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Analyzing the Atonement: Governmental Theory

This will be the conclusion of posts on a few of the prominent views on the atonement throughout history. This is the major variation on the Substitution Theory that is most often represented by Penal Substitution. 

The Differences

The major differences between this view and the Penal view are quite simple. In the Penal view each sin carries a particular judgment. Each particular judgments was placed Christ. This of course is the root of the problem behind the limited/unlimited argument.

But before non-Calvinistic evangelicals wanted to retain penal substitution, there was a more moderate substitution model that reached its heyday in the Arminian responses to Calvinism. This view accepts that Christ died as a substitute for sinners with respect to the wrath of God. This sets it apart then from Anselm's satisfaction view. But it is not an explicit our sins/judgment on Christ. Instead Christ suffers as a universal head for creation which permits God to forgive while remaining just.

An Analogy

Many modern advocates of penal substitution fall back into a governmental position when pushed hard enough. Some attempt to hold the strict penal position with some varying amount of tension. Here is a bar analogy to help explain the views.

Penal Substitution: Christ walks into a bar and pays for every specific drink that will be purchased that evening.  

Limited Penal Substitution:  Christ only pays for the drinks ordered by people who will accept His payment.

Unlimited Penal Substitution:  Christ's payment is sufficient for each and every drink that will be ordered but this doesn't stop people from paying for their own drink.

Governmental Theory:  Christ bought an "open bar" and anyone who wants to participate can. This doesn't stop people from putting a drink on their own tab though.

Clear as mud right? The value of the Governmental Theory is that it removes the tension about "double jeopardy" on the sins Christ died for that remained un-confessed. This perspective remains, in my opinion, the more logically consistent view for non-Calvinists but is a rarity in the modern evangelical world. Instead the Unlimited Penal view is the most favored despite tension and superfluous language.

A Historical Answer

One of the major things in favor of this view is its consistency in terms of scope with the rest history on the atonement. The universal and yet generic perspective is right in line with Recapitulation and Ransom theory. And in its desire to accommodate for the nature of "died for the world" type texts, this view is correct.

However, the great distinction for this view is the wrath of God and substitution perspective. Christ really isn't a substitute unless you're a part of the church who has forgiveness applied. This relational substitution lacks the definiteness of older historical views. Similarly, adding the focus of God's wrath keeps the view in the questionable category of Christus Victor proponents.

In the end, holders of this view could incorporate older views. They wouldn't face any struggle with the limited/unlimited nature of Christ's atonement. This has always been "the view" I would lean to if I departed from my Calvinist standing. But in the end, the generic nature of substitution strikes me as unnecessary. 


Come up next will be the final post with more insight into my perspective on the atonement.  

Analyzing the Atonement: Final Thoughts

BBC: Genesis 9:4-7