The Good Shepherd: Clement and Christus Victor

I have mentioned briefly on here the work of Gustav Aulen, and while I concede he needed more biblical exegesis for his case for Christus Victor, and a tighter grip on Church history, overall, I think he was right. Right smack dab in the middle of Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, Aulen only briefly mentions the image of God as the Good Shepherd rescuing the sheep from the three big bad wolves named Sin, Death, and Satan. At the same time, Aulen dismisses Clement of Alexandria as a theologian who dwelled too much on philosophy and not enough on atonement. This is why Aulen stakes his claims with Athanasius of Alexandria.

This may have been an error on Aulen’s part because the prevailing metaphor for Clement when it comes to the LORD’s sacrifice for us is the biblical image of The Good Shepherd.  For example:

“But it has been God’s fixed and constant purpose to save the flock of men: for this end the good God sent the good Shepherd.  And the Word, having unfolded the truth to men the height of salvation, that either repenting they might be saved, or refusing to obey, they might be judged.  this is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; to those that disobey, judgment.  The loud trumpet, when sounded, collects soldiers, and proclaims war.  And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? He has gathered the bloodless host of peace, and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven.  The trumpet of  Christ is His Gospel.”

– Clement of Alexandria, Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 11

Or consider this other example:

” ‘All Wisdom is from the Lord, and with Him forevermore’;—with authority of utterance, for He is God and Creator: ‘For all things were made by Him, and without Him not anything made [John 1:3]–and with benevolence, for He alone Himself a sacrifice for us; ‘For the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep;'[John 10:11] and He has so given it.  Now, benevolence is nothing but wishing to  do good to one’s neighbor for his sake. “

-Clement of Alexandria, The Pedagogue (The Instructor/Educator), Book 1, Chapter 11

Now, there are well-meaning Christians who remain skeptical about Christus Victor because of the little work done on it, plus its rise in popularity.  If something seems like it’s new or something ancient that is recovered, I would say there should be criticism, especially with very few works that focus on Scripture and Christus Victor atonement. The thing about Penal substitution is not that it is violent in God’s wrath towards us, but that it makes our human depravity the center of the doctrine rather than God’s goodness.  PSA translates very well into US American Christianity and our self-centered individualism.  What I am seeing in Clement of Alexandria’s atonement theology is that the doctrine that is founded on God’s benevolence, and making our Good Lord Jesus Christ the Center.

“As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

– Ezekiel 34:12 (NRSV)

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