Resources: Stone-Campbell Christology and Atonement

I have uploaded some published and unpublished material on the Christology and the Atonement to a couple of my pages. While this is older material–most of which was written in the 1990s–the historical perspective is still, I hope, helpful and some of the theology might be as well. 🙂

On the Academic page…..

In 1994 I gave the inagural lecture for the Restoration Theological Research Fellowship at the Society of Biblical Literature. It was titled “What Did Christ’s Sacrifice Accomplish? Atonement in Early Restoration Thought.” It surveys the different atonement theories of Alexander Campbell (as well as Thomas Campbell), Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott. It then picks up the theories that emerged as dominant in the middle and late nineteenth century (including the views of J. W. McGarvey, Robert Milligan, Hiram Christopher, Thomas Munnell among others). I conclude that while penal substitution was a common notion within our history, we have a diverse history of understanding of the atonement (including moral and governmental theories). Ultimately, the SCM–especially Churches of Christ–settled for emphasizing the fact of the atonement without trying to explain (or perhaps even understand) the atonement.

In 1999 I offered a response to a presentation by Doug Foster on Stone-Campbell Christology for the Restoration Theological Research Fellowship at SBL. I suggest that our Christological story line has moved from a search for doctrinal unity in the midst of competing Christologies–a unity which was rooted in the use of biblical language rather then theological consensus–to the full embrace of a Trinitarian incarnational theology that focuses on the ethical life. We have learned from our heritage not to get overheated in speculation and we have learned from others the importance of an incarnational theology for the Christian life. Perhaps we can maintain the biblical confession that Jesus, the Messiah, is the Son of God as our common faith while at the same time reflecting theologically on the meaning of that confession for our understanding of God and ethics.

On the General Materials page….

I was asked to provide an article on the atonement for the festschrift in honor of Dr. Harold Hazelip (entitled Theology Matters, edited by Mark Black, Gary Holloway and Randy Harris) whose service in education among Churches of Christ has been exemplary. He was at one time Dean of Harding University Graduate School of Religion and then President of Lipscomb University. I entitled my contribution “What Did God Do to Sin and Death through Jesus Christ?” While recognizing that other dimensions of the atonement are necessary to a full understanding, I offer a particular perspective on the “just and justifier” dimension of the cross. God himself removed sin from his people through Jesus Christ, God identified himself with sinners in Jesus Christ, God substituted himself for sinners in Jesus Christ, and God satisfied himself in Jesus Christ. The atonement was, in part, the self-substitution of God for our sakes. But resurrection is also part of the atoning work of God in Jesus. Our resurrection with Jesus is the presence of God’s transforming Spirit in our hearts, our resurrection with Jesus transforms our experience of death, and our resurrection with Jesus in our “spiritual” bodies enables full communion with God in the eschaton. The death and resurrection of Jesus are two of God’s mighty acts of reconciliation (we should add incarnation, ministry and ascension as well). The cross is God’s self-humiliating participation in human suffering in order to substitute himself for the sake of his own self-satisfaction. The resurrection is God’s justification of Jesus through which we presently experience the powre of a sancfified life, live with hope in the face of death and expect our full sanctification by God’s Spirit in the eschaton. Atonement destroys sin and restores life.

I have uploaded a chart that I often use in discussing the atonement with students in my systematic classes. I hope it makes sense, but perhaps it is too bare bones to be helpful. Maybe I will have opportunity in the future to explain it a bit more. Essentially, it recognizes that atonement is a broad concept that involves the act of God in incarnation to unite God and humanity (e.g., the union of immortality with mortality in sublime fellowship), the act of God in the ministry of Jesus to destroy evil and reverse the curse, the act of God at the cross to defeat the powers of evil, the justification of God and humanity at the cross as the reconciling work of divine love, and moral example of God in Jesus to define human life as it was intended to be lived (the true image of God).

At the bottom of the chart is another way of picturing the theories of atonement–dynamic, subjective or obejctive. Dynamic refers to the act of God to confront the hostile elements in order to defeat them (God does something to sin, evil, etc.). Subjective refers to the act of God within the human soul to transform us (God does something to us). Objective refers to the act of God to set the cosmos right by maintaining his own justice but at the same time expressing his love–which he does through self-substitution and self-satisfaction (God does something within himself).

And so my quest to make materials available continues….I hope someone finds them useful. 🙂

6 Responses to “Resources: Stone-Campbell Christology and Atonement”

  1.   Nick Gill Says:

    I, for one, am thrilled that more professors and theologians are making their work available in the public domain. Those of us with financial stupidity in our past that keeps us from pursuing education in a typical fashion are extremely blessed with your work.

    I will have to read your paper on our Christological story line, because at pew level, I do not see such a move. I still see us seeking doctrinal unity rather than incarnational ecclesiology, and biting and devouring one another because of it. Perhaps your perspective offers greater clarity; I still get extremely frustrated and depressed.

  2.   Quiara Says:

    I definitely appreciate your making available these resources. Thank you.

  3.   Daniel Says:

    Thanks for the resources. I hope to look over them very soon in depth. I taught a class on atonement theologies several years ago, and its next incarnation will be *new and improved*.


  4.   RICH CONSTANT Says:

    i finially found this one hiding in plain shight

    more to read..

    thank you
    blessings rc

  5.   Larry Walker Says:

    i am a little bit (a few decades) late in arriving at a conscious state regarding atonement issues, but have really soaked up a lot of material the last few years. I tried reading Stone and Campbell’s exchanges on the atonement, but found more heat than light.
    I was really helped by Vincent Taylor’s books [‘Atonement in NT Teaching’ and ‘Jesus and His Sacrifice’] and more recently by ‘Atonement and Personality’ by RC Moberley. The latter especially helped me balance the subjective and objective perspectives and both helped me see more clearly implications for our Restoration Heritage. i cannot help but believe that it is as you stated – the movement did not try to understand the atonement. Would to God we had spent more time on it – especially on the cross as something we ENTER into and identify with by faith, crucifying self and sacrificing self for the will of the holy and righteous God. Perhaps the interminable wrangling and fracturing over every conceivable issue could have been averted.

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Campbell and Stone’s exchanges belong to a early 19th century mode of debate and argument, but Stone’s take on sacrfice is difficult to follow. 🙂

    Atonement has received a renewed emphasis in recent discussions within Evangelicalism and perhaps this time we will pay more attention.

    Thanks for reading.

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