"The Cross is Our Only Theology"- Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation
Friday, September 30, 2011
Forde's critique of the Conquest or "classical" theory.
Forde's critique of the Conquest or "classical" theory. I discuss my own critique later.
Finally, Forde discusses the “classical” or what is often called the “conquest” theory of atonement.This theory of atonement primarily views the work of Christ being the conquest and destruction of demonic forces (i.e., sin, death, the devil, etc.).In describing this model of atonement, Forde draws heavily from the scholarly findings of the Swedish Lutheran theologian Gustaf Aulén in his classic work Christus Victor (1931).After reviewing the various versions of this motif in patristic theology, Forde discusses what he considers to be weaknesses and strengths of theory.Among the strengths, Forde argues that the conquest theory represents “. . . a protest against any legalistic rationalization that oversimplifies the human problem and ends with a God who is either a vindictive bookkeeper [penal substitution] or an overindulgent lover [subjective theories].”
In this, Forde appears to largely adopt Aulén’s own interpretation.For Aulén, the conquest motif was the most fitting description of atonement because it represented a movement of God towards humanity, rather than a movement of humanity to God.In both the satisfaction and moral influence theories, he detected an often latent and sometimes not-so-latent legalistic and anthropocentric impulse.Beyond this, Aulén viewed the conquest motif as representing an important negation of what he considered to be the rationalization of theological discourse found in scholasticism and post-Reformation theology.As mythological and anthropomorphic as the theories of conquest offered by the Church Fathers were, they nevertheless functioned as accurate narrative representations of the event of redemption.The event of redemption in Christ transcended normal human categories of rationalization and therefore the actual mechanism of redemption is best left undescribed.The most, Aulén believed that one could say is that atonement was a unilateral movement of the Second Person of the Trinity towards the created realm in order to saved it from the snare of demonic forces.
According to Forde, the difficulty with the view of Aulén and the Church Fathers is that the gritty reality of the cross once again becomes obscured.For the Greek Fathers in particular, Jesus’ humanity is invested with divine glory in order to overcome and conqueror where previously Adam had failed.Does this not, asks Forde, come perilously close to the Gnostic idea that Christ did not actually die?Does not his redemption therefore reside in his hidden glory and not his death?Moreover, taken to its logical conclusion, the true battle of redemption for the Church Fathers occurs not in the concrete reality of the cross, but in the unseen realm of demonic forces.In looking for redemption in Christ, the believer is therefore asked to look past the actual and concrete reality of the cross to something invisible beyond it. Ultimately, “. . . the dramatic-dualistic imagery can also misdirect our attention away from the Jesus who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate to a mythic figure who was paying a ransom to the Devil” The cross is therefore transcended and its existential force is blunted through mythological and cosmological speculation. Indeed, yet again “roses still obscure the truth.”[11
I am a Lutheran layperson and an adjunct professor of theology at the Institute for Lutheran Theology and Aquinas College. I grew up in Oregon and attended Luther College in Iowa (B.A. History and Religion) and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN (M.A. Doctrine and Theology). I graduated in 2009 from Marquette University with a Ph.D in Systematic Theology. I am the author of the following articles: "Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux on the Bridal Mystical Motif," (Journal of Ecclesiastical History) "Creation's Praise: A Short Liturgical Reading of Genesis and Revelation," (Pro Ecclesia) "Kenosis and Vocation: Christ as the Exemplar and Agent of Christian Freedom," (LOGIA) "Gerhard O. Forde on the Law" (Concordia Theological Quarterly). My systematic Lutheran Christology ("The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran Approach to Christ and His Benefits" preface, David P. Scaer) will be published in 2013 by Wipf and Stock Press. I am married to the historian Dr. Bethany M. Tanis (now Kilcrease).