Demythologized “Christus Victor”: J. Denny Weaver on the Atonement -- By: Brenda B. Colijn

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 44:0 (NA 2012)
Article: Demythologized “Christus Victor”: J. Denny Weaver on the Atonement
Author: Brenda B. Colijn


Demythologized “Christus Victor”: J. Denny Weaver on the Atonement

Brenda B. Colijn *

I am always a bit perplexed about the work of J. Denny Weaver. He represents my own Anabaptist tradition (Weaver is Mennonite, while I am Brethren). While not the only Anabaptist voice in contemporary atonement discussions1, Weaver may be the best known. His writings and presentations have helped to keep the issue of violence at the forefront of contemporary discussions of this topic. He has elaborated his own view over many years in conversation with voices from many different perspectives. While I commend his advocacy of nonviolence and sympathize with his theological concerns, I always find myself frustrated with his scholarly method and dissatisfied with its results. The recent revision of Weaver’s The Nonviolent Atonement provides an occasion to engage with his work again.2

This second edition of The Nonviolent Atonement is revised and expanded from the original volume. It updates the engagement with scholarship, allows Weaver to respond to his critics, and adds sections on Jesus’ death as a sacrifice and “Round Two” of conversations with defenders and critics of Anselmian approaches to atonement. His thesis remains the same: the ethics of Jesus, particularly his practice of nonviolence, must be integral to discussions of Christology and atonement. Since most traditional atonement theories depict divinely sanctioned violence as necessary for the salvation of humanity, a new theory is needed.

After a brief survey and critique of traditional atonement models, Weaver sets out his own constructive proposal, illustrated by references to the book of Revelation and the Gospels. To engage with Paul and the book of Hebrews, he discusses the work of scholars whose understanding of this material is consistent with his model. In the following chapter, he further refines his view and argues that it declined in the church because the church under Constantine began to accommodate the violence of empire. He goes on in subsequent chapters to discuss the atonement from the perspective of black, feminist, and womanist theologies, as well as in conversation with scholars defending or critiquing satisfaction theories, including penal substitution. In these chapters he surveys the work of numerous writers, noting to what extent their work is consistent with his model.

Weaver calls his model narrative Christus Victor, a term suggested to him by Leanne Van Dyk (23, n. 14). It is a form of Christus Victor because it depicts Jesus’ death and resurrection as a triumph over evil. It i...

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