One of the great questions in Christianity is what exactly did the cross of Christ provide? What was its’ purpose? How does that relate to the believer today? In the death and resurrection of Christ, we as believers find our salvation from destruction. Its’ complete meaning is therefore extremely important. Below I’ve listed several different atonement theories.
The Penal Substitution Theory
The Penal Substitution Theory states that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God required punishment for sin so imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ. Christ took the punishment for sin in our place, which satisfied both the wrath and the righteousness of God so that he could forgive sinners without compromising His own standard.
Below is a list of Scripture supporting the Penal Substitution Theory:
Is. 53:6; Is. 53:12; Rom 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal 3:13
The one major flaw in the Penal Substitution Theory is that it supports and promotes universalism, the idea that all of creation will eventually be reconciled to God and His kingdom. This includes even Satan and his demons. Universalism was a widespread school of thought in early Christianity. Concerning Ephesus, some accepted the idea of conditional immorality.
Ransom to Satan
This theory states that a ransom had to be paid for man’s freedom to be gained from Satan. That ransom paid would have been Christ. In a sense, man was enslaved to Satan in his thinking and in his flesh. A ransom was demanded for freedom from this enslavement.
This theory really has little Scriptural support, and sees Satan, not God, as the one demanding a payment for sin. It also gives the illusion that Satan has much more power than what is actually afforded him.
Moral Influence Theory
To summarize the moral influence theory, it is the idea that Jesus died on the cross as a demonstration of God’s love for mankind. In observing or connecting with this act, man would be moved to serve Christ by this powerful display of love.
The major flaw in this theory is that it completely denies the spiritual state of death that mankind finds itself in. It denies the necessity of sacrifice.
The Commercial Theory
The Commercial Theory suggests that Christ’s death on the cross brought ultimate honor to God, and as a result Christ was given a reward which he did not need. He then passed that reward on to mankind in the form of forgiveness or atonement.
The problem with this theory is that it fails to account for the necessity of man’s repentance or “transformation of thinking”.
The Example Theory states that Christ’s life and death should serve as an example in faith and devotion to the Father.
Again, the problem is that this fails to recognize the sinful state of man and deal with the extreme consequence of sin.
The Christus Victor theory claims that the forces of good and evil, or God and Satan are engaged in an epic battle, and that Christ’s death on the cross gained freedom for the souls of man.
With this view, we again, much like the “Ransom to Satan Theory”, give Satan more power and more credit than what is warranted.
There are more theories of atonement. I was having coffee with a friend the other night who quoted from a book ten different atonement theories. Above we have summarized a few of those, the all encompassing and more popular of atonement theories.
Most evangelical churches would embrace the penal substitution theory, which is indicative of the culture in which we live. When one studies the history of atonement theories, one sees that each rose out of a culturally relevant situation. We now live in a culture, and specifically in America the hub of evangelicalism, which is founded on the idea of liberty and justice for all. It shouldn’t shock anyone that this is the most accepted theory of atonement in our culture. A punishment was required for sin. Jesus accepted that punishment for us.
The Assemblies of God, whose Theology and doctrine I am most familiar with, would, as it seems, embrace a mixture between the Moral Influence Theory and the Penal Substitution Theory. Upon reading the sixteen fundamentals, and their position paper on atonement, it seems this to be the direction they point in.
I myself am not an expert in the study of atonement theories and would prefer to hear your feedback. However, if I were to conclude by giving my personal belief when it came to atonement theories, I would say I would like to see a mixture of the Penal Substitution, the Moral Influence Theory, and the Example Theory. Those three could in some way work together, and in doing so would provide a holistic approach to solving the battle between atonement theories.