Archive for the ‘Theology in Context’ Category

I thought that I would continue Xavier’s examination of Anselm by looking at his view of the Atonement.  I find Anselm very interesting because it seems to me his theology reveals a lot about how people in the medieval world thought.  He was a man of the times so to speak. 

This comes out in his doctrine of the Atonement.  Although most of us probably take the idea of Jesus dying in our place (penal substitution) and of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath for us to be the norm in the church, this view wasn’t adopted until 11th century.    Until Anselm the atonement was viewed primarily as having an effect on humanity, whether that be paying Satan a ransom for our freedom, or the removal of sin as a disease.  With Anselm, however, it was God that was affected by the atonement and not us per se.  God had been dishonored by man’s sin and “demanded satisfaction.” 

 It has been argued that Anselm’s view of the atonement was decisively colored by the world in which he lived.  Otto Weber writes: “But the fact remains that Anselm constructs ‘satisfaction’ abstractly, as an a priori.  This is the result of his realism.  But that does not make it right.”  H.D. Mcdonald ties together everything I have thus far written: “Anselm has in fact built his theory of atonement on a view of God other than he himself affirmed, for his theory is based on the analogy of God as a medieval sovereign quick to react to personal affront to his dignity.  But that is not an adequate guide to an understanding of Christ’s work (emphasis mine).”   

While Anselm’s view definitely has some merit, it does appear that his worldview prevented him from seeing the truth in the first 1000 years of Christian thought on the atonement.  Hopefully scholars today can be creative and inventive but heed this lesson from history and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.    


 This endeavor will look a lot like the dive into philosophy.

1) Dividing Christianity into epochs or time periods.  The tentative periods at this time are; “Ancient Christianity (100-500 AD), “Augustine (He deserves a section all his own),” Medieval Christianity (500-1500 AD),” “The Refomation (1500-1700 AD),” “The Enlightenment (1700-1800),” and the “Modern World (1800-Present).”

2) Provide a general survey in each period of the Christian thinkers cultural milieu, influences, significant issues, and movements as well as their general thoughts regarding different areas of Christian doctrine.  While many of these topics will overlap, it appears that some form of systemization is necessary so that a structure will aid both myself and the reader in taking concrete situations and people and synthesizing them with abstract ideas to stimulate critical thinking, creating the grand “aha!” moment.  As such, the format for each period will be (hat tip to Wiles and Santer’s book Documents in Early Christian Thought for giving me the idea of how to structure some of this:

1.  General Historical-Cultural context (How/why did it influence Christian thought?)

2.  Role of Theology in time period for church (Did they see it as important?)

3. Major Movements (eg Dominicans, The Apologists, Evangelicals, etc)

4. Heresies

5. Major personalities of the era (Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, Aquinas, Luther, etc) 

6. Their theological views on a) God, b) Trinity, c) Christology, d) Pneumatology, e) sin & grace, f) tradition and Scripture, g) Ecclesiology, h) the sacraments, i) Christian living, j) Church & society [politics], and k) eschatology. 

7. Drawing conclusions and setting the stage for the next era. 

8. Intersecting the info with the Philosophy of the day  and see how they interact.

Obviously no one can do every major movement, heresy, Christian personality, and area of doctrine justice; to try to do so would take a few lifetimes.  My hope is that a reasonable balance can be found between being too large and being too simplified.

I would like to invite other Christian intellectuals to lend their expertise on this amibitous project.  Of course, comments are welcome, provided they are constructive.  However, if anyone would like to post, as frequent or as infrequent on my site during this project, please comment and let me know.  I am hopeful that this could become a communal affair.  I will correspond with any takers to make this happen.  Also, if you feel compelled to post, don’t view my categories or outline as rigid; it isn’t, it is merely made to have a starting place.  The same goes for chronology.  Post on whatever, and i will organize it.  You don’t have to be “in order.”