7 Theories of the Atonement Summarized

Atonement theoriesThe nature of the Atonement has been a study for me over the last few years. After having my world turned upside by Dr. C. Baxter Kruger in his book, Jesus and the Undoing of AdamI have not been able to shake this fascination with rediscovering the cross of Jesus Christ. Today I wanted to share seven of the major theories for the Atonement. These theories attempt to explain the nature of Jesus’ death on the cross. Why did Jesus die? What does this death mean for the world today? These theories are historically the most dominant, and I hope you enjoy learning some of them today!

#1 The Moral Influence Theory

One of the earliest theories for the atonement is the Moral Influence theory, which simply taught that Jesus Christ came and died in order to bring about a positive change to humanity. This moral change comes through the teachings of Jesus alongside His example and actions. The most notable name here is that of Augustine from the 4th century, whose influence has almost single-handedly had the greatest impact upon Western Christianity. He affirmed the Moral Influence theory as the main theory of the Atonement (alongside the Ransom theory as well).

Within this theory the death of Christ is understood as a catalyst to reform society, inspiring men and women to follow His example and live good moral lives of love. In this theory, the Holy Spirit comes to help Christians produce this moral change. Logically, in this theory, the Eschatological development too becomes about morality, where it is taught that after death the human race will be judged by their conduct in life. This in turn creates a strong emphasis on free will as the human response to follow Jesus’ example. Although Augustine himself differs here in that he did not teach free will, but instead that human beings are incapable of changing themselves, and require God to radically alter their lives sovereignly through the Holy Spirit.

This theory focuses on not just the death of Jesus Christ, but on His entire life. This sees the saving work of Jesus not only in the event of the crucifixion, but also in all the words He has spoken, and the example He has set. In this theory, the cross is merely a ramification of the moral life of Jesus. He is crucified as a martyr due to the radical nature of His moral example. In this way, the Moral Influence theory emphasizes Jesus Christ as our teacher, our example, our founder and leader, and ultimately, as a result, our first martyr.

#2 The Ransom Theory

The Ransom Theory of the Atonement is one of the first major theories for the Atonement. It is often held alongside the Moral Influence Theory, and usually deals more with the actual death of Jesus Christ, what it actually means and the effect it has upon humanity. This theory finds its roots in the Early Church, particularly in Origen from the 3rd century. This theory essentially teaches that Jesus Christ died as a ransom sacrifice, paid either to Satan (the most dominant view) or to God the Father. Jesus’ death then acts as a payment to satisfy the debt on the souls of the human race, the same debt we inherited from Adam’s original sin.

The Ransom view could be summarized like this:

“Essentially, this theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the devil at the time of the Fall’ hence, justice required that God pay the Devil a ransom, for the Devil did not realize that Christ could not be held in the bonds of death. Once the Devil accepted Christ’s death as a ransom, this theory concluded, justice was satisfied and God was able to free us from Satan’s grip.” 1

Redemption in this theory means to buy back, and purchase the human race from the clutches of the Devil. The main controversy here with this theory is the act of paying off the Devil. Some have written that this is not a fair statement to say that all Ransom Theorists believe that the Devil is paid, but rather in this act of Ransom Christ frees humanity from the bondage of sin and death. In this way, Ransom relates the Christus Victor theory. But it’s worth differentiating here because in one way these views are similar, but in another way, they are drastically different.

#3 Christus Victor

Classically, the Christus Victor theory of Atonement is widely considered to be the dominant theory for most of the historical Christian Church. In this theory, Jesus Christ dies in order to defeat the powers of evil (such as sin, death, and the devil) in order to free mankind from their bondage. This is related to the Ransom view with the difference being that there is no payment to the devil or to God. Within the Christus Victor framework, the cross did not pay off anyone but defeated evil thereby setting the human race free.

Gustaf Aulen argued that this theory of the Atonement is the most consistently held theory for church history, especially in the early church up until the 12th century before Anslem’s satisfaction theory came along. He writes that “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.” 2 He calls this theory the “classic” theory of the Atonement. While some will say that Christus Victor is compatible with other theories of the Atonement, others argue that it is not. Though I have found that most theologians believe that Christus Victor is true, even if it is not for them the primary theory of Christ’s death.

#4 The Satisfaction Theory (Anselm)

In the 12th century, Anselm of Canterbury proposed a satisfaction theory for the Atonement. In this theory, Jesus Christ’s death is understood as a death to satisfy the justice of God. Satisfaction here means restitution, the mending of what was broken, and the paying back of a debt. In this theory, Anselm emphasizes the justice of God and claims that sin is an injustice that must be balanced. Anselm’s satisfaction theory says essentially that Jesus Christ died in order to pay back the injustice of human sin and to satisfy the justice of God.

This theory was developed in reaction to the historical dominance of the Ransom theory, that God paid the devil with Christ’s death. Anselm saw that this theory was logically flawed, because what does God owe satan? Therefore, in contrast with the Ransom theory, Anselm taught that it is humanity who owes a debt to God, not God to satan. Our debt, in this theory, is that of injustice. Our injustices have stolen from the justice of God and therefore must be paid back. Satisfaction theory then postulates that Jesus Christ pays pack God in His death on the cross to God. This is the first Atonement theory to bring up the notion that God is acted upon by the Atonement (i.e. that Jesus satisfies God).

#5 The Penal Substitutionary Theory

Penal Substitutionary Atonement is a development of the Reformation. The Reformers, Specifically Calvin and Luther, took Anselm’s Satisfaction theory and modified it slightly. They added a more legal (or forensic) framework into this notion of the cross as satisfaction. The result is that within Penal Substitution, Jesus Christ dies to satisfy God’s wrath against human sin. Jesus is punished (penal) in the place of sinners (substitution) in order to satisfy the justice of God and the legal demand of God to punish sin. In the light of Jesus’ death, God can now forgive the sinner because Jesus Christ has been punished in the place of the sinner, in this way meeting the retributive requirements of God’s justice. This legal balancing of the ledgers is at the heart of this theory, which claims that Jesus died for legal satisfaction. It’s also worth mentioning that in this theory the notion of imputed righteousness is postulated.

This theory of the Atonement contrasts with Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory in that God is not satisfied with a debt of justice being paid by Jesus, but that God is satisfied with punishing Jesus in the place of mankind. The notion that the cross acts upon God, conditioning Him to forgiveness, originates from Anslems theory, but here in Penal Substitution the means are different. This theory of the Atonement is perhaps the most dominant today, especially among the Reformed, and the evangelical.

#6 The Governmental Theory

The Governmental Theory of the Atonement is a slight variation upon the Penal Substitutionary theory, which is notably held in Methodism. The main difference here is the extent to which Christ suffered. In the Governmental Theory, Jesus Christ suffers the punishment of our sin and propitiates God’s wrath. In this way, it is similar to Penal Substitution. However, in the Governmental Theory, Jesus Christ does not take the exact punishment we deserve, He takes a punishment. Jesus dies on the cross therefore to demonstrate the displeasure of God towards sin. He died to display God’s wrath against sin and the high price which must be paid, but not to specifically satisfy that particular wrath. The Governmental Theory also teaches that Jesus died only for the church, and if you by faith are part of the church, you can take part in God’s salvation. The church then acts as the sort of hiding place from God’s punishment. This view contrasts both the Penal and Satisfaction models but retains the fundamental belief that God cannot forgive if Jesus does not die a propitiating death.

#7 The Scapegoat Theory

The Scapegoat Theory is a modern Atonement theory rooted in the philosophical concept of the Scapegoat. Here the key figures Rene Girard and James Allison. Within this theory of the Atonement Jesus Christ dies as the Scapegoat of humanity. This theory moves away from the idea that Jesus died in order to act upon God (as in PSA, Satisfaction, or Governmental), or as payment to the devil (as in Ransom). Scapegoating therefore is considered to be a form of non-violent atonement, in that Jesus is not a sacrifice but a victim. There are many Philosophical concepts that come up within this model, but in a general sense, we can say that Jesus Christ as the Scapegoat means the following. 1) Jesus is killed by a violent crowd. 2) The violent crowd kills Him believing that He is guilty. 3) Jesus is proven innocent, as the true Son of God. 4) The crowd is therefore deemed guilty.

James Allison summarizes the Scapegoating Theory like this, “Christianity is a priestly religion which understands that it is God’s overcoming of our violence by substituting himself for the victim of our typical sacrifices that opens up our being able to enjoy the fullness of creation as if death were not.”


Each theory presented here is dense and complex, but I hope you can learn from the overall focus of each. I personally believe that we need to move beyond some of these theories and progress into a more robust theory of atonement. But thankfully, at the end of the day, we aren’t saved by theories. We’re saved by Jesus! How that happens may be fun to discuss and theorized about, but only in the sight of the fact that it’s the who that matters far more!

What do you think of all these theories? Does a certain one appeal to you more than the rest? Let me know in a comment!

Recommended reading

The following books are some of the best studies on the atonement I know and recommend for further reading:

Atonement, Justice, and Peace by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek (the best argument against penal substitution I’ve read)

The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge (excellent study on the cross for today’s world)

Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulén (a classic study of traditional atonement models)

Atonement: Person and Work of Christ by Thomas F. Torrance (great study by the renowned 20th-century theologian)

The Nature of the Atonement by John McLeod Campbell (difficult reading, but historically an important text)

On the Incarnation by Athanasius (don’t let the title fool you: this is a profound text for the atonement in the early church)

Curs Deus Homo: Why God Became Man by Anselm (classic for the “satisfaction” atonement theory)

Against Heresies by Ireneaus (a great example of the atonement in the early church)

Things Hidden Since the Foundations of the World by Rene Girard (for the scapegoat theory)

The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann (one of the best modern works on the atonement)

Church Dogmatics IV/1 by Karl Barth (another modern classic on the atonement, famous for Barth’s notion of the “Judge judged in our place”)

The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (a decent collection of essays to give you a feel for various atonement theories)


  1. Robin Collins, Understanding Atonement: A New and Orthodox Theory 1995
  2. Christus Victor P. 20

58 thoughts on “7 Theories of the Atonement Summarized

  1. Great article, thanks so much. I’m leaning towards 5, the Penal Substitution theory. Influencing me is Paul, and Jesus’s horror at “the cup of Gods Wrath”, in Matthew. But I’m only starting out and have much to learn.

  2. We need to understand what we are being saved from. Is it an imposed penalty that we deserve? Or is it an intrinsic result that sin brings? What went wrong to start with, that the plan of salvation is designed to rectify? If the diagnosis is wrong, the treatment will be wrong.
    When we believed Satan’s lie that God did not have our best interest in mind when he withheld the fruit from us, but instead was trying to keep something really great from us, then we lost our assurance of God’s love. That changed our nature, where fear and survival of the fittest replace love and trust as our primal motives. Disobedience came as a result of losing our trust in God. But God never said that in the day they ate He would have to kill them. He said that in the day they ate they would be killing themselves (middle voice Greek verb, Septuagint). Sin kills. Sin is a fatal disease. (With His stripes, we are healed)
    Jesus came to manifest the true character of God. He said that life eternal was in knowing God (John 17).
    God has suffered with His children ever since they started suffering and hurting each other. In order to bring us back to His heart, and to heal us from the fear and selfishness, Jesus revealed the character of the Father in His life and death. The agony of God was revealed on the Cross of Christ. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. By experiencing this love for ourselves, our hearts are healed. A continual revelation of God’s love for us, neutralizes the disease of sin, and sets us free from hurting God and others. Only by love is love awakened. With His stripes, we are healed.

    1. S Healey said, “Disobedience came as a result of our losing our trust in God” If we are going to take Jesus seriously, we have to understand his legacy, and what that reveals about the OT. The OT was fulfilled in Jesus. We know that Christians developed monastic schools, and turned those into modern Universities with the pivotal Thomas Aquinas transforming things like the ancient Greek´s esoteric First Cause.

      In Biology, we can note that chimpanzees, Pan trog. in particular, show unusual animal behavior in massacring their chimp group neighbors at times when they can. Humans are known for conflicts in many contexts, and the achievement of agricultural settlements led to empire building.

      With modern psychosocial studies, we can formulate the situation that humans commit acts of violence and enslavement universally, and into modern post-Reformation humankind that involves humans indulging in the abuse of power, privilege, and pleasure. Ecological economist talks about bio-physical limits and ethico-social limits.

      Jesus talked about “cleaning the cup on the inside where there is wickedness.” He also mentioned the problem of “the deceitfulness of wealth that chokes the word” in Matt 13, like elsewhere.

      So that when we see America widely indoctrinated with profiteering business ideology, as in “Greed is good”, while Social Europe is demonized, we can see a serious problem. Jesus´ integrity is not being considered, ie God´s gift of Jesus´ standard of integrity and announcement.

      And so, I see that as the Moral Influence theory, primarily for clarity. To that end, Jesus also taight, “shine your light in front of others with good deeds to honor God” Matt 5, and “go and learn” Matt 9.

  3. Very much appreciate the effort you put into this. There is a teaching which is rarely mentioned. That is the “healing” theory. It is the sick who need a physician. By his stripes we are healed. As Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the son of man be. When the people looked at the brazen serpent, they were not affected by bites from the poisonous snakes (analogy for lies about God by Satan). Serums for snake bites are made by injecting the snake poison into a stronger animal and then gathering the antibodies. Hence Christ became ‘sin’ to cure us from sin. The healing agent then becomes the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Regardless, whatever view someone takes on the Cross, it must answer this key question: “After Adam sinned, whose heart changed?” Was it God’s or Adam’s. — Clearly the answer is Adam. Scriptures verify this in so many ways – For God so loved the world… God loved us while we yet sinners,.. reconciling us unto himself. — Thus any theory based on the idea God needs changed should be categorically rejected.

    In pagan cultures, sacrifices were made to appease the ‘anger’ of the deity. This is NOT the case of Christ’s sacrifice. According to Romans 1:16-18, the ‘wrath of God’ is actually giving the sinner up to their own debased life. Like a parent dealing with a rebellious son who continues to reject counsel, the parent still loves the child, but recognizes they can do nothing and let the son reap what he sows.

    1. Thank you for sharing the healing theory of atonement. It is IMO very compatible with the Christus Victor theory making Christ the antidote which makes us immune to the power of sin, death, and the devil.

      All the theories above seem to have a “measure” of truth to them, but the penal substitution theory when taken alone and as you say to change God’s heart must be rejected.

      It fosters the errors of Calvinism as well as the once saved you can continue to live like the devil without eternal ramifications. By contrast, Christ’s righteousness is not imputed in some sort of abstract way, but a life changing way by the power of the Holy Spirit.

      This also begs the question of whether or not there will be a sanctification process after life in this age. (or death if you prefer) I personally find it untenable that those who have never heard, the mentally handicapped, infant mortality and the like won’t need sanctification after death.

      Christ must reign until every tongue swears allegiance to God. (the Greek implies willingly) This is symbolized as the millennium and the lake of fire IMO. The word torment in our English bibles is from the Greek word meaning touchstone used to test gold and silver bringing to mind Malachi chapter 3’s refiners fire.

      So the healing theory you present along with the Christus Victor with hints of the other theories (in proper perspective), seems to be the most robust and accurate according to the meta narrative of scripture.

  4. I believe Yeshua is a ransom as a kinsmen redeemer ( not a substitute) brought forth from Father and Yeshua voluntarily offering Himself to Father to redeem us from the slavery of sin which defeats satans power of death over many thus saving the elect from under Gods wrath through His voluntarily shed blood, reconciling the elect towards God.

    And being baptized in Yeshua by the Spirit we partake and share in the likeness of His cup of unwrathful divine suffering, death,burial and resurrection.

    The divine suffering Yeshua underwent as our source and example of how father treats legitimate mortal children He receives , delights in and loves is of discipline and scourging in order to try ones faith while in service to God to bring about obedience. Although Yeshua is the only begotten son of Father as impeccable, He learned obedience, even obedience on the tree by what He suffered through such discipline.

    Yeshua dieing for the elects sins is to be understood that He was sent to take away in atonement and free us by redemption from our devoted lifestyle toward sin by His sacrifice as a ransom of His own perfect life to purchase the elect as Gods own possession. Not as a substitute to be of equal or equivalent exchange.

    Yeshua who knew no sin became a sin offering because what the law could not do(make us perfect) because the weakness of our flesh, Father did by sending His own son as mortal.that in Yeahua’s sacrificial death Father would put to death the devoted desires of sin in our flesh and keep us in obedience unto righteous living through discipline and scourging as partakers in Yeshua affected through His offered ransom of Himself up toward Father.

  5. Thank you for this! I’m comparing the scapegoat theory with the others and it has a lot of biblical consistency, and it seems to carry the moral example theory to a better conclusion.

  6. I’ve found The 3D Gospel (Georges) to be helpful here, so that instead of picking the one correct theory, we can recognize how they (or at least 3, as the book would have it,) complement one another to provide a more complete picture of the gospel.

  7. A tidy succinct and helpful summary. I see some validity in all except ransom to Satan. Demonstration perhaps, not ransom.

    But I’m intrigued by your wish for a more robust theory. Do you have any ideas on what that might entail?

    I find considerable reality and help in the notion that Christ demonstrated the depth of God’s love and forgiveness on the cross. He showed no bitterness, vindictiveness or retribution in the face of the most extreme provocation from humanity, our fallen selves displaying those things. Perhaps ‘demonstration’ fits under moral influence?

  8. Hi Stephen,

    Nice summary of the various Christian atonement theories. This is a topic I am beginning to delve into in more depth myself, which may involve some rigorous academic studies in the coming years.

    Toward the end of the article, you say, “I personally believe that we need to move beyond some of these theories and progress into a more robust theory of atonement.”

    May I suggest that you look into the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg?

    In particular, I would recommend reading at least volume one of his systematic theology, traditionally titled True Christian Religion, but True Christianity in the New Century Edition, which is the edition I recommend. Be sure to get the “Deluxe” edition, whether hardcover, paperback, or e-book. The smaller “portables” do not include the scholarly apparatus—introductions, notes, indexes, and so on. The chapter on Redemption is the fullest presentation in Swedenborg’s theological writings of his views on atonement, redemption, and salvation.

    Unfortunately, the translators of Swedenborg’s works have generally not been well-versed in traditional Christian theology. Even in the New Century Edition, some of Swedenborg’s admittedly not crystal clear references to satisfaction theory have been missed in translation—something I have suggested for correction in future revisions.

    Placing Swedenborg’s atonement theory in the context of the theories covered in your article, I would say that it could be called Christus Victor on steroids. Very robust! Swedenborg rejected Catholic satisfaction theory along with its Protestant variant of penal substitution. He also adamantly rejected Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. This from one who had been born and bred Lutheran, the son of a vociferous Swedish Lutheran bishop.

    As far as method and authority, Swedenborg largely skips over and ignores the Creeds (though he did write quite a bit about the Athanasian Creed), and takes into account the hierarchies and theologies of Catholicism and Protestantism largely to combat what he sees as their errors. (He seems not to have been very familiar with Eastern / Orthodox Christianity and its theology.) His “pillars of faith,” to kidnap a Catholic term, are the Word, Reason, and Experience. When it comes to church doctrine, the Word (i.e., the Bible) is his primary source. True Christianity relies heavily on biblical citation and reference to support its doctrinal arguments.

    At any rate, if you are looking for a more robust theory of atonement that is also scripturally based, I believe it would be worth your while to look into Swedenborg’s theology on these subjects. If nothing else, you might find it to be interesting reading.

  9. I have begun to believe the cross was an end to a means. Resurrection! The teachings of Jesus may well have ended in the first century had the resurrection not occurred. It is the event that solidified the movement, that grew, and has endured almost 2 millennia. Why does the cross have to atone, appease, or change God at all. Perhaps, it is enough to know Jesus was killed for his attempt to Reform Judaism and his perceived treason to Rome. The martyr that resurrected and ascended, which rekindled the fire in his apostles when they thought it was all over is for me the reason we are even discussing this so many years later.

  10. Wow thanks for the great article and comments.

    I’ve just today been listening to C.S Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” where he reminds us that, whatever we can or can’t make of Jesus’ death, the effect is that it reconciles us to God – whether we can fathom it or not, like a good meal satisfies the tired and hungry, whether or not they understand nutrition/ digestion.

    He also speculates a theory different to any of those in the (great!) article here – which runs something like: 1) Mankind needs to go against its corrupt nature and yield to God (i.e. to repent) 2) it takes a good person to do so 3) we lack precisely that goodness 4) All and any goodness we do have (common grace) to love and reason come from God and indeed all that we are and can do derives from His nature 5) However, God has never been burdened by sin and yielded to God – so he couldn’t impart that to us, as he has love and reason. 6) Until the cross, where he bears the weight of sin and yields to God – ‘Father into your hands I commit my spirit’ 7) Henceforth Christ in us gives us the capacity to die to self and yield to God.

    That’s how I understood Lewis’ meaning – happy to be corrected.

    I can identify with the cry “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” in my own desperation, struggling with sin. The kind of prayer I find within is ‘God – I’m at the end – I am so captive to my damning weaknesses – I yield to you, my only hope’

    On penal substitution. I understand the ‘why’ of God’s wrath against unrighteousness – he has to be wrathful, like a good father mad at someone harming his children – love has to be angry! But the idea of God being out of control and needing to have a smash at somebody to get it out of his system? Surely not?

    I find it hard to reason why God should need to punish someone – surely the main object is to remove the wickedness, to restore the broken? There cannot be a standard of justice that God himself is subject to – or he wouldn’t be God – that standard would. But our minds are weak. I can’t get away from Isaiah 53 “It was the will of the Lord to crush him”.

    One thing I heard recently is people saying that substitutionary atonement is like ‘cosmic child abuse’ – God taking it out on his son. But that is surely nonsense: If Jesus is God – it is God himself on the cross. Whatever punishment God meted out (if it were punishment), God himself bore it.

    “‘Tis mystery all – the immortal dies. Who can explore his strange design? In vain the first-born seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine!” (Wesley)

    Thanks for reading!

  11. Great analysis my friend, clearly very knowledgeable. interesting that you referenced the Greek though in the Genesis narrative, that still was not the original language as you probably know it was written in Hebrew

  12. I hold to the Scapegoat theory. Jesus was killed unjustly by a hostile mob which the Romans were compliant with….We are not saved through the cross, but Jesus is vindicated by God through the resurrection. I don’t believe in a wrathful God whose lust for blood has to be satisfied.

  13. I’m trying to develop my own theory, and think 3 questions should guide us: 1. What specifically is it about Jesus and his actions that have saving significance? 2. what is the mechanism that applies that significance to the human condition, and 3. how is the mechanism activated? I propose Love, Spirit and Faith respectively as answers to these three questions. Thank you for this article, Dr. Morris

  14. As I near the end of my mortal nature in this world, I have come to a conclusion that a person’s belief system and/or religious/spiritual connection is largely a matter of one thing and one thing only: Where one is born. Period. Time and place of birth puts significant limits of “free will” in the idea of choosing a God/religion. This was more true, of course, before the relatively new advent of modern travel.

    Therefore, it seems clear to me that most religions are VERY limited, at best, in handling this dilemma. What good is it to me if I am born, raised and taught as a Buddhist and die a Buddhist without any real (and good) introduction to Christianity (ie the 39,000 differing denominations to choose from)? Would I STILL be responsible for my relationship to the God(s) of Judaeo Christianity? How and why? There are, of course, a plethora of problems with the whole evangelism and proselytizing idea. Every religion has some form of this but, again, how does this square with a world of multiple cultures with multiple religious traditions who, I would suspect, are ALL claiming “Truth”?

    To say people cannot be held responsible by the God of (fill in your religious preference) for being ignorant of a religion lived and taught in another country across the globe makes ignorance, therefore, the best possible choice, especially if there is a concern about believing the “correct” religion/God in order to gain it’s treasures and benefits (ie salvation after death)!

    Through the empiricism of the sciences it seems very rational and safe to say that evolution and the age of the planet and cosmos discounts any historical/factual premise of The Fall or Original Sin or any need thereafter to restore, save or reconcile. There has NEVER been a pristine, perfect state of being in history. Therefore there has never been a need to fix that mythical perfect garden.

    I, personally, do not want to be limited by any doctrine or theology. They are ALL limited by the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament in traditional Christianity. I prefer, not unlike a fruit salad, the variety of what I call “wisdom traditions” offered by the planet. Instead of just having one fruit (which is OK if that is a person’s preference), I get more from trying and having many different fruits in the salad. I have found great freedom (and relief) in unbinding myself from the chains of Gods and/or theologies and doctrines that are centered primarily on emotionally abusive claims of eternal heaven and eternal hell.

    1. Brad Bray,
      You seem to be approaching the end of of your time here. I hope you haven’t departed us yet.
      I am with you for all that you said, except that the assumption that you have tasted all the fruit in the salad bowl, and decided that they are all the same. We don’t need any religion.
      It is good, after all, that all these fruity ideas exist so that we can come to a knowledge of the truth. We think we are owed the answers when we haven’t taken the time try them against one another, to discover what are the problems, and where does the absolute truth lay.
      Imagine a world without despotism, communism, fascism; or monarchy where would America get it’s grit?
      If you have never lived in a free country, you can’t say that you’ve seen it all, or that you know that all is lost.
      Obviously, if your child was healed, or brought back to life after by Christ, or was blind and healed by him, you would be grateful for your little miracle.
      The grit of nation-building ideas and of religion building must be worked over in our minds so that we may become one with God, and his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Apostles whom he had sent. You haven’t seen it all, if you haven’t looked under every rock.
      There is but one religion that has Apostolic and prophetic leadership. It lies hidden under a fog of accusation. That is as it should be. Look for it. Just as the American system is better than North Korea’s, true Apostolic and prophetic council is better than the alternatives. You haven’t looked under every rock yet. All religion isn’t self serving and selfish. Look for it.
      Hope you have a long and rewarding life.

  15. Jesus died sinless with a consciousness of all sin being against Him. The Law of Sin and Death is that the person who sins dies. But Jesus never sinned. Sin killed the physical body of Jesus. Therefore sin is condemned for killing an innocent man (Romans 8:3). Sin is sentenced to removal from all creation. Jesus resurrected with all power over sin and death. In the New Covenant, Jesus presents His plan for total sin removal over all creation. God will complete the work He began in all who believe in and receive Jesus. Believers will enter the presence of God totally sinless and totally righteous. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 Jesus became the sin offering, not sin. 2 Corinthians 5:21 Man must be reconciled to God. God does not need to be reconciled to man. God never changes.

  16. My name is Jamie Renee’ Ransom. This along with atonement.pdf matches me and my family’s dna. I have some extremely time sensitive questions I could use some help with. Due to my quickly demishing memory, I can’t seem to figure on my own. If anyone could plz msg on prefably FB messenger at soonest convenience or ransomj597@gmail.com. thank you

  17. I so agree. Our eyes were open to the knowledge of good and evil. We became aware of the difference between us and a Holy God. Love never fails.

  18. There is an additional atonement theory to comprehend and consider. The Nonviolent Atonement Theory discerned by J. Denny Weaver does take another route. I lean a bit more in it’s direction as I have real difficulty with penal substitution, ransom theory and scapegoat theory. God’s intent was not just personal but inclusive for all life. Living like-Christ is substantive to being a child of the Prodigal God who loves us loves all his/her creation. Dying via violence is an Upside-Down God who chooses to move with unexpected and unpredictable measures. How do we even begin to understand the Ruach of God as part of this plan.

  19. Brad, your comments are very thoughtful. Though as a Christian, I believe that Christ is the savior of humanity, what you mention is a topic very reasonable and honest. Unfortunately too many Christians with struggle to think about or don’t fully address but give sound bites. The God of Christianity found in scripture has attributes that are then question by critics as you bring up. The idea of Christ’s atonement in scripture and his Righteousness and Justice in Old and New Testament are adequate to address your questions. Some Christians in the Reformed or evangelical camp do teach Christ’s atonement at sufficient for those that may have been raised Buddhist, died as such and never “heard” the gospel of Christ. That may not be what Calvin or Luther taught (don’t know), but If one believes that the Bible describes the God who is and not just what I in the west say, then He can be trusted to by Omniscience and Omipresent and would account for those who theoretically never had Christ “preached” to them. If I believe scripture to be true (and I do), then I can just know he is righteous and just as well as merciful and gracious and truthful because He has said so of Himself

  20. Ive heard most of these in some form in sermons, or otherwise. I don’t understand why it can’t be all, scripturally speaking. Except maybe the ransom to satan theory, I don’t see that as having scriptural backing. Would love to dialogue with someone on it.

  21. I think this is absolutely brilliant, and I am very grateful to have found it. I have a question for you: WHAT, exactly, are we “saved” FROM?

  22. People might find my newly published book “The Jesus Myth – a psychologists viewpoint” interesting. I am suggesting that myth is an ultimate carrier of truth but, like a parable, not to be taken literally as true. It is short and easy to read for the non professional, but as one reviewer says: “packs a punch”.

  23. I have been struggling with this for two years. Why is it that the further in time we get from the crucifixion the more we focus on that moment as the definition of atonement? I have taught years of confirmation students that “God loves stuff”. That is the reason for the incarnation in the first place. If we focus only on Jesus’ death we skip over a model and “norm” for life. On the other hand, while each child born has a calling and purpose in life, Jesus’ purpose in being born was to die at a specific hour in a specific way. The witness that we have is in the Gospels. We must account for what they say. I think we need to look at the word “atonement” as a homonym. There is atonement as reparation which looks back at Mosaic Law. There is also “At-one-ment” which encompasses more of what Jesus preached and how he lived among humankind.

  24. I used to argue this… the idea that Jesus became sin, but I no longer think this is a tenable translation. Paul in 2 Cor 5:21 does not use “imputation” language at all, but actual used “became”, or “was made”, as in an actual, not an imputational form. Hamartia means an “offering for sin”, but not sin itself. Jesus actually did become our “sin offering”, and not an imputed offering. The impaled bronze snake is the defeat of Satan. Jesus was lifted up, to show victory over sin, not becoming sin. Jesus was NOT “made to be sin” Greek, for he was always pure through all the offering. It is in this purity (not the venom) that defeats the POWER of sin, because he was “innocent”. Hamartia is translated “Sin Offering” 190 time in the Septuagint, and every Jew in Corinth (that had a Synagogue) who read what Paul wrote understood this.

    I believe in the imputation of Jesus righteousness to us, but this text is not a reference for it. So, the “great exchange” here is that Jesus, the innocent, sinless, pure, victor, became a “sin offering” on behalf of the guilty, so that we can become the righteousness of Christ.

    The wrath of God is an issue of his nature. It is consequential. It is like the nature of water, or fluid mechanics, if you violate water buoyancy, or water displacement, you sink. The wrath of water is the violation of its laws. The Titanic sank because of the nature of fluid mechanics. Nobody blamed the water for the Titanic going down – LOL – But that is why it did. The holiness of God will not change; it is stable, reliable and constant. The consequence of being apart from the life source is death, a broken relationship. It is not God’s anger as in a rage of motivation, but the consequence of our willful behavior contrary to his nature. God is hurt and longs for us. God’s love comes after us, that precedes the cross, and is the reason for it.

  25. I like the scapegoat theory best if I had to choose but it seems that an obsession with the mechanics could distract from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

  26. The problem with all of these theories is the assumption that man was EVER capable of his own righteousness. Ignoring the Apostle Paul, the institutional church has forever approached the original sin of Adam as if man were already in possession of the knowledge of good and evil; as if he chose the evil over the good and that it is possible to reform man that he might again choose the good over the evil.

    What if the sin of man were truly unto death? What if there were no remedy for man but to finally destroy him?

    Here, the atonement of Christ would be that of taking the seed of Adam that He might “cut off” the seed of Adam; the antitype of circumcision. “Who can speak of his generations”, Isaiah says, “for he was cut off from the land of the living”. Here, we would understand Christ truly baptizing us with the burning of fire. And, this would most resemble the day of atonement where the scapegoat is burned up, dung and all; nothing left.

    I believe it is here that we might finally realize that EXCEPT for a mystery kept secret from creation, upon which Paul’s Gospel was received (Rom 16) there would be no mankind. We probably would have been destroyed at the flood when God says “the end of all flesh has come before me; I will destroy mankind whom I have created”. Except there were a 2nd Adam at creation, Our Creator Himself, there would be no hope! Except there were One Man who hid his family in the Ark (as Eve was hidden in Adam), we would have all been wiped clean.

    And finally, only as we finally come to the end of all hope in the natural seed (Hagar and Ishmael), might we finally hope in Christ; not to change us into what we should be but to be our very righteousness.

  27. #1&3 for me! Too much wrath and “sinners in the hands of an angry God” in the other 5. I’ll go for unconditional love, universal salvation, ’grandmother god’ every time.

  28. The Bible says Jesus died for our sins. Does it say Jesus died for the “atonement” of our sins? If it does, please direct me to the verse because I can’t find it.
    The definition of atonement is: “reparation for a wrong or injury”. Could there be another reason why Jesus “died for our sins” that doesn’t even involve a theory of “atonement”. ?

    1. Carter, key scriptures are Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Hebrews 2:17 which use the Greek word hilaskomai – translated in English most accurately as “propitiation” or “sacrifice of atonement”

      1. Thanks. So much depends on which translation you use; changing a word can make a lot of difference.

  29. this is great and mind opening but what we need to know is that Christ death is for a reason
    The very reason we are saved . His death has done a lot of things we are grateful for as a Church

  30. A very helpful article, in my humble opinion. I’m most familiar with the PSA concept, (hate acronyms – they have so many different interpretations according to context. I know three for PSA alone) simply because it’s the one I’ve heard the most. A clerical friend said that it had particularly powerful meaning for people familiar with 1st century AD Roman law – fair comment, but we’re now living in a very different social culture. At present I sit somewhere between PSA and the Satisfaction ideas, though there is some Biblical appeal to the Scapegoat idea too. After all, the scapegoat was sacrificed outside the camp, after having symbolically taken on the people’s sins by laying on of hands and faith; the parallels with Christ’s sacrifice are pretty clear – particularly if you accept that his life, death and resurrection are all foreshadowed in the OT, of which he was the fulfilment.

    As for the ‘cosmic child abuse’ idea (I’ve got Steve Chalke’s book on order), he was quoting what someone said to him, and I think its been misinterpretted as a definitive statement of belief. To me it reflects an imperfect understanding of the Trinity, and the relationship between father and son. A Muslim friend once summed it up as ‘if God died on the cross, who was minding his shop for the next three days?’ If you regard father and son as seperate, entities, one of which is subordinate to the other and who is sent to do something the superior entity won’t / can’t do, then yes, the comment is understandable, and reasonable. (Old military axiom for officers – never ask or tell an enlisted man to do something you’re afraid to do yourself.)

    If, though, you see father and son as being indelibly one, part of the three-in-one of the divine nature, then yes, it does make sense – God in the person of the son becomes the propitiation for human sin which satisfies God in the person of the father; atones for our failures and allows God in the person of the spirit to be poured out on all who accept his offering through faith. That certainly helps me, and allows us to move forwards into experiencing the fulness of life which Jesus promised.

    There’s also another fact, which I think our friends in the Catholic and Orthodox branches of the faith have a better grasp of than some Protestants – the whole thing is a ‘mystery’ beyond the limits of human understanding to define. And M R James said we shouldn’t look too closely into the mechanics of miracles or divine mysteries, lest we lose our sence of wonder.

    We are talking, don’t forget, about the actions of the supreme creator, empowerer and sustainer of the entire, vast, complex universe. No matter how complex our doctrines, our minds, miniscule by comparison, can never reduce his life to formulai within our capacity to understand. To think we can do so is, in fact blasphemy – we’d have cut God down to our level. (very much ‘made him in our image.) I sometimes think that artists and poets are better able to retain that gift of awed wonder, our only proper response to the person and love of God – than mathematicians and scientists – but then a good many astronomers attest to feeling them when they study the heavens……

  31. Having now read Steve Chalke’s ‘Lost Message of Jesus’, I found it generally very similar to what I’ve come to believe myself in the last few years, and that indeed his comment about ‘cosmic child abuse’ has been horribly taken out of context – indeed, he says in the book it is not right. Given that, I’m now puzzled by the number of people writing on the Premier Christian Radio site who obviously don’t agree with him, or the general theme of the book, which is of a loving God, who holds to an all embracing, inclusive view of humanity. A worthwhile read, whatever your views.

  32. The Scapegoat theory is actually a lot more complex than this. Gregory Boyd expounds this theory in “Crucifixion of the Warrior God” (Vol. 2) and shows how God actually reverses the scapegoat mechanism through the death of Jesus Christ.

  33. These atonement theories are the result of Greco-Roman academic thought. Each theory corresponds with each author’s love of God.
    Can a child love a father who is arbitrary and capricious? When a child says, of course I love my dad, he brought me into this world, and he can take me out of it; is that really love or fear?
    Getting back to Gospel times, a Father God, that can be truly loved, was assumed, when Christ revealed the first two commandments. It was assumed that God was worthy of admiration and one’s greatest love and devotion. The Apostle’s atonement theory after their shock and confusion at his death, and then over-joyed at his resurrection, didn’t dictate their atonement theory, but their optimistic Gospel portends something better than a demon-god like Moloch, demanding sacrificial payment.
    Does God need our tithes and offerings, or do we need the experience of giving? Did God need animal sacrifices from Adam to Christ, or did we need the experience of sacrificing?
    God didn’t need Abraham to give his son, his only begotten son, at Mount Moriah. God provided a sacrifice to us, of His Son, His Only Begotten Son, at Mount Moriah. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son in the flesh. Who did he give his son to? I don’t believe that God needed his son to die to make payment to him, or so that God could recover his losses brought about by man. I believe that man needed this gift. The sacrifice of the Son was in payment to anyone who ever said, Life isn’t fair! I was supposed to be rich and handsome, (at least my wife deserved better than this). We are black and white, bond, and free, rich and poor, healthy and sick, happy and sorrowful. If we are in bonds, or sick, or poor, then we know that someone should pay for our suffering. Christ paid you and me. He didn’t pay the Father. Our Father who art in heaven doesn’t need the payment, we demand it, because life isn’t fair to us. God paid us for our losses.
    We choose life, but we also choose knowledge. We partake of the tree of knowledge and we suffer the resulting fall from the presence of God, who cannot look at sin with the least degree of allowance. Being in the presence of God, is life. Falling from his presence is death, immediate death, contrary to the words of the serpent. Also eventual physical death. As we choose life, we not only choose to live forever, but we choose to live forever in a clean and sinless condition, and able to return the presence of God. Jesus Christ represents the tree of Life. Jesus Christ represents forgiveness for sin. Jesus Christ represents the resurrection of the body, and the resurrection of our sinless condition as children of a loving Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ represents an atonement, at-one-ment, making us at one with the Apostles, and at one with Christ, and at one with the Father. This is what Christ prayed for in John 17. Not for a bodily singularity with the Father.
    When the Catholic Fathers started messing with the nature of God, the result was a demon-like God who would gobble up our children and demand more. The further we come in history from the time of Christ, to our present, the more our idea of God becomes arbitrary and demon-like and our atonement theory reveals that view.
    We haven’t arrived at the best theory, until we recognize that the Father would never hurt anyone, but would move heaven and earth to rescue each one, if we will allow him to rescue us.

  34. Most theories miss points. I’m still struggling. Yet, if The I Am is named correctly, then He is the measure of all things, and therefore, if John is correct in saying that He is Love, then we can trust Him. Because He created mankind as hybrid Earth/Spirit denizen, and gave “His breath” dominion over the earth part (see Gen 1:26) then the earth created Serpent won domination from Eve when she trusted It. She, in turn, tried to win dominion over Adam but merely had Adam give his dominion over the Serpent.

    Earth, as you know, was made from nothing and was chaotic. It began as a nullity. Dark is a nullity, rather than a negation of Light, and Death is a nullity rather than a negation of Life. Can we then say that Evil is a nullity, also? We put our trust in the nullity/chaos represented by the Serpent and came under Its chaos. Mere consequences, of course.

    Atonement, then must first kill the spawn of the Serpent within us–as represented later by Pharoah–and we are freed when we are co-crucified in Christ (Gal 2:20 and near the beginning of Romans 6–note the several words with the prefix of syn) we are then raised with Christ to a new life as new creations with “His breath”–the Holy Spirit. If we abide in Christ, we grow more into His image. Without Him, He pointed out, we can do nothing. That implies that I can all things through Christ, doesn’t it?

    So redemption isn’t the point, though it illustrates it somewhat, and that can be said of the other theories.

    I hope this isn’t too dense. In a sense, the English word ‘atonement’ is right on. We must be at one with Christ for it to be effective.

    abide in Him

  35. John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” These are my current thoughts. Jesus was not a sacrifice. He is a savior. He laid down his earthly life. His friends benefit from this by the coming of the Holy Spirit, a great Comforter and Teacher, and eventually experiencing eternal life beyond the earthly body. The crucifixion showed how evil the Judaic establishment leaders were and how weak the Roman leader was. Picking up your cross and following Jesus is a terrifying idea, but he has demonstrated that there is life after death and the whole world can be changed through loving and obeying God. Throughout his life, Jesus forgave and healed people and cautioned them to go and sin no more. His death showed how much could, and must, be forgiven so that we also can be forgiven, even for we know not what. We not only gain eternal life, but the power to live and heal as Jesus did. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” Mark 9:24

    Many thanks to the author of this article and to all those making thoughtful and inspired comments.

  36. Not sure if new comments are still being read, but would appreciate feedback. First, I greatly appreciated your explanation Stephen. And yet something seems missing in the listed atonement theories. Why did Jesus die on the cross? I would like to suggest that there are two major threads of thought woven together? Failure of Israel keeping covenant resulted in promised exile of that one nation. Failure of Adam resulted in all mankind to be imprisoned to the grave (Sheol/Hades). God’s wrath was satisfied. Note that God’s wrath is different from man’s wrath in it does not seek to return harm for harm received but with offering hope of reconciliation, his wrath involves, “giving/handing over to darkness, satan’s domain”, “turning his face away”, pulling back some of his creative order for chaos to return. If true, then Jesus was not beaten that Friday by the hand of his Father for satisfaction. Jesus was handed over to a death that meant complete separation. But the gates of sheol/hades could not keep him as the second Adam was obedient. The second thread would be purification of our sins by blood of Jesus, as symbolized with the spilled blood of the animals who in OT. Those lambs and other animals were not beaten for man’s sin before being sacrificed. Yet the sprinkling of the blood meant mankind could come behind the veil and into the presence of God, that a limited relationship could be restored in being God’s people. Why all this? Irenaeus of Lyon suggested that Adam and Eve were expected to mature with time into knowing God and to become “human”. Jesus said if you love me, you would obey me. Perhaps the tree in the garden was not simply a test of obedience but more an invitation into growing intimate relationship, a marriage? Could faith, trust, submission, and such all point that at the end of the day, God wants to “know” us and for us to “know” him. Maybe that is the deciding question when we stand before Jesus, as only those Jesus “knows” are allowed to his feast. Stop here. Does make sense? thx.

  37. Thankfully, these discussions have already happened about 200 years ago. Thanks to the internet, anyone can read them for free. To whom much is given, much is required. The erroneous views will eventually die out for the real Christians. The tares or chaff will cling to those erroneous view, exposure the fruit on their tree.

  38. I suppose I have mixed so many of these theories together that I was confused when I was reading about Christ the Victor theory, and realized how people separate them out. Thank you for this clear and concise summary. AND your conclusion!! In the end, the point is that CHRIST saves us, not we ourselves ;-) Though I do think that discussing the HOW can assist us in other confusing questions – like Why/How Jesus can say that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. That statement (which Jesus states fiercely in at least 2 different contexts) cannot be made sense of if Christ’s work is entirely substitutionary. However it makes excellent sense in the Christ as Victor context, where we are members of God’s kingdom through the work of Christ which defeated the demonic powers and authorities. Then, within His kingdom, we have rewards and consequences, but never lose our salvation as long as we still pledge allegiance to Christ. Just as in our country, once citizens we cannot lose our citizenship, even though we can still experience corrective action (punishment/retribution etc) for our violations of our country’s laws. Anyways … thank you for the overview. After a long time trying to delineate the differences on this topic, you have finally made it clear for me.

  39. Guilt is not a transferrable commodity. There are consequences.

    Penal substitution punishes the innocent- and therefore is a crime; and it fails to punish the guilty- and is therefore a crime. two wrongs do not make a right. (Nor do 3+.)

    Vicarious atonement is a moral failure; a innocent man has mnoting to repent of. A guilty man does, but in this version is failing to do so. Again, as guilt is not transferable, it is flat out incorrect. Guilt is not a transferrable.

    Mohammed says that Jesus was the GREATEST of ALLv prophets- including Mohammed himself. He also said that the message of Jesus was distorted, garbled,mis-transmitted.
    Mohammed taught (simplified summation) that one should seek wisdom. Discovering g that one has engaged in sin, one should REPE?NT, and thereafter STOP DOING THAT, and confess to Allah one’s crime, and (assumig the fellow means it and follows through) Ahhah shall pardon the man. (women too apparently.

    NO, I am not a muslim, but this perspective makes sense then any of the theories of salvation seen on the page you wrote discussing this.

    Finally, Jesus while being nailed to a tree, prayed: “Father,forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Well now, a request for others, and AN ARGUEMENT TO JUSTIFY IT: Ignorance. Thus are children and morons innocent. Thus are the ignorant innocent. And thus, are all misled by polluted transmission innocent.

    -Kirk Bailey
    deliberatus AT Hotmail DOT com.

  40. Having read all the above theories, I cannot agree with any of those where Jesus’s death depicted as a sacrifice. As an introduction to what I am to say, please consider: Jesus as God-man did not choose death, but voluntarily accepted it – and treated it as a sin. ( St.John )
    He died for us. His death is a mosaic in the process of our salvation. The correct signification of His death has been a mystery to mankind, it has been there to be discovered. As our capacity to understand things in the proper light changes, it’s discovery remains a challenge.

    Due to the challenges from the Jewish establishment He had to die as a man, ensuring the fulfillment of His mandate; in witness of God’s truth; and as announcer of the message of God’s salvation to mankind, of his time, and for all future generations. In this sense, God willed that He dies exercising His free-will: saying “yes” in complete humiliation and obedience to Him. If He didn’t say “yes”, there would be no Christianity today.

    God wants man’s participation in his own salvation. Mary too has said “yes” for Jesus’s incarnation – otherwise God’s plan for sending His son to us could not have taken place. Also, we are to say “no” to sin, as a condition of our salvation. Both the “yes” and the “no” are built into God’s plan of our salvation – but His grace constantly works on our consciences supporting the favorable decision He wants us to make. One can chose not to participate by saying “no” to God’s grace. The purpose of incarnation is to make this choice available: by teaching God’s truth, healing ( to show God’s power ) prophesizing, and dying, if necessary – which is only a mosaic in the moving picture of salvation.

    The signification of Jesus’s death as a human sacrifice demanded by God is abhorrent to the God of Israel ( Deutr , ) and is not necessary as a means of atonement. ( there are many other reasons and considerations as well. )

    Jesus resurrected by His own Devine power – not raised. This distinction is necessary, so confusion as to His deity can be avoided. ( also, He prophesized that He will rise…)

    I wonder, if any of the established apostolic churches would allow me to take part in the Eucharist, knowing my confession of faith concerning the question of “atonment” as developed in the above. I would appreciate any advise on this.

  41. I don’t think what happened to Solomon and Gomorrah was a natural outcome, unless it’s the bad choice of building cities in an earthquake zone. Surely that was a judgement? And Nineveh was spared a judgement because they repented. The flood was a judgement too. But yes I do see bad outcomes arising from sin as a consequence, since sins are never wise.

  42. Never knew there were different theories on atonement! I’ve been taught PSA, then just now heard of Governmental atonement. I have to say that if God is paid by Jesus for our sins, then there is nothing to forgive if our sin debt is paid, and yet the Bible tells us we are redeemed and forgiven. I remain uncertain about what to think. Glad it doesn’t affect the fact of salvation!

  43. Hi Chris,
    it wasn’t the cup of God’s wrath, it was the cup of suffering. We know that because in Matthew 20 & Mark 10 we read how James and John would drink the same cup as Jesus.

    If you interrogate the NT you will find it doesn’t have penal substitution (other than what the translators have put in there). Jesus is our Passover lamb (life comes through partaking of his body and blood), our mercy seat (the dwelling place of God, from whence he speaks) etc. He dies for us (on our behalf, not instead of us) and he dies in communion with the Father (“Father into your hands I commit my spirit” is not the cry of a man under alienation and wrath). Did deep. You will be rewarded.

Tell me what you think