In the history of dogma, Calvin's doctrine of the Atonement has been described as "a penal substitutionary theory,"
This judgement calls for a critical re-appraisal. If It is
the case, as it surely Is, that In his theology, Calvin
sought nothing more than to be faithful to the Biblical witness, then we should expect that his presentation of the
doctrine of the Atonement, will not confine itself to two
concepts - penalty and substitution - but will reflect something of the variety and comprehensiveness of the Biblical
picture of the Work of Christ, The Biblical character of
Calvin's doctrine of reconciliation - its manifoldness and
richness - can be seen if we take the notion of obedience as
the key category. Perhaps this can be made clear in the following way. If we compare Calvin's doctrine of reconciliation
to a large mansion in which there are many rooms, then the
notion of obedience Is like the spacious central hall, on to
which all the rooms of the house open. To enter this hall
and to explore it, is both to become aware of the different
rooms and to gain access to them. Thus, to investigate the
notion of the obedience of Christ is to see the numerous
other images which comprise Calvin's presentation of the
doctrine of the Atonement: recapitulation, sacrifice, penalty,
satisfaction, substitution, representation, and
Christus Victor, Calvin employs all these notions and combines them into a concrete whole; but what we are left with
is not so much a theory of the Atonement as a rich and comprehensive picture of it.
The thesis is divided into three parts. Part One is
introductory. To deal properly with Calvin's doctrine of
reconciliation, it was necessary to orient his teaching about
the Work of Christ, first, to his doctrine of the covenant;
and secondly, to his understanding of the concept of Mediator,
Chapter One is devoted to a discussion of the relation of the
notion of obedience to such concepts as the covenant of
gratuitous adoption, the law of the covenant, the sacrifices
of the covenant, and the expectation of the new covenant.
This investigation prepares the ground for what is argued in
Part Two, If the notion of the covenant is fundamental for
a right understanding; of his doctrine of reconciliation,
Calvin's notion of the 'Mediatorship' of Christ is even more
important. What Calvin means by this concept is investigated
in Chapter Two, and his doctrine of the Person of the
Mediator i3 also considered.
Part Two contains the main argument of the thesis.
The work of reconciliation, according to Calvin, cannot be
limited to the death of Christ, but rather belongs to the
whole course of His obedience from His birth to His death.
Chapter Three considers the obedience of Christ in assuming
the form of a servant; Chapters Four and Five, the different
aspects of the obedience of Christ's life. Chapter Six is
devoted to a lengthy discussion of the obedience of Christ's
death. Here we consider the different images which Calvin
used to speak of the death of Christ and also attempt to
show how they are related to one another. The final chapter
in Part Two is devoted to a consideration of the exaltation
of the obedient Servant of God and of His heavenly ministry
It is impossible to discuss Calvin's doctrine of reconciliation without also considering how the grace which
Christ acquired for us by His obedience becomes ours. Part
Three is devoted to this subject. Chapter Eight considers
Calvin's doctrine of participato Christi and the fruits of
that participation, justification and sanctification. The
final chapter is devoted to a discussion of the obedience of
the Christian as grounded upon and proceeding from the
obedience of Christ.