Reclaiming the Atonement:
An Orthodox Theology of Redemption;
Volume I: The Incarnation
by Patrick Henry Reardon
Ancient Faith Publishing, 2015
(323 pages, $18.95, paperback)
reviewed by S. M. HutchensThe seminary list of "theories of the Atonement" customarily begins with the "ransom paid to the devil" common in the patristic era, in which man's sin was understood to have brought him under the power of Satan, to whom Christ in his death paid the ransom required for a captive, and over whom he triumphed in his resurrection, drawing on, as C. S. Lewis called it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, "deeper magic from before the dawn of time" (that is, the law as a function of grace rather than its antithesis), when the White Witch claimed Edmund as her just victim and Aslan released him by dying in his place, the innocent for the guilty.
Often the final theory considered is the "Abelardian" one of "moral influence"—that Christ died to provide a compelling illustration of charitable and morally improving labor—generally treated as the worst alternative among the orthodox-minded because of its incompleteness and its attraction to religious liberals who reject the metaphysical underpinnings of the more traditional theories (for example, the barbarism of the idea that God would require blood sacrifice for the remission of sins). Along the way, one will encounter synthetic treatments such as presented by Gustav Aulén in Christus Victor (1931), which represents as the classical view that Christ overcame the powers of evil and death that held men in captivity, and rose in victory over them. In this Aulén discovers a central stream that may be considered definitive and trims other theories, both of the objective (Anselmian) and subjective (Abelardian) kind, of their eccentricities.
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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