Greg Boyd's Christus Victor Model of Atonement Revisited
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Greg Boyd's Christus Victor Model of Atonement Revisited

In the first blog related to the topic of the atonement, I surveyed the views of Greg Boyd, a noted scholar and defender of the Christus Victor model of atonement. As stated previously, Boyd seeks to filter his model of atonement through a non-violent hermeneutic. However, To do that, Boyd goes to extreme lengths to fit the hermeneutic into the Biblical data. The question to ask now is, are there other consequences of Boyd’s interpretation method that negatively impact his Christus Victor model of atonement?

I believe that Boyd’s hermeneutic is flawed and causes more problems than it solves. For example, because of his hermeneutic Boyd’s Christus Victor model of atonement doesn’t account for our guilt but instead appeals to humanity on the basis of cosmic victimhood. Jesus identifies with our fallen state but doesn’t suffer punishment on the basis of our being guilty of rebellion against God. Boyd says,

We need not accept the problematic penal substation claim that God the Father somehow transferred our guilt onto Jesus, as though an innocent party could be made guilty for the sins of others (Ezek. 18:20)…we need not accept the problematic penal substation contention that God the Father needed to vent his wrath by murdering his Son in order to not vent his wrath towards us.[1]

If Boyd is correct in his assessment, and if his model is accurate, then what of Romans 5:6-9, which states,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person-though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. However, God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved from wrath.[2]

The text is absent regarding Boyd’s notion of Jesus’ divine identification with our fallen state. Instead, the text favors the penal substitutionary atonement model because it notes at one time all were helpless and sinners and were made righteous by the blood of Jesus and saved from wrath.

However, Boyd’s assessment of the penal substitution model is a straw man. Penal substation is not the doctrine described by Boyd. On Boyd’s view, this would be like one family member being upset with another because of a wrong done and, instead of beating up the family member who committed the crime, they go and find another member and beat them up. Therefore, instead of venting the wrath on the guilty party, the wronged family member vents their wrath on an innocent party. However, “penal” is a legal term, and thus, penal substitution is a penalty substitution to satisfy divine justice. Romans five demonstrates it is out of God the Father and Son's love for humankind by which the act was done. It is from the position of love, not wrath.

Furthermore, the transfer of guilt happens all the time in many modern legal codes. For example, let’s says there is a county code of conduct that all business must institute a policy in which all customers must wear shirt, shoes, pants to enter the store and there is also a state code against prostitution. If someone walks into the store, without shirt, shoes, or pants and begins soliciting customers as a prostitute, it is clear they violate the law, and the store manager should remove them from the store, to which they would feel the full force of the law. But, what If the store manager allows it to continue? Will the store owner be held responsible for such an act even if he did nothing wrong? Absolutely! The courts and the victims of the wrongdoing will hold both the store manager and store owner responsible. But wait! The store owner did nothing wrong! It doesn’t matter, the liability of the subordinate is imputed to the superior. Vicarious liability takes place all the time in the American court system. This modern-day example is analogous to the penal substation model of atonement in the sense that just as the owner, although innocent, pays for the wrongdoing of the guilty. Jesus, as the superior, pays the penalty for our sins.

In light of the biblical data (Romans 5) Boyd’s Christus Victor model, although well intended (I believe) does not correctly account for what scripture says and furthermore, robs the atonement of having its full effect, in that Jesus merely identifies with us, rather than paying the penalty for us. Therefore, Boyd’s Christus Victor model, once again, should be rejected.


[1] Gregory Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Vol. 2: Cruciform Thesis. (Minneapolis: Freedom Press, 2017), pg. 629.

[2] Ibid.

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