The doctrines of the atonement and the Trinity are central not only to the Christian faith but also to Christian systematic theology. Over the last decade or so, one or another theological interpretation of either of these doctrines has assumed pride of place among theologians. Before Robert Sherman, though, no theologian has ever dared to read the atonement in light of the Trinity.
Most of the time atonement theories simply focus on the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, without any reference to Christ's relationship to the Father and the Spirit of the Trinity. But, as Sherman argues, Christ's atoning work is diverse and cannot be limited to one who ransoms our sins or to one who has victory over our sins (although in Sherman's view Christ's atoning work includes these tasks and more). He offers here a constructive theological proposal that connects Trinity with the rubrics of prophet, priest, and king to help explain Christ's atoning work.
One can understand adequately neither Christ's multifaceted reconciliation of a complex humanity to God, nor that reconciliation’s fundamental unity as God's gracious act apart from the Trinity. Without this framework, one will likely stress one person of the Trinity, one aspect of God's reconciling work, and/or one understanding of the human predicament to the exclusion of others and the detriment of theology, both systematic and pastoral. Sherman's constructive theological proposal suggests that we should recognize a certain correspondence and mutual support between the three persons of the Trinity, the three offices of Christ (king, prophet, priest), and the three commonly recognized models of his atoning work (Christus victor, vicarious sacrifice, moral exemplar).
Robert J. Sherman is Professor of Christian Theology at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine. His work has appeared in such publications as the Scottish Journal of Theology, the International Journal of Systematic Theology, and The Journal of Religion.