Making Sense of the Cross - Session 5

Example and Encouragement


The third theory of atonement strongly rejects any notion of God needing a blood sacrifice in order to forgive sin and instead emphasizes the cross as a powerful example of God’s great love for us, an example that both teaches and inspires us to love others..


Peter Abelard’s Theory of Atonement (Example or Moral Influence)

Abelard critique’s Anselm’s theory of Substitutionary Atonement:

  1. Substitutionary Atonement severely underplays God’s love.

  2. There is no room for changing the hearts of believers (we are simply bystanders to what God is doing). In other words, we may be forgiven, yet remain unchanged.

  3. How can the enormous sin of killing Jesus, the Son of God, possibly make up for the much smaller sin, in comparison, of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit?

Abelard proposed another theory of atonement: Moral Influence or Exemplar. According to Abelard we are separated from God by our inability to love as God loves. Jesus shows us how to love as God loves — How to love one another. By following the way of Jesus we learnt o love what it is to love. When Jesus radical way of love threatened the powers that be, Jesus went non-violently to the cross rather than betray his commitment to God’s radical love. By revealing how to love, even unto death on the cross, Jesus shows us how much God loves us.

Followers of Jesus are called together into community — first as disciples and apostles and later as the church. In community these followers encourage one another to live and love and Jesus lived and loved. By embodying the love of God, the church becomes the Body of Christ, living together with neighbors and even enemies in mutual love.


  1. Each theory of atonement stems from a particular picture of God. What picture of God is assumed in Abelard’s theory? What kinds of words come to mind when you think about the God Abelard imagines?

  2. Abelard’s theory of atonement has a more optimistic view of humanity —that is, he believes we are capable of change, even transformation. In what ways is this view encouraging or helpful? Does it have limitations, and if so, what are they?

  3. Think of a time when you — or someone you knew — felt so caught up in a sense of love that is was easy to love others. What was it like? Also think of a time when it felt very difficult, or even impossible, to love others as you knew God wanted you to. What was that like, and what made it so difficult?

John 3:16-21

 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ 

Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly,but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 John 4:7-12

 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


  1. How do we know that God loves us?

  2. What do these passages tell us about the character of God’s love?

  3. How does knowing that God loves us make it possible for us to love others?

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