Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Meaning of Redemption

The essay title for the Person and Work of Christ module last semester was Explore the Concept of Redemption in the Work of Christ. Now that's a big title and - how to approach it? I wanted to avoid diving into the atonement and various theories etc, and to instead focus on the concept of redemption instead. Murray's classic (and excellent) work Redemption Accomplished and Applied does the diving. I wanted to stay up in the realm of the concept of redemption itself and to that end the majority of the essay looked at the concept of redemption in the contexts of OT and NT separately, looking at historical and linguistic issues, helped to a large degree by Warfield (pictured) and Morris . A major focus was to analyse whether the biblical concept of redemption involves price-payment. Only then is the atonement brought into the picture. Here's a thought which brings in Vos (always a good thing!)...

Those asserting that the Exodus displays redemption without cost too easily overlook the judgement and sacrifice that stand near the centre of the Exodus event and Isaiah’s description of Egypt as a ransom for Israel. Even so, we must not press the idea too far. Vos correctly describes OT redemption as primarily national and political so that ‘in an indirect, typical way only is the principle of the spiritual redemption of the people of God exhibited’ (Vos & Gaffin, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 367).

Anyway, here are the main points from the conclusion...

The concept of redemption in the work of Christ is built upon, and foreshadowed by, redemption in the OT. In the Exodus paradigm for redemption, so often used to justify a model of redemption without ransom price, there is a collocation of redemption, sacrifice and judgement. It is instructive to note that the NT also speaks of Christ as our Passover and as the Lamb of God, expressing salvation in terms of the Exodus. In the NT, the concept of redemption is also collocated with those of sacrifice and propitiation, reinforcing the straightforward reading of the NT data portraying redemption as involving a ransom price. However, the OT redemption was national and political (although socio-ethical components are present), whereas in the NT redemption is from a state of moral rebellion, comprising not merely emptiness of life, but also offenses against God that warrant his judgement. In taking this judgement in his death, Jesus Christ pays the ransom...

Reformed systematics has sometimes struggled to preserve the richness of the biblical theme of redemption. This may be one reason why redemption has too easily become merely deliverance, or a synonym for atonement, and its distinctive meaning obscured. For example, Berkhof has little to say about redemption, and in Calvin there is little on the specific theme of redemption. McGrath treats redemption under The Cross as Victory, and the association of redemption with the ‘ransom to Satan’ theories of early and mediaeval Christianity may be one factor behind its lower profile. Despite these comments, Reformed systematics has successfully constructed a theology that embraces a biblical doctrine of redemption as ransom-paying and a penal-substitutionary model for the atonement. The challenge for Reformed systematics is to maintain the richness of redemption imagery within this soteriological framework.