[Commenting note: Please take Christianity from a Watsonian rather than a Doylist perspective (link goes to tvtropes). Antitheism is fine, but pointing out that Christianity is not ‘technically’ ‘true’ is boring. Do you go up to people arguing about the ending of Infinite Jest and tell them it is made up?]
[Content warning: Nice Jesus.]
[Epistemic warning: I am an atheist.]
[Warning warning: Warnings.]
Christian sotierology is the study of how, exactly, Jesus dying on the cross managed to cause everyone to be released from sin, given that at first blush “God gets murdered” has no obvious connection to “God forgives people’s sins”. The most popular among modern Protestants is the penal substitution theory, because– with the exception of Pentecostals– modern Protestants have no sense of aesthetics.
(Episcopalians sort of have a sense of aesthetics but they stole it from the Catholics.)
But there are other theories: this article presents an excellent explanation of the Christus Victor theory, popular among the Church Fathers.
When I was Christian, I came up with my own theory of the atonement. My argument was that, while God was all-knowing, that didn’t mean he was all-experiencing. I know everything that’s happening downstairs right now, but that doesn’t mean I have the experience of being downstairs. At the time, I didn’t have the concept of “qualia”, but that’s what I was groping for: God has the qualia of a deity.
Unfortunately, forgiveness and compassion require the ability to understand, really fundamentally. God is, quite literally, Good Itself; how can Good Itself understand temptation, the desire to choose the worse over the better? If the root of compassion is “I am human; nothing human is alien to me”, where does that leave God, the opposite of humanity?
The answer is that God chooses to become human. He experiences everything we experience: he has a mother and a father; he eats; he gets drunk; he doesn’t know things; he farts; he is tempted; he gets angry, occasionally at innocuous fig trees; he suffers; and, finally, he has the ultimate human experience, the only one all of us share– he dies.
And he understands, and so he can forgive. It isn’t the death that causes God to be able to forgive; it’s the Incarnation, the Word made flesh and dwelt among us, with the cross as a capstone.
This naturally leads to universalism— if God forgives, he forgives us all– but to be honest I never had much truck with the idea of an all-good God torturing everyone forever.
So here’s the question: it is very unlikely I am the first person to come up with this theory, given that Christianity is the world’s most popular fandom and has some of the smartest big name fans. Has anyone else heard of a theologian who came up with a similar thing? Is it already a heresy that has a name? Also, what good theories of the atonement do you know?