to instruct men in the way of salvation, and to excite in them that love which would inspire sorrow for past sin and give the power to avoid sin in the future (Ibid., 443).”

Where did it originate?

Although most proponents of the moral influence theory claim that their ideas are taken directly from some of the Church Fathers, the view as a whole was not established or made popular until 1135 when Abelard wrote his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. While many Fathers such as Origen may have spoken of the moral influence of Christ, it was usually in conjunction with other views of the atonement.

First, Abelard argues against the idea that a ransom was paid to anyone – be it God or Satan.  The price could not have been paid to the devil because the devil had no hold or authority over man. Abelard explains: “Who doubts that if the servant of a certain lord should lead his fellow-servant astray with his persuasions and cause him to turn away from obedience to his own lord, how much more should the one leading astray be accused before his lord than the one led? And how unjust it is that he who led another astray should, from that time on, deserve to have an advantage or authority over the one he led astray… (Commentary on Romans, 165).” In other words, God didn’t need to defeat Satan because Satan didn’t have any power over man.

Abelard also goes against the penal substitution theory which was presented by Anselm less that 40 years prior. His biggest qualm with the theory is that it seems unjust that God would demand the blood of an innocent person in order to forgive our sins (Ibid., 167). It seemed to Abelard that if God wanted to forgive us – he would simply do it. Nothing was hindering Him from this act.  The reason then, for the death of Christ was this:

“[I]t seems to us that in this we are justified in the blood of Christ and reconciled to God, that it was through this matchless grace shown to us that his Son received our nature, and in that nature, teaching us both by word and by example, persevered to the death and bound us to himself even more though love, so that when we have been kindled by so great a benefit of divine grace, true charity might fear to endure nothing for his sake (Ibid., 167-68).”

It is through the love shown in Christ’s death that redeems us, frees us from the slavery of sin, and gives us the power to do all things out of love rather than out of fear (Ibid, 168).

What was the context?

Peter Abelard was a successful philosopher, especially in the realm of logic where he publicly defeated numerous opponents. He taught in the University and was admired by his students. Despite his popularity, in the area of theology, Abelard presented controversial ideas from the start. His logical analysis of the trinity was deemed heretical by a synod and they demanded that Abelard make a public avowal of faith. Later in his life, Abelard’s continuing work in theology, especially that of the atonement was brought to the attention of Bernard of Clairvaux. They attempted to resolve their differences, but were unable. In the end, the council of Soissons condemned his works and the Pope upheld their decision, ordering Abelard to silence.

What did the cross achieve under this view?

The cross gave us the ability to be reconciled to God by the influence of the love of Christ (“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13) which would in turn kindle a love and repentance in us.

Which scriptures support this view?

Heb 10:14-17 – For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.”

James 2:14 & 17 – What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? …So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Rev 20:12 – And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.

All scripture has been taken from the RSV

What are some common criticisms?

1. It appears to be a works based salvation

2. There is no real meaning in the death or resurrection of Christ

3. It ignores key scripture passages

4. There seems to be no reason why we couldn’t use other “good” teachers as influences to do good and repent

5. Salvation comes from our own reaction to what Christ did, rather than salvation from Christ alone

Note: Although there are obvious reasons to reject this view of the atonement, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. There are many good things to be gleaned from this theory which will be touched on in a later post.

The next post in this series which summarizes the Christus Victor Theory can be found here.

Post Navigation