Atonement fetish - Part 1

Ever since the days at St. Mary's University, I have been fascinated with the doctrine of the "atonement". This is the message of how it is the death of Jesus reconciles humanity to God.

In school I was exposed to three dominate theories of the atonement. Here the big three are in historically chronological order.

Ransom - Humanity is held hostage to a power (Satan) and the death of Jesus is the ransom that is 'paid' in order to release humanity from captivity. This was the dominate way of understanding atonement in the first 1000 years of the church.

Substitution - Humans are condemned and deserve punishment because of our sin. The punishment of this sin should fall on humanity, but the Good News is God's wrath and punishment was put upon Christ and thus humanity is now no longer hell bound. This is the dominate way of understanding atonement in our churches so much so to question this understanding is taken as a threat to the entirety of the Gospel.

Moral Exemplar - Jesus' life and death show humanity how to live and a life of self sacrifice is a life that leads to a reconciled world. This is often a position that even agnostics and atheists can approve of as it does not need space for a deity and is taught by secularists and religious alike.

There are a ton of nuanced positions and even varied theories of atonement. For instance, there is a specific form of substitution called "Penal Substitution" which is taught as "the right way". There are new theories such as those of Girardians who talk about the death of Jesus exposes the sacred victim and scapegoat mechanism that runs our world and now that this mechanism (Girard calls it Satan) has been exposed we are liberated.

My point is not to convince you of any one position. I find each theory is helpful at times and hurtful at other times. (For more on this check out "A Community Called Atonement"). My question is where did this recent fascination with the atonement in our churches come from?

I say recent because there is no atonement doctrine in any of the creeds of the church or any of the early councils of the church. It just did not seem to be a big deal at all until recently.

Why is this? I will share a bit more on the next post as to a thought on this question.