(Awhile back I got a comment from a very intelligent friend telling me that they had just finished reading through my Rethinking the Atonement series, and they had a number of apparent problems that they found with the Christus Victor view. So this is part 3 of a series where we take some time to engage their objections. Enjoy, and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section below!)
God is sovereign; however, the Christus Victor view treats God as if He were neither omniscient nor omnipotent.
In order to address this concern, we have to first lay some groundwork by giving definitions to terms such as sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence. Let’s look at each one in turn.
First, due to a great deal of influence by certain western Christian thinkers (predominantly Augustine and Calvin), the word “sovereignty” has become synonymous with being all-controlling. More than a few times I have heard people claim that in order for God to be sovereign He must be the one pulling the strings behind each and every event in history, from the macro (e.g., the Holocaust) to the micro (e.g., which pair of socks you put on this morning). As one Calvinist theologian has said, “If there is one molecule in this universe running around loose outside the scope or sphere of God’s divine control and authority and power, then that single maverick molecule may be the grain of sand that changes the entire course of human history, that blocks God from keeping the promises he has made to his people… If there is one maverick molecule, it would mean that God is not sovereign.”1 As you can see, in this view God’s divine sovereignty is balanced on a rather thin razor’s edge. All it would take is one tiny molecule to thwart His entire cosmic plan for human history. However, I find this view of sovereignty to be sorely lacking. Rather, I contend that God’s sovereignty is not so much His controlling everything, as it is His being in control of everything. If you liken God to a captain of a huge ocean liner, a good captain does not need to control and micromanage everything that is happening on his ship in order to be in control of his ship and ensure that it will get where he wants it to go. In my estimation, a truly sovereign Lord of the universe would be able to guide the course of history without controlling every molecule, and He would be all the more glorious for having done so.
Second, God’s omniscience (His all-knowingness) is probably one the most hotly debated of His attributes. I happen to come across this quite a bit since I adhere to an open view of divine foreknowledge. In short, I believe that the future genuinely consists partly of open possibilities; and, because of this, God’s knowledge of the future partly consists of open possibilities. You see, in order for God to have true knowledge, He must know things as they truly are. Therefore, if the future does truly consist of open possibilities, then God has to know those parts of the future as open possibilities. In fact, if the future partly contains possibilities, but God only knows the future as consisting of certainties, then God would actually not be omniscient, because there would be a part of the future (open possibilities) which He did not know as it truly is. Considering all of this, I think that the best definition of divine omniscience is this – God knows everything that it is logically possible for Him to know.2
Thirdly, similar to the idea of omniscience, God’s omnipotence (His all-powerfulness) could best be understood by saying that God can do anything that it is logically possible to for Him to do.3 This means that we have to have a general idea of what is logically possible for God. One way of doing this is by first understanding that God has integrity, meaning that He cannot do anything contrary to His nature. For instance, God is by definition all-loving. In fact, one New Testament writer goes so far as to say that “God is love.”4 Therefore, God’s omnipotence is such that He cannot do anything unloving. Now, this is where theological debates can start to get really dense. But, I don’t want to get too much into the loving (or unloving) nature of some of the things the Bible records God doing. Just as an exercise in logic, consider it an example of what it means for God to be omnipotent.
Bearing these three definitions in mind, I don’t think that the Christus Victor view of the atonement in any way jeopardizes God’s sovereignty, omniscience, or omnipotence. While Christus Victor atonement allows that Satan acts outside of the will of God, this does not mean that God is not still in control of the overarching direction that history is going, and it certainly doesn’t mean that God is not sovereign.5 Also, while God may not have foreknown Satan’s rebellion and the fall of man as certainties, He did know them as possibilities, and therefore His omniscience remains intact.6 And last of all, Christus Victor atonement presupposes that God could not simply bulldoze over Satan and his evil dominion. However, this is not to deny God’s omnipotence since, as an all-loving God, He extends freewill to His creatures (both human and angelic), and He cannot logically revoke free will (or its ramifications) just to accomplish whatever He wants.7
So, while Christus Victor may run contrary to some of the Calvinist/Penal Substitution definitions of divine sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence,8 there are perfectly good and acceptable definitions of these terms that Christus Victor atonement fits quite comfortably into.
I hope that helps. Peace!
1: R. C. Sproul, Now, That’s a Good Question! (Tyndale House Publishers, 2011), 26.
2: This rules out absurdities and logical impossibilities (i.e., God cannot know the dimensions of a perfectly round triangle, or any such nonsense).
3: This has a similar result (i.e., God cannot create a married bachelor).
4: 1 Jn 4:7-8, 16, emphasis mine
5: In fact, any view that claims that there is anything outside of God’s will (e.g., rape, murder, infanticide, or just sin in general) is going to have to reject the all-controlling view of divine sovereignty.
6: However, bear in mind that not all adherents to Christus Victor atonement also adhere to an open view of divine foreknowledge… and that’s okay.
7: Otherwise, it wouldn’t really be free will, would it?
8: Which, bear in mind, is still a relatively small thread in the greater tapestry of Christianity