The Problem with Christus Victor

This Resurrection Sunday I will be preaching on Luke’s account of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-53).  In my study of this passage I have noticed that the most prominent theme that emerges is the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This event was foretold by the Scriptures and by Jesus himself.  This was God’s plan.  This was the way it had to be.  It could not have happened any other way.

The necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection is set in contrast to the preconceived notions (and consequent faulty expectations) of the women, of the eleven, and of the rest of the disciples (including the two on the road to Emmaus).  All of these groups expected Jesus to stay dead.  The women carried spices to the tomb, expecting to find a dead body and finish the task of proper burial.  The eleven (and the others with them) heard the report from the women and thought they were just being hysterical.  Even Peter, having seen the empty tomb for himself, did not come to a full understanding of what had happened.  And the two on the road to Emmaus revealed their unbelief when talking to the stranger about Jesus of Nazareth, saying, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  The implication is that, of course, now that he has been crucified, that hope is gone.

God planned it this way from eternity.  The Scriptures foretold it.  Jesus himself predicted it.  How could those who followed Jesus be so dull?  How could the truth have gone completely over their heads?  They missed the truth because their presuppositions were faulty.  They expected a conqueror who would overthrow the Romans.  What they got was a suffering servant, a sacrifice for their own sins.  They conceived of redemption in nationalistic categories, categories that cast Israel in the role of victim in need of liberation from the oppressor.  But the more fundamental truth about their need is that they were sinners alienated from God and under the threat of his coming judgment.  They expected a Christus Victor, but what they got was true atonement.  And they weren’t ready for that. 

Christus Victor is a biblical theme.  I cannot deny that, nor do I want to deny it.  Jesus Christ has defeated the devil and his forces by means of his death resurrection.  He has disarmed the strong man and liberated his people.  But he has done so precisely by putting away their sins.  And if Christus Victor depends on the putting away of sins, then it cannot itself be the means by which sins are put away.  Sins are wiped away by means of a blood sacrifice that pays the penalty for sin.  God’s righteous decree demands death for sin, and by sentencing his innocent Son to death, God’s justice has been upheld even as he acquits those who deserve death. 

The gospel addresses us primarily as sinners, not as victims.  The women and the disciples had that reversed, and they missed the truth as a result.  They conceived of redemption primarily as the change of a social/political situation.  They minimized their own need for forgiveness and thus had no categories for a suffering messiah. 

My concern is that leftist evangelicals are doing the same thing today.  Their primary concerns do not relate to the problem that God stands against us in his wrath.  They tend to see our deepest problem as a social/political problem in which evil has invaded God’s good creation, and God is the primary protagonist standing on our side to fight the battle and overcome it.  Redemption is viewed primarily as the liberation of victims.  It is no surprise that Christus Victor is the atonement theory of choice, generally speaking, for this side of the spectrum.  But this is a truncated gospel because it does not address the fundamental problem: we have offended God and now stand under his wrath.  We need more than a liberator.  We need a sacrifice, a mediator, a substitute, a ransom.  If it is not tethered to a robust doctrine of penal substitution, Christus Victor is just another variation of the faulty presupposition that made Jesus’ followers unable to see the truth about Easter.

If we do not see ourselves primarily as sinners in need of forgiveness, we will not grasp the gospel.  If we do not relinquish the desire to justify ourselves, we will never receive the divine verdict of justification.  May God give us all a deeper sense of our sin and a deeper love for the gospel this Sunday.

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2 Responses to “The Problem with Christus Victor”

  1. luke smith Says:

    Hello Aaron,
    I think you might ought to read some of these people…you don’t present them very accurately.

    Luke Smith

  2. fenderpooh Says:

    Hey Luke! Long time no see.

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