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Tuesday
Jun212011

Theological Term of the Week

moral influence theory of the atonement
The view of the atonement that maintains that the purpose of the death of Christ was to show God’s love so that sinners will be moved to repentance; also called exemplarism.

  • From Theories of the Atonement by Leon Morris: 

    Some form of the subjective or moral view is held widely today, especially among scholars of the liberal school. In all its variations this theory emphasizes the importance of the effect of Christ’s cross on the sinner. The view is generally attributed to Abelard, who emphasized the love of God, and is sometimes called the moral influence theory, or exemplarism. When we look at the cross we see the greatness of the divine love. this delivers us from fear and kindles in us an answering love. We respond to love with love and no longer live in selfishness and sin. Other ways of putting it include the view that the sight of the selfless Christ dying for sinners moves us to repentance and faith. If God will do all that for us, we say, then we ought not to continue in sin. So we repent and turn from it and are saved by becoming better people.

    The thrust in all this is on personal experience. The atonement, seen in this way, has no effect outside the believer. It is real in the person’s experience and nowhere else. This view has been defended in recent times by Hastings Rashdall in The Idea of Atonement (1919).

    It should be said in the first instance that there is truth in this theory. Taken by itself it is inadequate, but it is not untrue. It is important that we respond to the love of Christ seen on the cross, that we recognize the compelling force of his example.

    Probably the best known and best loved hymn on the passion in modern times is “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” a hymn that sets forth nothing but the moral view. Every line of it emphasizes the effect on the observer of surveying the wondrous cross. It strikes home with force. What it says is both true and important. It is when it is claimed that this is all that the atonement means that we must reject it. Taken in this way it is open to serious criticism. If Christ was not actually doing something by his death, then we are confronted with a piece of showmanship, nothing more. Someone once said that if he were in a rushing river and someone jumped in to save him, and in the process lost his life, he could recognize the love and sacrifice involved. But if he was sitting safely on the land and someone jumped into the torrent to show his love, he could see no point in it and only lament the senseless act. Unless the death of Christ really does something, it is not in fact a demonstration of love.

  • From The Christian Faith by Michael Horton:  

    Already in the twelfth century, Abelard (1079-1142) challenged the interpretation of his contemporary, Anselm, by offering his own view, which has come to be called the moral influence theory. According to this theory, the purpose of Christ’s death was to provide a moving example of God’s love for sinners that would provoke repentance. The image of Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates God’s love in such a powerful way that only the coldest hearts could resist its lure and remain enemies of God. In fairness it must be observed that Abelard also included other elements (particularly in his Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans). However, the Pelagian tendency of modern theology adopted this model as the proper interpretation of Christ’s death. Already in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the Socinian movement embraced this subjective view—and, not surprisingly, rejected the divinity of Christ’s person. A moral example of influence need hardly be God incarnate. Eventually, this view appealed to the leaders of the Enlightenment. Especially in Kant, Christ’s death can offer only a motive to repentance, but it is our own repentance that finally effects absolution.

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: Moral Influence Theory of the Atonement
  2. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: Moral Influence Theory
  3. William Sasser: Erroneous Theories of the Atonement (pdf)
  4. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith: Other Views of the Atonement

Related terms:

Filed under Defective Theology.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

Monday
Jun202011

Ordained Is A Wonderful Word

Once the words are nestled in the places “ordained” for them—“ordained” is a wonderful word that points to the inexorable logic of syntactic structures—they are tied by ligatures of relationships to one another.

— Stanley Fish in How to Write A Sentence

“Ordained” is a wonderful word, too, for describing God’s relationship to what occurs in our world. It points to the logic behind what happens; it means there is a reason for every circumstance. If history was ordained, there was purpose in it. If the future is ordained, there will be meaning to it.

Some balk at using “ordained” for what God did in eternity in regards to creation and what happens in it, thinking it too strong a word. Some mistakenly suppose that if we say that God ordains something, he must be the immediate cause of it or the one who directly does the deed, but this is not so. When used for God’s relationship to an event in history, “ordained” simply means that he put it in his plan. Some ordained events he did himself, solely by his own hand, but others he knowingly permitted for good reason.

An ordained history is a history of ordained causes and effects, “tied like ligatures of relationships to one another,” tugging forward toward a planned completion. It’s the same for the future, because the future is only history yet to be. A God-ordained future gives sure hope, for it is a future that will finish as intended.

If the events of my life are ordained by God—and they are—then my life has meaning. Or to look at it from another direction, if the hardships in my life work to conform me to Christ’s image—and they do—then God has at least one reason for them. And if there is a reason, there is ordination.

“Ordained” is a wonderful word that points to the logic of the universe, including its history and its future. It’s a wonderful word that points to the purpose of my life. There is hope in “ordained.” It is promises fulfilled and plans accomplished, in the past, in the future, and in my life. And in sentences, too.

Monday
Jun202011

A Catechism for Girls and Boys

Part II: Questions about The Ten Commandments

39. Q. Who is your neighbor?
      A. All my fellow men are my neighbors.

(Click through to read scriptural proof.)

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jun192011

Sunday's Hymn

Come Thou Fount

Come, Thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Robert Robinson

Other hymns, worship songs, sermons etc. posted today:

Have you posted a hymn (or sermon, sermon notes, prayer, etc.) today and I missed it? Let me know by leaving a link in the comments or by contacting me using the contact form linked above, and I’ll add your post to the list.

Friday
Jun172011

Round the Sphere Again: The Gospel

Without It
everything is useless and vain. (A quote from John Calvin at Challies.com.)

Plus Nothing
Hold the ketchup (The Sacred Sandwich).

One Thing 
for sure: The law can’t make our children good.

We won’t get the results we want from the law. We’ll get either shallow self-righteousness or blazing rebellion or both (frequently from the same kid on the same day!). We’ll get moralistic kids who are cold and hypocritical and who look down on others, or you’ll get teens who are rebellious and self-indulgent and who can’t wait to get out of the house. 

(An excerpt from Give Them Grace by by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson at The Resurgence)