Jim Stump
 on June 08, 2015

Thinking about the Atonement

Does evolution force Christians to abandon some traditional ideas about Christ's atonement? There are many perspectives within the BioLogos community.


Over the last several years, BioLogos has become a recognized source of information and reflection on issues at the intersection of science and Christianity.  We are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we are persuaded that God made the universe discoverable and created us to be curious about it. In broad strokes, almost all Christians’ understanding of these two revelations—the Word and the world—fit together beautifully into one coherent picture.  But when we push further into the details of our interpretations of them, it is no secret that we find points of tension.  BioLogos aims to foster careful thinking about such issues. 

The internet is not the perfect place for this—we think dialogue is best conducted in the context of deeper relationships with people.  And admittedly, more substantive theological posts do not get as many page views on our blog as stories or videos of famous people.  But we think this sort of thing can serve an important purpose.  We are encouraged by the way our Discourse system is developing, not just as comments to posts but also the independent threads that have started on the main page.  There is a growing contingent of readers who are engaged in the content we post.

Last week we ran a short series of posts about original sin.  That is a topic of central importance in our dialogue about evolution and the Gospel, and no doubt we’ll return to it again and again.  Related to that discussion is the doctrine of the atonement.  The work of Christ must be understood as a response to the reality and universal extent of sin among human beings.  And, of course, our understanding of the nature of sin is affected by different models of human origins.  Many theologians think that the substitutionary model of atonement requires something like the Augustinian view of the Fall.  But there are other models of atonement, and other models of the Fall.  Substitutionary atonement is questioned these days on grounds other than evolutionary understandings of human origins, but many evolutionary creationists have added their voices to those concerns.

The atonement is one of the easiest examples to give for there being considerable theological diversity in the church over these 2000 years.  From christus victor and fishhook theories, to penal substitution and moral exemplar theories, we can’t say there is one doctrine of the atonement that has stood the test of time.  Are these necessarily contextual and limited in their applicability (not to be confused with the atonement itself being limited)? Has there been development in the doctrine such that we’re getting closer to the truth?  What do you think about the doctrine of the atonement from an evolutionary creation perspective?

Starting tomorrow, we’ll run a couple of posts each week for the next several weeks by theologians on the topic of atonement.  They were each asked to reflect on the atonement in light of the science of evolution.  These are not meant to be definitive statements on the topic, but suggestive and inducements to further thinking.  We hope it will model the kinds of conversations we think are important.  We look forward to your thoughts.

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About the author

Jim Stump

Jim Stump

Jim Stump is Vice President of Programs at BioLogos. He oversees the editorial team, participates in strategic planning, and hosts the podcast, Language of God. Jim also writes and speaks on behalf of BioLogos. He has a PhD in philosophy and was formerly a professor and academic administrator. His books include, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design; Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues; How I Changed My Mind about Evolution; and The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. You can email Jim Stump at or follow him on Twitter.