In his contribution to From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, Henri Blocher suggests that emphasizing Christ’s role as the Head of a new humanity helps to meet the “truly biblical concerns” of different sides of the debate over definite atonement.

“Christ,” he writes, “died as the Head of the new humanity - ‘humanity’ suggests a rather universal scope. Considering the largest community in which the structure of headship is established, and with the most radical import - the human genus - we may affirm both definite atonement and universal reference” (578).

This, Blocher argues, is the basis for New Testament statements about the universal scope of Christ’s work:

“Christ’s headship as the New Adam grounds such propositions as these: ‘Man’ in the generic sense . . . was redeemed on the cross; the world was reconciled (2 Cor. 5:19); every human being qua human being is concerned. For Christ assumed humanity. As its new Hear, he was in his death, as Pilate unwittingly prophesied, the Man (John 19:5)” (578). Christ is the “Savior of the world” because “He creates in himself Jews and Gentiles ‘into one new anthropos’” (579).

Those who do not believe are not in Christ because they “do not bind themselves to the new Head.” As a result, “They die in Adam.” Yet even for them, Christ remains the Head of humanity, and “the bond of human solidarity entails that Christ’s work, since he is the Head of the genus, concerns them: they are called to him, to join him in the transition from old Adamic death to new creation life.” Those who refuse Jesus’ summons “cut themselves off from humanity as a genus: The confirm for themselves the Adamic condemnation” (579).

Blocher argues that this gives rise to “two complementary perspectives.” On the one hand, believers escape “the solidarity of the old race” yet from another angle it’s unbelievers who refuse “the new solidarity of salvation in the Head, Christ” (580).

Blocher also emphasizes the critical importance of time. “Orthodox theology,” he suggests, “has run the risk of undermining the significance, the ‘consistency,’ of the successive events which realize salvation in time.” God’s sovereignty over time combined “with a Platonic notion of eternity” to render history “mere manifestation, secondary.”In place of this faulty and distorting view, “we maintain the truth of time under God: differences between past and future, promise and fulfillment, not-yet-accomplished and accomplished indeed, count for God” (582, emphasis added).

From this perspective, he suggests it is possible to “tell the story of atonement and avoid the appearance of restriction. It goes like this: “The Son incarnate, the Man, gives himself a ransom as the Head, the Head of ‘the many’ who will acknowledge him and join him through faith. At this stage, the reference of his substitution is not indefinite, for the qualification is well defined, but it is historically open, just as is the gospel call. Whosoever will may come and become a member of the new humanity for whom Christ fully paid the price. Sub specie aeternitas, the list is known to God, the names of the ‘firstborn’ were written on heavenly tables from the foundation of the world . . . but this does not weaken the truth of human history.” Augustinians all acknowledge this “openness” with regard to the call of the gospel, and Blocher asks, “Why not of atoning substitution?” (581).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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