What Did Aslan's Death Accomplish?
In preparation for the film tomorrow, Narnia fans may wish to ponder the following. Today, while sick in bed, I finished reading Stephen Finlan's Problems with Atonement and will review the book in detail later (when my head is less fogged and bowels more calm). For now here's an outline of the various meanings of Christ's death found in the New Testament and later church thinkers. What exactly does it mean to say that "Christ died for us"? As a Unitarian I don't profess this but find the question engaging.
In the New Testament
There are four (or six) understandings of Christ's death in the New Testament: martyrdom, sacrifice (three kinds), scapegoat, and ransom redemption.
1. Martyrdom. Christ died as an example to be followed (Gal 2:19; Rom 6:6-7,11; I Pet 2:21-24,4:1-2).
2. Sacrifice. Christ died --
(a) -- as the new paschal lamb, in order to protect believers from God's wrath in judgment (I Cor 5:7,11:23-26; I Pet 1:19; Mk 14:22-25/Mt 26:26-29/Lk 22:14-20).
(b) -- as the new covenant treatise, in order to make peace between people and renew commitment to God (Gal 3:14; I Cor 11:25; Mk 14:24/Mt 26:28/Lk 22:20; Heb 7:22,8:6,9:15-21).
(c) -- as the new place of atonement, or an atoning sacrifice, in order to reconcile humanity to God through forgiveness (Rom 3:25; Mt 26:28; Eph 1:7; I Jn 2:2,4:10; Heb 2:17,9:11-14,22,26,10:10,19).
3. Scapegoat. Christ died as a scapegoat, taking on curses and bearing away peoples’ sins (Gal 3:13; II Cor 5:21; Rom 6:6,7:4,8:3; Heb 9:28).
4. Ransom Redemption. Christ died in order to pay the price for humanity's freedom from captivity under evil (Gal 3:13; Rom 3:24; I Cor 6:20,7:23; Eph 1:7; I Pet 1:18; Mk 10:45/Mt 20:28; I Tim 2:6; Tit 2:14; Heb 2:14-15,9:12,15).
After the New Testament
Stephen Finlan writes as follows:
"A study of the key patristic developers of the Christian doctrine of atonement finds that they do something that Paul does (find saving significance in the death of Jesus) but also do something that Paul never does: locate the full significance of salvation in one particular metaphor for the death as an atoning act. Paul switches metaphors with a rapidity that suggests any one metaphor, by itself, would be misleading." (Problems with Atonement, p 66)
Paul, more than any NT writer, used all of the above -- martyrdom, sacrifice, scapegoat, and ransom redemption -- depending on a particular point he needed to get across. While later church thinkers were also capable of fusing ideas, the categories would always be subordinate to one of the following three.
1. Ransom Redemption. Based on the biblical understanding (#4 above), but introducing deceit into the picture. God tricked the devil by offering Jesus as a ransom payment to free humanity from his influence, and Satan was foiled by the resurrection. (Origen, Augustine, Gregory the Great; dominant theory in the 2nd-10th centuries)
2. Satisfaction. An honor-shame understanding of the atoning value of Jesus' death, reflecting the feudal structure of medieval times. Sin dishonors God, thus requiring satisfaction. Christ died in the place of humanity, in order to satisfy the demands of honor. (Anselm; dominant theory in the 11th-15th centuries)
3. Penal Substitution. A legal understanding of the atoning value of Jesus' death, which remains most popular today. Sin incurs a debt to God because it breaks his law, thus requiring justice. Christ died in the place of humanity, in order to satisfy the demands of justice. (Luther, Calvin; dominant from the 16th century to modern times)
Of the above three, ransom redemption is obviously the most biblically based. Satisfaction and penal substitution are similar to one another, both rather distant from biblical understandings -- though the satisfaction model at least shares the honor-shame outlook of the ancient Mediterranean.
I'll have more to say about this stuff later. In the meantime, Narnia fans should ponder these ideas in relation to what C.S. Lewis thought Aslan’s death on the stone table accomplished. And who knows, I may actually drag myself to see this movie after all...but when I'm feeling better.