The Multi-Faceted View of Atonement

We have looked at three of the major views that Christians have adopted to understand atonement, Christus Victor, Healing, and Penal Substitution. At one time or another during the history of the Church, each of these theories has held the majority position among theologians. The Penal Substitution view is the dominant view now, among the American churches at least.image It’s important to recognize the historical shifts in acceptance of the various theories and to question why one would lose favor to another in the minds of Christian thinkers and teachers. Does the Bible change over time? Has the Holy Ghost made contradictory revelations at different moments in time that initiated the shift? What about all of the other atonement views that are subsumed within the larger categories?

Is it possible that the atonement brought about by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is much too expansive to be understood under the banner of a single, narrow category?

Atonement is Too Large for a Single Theory

Theologians who stand apart from the dominant views of atonement will answer this question by saying yes, there is no model or metaphor that is sufficient to explain the significance of of His sacrifice. The crucifixion and its result are tightly woven into God’s eternal purpose and as spirit-opened eyes continue to pore over the scriptures in the hours remaining until the end of this time, we may never run out of the countless ways of understanding its meaning for our salvation. It should not be alarming to find a number of images that lend themselves to understanding this momentous act. As centuries of eyes search out the truths of God’s word, each with a slightly different perspective on the greatest human need, it is inevitable that a number of categories would arise.

Single Views and the Bible

The New Testament authors generated a number of images in the Gospels and Epistles in order to help readers comprehend the monumental shift in God-Human relationship brought about by crucifixion of Jesus. If the primary rule of hermeneutics is applied—context,context, context—the modern reader places the writing in first century and recognizes the societal influences that are inherent in the texts. Five areas of public life dominate: the court of law (justification), the world of commerce (redemption), personal relationships (reconciliation), worship (sacrifice), and the battleground (triumph over evil).

This plethora of imagery could be differentiated by the loci of the individual authors, their use of language and metaphor and missiological interest. A more effective tool for seeing the wide span of atonement images is to survey the corpus of a single author to see if there is variety or consistency. With his dominant contributions, Paul and his works provides such a platform. The Apostle employs two main themes in discussing the significance of the atonement, the ‘giving up’ of Jesus for human salvation (cf. Rom 8:32, Gal 1:4) and ‘Christ died for our sins’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 1 Thes 5:10). These themes emphasize the saving nature of Jesus’ death but they do so without linking it explicitly to a single methodological theory. With this point established, Paul then utilizes a variety of imagery applicable to particular concerns of his epistle audiences. Reading Paul exposes us to language about substitution, representation, sacrifice, justification, forgiveness, reconciliation, victory over the powers, and redemption.


Rather than being confined within a single theory, the atonement is better viewed as encompassing the fullness of God’s design for the world. The image which finds favor with a theologian will more often than not be a product of his definition of the greatest human need. If people are seen as in bondage to sin, they need liberation. If humanity is spiritually blind, the desperate need is for illumination. If lost, they need to be found. Taking a kaleidoscopic view of atonement provides the freedom necessary to locate all of these needs within a view of the crucifixion.

14 thoughts on “The Multi-Faceted View of Atonement”

  1. It also explains why we find such a wide array of statements concerning the atonement in the early Church. Someone who buys solely into Christus Victor would certainly find many statements from the Early Church, but they would be ignoring all the great statements of penal substitutionary atonement. Yet if you embrace a multi-faceted view, you’ll have a much more robust historical perspective on the atonement.

  2. There is only one small narrow door into the kingdom of God and there is only one explanation of this door and make every effort to use it is not understated. There are no multifaceted views of this door.

    1. This discussion doesn’t speak to the truth of Christ being the only source of salvation. It has to to with the way in which this atonement is viewed by various readings of the scriptures. Read all of the entries on this topic to see the support for each in the Bible.

  3. Who’s to say I didn’t read ’em? But that does not change anything. The gate into heaven is small, narrow and only a few ever find it.

    1. Since I don’t have any facts regarding whether or not you read the other posts, I’ll just assume that you did as you insinuate. That stipulated, you will note that none of the views of atonement presented challenges the fact of Christ being the atonement. Perhaps you can help us understand how these various views might lead away from the narrow path.

  4. As for these multifaceted view points you endorse above none of them explain what the small narrow gate into God’s kingdom actually is. The gate into God’s kingdom which has been perfected by Jesus’ crucifixion is limited to being found by a few and every now and then somebody does actually find it. The problem in the multifaceted system is falsely assuming that Jesus’ death is a direct benefit. There is no cannon of law that will allow a benefit to a person or persons who commit a crime. Since Jesus’ crucifixion is the sin of murder caused by bloodshed woe’la no direct benefit. But there is one major thing about Jesus crucifixion, since Jesus’ life was taken by bloodshed, that is not taught in any church, “there is made of necessity also a change of the law.” Heb. 7:12b. So you pay attention now while I lead you to this gate but make every effort to use it.

    “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    For, “the law was added so that the trespass might increase.” Rom 5:20. So then it is only by Jesus crucifixion that two immutable things have been brought together by that man’s obedience so that you might become the righteousness of God. God’s oath, the trespass of Jesus’ crucifixion, and one word added to the law equals the gift of the righteousness of God.
    “And for Your life blood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man too I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” Emanuel.
    Therefore the Lord’s command given through the apostles can only be obeyed by the faith of confessing directly to God that you are sorry Jesus lost his life by bloodshed when he was crucified. And be baptized into this Way of righteousness for the forgiveness of all sins. But if you refuse to obey God in this Way it is a sin against God for which there is no forgiveness. This is the small narrow gate into the kingdom of God that has been perfected by Jesus’ crucifixion.

  5. Thanks for detailing your thoughts but I think you still misunderstand my collection of posts on this topic. Number one, nothing I have written in this article you are commenting in can be read as endorsing or advocating that particular position. I personally hold to the Penal Substitution view. This does not diminish the scriptural positions of others as they outline their views from the whole of the Bible.

    I must apologize that I’m unable to follow the logical flow of your arguments. For example you state that

    “Therefore the Lord’s command given through the apostles can only be obeyed by the faith of confessing directly to God that you are sorry Jesus lost his life by bloodshed when he was crucified.”

    Perhaps a scripture that directs us to this command would be helpful. I am called to be repentant for my sinfulness and confess that to God but I am grateful that Jesus was willing to die and be the sacrifice on my behalf. I suppose you might say that I should be sorry that my sin required his sacrifice but you will need to express that a little better.

    Once again I’ll remind you that the various ways in which the atonement are viewed by the Church throughout history in no way impugn or change the truth of salvation as being through Christ alone. Take them all away and you will still have this core truth.

  6. See Gen. 9:5 NIV.
    You go by your various ways friend. But none of them are the Way for escaping death.
    Good luck you need it.

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