Category: Gospel, JESUS, Polity, Psychology, Theology
I’ll be connecting three overarching worldviews with three models of atonement. This will be extremely helpful to any Christian who wants to put the Gospel into cultural context to any major people group, ranging from three geographical areas (the Americas, Africa, and Asia).
There are three predominant worldviews that cultures have embraced due to the consequences of the Fall from perfection in the Garden of Eden: (1) Fear vs. Power; (2) Guilt vs. Innocence; and (3) Shame vs. Honor.
Fear vs. Power: Many African cultures and some Asian and South American cultures, which are more animistic, emphasize the natural desire for protection and prosperity by seeking divine power to combat the demonic power of fear. These cultures invoke charms, sacrifices, and spirit worship to shield them from angry (dead) ancestors and/or provoked spirits. Accordingly, the world is carved up into two realms—the physical and the spiritual, with the spiritual having power over the physical. Superstition regulates how people remain on the good side of the spirits.
Guilt vs. Innocence: In most western cultures, the focus of humanity centers not so much on the power struggle between theological concepts of good and evil, but on legal terms regarding rightness and wrongness, such as innocence and guilt. The individual is determined innocent by keeping the law, and by breaking the law, s/he is determined guilty, which demands punishment. The focus here is on individual rights and freedoms, which enable the person to reach his/her potential.
Shame vs. Honor: Eastern cultures from Asia, the Middle East, and South America emphasize the honor of the collective and not so much the individual as does the west. Honor to the group is maintained at whatever cost in order to avoid shaming the family, tribe, or clan, which typically results in shunning the sinner. Individual achievements and accomplishments, however, contribute to the honor of the group. Life comes down to connection and contribution to the group.
“Adam and Eve began their lives innocent, unashamed and fearless in their relationship with God. The moment they ate the [forbidden] fruit the world turned upside down; from being innocent, they became guilty of breaking God’s command; from being unashamed, they became ashamed of their nakedness and tried to hide it; from being fear-less, they became fear-full, hiding from God when he came into the garden. For God, he saw his beloved creation fall into chaos. Guilt brought punishment. Shame brought rejection. Fear was joined by condemnation brought about by the judgment God pronounced. Yet, through all this, God did not withdraw his love from his creation.” “Guilt, Shame and Power: Worldviews and the Gospel,” Power to Change (2014), pg. 1.
By the biblical-theological term “atonement,” I’m referring to a sacrifice that makes reconciliation to God possible. For all intents and purposes, atonement can be construed creatively as a sinner being at-one-ment with God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.
There are a handful of atonement models that all Christians should be familiar with, such as Christus Victor, Satisfaction, Penal Substitution, Recapitulation, Moral Influence, Ransom, Governmental, and Scapegoat. I’d like to show how the first three fit or connect—hand-in-glove—to the three anthropological worldviews previously discussed.
Christus Victor and Power
On the cross, Christ’s death defeated the powers of Satan and all evil. This spiritual warfare motif illustrates that through Christ’s victory all things have been reconciled to God. Human beings are thus set free from the bondage of sin.
The Satisfaction Model and Honor
In the Middle Ages, with the cultural milieu of feudal obligation for vassals to pay honor to their lords, the human predicament of sin before God was seen as humans/vassals failing to pay honor due to their Lord/landlord. God’s honor could only be satisfied or restored if “the debt of honour were paid—either by compensation or by penalty inflicted.” And because an infinite God had been dishonoured by finite creatures God could not be satisfied by their penalty. Enter Jesus Christ—the God-man. St. Anselm writes that “none but God can make [atonement for sin] and none but man ought to make [it], [thus] it is necessary for the God-man to make it” (emphases mine); hence, the title of his magnum opus, Cur Deus Homo (“Why Did God Become Human?”). Stephen D. Morrison sums up Anselm’s Satisfaction theory by saying, “Jesus Christ died in order to pay back the injustice of human sin and to satisfy the justice of God.”
The Penal Substitution Model and Innocence
A cultural paradigm shift resulted from the time of the Middle Ages to the Protestant Reformation. The cultural milieu went from a feudal system of government to a criminal justice system. And thus, the feudal system of restoring a debt of honor either by compensation or penalty inflicted became the legal system of restoring a (legal) debt satisfying the wrath of God by penalty only. Paul S. Fiddes comments on the Creator-creature estrangement: “[The predicament] was understood in terms of there being law-breakers, summoned to receive condemnation at the divine bar of justice. Atonement, correspondingly, was a matter of satisfying not so much the honour of God as the demands of his Law, with Jesus punished as a substitute for guilty humankind.”
Every human being is affected or influenced in some way by each of the overarching worldviews. But depending on culture, one particular worldview becomes more prominent than the other. It would be prudent, therefore, if we’re sharing the Gospel with a person or group of people from a certain geographical area, to “speak the Gospel in their language” or to contextualize the message of salvation so it resonates most clearly and powerfully with its audience.
 Paul S. Fiddes, Past Event and Present Salvation: The Christian Idea of Atonement (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 1989), 8.
 Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, 2.6.
 Stephen D. Morrison, “Seven Theories of the Atonement Summarized,” https://www.sdmorrison.org/7-theories-of-the-atonement-summarized/ (accessed May 22, 2021).
 Fiddes, Past Event and Present Salvation, 9.
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