1. Salvation: The Death of Jesus

re: the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus

It was suggested that Christians could be grouped into two camps:

1. Those who emphasize Jesus’ death, and
2. Those who emphasize his life.

Obviously, these are generalizations – some might say caricatures. But if I accept that Christians could be grouped this way, what are the distinctive features of each group? Who are these people?

I do not think I belong in either group, but maybe I can offer my opinion anyway, and then follow up with my point of view.

I. “Those who emphasize his death”

A. Those who gave us pre-modern Atonement theology: the ransom theory (Origen, c. 185-254), the satisfaction theory (Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109), and the moral influence theory (St. Augustine, 354-430 and Peter Abelard 1079-1142).

B. Those who represent modern (over)-reactions to “those who emphasize Jesus’ life”:

1. Those early 20th century conservative Protestants and their heirs: “A belief in the authenticity of miracles was one of five tests established in 1910 by the Presbyterian Church to distinguish true believers from false professors of faith such as “educated, ‘liberal’ Christians.”

2. Some traditionalists: Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, is a pious reflection on the “Stations of the Cross,” but goes over the line into an extended meditation on sadism, as it attempts to show that Jesus suffered more than any other man.

II. “Those who emphasize Jesus’ life”

A. Those who are the heirs of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason: The Enlightenment brought advances in scientific knowledge, and more adequate explanations for natural events and processes.

B. Those who embraced modern Biblical interpretation: In the 19th century some Christians increasingly became uncomfortable with what they saw as cultic traditions and “pagan” belief systems having infected the biblical accounts.


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