The Nonviolent Atonement Paperback – 1 Feb 2011
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The best current single volume on reconstructing the theology of atonement.
S. Mark Heim in Anglican Theological Review
Weaver provides an important contribution to atonement theories by seriously inserting the contemporary concerns of pacifist, feminist, womanist, and black theologians into the centuries-old christological conversation. . . . A provocative but faithful proposal benefiting any student of christology.
Religious Studies Review
A noteworthy contribution to the literature on the atonement. Weaver provides a useful critique of the history of atonement motifs; he does a fine job of placing Anselm s theology in its historical context; he creatively fuses a singular biblical vision from the earthly narrative of the Gospels and the cosmic perspective of the Apocalypse; and he attempts to relate discussions of the atonement to Christian social ethics.
This is a superb succinct survey and analysis of classical and contemporary theories of the atonement, ideal for students and general readers. . . . A clearly written, passionately expressed introduction to current debates on the atonement. . . . Excellent resource.
Reviews in Religion and Theology"
About the Author
Dr. J. Denny Weaver is Professor of Religion and the Harry and Jean Yoder Scholar in Bible and Religion.
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In this book the author, J Denny Weaver, proposes an atonement theory to which he gives the name “narrative Christus Victor”. It is an approach more consistent with the narrative descriptions of the teachings of Jesus contained in the New Testament than is the theory that has prevailed since the year 1100 when Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement was published in his Cur Deus Homo.
Anselm developed his satisfaction atonement in order to replace the then prevailing view that Christ's death was a ransom payment that God owed to the devil. This ransom theory is the classic Christus Victor and most theologians didn't like the emphasis on the power of the devil to interact with God as an equal.
The problem with Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement is that it is based on the idea of retributive violence. Christians are not supposed to practice retributive violence so why must God? Isn’t it strange that a God who sent his Son to teach “love your enemies” is incapable (as described by Anselm) of simply forgiving sins without the use of retributive violence? However, the satisfaction theory of atonement was widely accepted by the Christian church during the medieval era because it was compatible with a state church that was part of the government that needed to use "the sword" to maintain social order.
Abelard came along a few years after Anselm with his moral influence theory of atonement in an effort to avoid the retributive aspects of the satisfaction theory. But the death of Jesus still has aspects of divine child abuse in the exercise of moral influence in Abelard's theory. With the devil missing from the equation it's hard to explain why the death of Jesus was needed. Also, narrative Christus Victor differs from the moral influence atonement by envisioning changes other than an impact on the mind of the sinner by envisioning a change in the spiritual universe symbolized by Christ's resurrection.
Narrative Christus Victor puts a devil or sorts back into the equation again as was the case for classic Christus Victor. But the devil in narrative Christus Victor is in the form of the very tangible and real principalities and powers of this world that are opposed to God's kingdom. The post-Constantine state church of the Medieval era could not recognize this definition of the devil because they themselves were the principalities and powers.
In Weaver’s narrative Christus Victor there is no need to explain why God required that Jesus die:
“In narrative Christus Victor, the cause of Jesus’ death is obviously not God. ... Rather, in narrative Christus Victor the Son is carrying out the father’s will by making the reign of God visible in the world — and that mission is so threatening to the world that sinful human beings and the accumulation of evil they represent conspire to kill Jesus. Jesus came not to die but to live, to witness to the reign of god in human history. While he may have known that carrying out that mission would provoke inevitably fatal opposition his purpose was not to get himself killed. ... Jesus depicted in narrative Christus Victor is no passive victim. He is an active participant in confronting evil. Salvation happens when or because Jesus carried out his mission to make the reign of God visible. His saving life shows how the reign of god confronts evil, and is thus our model for confronting injustice. While we do not save, we participate in salvation and in Jesus’ saving work when we join in the reign of God and live the way Jesus lived. ... It means actively confronting injustice, and in that confrontation we continue with Jesus to make the rule of God visible in a world where evil still has sway. “ (p.211-212)
Weaver deliberately builds his narrative Christus Victor model by careful examination of scriptures and history -- Revelation, the Gospels, letters of the apostle Paul, Old Testament sacrifice traditions, the book of Hebrews, and Israel's history. In summary Weaver says:
"Seeing narrative Christus Victor in this long historical context underscores how completely outside of history satisfaction atonement is. If fact, satisfaction atonement appears to reduce the life of Jesus to an elaborate scheme whose purpose was to produce his death. Narrative Christus Victor is a way of reading the entire history of God's people, with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the culminating revelation of the reign of God in history, whereas the various versions of satisfaction atonement concern a legal construct or an abstract formula that functions outside of and apart from history. Seeing the long historical context of narrative Christus Victor underscores the extent to which satisfaction atonement is separated from ethical involvements and allows oppression to continue without challenge." (p.69)
Narrative Christus Victor is compatible with much of René Girard's theory about mimetic violence and its implications for understanding the death of Jesus and atonement theology. Narrative Christus Victor also stands in continuity with, but differs significantly from, the classic view of Christus Victor described by Gustaf Aulén, and it bears little resemblance to the Christus Victor rejected by Feminist Theology.
Weaver includes chapters in his book explaining how narrative Christus Victor addresses the concerns of and is compatible with "Black Theology on atonement", "Feminist Theology on Atonement", and "Womanist Theology of Atonement." Much of Christian theology, classic atonement images, and christological terminology have accommodated violence of the sword, slavery, racism, and violence against women. Even though Weaver originally developed narrative Christus Victor model to reflect a nonviolent ethic for Christian living, he demonstrates that it fits well with the concerns of oppressed people.
This book has a chapter near its end titled,"Conversation with Anselm and His Defenders." A number of theologians have tried to respond to the criticisms of satisfaction atonement that have been expressed by feminist and womanist writers. The defenders have generally responded in one of three ways: (1) Rehabilitate the ideas of punishment and vicarious suffering, (2) Shift emphasis away from punishment by recovering additional themes and emphases within satisfaction that have been covered over by too much stress on punishment, and (3) Acknowledge the validity of the critique of punishment by blaming the excesses on Protestant reformers such as John Calvin. Weaver concludes that none of the defenses are adequate or convincing.
Read the book. It is one of the better articulations of the “nonviolent” atonement theories, but do read it with a view toward the evidence. Moreover, if you get the chance, I would read the critics too! In several places, it does not seem that Weaver has truly been able to blunt the force of some of their criticisms, but you won’t see that from reading this book because Weaver seems more interested in observing the differences between his critics and himself than truly refuting their points of view. To truly understand the conversation, you’ll have to engage both sides and then ask yourself who has the better argument.
I was quickly disturbed to find, however, that the book is little more than one long summary of a bunch of other books on the atonement, many of which I had already read.
In other words, J. Denny Weaver's approach in this book is that he read a bunch of books on the atonement, and then wrote 5-10 pages summarizing the views and arguments of each book, which are then all compiled into this book on the atonement. You can see this simply by looking at the footnotes throughout the book.
So, for example, almost all of the footnotes from pages 52-56 comes from Beker's book, <em>Paul the Apostle</em>. Then page 57 picks up with a summary of Raymund Schwager's book, <em>Jesus in the Drama</em>, followed by Brondos' book, <em>Paul on the Cross</em>, on pages 61-66.
This pattern pretty much continues throughout the book.
Yes, Weaver comments on the strengths and weaknesses of each book, and provides his own insights as well, all of which are helpful, but for me, the "survey of books on the subject" approach to writing makes for very dull reading.
However, if you are brand new to the subject of a nonviolent atonement, a book like this might be just what you are looking for to introduce you to the various views and available authors which are out there in this important topic.