Atonement and the character of God : a comparative study in the theology of atonement in Jonathan Edwards and John McLeod Campbell
This thesis demonstrates the extent to which one's understanding of the character of God relates to one's view both of the nature and the scope of the atonement. The thesis focuses on the thought of Jonathan Edwards, the premier American philosophical theologian, and John McLeod Campbell, the British theologian best known for his controversial conception of the nature of the atonement. By examining the soteriological thought of these two theologians this study is able to isolate issues significant to current theological dialogue. Edwards develops a theological method in which he is able to stress the distinctiveness of the persons of the trinity in relationship. His concern to maintain the distinctiveness of God's tri-personality is seen in the study over against movements in his culture toward 'Deism' and 'Arminianism'. Edwards' doctrine of God spans a variety of expression, varying from commonality with Federal Calvinism to similarities to the Cappadocian Fathers. While this thesis finds much to value in Edwards' theology, it also finds critical problems in his holding to a doctrine of limited atonement, grounded in the limited scope of God's love, and the accompanying view of double predestination. The conception of the atonement which he develops understands the forensic as having priority over the filial. And, while Christ is understood as having 'virtually' accomplished the work necessary for the provision of the benefits of redemption to the elect, the 'actual' appropriation of the benefits of redemption is centered in the converted individual by the Spirit. The strengths and weaknesses of these developments will be examined, especially in relation to the problems presented in the quest for a personal assurance of election in Edwards' religious culture. McLeod Campbell's theological method recognizes the value of many aspects of the epistemological approach characterized by Edwards. But Campbell seeks to reframe this method so that the conception of God's character fundamentally is shaped by the incarnational event of revelation. Campbell's concern, similar to that of Athanasius, is to stress the oneness of essential character in the Trinity. The implications of Campbell's approach are especially apparent in his understanding of the nature of the atonement. For Campbell, the atonement is not primarily a forensic transaction, but God's assumption into himself of humanity (Christ's union of himself to humankind) in the incarnation through which prodigal humanity is recovered by God the Father. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is the atonement between God and humanity in whom all humanity's alientation and corruption are repented of and healed. In Christ all parts of humanity's salvation are complete. For Campbell, the filial has priority over the forensic, and the atonement is conceived in universal terms. The thesis concludes that a careful consideration of Edwards and Campbell offers a variety of insights which may serve to enrich and inform current theological dialogue in the light of the recent renewal of interest in soteriological and trinitarian concerns.