Vicarious atonement is not divinely sanctioned

The concept of vicarious atonement in western Christian theology: A Human Invention

By Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

In religious lectures, dialogues and debates with interlocutors like Dr. William Lane Craig and James White, a specific image of the cross is presented and the manner by which they present their case impresses the impression that all Christians agree on it. The view that they extol is the view that Saint Anselm of Canterbury, being the earliest theologian to delineate the concept, details in his ‘Cur Deus Homo’ or ‘Why God Became Man.’ The dogma is one that is punitive in nature where it is argued that there is an unbridgeable chasm between God’s two attributes: Justice and Mercy. The idea is that, in order for God to maintain those two divine attributes, He has to placate or satiate the wrath (His own wrath) that is due towards sinful act and the sinful doer by some kind of punitive measure. That punitive or juridical measure is what bridges God’s attributes of Justice and Mercy. Simply forgiving for the sake of forgiveness, in the mind of Anslem and emulated by Craig, White and those that follow therein, is unjust because payment (or a pound of flesh) must be paid so that justice be met. Therefore, the vicarious atonement is seen as the only possible way to ameliorate the perceived tension between God’s Justice and Mercy where punishment for sin, i.e., the pound of flesh, is provided in Jesus’ sacrifice.

Promoting and arguing vehemently for that doctrine, Christian apologists, in exchanges with Muslims, typically begin by accusing Islam of having a soteriology (salvific theology) that is insufficient as it inadequately makes sense of those two attributes that God must have simultaneously. They contend that by simply forgiving God fails to meet justice or by simply punishing God fails to show mercy. Without going into the inadequacies of said dogma, which we have done in a previous article entitled ‘The Christian Cross: The Most Celebrated and Recognised Symbol of Child Abuse’ and ‘Dr. William Lane Craig: The biblical concept of god is morally deficient,’ we will simply point out a historical fact that will prove an insurmountable obstacle to the dogma in question. According to an eminent Orthodox theologian Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, as he echoes the unified scholarly consensus amongst Eastern Orthodox priests and theologians, the western concept of atonement as briefly adumbrated above has little to no basis prior to Anslem in the 11th century of the European Dark Ages. In fact, Archbishop Lazar, exhibiting the agreed upon belief in the Eastern Christian tradition, impresses the point that such a view of God’s attributes is simply wrong and unjustified. In an interview on a Greek Orthodox network, Archbishop Lazar says:

“That’s why cosuffering, the concept of cosuffering, the mystery of redemption is the mystery of the cossuffering of the love of God with mankind. It has nothing to do with juridical justification. Christ did not die on the cross to satisfy the justice of an angry God… After the Dark Ages of the west, we must remember that the Eastern churches did not experience the Dark Ages… the juridical idea of atonement which was a novel doctrine [which] only came about at around the 1100s, quite late in history, was completely unknown in the church before that by anyone was based by Anslem of Canterbury in the fact that there had to be a legal act and a legal response. In other words there had to be the dialectic of the law court involved in redemption. Consequently, he created the doctrine of atonement in his book ‘Cur Deus Homo.'” [1]

In a nutshell, the concept with which James White, William Lane Craig, Jay Smith and the rest of the entourage of western Christian apologia, insist upon and use to falsify the Muslim concept of salvation, is one that was created by a human being in Canterbury called Anslem and was completely unknown for more than a thousand years in ancient Christian churches.


[1] [Joshua Tongol]. (2012, March 2). A Concept Of God That Does Not Promote Violence | Archbishop Lazar Puhalo [Video File]. Retrieved from

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