A Review of Gustaf Aulén’s Christus Victor

The following is the manuscript-outline notes of a presentation I delivered on September 8th for Dr. David Luy’s ST 8000 The Atonement at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The full title of this presentation was Synthetic Re-Description of and Critical Engagement with Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement by Gustaf Aulén.

I share this in case anyone might find this edifying or for the chance someone studying Aulén’s work might stumble upon this and find it helpful.

And I dedicate this to my grandfather, who, while I was in the process of writing this, told me to “add some jokes.” I hope I have accomplished that, although I admit the jokes may only be humorous to a very narrow audience.


I. Building Consensus

Gustaf AulenGustaf Aulén (1879–1997) was the Bishop of Strängnäs in the Church of Sweden (a Lutheran denomination), was a leading figure in the Lundensian Theology movement, and is probably best known for this work, Christus Victor.

Origin of Christus Victor – The book Christus Victor originated from a series of lectures delivered at the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 1930 (xxi).

Goal – Aulén claims that the aim of this book is to produce an objective historical account without any clandestine apologetic aims (158; cf. xxi). Having read the book, I imagine many of us can’t help but chuckle at such a claim. I myself wonder if he is somewhat disingenuous.[1] But I suppose we’ll have to take Aulén at his word. With that said, if I were to imagine myself in a world where such objective accounts could actually exist, I would argue that Aulén has failed to produce one. His bias is oozing through the text.

Thesis – The thesis that Aulén seeks to prove through this historical account is that the “classic view” of the atonement, in contrast to what he refers to as the “Latin” and “Humanist” views, is the view of the atonement which is “most genuinely Christian” (xxi, 158), evangelical, and catholic (xxvi). It is the truly Christian view because, as his historical count seeks to demonstrate, it is the view found in the New Testament, articulated by the early church fathers, and recovered by the thoroughly evangelical Luther.

Three views [Aulen’s depiction, not mine]: Continue reading

Three Views on the Extent of the Atonement: A Brief Introduction

Concerning the theological debate on the extent, nature, and purpose(s) of Christ’s atonement, from my own experience I have found that many Christians have misrepresented ideas about what the main views basically propose. I am not about to engage in a theological and/or exegetical discussion on extent of the atonement at this point (nor will I do so in the comments below). But I have decided to craft a simple graph that I hope helps you to become more informed and to more accurately understand the main views, namely, those other than your own.

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A Wholistic View of Salvation—“Already/Not Yet”

Introduction

In contemporary Christianity it is very common to hear that someone “got saved” or to have someone tell you that they were “saved” at such and such a time. But beyond that, the concept of “salvation” remains dormant. I believe this stems from a misunderstanding of salvation, that is, salvation in its entirety.

Now, it is true that many believers can point back to a specific moment of turning from sin towards initial trust in Christ for salvation. In theology we call this moment conversion and it is also the moment we are regenerated (given spiritual birth and life) and justified (counted as righteous before God). In this sense, then, we can rightly say that we were saved upon our conversion. But the idea of “salvation” is Biblically and theologically much more comprehensive than just that one precise moment.

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A Mark Dever Quotation on Decisive Atonement

On January 28th I posted a youtube video of an excerpt of a sermon by John Piper in which he described the real difference between the Arminian view of atonement (unlimited or universal) and the Calvinistic view of atonement (historically called limited atonement). (Click here to see that post). Yesterday I was reading a book by Mark Dever entitled The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. At one point in the book, Dever makes a statement in passing regarding the the decisiveness of Christ’s atonement which really hits at the crux of this “extent of the atonement” debate. Again, instead of being a debate over universal v. limited extent, the centerpiece of the issue is whether Christ’s death was a potential or effectual atonement.

The apostles clearly learned from Jesus how they were to understand his death on the cross; and to teach Christians about this, the Holy Spirit has inspired various images in the New Testament that convey the reality to us: Jesus as a sacrifice, a redemption, a reconciliation, a legal justification, a military victory, and a propitiation.

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