Now that I’ve spent a good deal of time explaining the problems I see with the Penal Substitution view of atonement, I’d like to explain the view of the atonement that I find most convincing. If you haven’t had a chance to read the previous posts, I suggest you start there –> part 1 (what is penal substitution atonement?); part 2 (philosophical problems with PS atonement); part 3 (biblical problems with PS atonement); and part 4 (rethinking Old Testament sacrifices). Now, let’s consider an alternative view …

The Christus Victor Alternative

Today this view is generally referred to as Christus Victor Atonement (Latin for “Christ is victorious”), though throughout history it has sometimes been called ransom theory. This use of the word “ransom” is not used in the modern sense of money paid to a captor to free a hostage, but in the old English sense of the necessary cost of redeeming a prisoner. You see, according to this view, the primary significance of Jesus’ atoning work was that it defeated Satan and freed us from our enslavement to him.

Admittedly, one of the drawbacks to the Christus Victor view is that it is difficult to articulate in a simple 1-2-3 sort of formula. Currently I don’t know of any clever acronyms or diagrams that effectively communicate this view for evangelism purposes (so if you come across one or create one, please share it with me). On the other hand, this might be just as well since Christus Victor Atonement, though it makes for a strange formula, makes for a very beautiful and captivating story. And out of this, Christus Victor Atonement puts heavy emphasis on the discipleship story of Christians. The fact that this understanding of Jesus’ atoning work is best communicate in narrative form (I think) attests to its validity since it fits better with the first century church’s oral tradition and cultural context.

Though most Christians have probably never heard this view, it might interest you to know that this was the dominant view among Christians for about the first thousand years of church history. Beginning most clearly with Origen in the 3rd century (though I would argue that it began with the New Testament), Christian authors and theologians saw the atonement as mainly being the means by which God dealt a deathblow to His archenemy. A Christus Victor understanding of the atonement enjoyed the spotlight until the 11th century when Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury, rejected this view based on (what I think was) a variation and misunderstanding of ransom atonement. Anselm argued that the atonement is primarily about restoring our broken relationship with God for all of the infinite sins we committed against His infinite Person. This laid the groundwork for future understandings of the atonement, the most recent and most popular today being the Penal Substitution view. However, it is my belief that the Christus Victor view avoids/answers the problems that Penal Substitutionary Atonement has. Moreover, I would like to spend some time showing you why I think that (despite popular assumption) the Christus Victor view is firmly grounded in Scripture … but, I’ll do that next time.
For now, watch this video, which tells the Christus Victor story.

Next time, I’ll present the scriptural support for the Christus Victor view. Until then…

  • What do you like about Christus Victor atonement?
  • What potential problems do you see with Christus Victor atonement?
  • What would be a good diagram or formula to succinctly present Christus Victor atonement?

Ready for another article?

Rocky Munoz
Jesus-follower, husband, daddy, amateur theologian, former youth pastor, nerd, and coffee snob. Feel free to email me at and follow me on Twitter (@rockstarmunoz)

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