Throughout the life of the Church, a number of theories have been developed that attempt to fully capture what Christ’s work on the Cross of Calvary accomplished.
Here’s a brief look at a few of them:
The Fishhook Theory was originally promoted by Rufinus and purported that the deity of Christ was hidden under His flesh to fool the devil. According to Rufinus when Satan saw the body of Christ on the Cross, he fell for the bait, getting hooked on God’s plan of freeing humanity, like a fish takes the bait on the end of a fishing line. It may be a clever illustration, but God doesn’t have any need to fool the devil.
The Moral Theory originated from Peter Abelard who lived shortly before Thomas Aquinas. Abelard claimed the death of Christ inspires humanity to an inner spiritual revival. The theory puts the burden of filling the gap between fellowship and salvation of humanity with God on man with our sinful pride and our stubborn wills mining the gap. Christ’s death serves as motivation to put aside our prideful will and do the right thing morally. This theory teaches that Christ’s death motivates humanity to lay aside its pride and to do the right moral thing. The theory falls short in fully explaining the purpose, meaning and relevance of the atonement.
The Example Theory contends that Christ’s death functions as an example causing us to be drawn to God. The difficulty is that it suggests that man in essence is good, which is not Biblical teaching. It does have benefit in that it teaches us to live as Christ lived.
The Christus Victor Theory was promoted by Gustaf Aulen in his book Christus Victor. In his book, Aulen transposes the significance of the cross as satisfying God’s wrath to demonstrating God’s victory over Satan. This theory fails to follow the New Testament teaching about Christ’s atoning death.
The Classic Theory, similar to the Ransom Theory, teaches that Christ conquered Satan and evil once and for all. It contends that while Satan saw the death of Christ on the Cross as victory over God it actually serves as Christ bringing victory to God’s people through the gift of salvation.
The Satisfaction Theory of the atonement was formulated by the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury in his book, Cur Deus Homo (meaning God Man) According to Anselm, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ. He held that humans could not give to God more than what was his due. The satisfaction due God, Anselm surmised, was greater than what we as created beings are capable of doing on our own because we can only do that which is already required of us. This places the burden of satisfying the debt our sin incurred, God had to intervene on his own behalf. Since this payment was going to be made on our behalf, God would have to use a human. Therefore only a being that was both God and man could satisfy God and give him the honor that is due him, making Jesus, fully-God, fully-man, the perfect sacrifice to satisfy the debt incurred by our sins.
How about you? What do you think Christ’s work on the Cross accomplished? What do you believe God accomplished by allowing the blood of his Son, Jesus, to be shed at Calvary?