Representation And Substitution In The Atonement Theologies Of Dorothee Solle, John Macquarrie, And Karl Barth by Jeannine Michele Graham (American University Studies Theology and Religion Series VII Theology and Religion: Peter Lang Publishing) How does what happened 2000 years ago in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ radically alter the human nature and life situation of men and women in every generation up to the present day? Pursuit of this question provided the initial impetus for this book, a study of two vital themes pertaining to the doctrine of atonement—representation and substitution. The author explores their meaning and role within the theologies of three significantly diverse contemporary theologians—Dorothee Solle, John Macquarrie, and Karl Barth—concluding with a comparative analysis of all three perspectives in relation to each other.
Graham demonstrates a rare conceptual grasp of her topic and the theologians she chooses to analyze. This work provides a useful introduction to these theologians and a thorough review of the principal issues of representation and substitution in the theologies of atonement. I include below an excerpt from her conclusion which does a pretty good job of summarizing the scope of her study. However Graham's great strength is in her descriptive analytical comparisons of these theologians views, for which I suggest you consult the main body of the text.
Excerpt: The title of this study has set the christological parameters by which we have sought to explicate the doctrine of the reconciliation of God with humankind. The governing presupposition has been that it is in Christ's being and acting for us that such restoration occurs. How have the key themes of representation and substitution shaped our understanding of reconciliation, whether by their presence or absence throughout the history of Christian doctrine? Rather than course through a plethora of theologians to arrive at a sweeping survey of the many variations of these themes, we have confined our scope to three contemporary figures. In their diverse approaches and conclusions, they have stirred us to consider the nature of God, the Person and work of Christ, the divine purpose for creation, the nature of the obstacle that impedes right relationship, and the contours of human involvement.
Several overall impressions have emerged. Dorothee Solle prophetically challenges us to address the alienation and disempowerment of people by sin, largely in its institutionalized dimension. She summons us to expand our view of reconciliation beyond the narrow confines of privatized piety to include the larger scope of the socio-political milieu. She challenges us to take seriously the quest for personal identity in a technological society where human dignity can become sacrificed on the altar of pragmatic benefits for the powers-that-be.
John Macquarrie elucidates personal being from an existential-ontological perspective, probing ways in which to establish points of contact with the secular world starting from a common base in human experience. He seeks to translate the Gospel into contemporary thought patterns and language that arouse the attention of modern ears all too ready to dismiss it as irrelevant to their lives.
Both Solle and Macquarrie, while taking as their starting point the human person, strive to link the individual quest for identity or self-realization to relationship with God. Solle's treatment of the subject leads her from self-identity to a consideration of God's quest for self-identity. Macquarrie presumes the quest for self-realization and self-transcendence as naturally progressing to a consideration of divine transcendence. Both attempt in different ways to assert the premise that God is the hermeneutic of authentic human personhood.
Despite the merits of their respective contributions, we were impressed with some serious flaws in their underestimation of the human incapacitation caused by sin. This in turn leads them to ascribe a greater capability of the human subject to be involved in the reconciliation process than is biblically justifiable. Moreover, their understandings of the Person of Christ, though taking different forms, share a common deficiency in being insufficiently incarnational. While Solle never attempts to ascribe divinity to the human Jesus, Macquarrie strives to maintain faithfulness with the orthodox tradition. In both instances we see traces of an underlying false dichotomy in that humanity and divinity are, in effect, mutually exclusive categories. To posit one person as simultaneously fully human and fully divine creates an insurmountable logical tension for them, which can only be seen as compromising the integrity of the genuinely human. Solle's contention that Jesus' representative role is by design merely temporary introduces a functional christology that casts a dubious shadow on the significance of Christ. Insofar as Christ is reduced to a utilitarian means of securing our end of self-fulfillment, we reach a point where we no longer need his services. All of these factors contribute to a rejection of substitution as depersonalizing and a truncated view of representation, positing a limited Representative insufficiently equipped to mediate on both sides of the divine-human divide.
We found in Barth a critical corrective for the more flagrant flaws of Solle and Macquarrie while steering clear of the troublesome shoals of traditional substitutionary views. We perceived a key element in Barth's treatment as being his trinitarian doctrine of God and the consistency with which he brings a triune perspective into every area of doctrine. This liberates his understanding of reconciliation from narrowly constricted legal categories, placing it in a covenantal, filial framework more consonant with the biblical portrayal. We noted the priority he places on the hypostatic union and its central significance in interpreting the atoning work of Christ in terms of a double movement. It also enabled us to comprehend how Christ's humanity as the elected humanity of the Creator Word could have ontological connections with the whole of humanity. Barth's emphasis on the need to interpret the atonement in light of the incarnation, insisting that Who atones determines what is effected in atonement, highlights the necessity of holding Christ's representative humanity together with his substitutionary acts in our place. Since it is God as the human Jesus who atones in and through his humanity, reconciliation can never be a matter of securing "benefits" detachable from the Person of Christ. Correspondingly, since the humanity of Jesus is no other than the humanity of the atoning God, reconciliation fails to reach its mark if the divinity of the Mediator is traded off in the interests of preserving the authenticity of his humanity. Participation in the fully divine, fully human Person of Christ, who is himself the reconciliation of God and humankind—the One in whom the covenant is fulfilled from both divine and human sides—constitutes and reveals God's faithfulness to Godself and God's good purposes for creation.
Viewed from the intensely relational perspective anchored in the triune Being of God, both representation and substitution are required to do justice to the reconciling act of God in Christ for us. Representation without substitution promotes a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian agenda that militates against the biblical attestation to humankind's terminal state and need for deliverance from beyond ourselves. While attempting to express an important human dimension of reconciliation, substitutionless representation lacks an adequate account of the priority and necessity of God's gracious acts toward humankind—the God-humanward movement—to liberate us for response. On the other hand, while sounding the strong note of God's sovereign act of deliverance toward us, substitution without representation, too, proves deficient on its own, lacking a corresponding awareness of the vital human-Godward dimension of Jesus' vicarious mission in rendering obedient response to God on our behalf. Both substitutionless representation and representationless substitution, though imbalanced in opposite ways, betray the common element of an insufficiently incarnational base, which greatly impoverishes the meaning and scope of God's reconciling act in Christ for us.
The irony is that in seeking to safeguard Christ's genuine humanity, thus avoiding docetism, Solle and Macquarrie have, in fact, introduced a subtle docetism in that God merely masquerades as the eternally gracious God represented by Christ. In challenging the incarnational realism of Jesus' Person as simultaneously fully divine and fully human, they cast God's humanity under the cloak of illusion. In so doing, the grace of God's incarnate self-giving, in effect, becomes a mask evacuated of its reality. Solle's portrayal of Jesus as temporal Representative of humankind and God proves, by the "expiration date" placed on such representation, to be a misrepresentation of the eternal Being of God, for whom no such limits can be accurately representative. For Macquarrie, the misrepresentation comes at the beginning of his christological development. Presenting a Jesus who only gradually transcends into divine identity, Macquarrie places the delimiting disjuncture at the outset. Whether at the end or the beginning, by punctuating Jesus' role (Solle) or Jesus' ontological identity (Macquarrie) as Representative of the eternal God, both theologians have selectively disattended the biblically-attested actuality of grace as it has come to us in Jesus. By asserting that God only temporarily invests
Godself in Jesus until self-identity, on both human and divine planes, is attained, or, that God only eventually invests Godself fully in Jesus at the end of Jesus' earthly career, have they not tampered with the very core of the Gospel of grace? In either case, they portray perspectives which defy God's eternal covenantal decision from before the foundation of the world to express God's eternal Being in temporal terms by becoming fully human while not ceasing to be fully divine. By allowing time to condition the parameters of Jesus' identity and atoning purpose, they have introduced an interruption into God's eternal intention and gracious self-commitment to bind Godself wholly and unconditionally in unbroken solidarity as one of us. In proceeding from anthropocentric starting points, they have, in effect, reversed the eternal-temporal relation, ascribing to time the illegitimate role of judging and delimiting what is eternally real—God's eternal decision to be gracious by taking humankind irrevocably into God's divine life. Seeking to safeguard Jesus' full humanity, they have fatally jeopardized it by subordinating the actual Person beneath the facade of what he symbolizes, wherein Jesus' real humanity as the uncompromised humanity of God becomes swallowed up by a devouring caricature of the human Jesus, artificially severing asunder what God has hypostatically joined through the incarnational event. We are left with an unavoidably docetic distortion of the Creator God who graciously deigns to be fully and unreservedly like us as the human Jesus, whereby the eternal triune resolve degenerates into the temporal putting on and taking off of human nature like a mask. Ironically, this becomes in the end a "masquerade" of the eternal grace of God's self-giving, masking the very heart of the Gospel—the Word-made-flesh—behind a dangerous charade of deception.
Both the human-Godward and the God-humanward dimensions conveyed by the concepts of representation and substitution are indispensable to a proper, biblically grounded understanding of reconciliation and must be held together. To press the atoning Person and work of Christ into the falsely dichotomous mold of being either Representative or Substitute distorts the biblical portrayal and truncates the full glory of the Gospel of grace. It diminishes the full significance of the incarnation as the unprecedented event of God coming as human to accomplish for us from within human nature what we could not (but must) do, ushering us into that for which we were destined: a life of intimate union and communion with the triune God. In light of Jesus' inclusive representative humanity, substitution is not depersonalizing but "repersonalizing—eminently personal. The grace of representative substitution is not merely concerned with meeting certain legal requirements but with mediating vital union through the Spirit with the Risen, Living Lord, in whom our reconciled being is both present reality and eschatological hope.
Christ for us as Representative and Substitute—it is the ground and grammar of the Christian life. It is the proclamation of liberation from the oppressive burden of endless striving to "measure up" to an impossibly high standard in order to merit divine approval. It is the joyful realization that the much-yearned-for re-personalization of our beings is not a tantalizing ideal inaccessibly remote from us, but the "truest" truth of our being in the Living Christ now. Enabled by the indwelling Spirit to participate in what Christ has already done for us, we are set free to correspond to such reconciling grace through a life of daily discipleship in grateful union with the One who lived, died and ever lives again on our behalf and in our place.
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