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Sat 1 Jul
  • Saturday, 1 July 2023
  • 10:00am - 4:00pm
  • London Jesuit Centre, 114 Mount Street12



Course overview

In one of the earliest writings in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote:For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures…”. But the question of what it means to say that “Christ died for sins”—the question of atonement theology—has been answered in many different ways throughout Christian history, and is particularly controversial within recent theology. This course explores some of these differences, and asks what this little word “for” might mean. How can one man’s death be “for” anyone else, let alone all humanity? What are we saying, when we say that “Christ died for sins?”


Course outline

Session 1
The “problem” of atonement

As Stephen Finlan points out, within much modern theology, the idea of Christ’s atoning death is very often approached as a problem, something to worry or puzzle over. Why is this? If Christ died “for sins”, how this is actually supposed to work? What are the images, ideas, metaphors and texts that we use to develop our own understanding of the meaning of this little word “for”?


Session 2
St Paul: “In Christ”

Paul’s letters are some of the most important sources of theology in this area. We examine a few central passages from the Epistles alongside some recent scholarship to ask how Paul might have understood the death of Christ, and why it mattered so much. Did Paul even have a coherent atonement theology?

Session 3
Sacrifice and substitution

The concept of sacrifice is central to atonement theology, but is a concept with a long, complicated history. In this session examine some of the different ways in which sacrifice is understood in the Bible, and in subsequent atonement theology, before asking what relevance it can have for us today. We will also ask what it means that the saving death of Christ was a horrifically violent one? How does this relate to Christian ethics, which emphasises peace and non-violence? 


Session 4

Finally, we look at what the doctrine of incarnation has to do with all of the above. Might be said that somehow the crucifixion of Jesus is the culmination of God’s ‘taking flesh’? Can we hope to make sense of the theology of the cross without the doctrine of incarnation? And if God is “with us” through the incarnation, how does God’s being “with us” relate to God’s being “for us”?


London Jesuit Centre, 114 Mount Street12 114 Mount Street, London

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