The Forgotten Triumph of Jesus
December 08, 2014
This is Part 4 of a longer series,
1, Doing The Works of Jesus,
2, Jesus Wants To Reign Right Now,
3.Whatever We Decree In Jesus Name He Will Do It.
4. The Forgotten Triumph of Jesus
One thing that hinders us from doing the works of Jesus, the works which liberate and help people, the works he expects us to do…
I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12-14 NET, New English Translation)
…one of the things that keeps us from walking in the authority of Jesus name, that frustrates our attempts to decree things in Jesus name and have them come to pass, is ignorance of his triumph.
Ignorance of his triumph means, no faith in his triumph. No faith in his triumph means, no faith in his authority. No faith in his authority means, no faith in the name of Jesus. No faith in the name of Jesus means, no faith in our mandate to decree in Jesus name and have it come to pass. No faith in our mandate means the inability to do the miraculous deeds of Jesus, to liberate and help people just as he did, and as he expects us to do.
We've been led astray.
Until the late middle ages (Appox.1300-1500) the most common Christian understanding of what Jesus did, what he accomplished, what he achieved, for humanity was, that he had conquered Satan and liberated humanity from Satan’s oppressive reign. But this understanding began to change with the publication, around 1100, of Anselm, of Canterbury's work, Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Man?)
Anselm argued that Jesus had indeed come to rescue us, but not from Satan, Jesus had come to rescue us from an un-payable debt we owed to God. Eventually, centuries later, Anselm's argument became the dominant theology of Western Christianity, that is, of Roman Catholic Christianity and those churches born out of Roman Catholic Christianity, Protestant, Lutheran, Baptist, Calvinist, Evangelical etc. This view has since become so dominant that most western Christians assume it is the one and only understanding of the work of Jesus. In other words, most of Western Christianity has forgotten the triumph of Jesus.
Here’s four scholars, from three different points of view, explaining what happened.
Evangelical Theologian Justo Gonzalez
Evangelical theologian Justo Gonzalez in his book, Christian Thought Revisited, Three Types of Theology explains that what we in Western Christianity think of as the one and only story of Christianity is actually a relatively new way of thinking about the work of Jesus.
First his explanation of Anselm’s new theory about the nature of Christ’s work.
“This understanding of the work of Christ as a vicarious satisfaction for the sins of humankind found its classical expression in Anselm of Canterbury (ca. 1033-1109 A.D. gm). This is the main point of his treatise Cur Deus Homo? (ET: "Why Did God Become Human?) in which he speaks of the "satisfaction which can only be given by God, which should only be given by a human, and which must be given by a God human." According to him, the degree of an offense depends on the offended, and that of an honor depends on the one who offers it. This was a principle of Germanic law which Anselm adapted to theological discussion… From that principle, it follows that sin, as an offense against God, is infinite. This infinitude has nothing to do with the content of the act itself, but is measured by the majesty of God which has been offended. In other words, any sin, even the most seemingly minor, is infinite, for it is committed against the supreme divine majesty.
On the other hand, any satisfaction humans can offer is measured by the one who offers it, and no finite human being can offer God satisfaction for sin, since sin is infinite and humans are finite. Furthermore, since we already owe God all the good we are able to do—notice once again the language of debt and duty—we can never repay for past sins. How, then, can humankind offer satisfaction to God?
Anselm's answer is well known: Since satisfaction must be offered by humankind, and since it must be infinite, the only possible solution is an infinite human being, and that is the reason for the incarnation. As a human being, Jesus offered God a human satisfaction; as divine, he offered an infinite satisfaction.”
Because this is the only explanation of Christ’s work most of us have heard, we assume it’s THE explanation. As Gonzalez puts it:
“… this way of understanding the work of Christ has become so common in Western theology that both Catholics and Protestants often believe that this is the only doctrine of redemption, or the one that is most faithful to the Bible.
The fact is that such a doctrine did not appear in the history of Christian thought until a relatively recent date, and even then it was not accepted without opposition…the interpretation of the work of Christ as satisfaction took a long time to become generally accepted, for the most commonly held view still saw Jesus as victor and liberator.…” pg. 101-102
Look at Gonzalez’s last point, “…the most commonly held view still saw Jesus as victor and liberator.…” We’re completely ignorant of this view though it’s what most Christians, for most of Christian history, believed.
Lutheran Theologian Gustav Aulen
Gustav Aulen, a Lutheran Theologian, argues, in his book Cristus Victor, that the “classic” story, the story told by the earliest Christians, was of Christ triumphant over Satan. Here's the summary of his argument presented at the end of the book:
"The History of the doctrine of the Atonement is a history of three types of views, which emerge in turn. The classic idea…
(“Christ—Christus Victor— fights against and triumphs over the evil power of the world, the ‘tyrants’ under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself.” Aulen pg. 4)
…emerges with Christianity itself, and remains the dominant type of teaching for a thousand years. The origin of the Latin doctrine…
(i.e. Anselm’s doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, “Anselm of Canterbury… By the theory of satisfaction developed in the Cur Deus Homo? he repressed, even if he could not entirely overcome, the old mythological account of Christ’s work as a victory over the devil; in place of the older and more ‘physical’ ideal of salvation he put forward his teaching of a deliverance from the guilt of sin; and, above all, he clearly taught an ‘objective ‘ Atonement , according to which God is the object of Christ’s atoning work, and is reconciled through the satisfaction made to his justice.” Aulen pg. 1-2)
…can be exactly determined; it belongs to the West, and it becomes the dominant form of the doctrine of the Atonement in the West in the Middle Ages. Though Luther returns to the classic type, and teaches it with unique power, post-Reformation theology goes back to the Latin type, which is therefore common to the scholasticism of both the Roman and the Protestant churches.” Aulen pg. 143
The Eastern Orthodox Churches
The Eastern Christian churches, (I.e. the Christian churches which developed in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire independent of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and it’s theology. Churches like the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox.), have been around since the beginnings of Christianity.
James R. Payton Jr.
Here’s James R. Payton Jr. from his book, Light from the Christian East, in which which he discusses the differences between Eastern and Western Christianity:
“While Western Christianity typically understands humankind’s problem in terms of our situation (as guilty, depraved, unrighteous before God), Orthodoxy sees the problem in terms of our enemies (sin, death and the devil), who hold us in their tyranny. In Eastern Christian thought, these are the powers which since the primordial fall, hold humanity in bondage. As a result, the Orthodox understanding of the accomplishment of salvation is shaped by these biblical perspectives. In Western Christianity, Christ is seen as the one who suffers the punishment human beings deserve for their sin: Christ is seen as the victim. By contrast, in Eastern Christian thought, Christ is the victor: he defeats those enemies and frees humanity from their bondage.” Payton pg. 122
Orthodox Theologian Alexandre Kalomiros in his essay, The River of Fire, furiously denounces the theology adopted by Western Christianity after Anselm:
Did you ever try to pinpoint what is the principal characteristic of Western theology? Well, its principal characteristic is that it considers God as the real cause of all evil… …The "God" of the West is an offended and angry God, full of wrath for the disobedience of men, who desires in His destructive passion to torment all humanity unto eternity for their sins, unless He receives an infinite satisfaction for His offended pride. What is the Western dogma of salvation? Did not God kill God in order to satisfy His pride, which the Westerners euphemistically call justice? And is it not by this infinite satisfaction that He deigns to accept the salvation of some of us? What is salvation for Western theology? Is it not salvation from the wrath of God? Do you see, then, that Western theology teaches that our real danger and our real enemy is our Creator and God? Salvation, for Westerners, is to be saved from the hands of God!
Now my point isn’t to side with the Orthodox Church. My point is that if a church tradition, which has existed from the beginnings of Christianity, which has been around as long as the Catholic Church, has a different story about what Jesus has done for us, then maybe we Western Christians should at least consider the possibility that the story we’ve been told isn’t THE story after all.
Did Jesus come to rescue us from God or Satan?
So let me summarize.
Until the 14th Century of the Christian era, in other words, for the first 1400 of the 2000 years of Christian history, the most common way of describing what Jesus had done for us was victory. Jesus had won a victory over Satan delivering humankind from his oppressive regime. This, understanding of the work of Jesus, began to change with Anselm of Canterbury's attempt to answer a philosophical question— Why did God have to become man?
It's important for Bible based Christians to remember that Anselm's answer, to a question pretty much nobody was asking, is philosophy not Bible study. Anselm is philosophizing up a philosophical answer to a philosophical question. That's not to say you can't find some support for Anselm's story in the Bible, especially if that's what you're looking for, especially if that's what, all your life, you've been told you'd find. But Anselm isn't concerned with what the Bible says.
Anselm's answer is that it would take the death of God to payoff, satisfy is the theological word, the infinite debt, the infinite evil, of humans toward God. The Anselmian version of the Christian story, the story which has confounded the thinking of western Christianity, is summed up in the title of Jonathan Edwards' sermon, Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God.
After Anselm the story of Christianity, at least for the west, changed:
- God who sent his son to liberate the world, became instead the Judge of justice whose honor demands that every debt, no matter how small, be paid, every transgression, no matter its insignificance, be punished.
- Jesus the triumphant liberator, became the innocent martyr, punished in humanities place.
- The human captives of the cruel tyrant were transformed into totally depraved criminals, justly deserving eternal torture and punishment.
Because of Anselm's overwhelming influence sin has come to dominate the thought life of Western Christianity. Forgiveness of sin is no longer the means to an end, it is the end, the purpose, the only important purpose of Christianity. The main task of the preacher has become convincing people of their sinfulness. Not, convincing people they are forgiven, but convincing people they are sinners. So we have this odd spectacle of preachers trying to convince very ordinary people, of their extraordinary sinfulness.
Because of Western Christianity's adoption of Anselm's story, Satan has been relegated to the role of an extra in the Christian story. He has no part, Satan is a set decoration. And so Jesus' triumph over Satan, his rescue of humanity from the oppression of Satan, has become less than unimportant, it's been pushed completely out of our minds.
We've forgotten the triumph of Jesus.
The Triumph of Jesus in the Bible
Now let me show you the triumph of Jesus in the Bible…
(I'm going to stop here and continue this in the next post. gm)