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

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