The Sting of Death is Sin

Can the doctrine of substitutionary atonement be held alongside Christus Victor theology?

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Today we may be a little perplexed by the different theories or interpretations of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, evangelical believers have, along with the apostle Paul, understood the importance of understanding the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection as a substitutionary atonement for our sins, reconciling us to a holy God. More recently, there has been a movement of recovered enthusiasm for an ancient, classic understanding of the atonement, so called, that celebrates Christus Victor, or the triumph, the victory of Jesus Christ over all the powers of darkness and the gloom of death. Well, certainly we are wise to join the bandwagon of those who are recovering the Christus Victor enthusiasm and rejoice in this mighty triumph of Jesus Christ. All true, but we need to be cautious when people tell us that Christus Victoris more an exultant shout of joy that cannot be explained in any meaningful way; it's just a mystery how the death of Christ makes us alive and forgiven. The New Testament has told us a little bit more about how that wonderful dynamic of Christus Victor played out. And one of the keys was this, that in order to conquer death, you must first defang death. And what is it that gives death its power? The curse of sin. And so, substitutionary atonement is an absolutely indispensable way of recognizing how God made it possible for the dynamics of victory to play out, as indeed they did. So, Christus Victor as an emotive theme of rejoicing, yes, but substitutionary atonement as a deep understanding of both the seriousness of sin and the way the victory was wrought.

Answer by Dr. Glen Scorgie

Dr. Glen Scorgie is Professor of Theology at Bethel Seminary in San Diego