In Acts of the Holy Spirit (2000), C. Peter Wagner offers an intriguing discussion of the conflict that arose in the Jerusalem church at the beginning of Acts chapter 6. At that time, the church was a mixture of Hebraic Jews, who were natives of Palestine, and Hellenistic Jews from various parts of the Roman Empire. The cultural differences between these groups were significant. Hebraic Jews spoke Aramaic as their first language, whereas Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek. Hebraic Jews were accustomed to living in an all-Jewish society where strict keeping of Jewish law was the social norm. Hellenistic Jews, on the other hand, were accustomed to mingling with Gentiles and were naturally more accommodating of non-Jewish lifestyles.
The tensions between these groups surfaced at the beginning of Acts chapter 6, when Hellenistic Jews pointed out that Hebraic widows were being taken care of by the church, but the Hellenistic widows were not. Acts 6:1 (NIV 2010) reads:
Last week, as I was returning from Australia, I began to read Acts of the Holy Spirit by C. Peter Wagner (2000). The author is a former professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he served on the faculty for nearly thirty years. (Notable graduates of Fuller include Bill Bright, Rick Warren, John Piper and Rob Bell.)
Wagner’s book is a chapter-by-chapter commentary on the book of Acts with two special twists. First, he places strong emphasis on the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, discussing the extent to which these gifts are present in the Church today. Second, he deals extensively with issues of contextualization – the challenges faced by missionaries as they bring the good news of Jesus Christ into human cultures radically different from their own.
But what about other theories of the atonement? Aren’t they more plausible and less offensive to the dignity of man? Here we review two other theories of the atonement to see if they are better suited to explain what happened on the cross. These two other theories are called the Ransom Theory and the Christus Victor Theory.
The first alternative theory of the atonement is called the “Ransom Theory”. This is “the view, developed by (the theologian) Origen, that Christ’s death was a ransom paid to Satan since he held mankind in bondage.” In other words, God sent Jesus Christ as a ransom to pay to Satan in order that Satan would release human beings from his grasp. The blood of the Lamb of God therefore was the “currency” that was paid out to the devil for us.
In the 19th century, the hymn writer Philip Bliss penned the following lyrics regarding Jesus Christ: “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood; Sealed my pardon with his blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior” This sublime hymn clearly articulates one of the key aspects of the Christian faith, namely the significance of the death of Jesus Christ. Understanding the meaning of the death of Jesus is crucially important for every person. Why indeed did Jesus have to die?
In contemporary culture, there are so many opposing responses to this question that it is hard for many to get to the heart of the answer. For some, the death of Jesus was a tragedy that should have been avoided. For others, it was the most loving act of self sacrifice in history, and an example that we should follow. There are those who believe that the death of Jesus was a necessary ransom to pay to the devil in order to free mankind from his grasp. Still others believe that, “Calvary may be an episode in God’s government of the world…as the argument goes, God, being holy, deemed it necessary to show to the world His hatred of sin, and so His wrath fell on Christ.” And yet, there is also a current “reclaiming” by many in the Christian faith of the most wonderful doctrine of the cross, called Penal Substitution.