I find it funny, well sad really, how we as humans can cling to ideas so confidently and not see that these ideas have not always been so.
In Christian theology, for instance, the doctrine of atonement has evolved and changed to the point were it is today. Most evangelical Christians only have an understanding of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement. If someone were to suggest a different atonement doctrine, they would be called a heretic. The thing is this doctrine is the new kid on the block. Here is a list of the main doctrines of atonement throughout the history of the church:
Ransom & Christus Victor: sometimes called the classical view of atonement, The first major theory of the atonement,The theory teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom, usually said to have been paid to Satan
Moral influence: explains the effect of Jesus Christ’s death as an act of exemplary obedience which affects the intentions of those who come to know about it.
[dates back to the early fathers, and can be found in biblical sources as well as in the teachings of St. Augustine.]
Satisfaction: mending what has been broken, paying back what was taken. It is thus connected with the legal concept of balancing out an injustice.
Substitution: that Jesus of Nazareth died – intentionally and willingly – on the cross as a substitute for sinners.
[formulated by the 16th century Reformers]
Governmental: teaches that Christ suffered for humankind so that God could forgive humans apart from punishment while still maintaining divine justice.
There are also modern doctrines of the atonement. By modern, we are talking 1800’s: Declaratory, Guaranty, Vicarious Repentance, Dramatic, Accident, and Martyr theories.
I will state here that I do not hold to the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This doctrine does a good job at explaining the old testament vengeful god but leaves problems and loose ends for the Father God, the God of Love. I know I will write on this soon.
There are other theologies that have also seen great change over the years, such as in Eschatology; there are widely adopted theologies that were basically invented by single men: Dispensationalism – which leads to much of the modern end times “Last Days” doctrines. This doctrine was birth by John Nelson Darby (1800 – 1882) and has spread like wild fire, influencing much of our understanding of biblical prophesy. Personally, I am opposed to it. I think it has done more harm then any other doctrine created by man – maybe Ill write about it some day.
My point in writing all this is not to upset any particular doctrinal apple cart, but emphasize that theology is not now and never has been some set-in-stone belief system clearly discernible by reading the bible. Theology has always been an attempt of man to bring understanding to his current environment and cultural context. Today, there are many groups that are working out theology for our current context, and there are many theologians that are bringing exciting insight into God. There are emergent, missional, and environmental theologians; as well as charismatic and more evangelic theologians.
[I do classify theologians and biblical teachers in separate categories. If any thing, I am a biblical teacher (a theologian wannabe) and thus take my theology from those more educated. Most of the pop theology books, especial in the charismatic, evangelical world, are the result of bible teachers. I think one problem we have today is when these bible teachers elevate themselves or are elevated by others to more of a theologian status. As a result, I find many teachings splattered throughout Christendom that are harmful, annoying or down right silly (I’m sure we could all come up with a few to fill these categories on our own)].
I thought I’d leave you with a few of the theologians that I think have or will leave a mark on the generations to come:
- John Howard Yoder
- N. T. Wright
- Dallas Willard
- Miroslav Volf
- Karl Barth
Who is your favorite theologian?