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The Governmental theory of atonement teaches that Christ suffered for humankind so that God could forgive humans while still maintaining divine justice. Arminianism has traditionally taught this doctrine, which is also known as "Moral Government" theology. The doctrine draws primarily from the works of Jacobus Arminius and Hugo Grotius. This view has prospered in traditional Methodism and those who follow the teachings of John Wesley.
The theory maintains that Christ was not punished on behalf of the human race but instead, God publicly demonstrated his displeasure with sin by punishing his own sinless and obedient Son as a propitiation. Because Christ's suffering and death served as a subsititute for the punishment humans might have received, God is able to extend forgiveness while maintaining divine order, having demonstrated the seriousness of sin and thus appeasing his wrath.
This view of the atonement was developed by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) based on the teaching of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). Grotius utilized "governmental" semantics due to his training in law and his general view of God as moral governor (ruler) of the universe. Grotius sought to demonstrate that the atonement appeased God in the divine role as cosmic king and judge.
This view is contrasted with that of the Satisfaction theory formulated by Anselm (1033-1109), and the subsequent Penal substitution theory held by the Reformers which argues that Jesus received the actual punishment due to men and women.
Governmental Atonement is the prominent view in Arminianism and has prospered in traditional Methodism where it has been detailed by 19th century Methodist theologian John Miley in his Atonement in Christ and his Systematic Theology (ISBN 0943575095) and more recently by Nazarene theologian J. Kenneth Grider in his 1994 book A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (ISBN 0834115123).
"This [governmental atonement] view holds that Christ by His death actually paid the penalty for no man's sin. What His death did was to demonstrate what their sins deserved at the hand of the just Governor and Judge of the universe, and permits God justly to forgive men if on other grounds, such as their faith, their repentance, their works, and their perseverance, they meet His demand. ... But this is just to eviscerate the Savior's work of all its intrinsic saving worth and to replace the Christosoteric vision of Scripture with the autosoteric vision of Pelagianism." Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 80
- The Governmental Theory of the Atonement by John Miley
- The Governmental Theory: An Expansion by J. Kenneth Grider
- God’s Moral Government by Charles Finney
- Lectures on the Moral Government of God Nathaniel W. Taylor
- The Atonement (Discussing multiple views)
- Theories of the Atonement by Charles Hodge from his Systematic Theology.
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