Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Response to Peter Martens, "The Quest for an Anabaptist Atonement"

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Response to Peter Martens, "The Quest for an Anabaptist Atonement"

Article excerpt

At the meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) in San Diego in November 2007, I was on a panel to address the meaning of atonement theology for today. Following the session, a well-known feminist critic of standard atonement theologies told me, "Denny, a number of men acknowledge that feminists have critiqued atonement theology. But you are one of the very few who has taken the critique to heart and actually makes use of it." When I have occasion to speak about violence in atonement theology, invariably I hear a version of this speech from a female listener: "Thank you! I was a victim of the abusive atonement theology you described. I left the church because of it. You have given me renewed hope to try again. It is so good to hear a man giving this critique. Don't ever let anyone tell you to stop saying these things!" Such testimonials do not prove the truth of my argument, but they clearly reveal the real people behind the critiques by feminist, womanist and black theologians that Peter Martens dismisses.

Martens's critique focuses on issues of violence and nonviolence, which he correctly divined are among my primary concerns. I recognize that he expended a great deal of heartfelt effort on this essay. However, his discussion ignores whole sections of my argument, while looking for inconsistencies in pieces of it, which are frequently misunderstood, and also failing to grasp the substance of it as a whole. I am sorry to have to point out so many misunderstandings, half-true statements and just plain wrong statements. Space limitations allow mentioning only the most problematic comments from the three issues identified in his introduction. I am grateful to the editor of Mennonite Quarterly Review for granting me the opportunity to offer these corrections.

Martens makes an issue of identifying my approach as "nonconstantinian." Since that is obvious, it is unclear what his point is, other than implying that it leads to finding violence inappropriately in the standard atonement theories. Meanwhile, the implications of "nonconstantinian" do involve a section of my argument that he totally ignored, namely the articulation of narrative Christus Victor from the book of Revelation. (1) Since Revelation poses the church against the empire, narrative Christus Victor cannot be other than nonconstantinian. One important missed point from Revelation: in chapter 19 the defeat of the armies of the earth by the sword from the mouth of the rider--that is, by the Word of God--makes explicit the nonviolent triumph of the reign of God through the nonviolent Messiah.

Martens expended considerable effort exposing supposed contradictions in particular areas of my arguments. These "contradictions," however, actually result from Martens's failure to understand some of the larger issues involved. A case in point is Martens' failure to mention, let alone understand, the significance of my discussion of the historical sequencing of atonement motifs and Anselm's deletion of the devil. Much of Martens's discussion in "Evaluation (Part One)" is skewed because of this omission, which I illustrate beginning with a comment on his section "Jesus a Victim?"

As the historian R. W. Southern has noted, Anselm specifically removed the devil from the equation, (2) and defined the question of divine justice as a matter between sinful humans and God. The death of the God-man is then how God saves--the death of innocent Jesus paying the price demanded by the offended honor of God, which sinful humans owed but could not pay. This arrangement posed several problems for Anselm. For one, he had to explain how the God-man was necessary as the only way that God could save sinners but without limiting God by making it a requirement that God act in that way. Thus Anselm developed the criterion of "fittingness" as a way to depict what was necessary but without placing a limit on God. …

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