The Errors of Aulen’s Christus Victor Model
*The following is the conclusion to a review I did of Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor. Therefore it is lacking a bit in context, but still important for anyone who is privy to the issues.*
Because Jesus was God and man one cannot argue that the Atonement involved a total God-to-man movement or a total man-to-God movement; one must affirm that it was both. Through the Incarnation God moved to man and through the Atonement the God-man moved back to God. Gustaf Aulen’s dichotomy between what he terms the classic view and the Latin view of the Atonement is unwarranted. Anselm, for sure, reinterpreted the ransom theory but still saw Christ’s sacrifice as a victory over the devil. Luther was liberated by the story of Christ overcoming the Law and death, but he also understood Christ’s sacrifice to include punishment for man’s transgressing of the Law. Because Aulen sets up the classic view as a model in opposition to the other historical understandings of the Atonement he falls into the error of generalization, thus creating false dichotomies between historical figures and their words. This also leads him to an overall neglect of the humanity of Christ, thus presenting a rather Docetic picture of the Atonement.
Because Aulen sees the metaphor of reconciliation as normative for understanding the Atonement, and because he believes that metaphor to be devoid of OT forensic connotations he sets up a stark division between the religion of the OT and the religion of the NT. In other words he stumbles into the error of Marcionism. Because Aulen minimizes the importance of legal metaphors he leaves God’s justice hanging in the balance. When the penal aspect is not included in the classic view one is left with a partial victory of an unjust god. When the victory is not included in the Latin view one is left with a purely human act aimed at the appeasement of a purely wrathful god. When either of these two views leaves out the moral exemplary aspect Christ ceases to be the exemplar of the will of God for humanity – thus the Christian identity of “living sacrifice” is modeled after one whom man could and should never imitate. The solution to this problem of competing models has been demonstrated by Martin Luther’s return to the themes he saw prevailing in the biblical text. For Martin Luther and John Calvin the person of Christ is the source of unity between these models. Because Christ’s works cannot be separated from his person neither can his roles as Prophet, Priest, and King (i.e. Exemplar, Mediator, and Victor). Calvin’s thought is a reminder that Christology is the source of soteriology:
In short, since neither as God alone could he feel death, nor as man alone could he overcome it, he coupled human nature with divine that to atone for sin he might submit the weakness of the one to death; and that, wrestling with death by the power of the other nature, he might win victory for us. (Institutes, II.12.3)