Atonement Series: Governmental View

The Governmental View

The governmental theory of atonement (also called moral government) was first proposed by Hugo Grotius, one of the Remonstrants. Other proponents include Johnathan Edwards Jr, John Miley, and Charles Finney.

In some respects, the governmental view is eclectic – it incorporates aspects from several theories. It focuses on the suffering of Jesus, God’s love, and man’s reconciliation with God. Governmental proponents hold that Jesus suffered on behalf of humanity.

As Governor, God was displeased with the sin of man. By accepting the suffering of Jesus, God is able to forgive those who believe, reconcile them to Himself, and maintain justice and order. The real objective element in [governmental] atonement is not that something was offered to God, but that God made the offering.” “…God made the atonement.” (1)

Unlike the satisfaction view, the governmental view does not teach that Jesus paid the penalty to God for the sin of particular individuals. There is a component of substitution in the theory, but it has a corporate focus (church, those who believe, the wider community).

Explaining the governmental view, J Kenneth Grider wrote:

…Christ suffered for us. Arminians teach that what Christ did he did for every person; therefore what he did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition. Arminianism teaches that Christ suffered for everyone so that the Father could forgive the ones who repent and believe; his death is such that all will see that forgiveness is costly and will strive to cease from anarchy in the world God governs. This view is called the governmental theory of the atonement. (2)

While some Arminians hold the the governmental view, it is a mistake to attribute the view to all Arminians.

The Governmental view is often held by Wesleyans, Charismatics, and Open Theists. It should be noted that Wesley himself did not hold to the view.

Criticisms of the Governmental View

  • No direct payment for the sin of individuals.
  • It’s not clear what Jesus actually accomplished, or why his death was required.

Verses Used to Advocate

  • For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! -Romans 5:10
  • All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. –2 Corinthians 5:18,19
  • It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. – 1 Corinthians 1:30
  • The Prodigal Son (The father forgives the son without requiring the payment of his debt) -Luke 15:11-32

Examples in music and literature:

  • I couldn’t come up with any good examples. Suggestions welcome!

(1) The Work of Christ, Chapter 4: Reconciliation, Atonement, and Judgment, by P.T Forsyth
(2) Arminianism, by J Kenneth Grider


Filed under atonement theories

5 responses to “Atonement Series: Governmental View

  1. Hi Kevin,I think both the penal substitution theory and governmental theory fall under the satisfaction of justice theory; it’s just that justice is satisfied in different ways. In the penal theory, individual, punative justice is satisfied. In the governmental theory public justice is satisfied. One is retribution against the individual the other is governance of the community, but both are justice. God be with you,Dan

  2. Thanks for the comment Dan. Very good clarification. I’m going to modify this post a bit to better incorporate your point.There is a substitutionary component too the governmental view, as you point out. It is more corporate (church, community) than individual.

  3. "•It's not clear what Jesus actually accomplished, or why his death was required."The atonement accomplishes precisely what the penalty of the law would have accomplished.The atonement was required, or necessary, for the same reason that the penalty would have been required or necessary if no atonement had been offered. The penalty of the law serves a governmental purpose. Therefore the penalty of the law cannot be wisely and justly remitted, unless an atonement substitutes the penalty and accomplishes what the penalty would have accomplished.Why is an atonement necessary in order to pardon the sinner? I answer, it is necessary on the same ground, and for the same reasons, as punishment would have been necessary, if there had been no atonement made. The ground of both is the same…to maintain the authority of the divine law. If that be not maintained, but the law fall into contempt, the contempt will fall equally on the legislator himself; his authority will be despised and his government weakened. And as the contempt shall increase, which may be expected to increase, in proportion to the neglect of executing the law, the divine government will approach nearer and nearer dissolution, till at length it will be totally annihilated.” Jonathon Edwards Jr. (The Necessity of the Atonement, p. 2-3)"Examples in music and literature:• I couldn't come up with any good examples. Suggestions welcome!"I preached a sermon at a large crusade recently, expounding the Governmental View. I used a few different stories to illustrate the governmental atonement, one of which was from the Count of Monte Cristo. You can listen to that sermon at:

  4. Hi Jesse, thanks for your thoughts. I'll check out the link.

  5. Pingback: Book Review: Arminian and Baptist, Explorations in a Theological Tradition by J. Matthew Pinson | Wesleyan Arminian

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