I started re-reading parts of Gerhard Forde's awesome little book, Where God Meets Man. I came to a section on the atonement, and it really helped me to see what it seems he sought to communicate elsewhere with less clarity.
He argues that Luther's view of the atonement rejected the commerialism behind Anselm's formula found in most understandings of the "vicarious satisfaction" model but that Luther had a view large enough to really fit all of the various models and pictures and metaphors of the work of Christ on the cross.
"Something like this is the case in our understanding of Luther on the atonement. For him what was important was not the various ideas or pictures of the atonement one might employ, but rather the distinction betwen a theology of the cross and mere and new beginning which is also my end and new beginning in which life under the law ends because life in Christ has begun (i.e. atonement or oneness with God has begun) then one can throw together words and images which only puzzle a theologian of glory....
If Jesus' death had been merely a payment to God he would not have done enough. Wrath and law would not have been satisfied in actuality. They are not satisfied actually until they end, until we don't feel or hear them anymore, i.e. until God acts to put the old Adam to death and to raise up a new one. Therefore it is not because God needed someone more expensive to pay the debt that he sent his Son, bue because he wanted to put an end to the old and start something new. Satisfaction or fulfillment in Luther's terms means truly bringing to and end, filling up, stopping. "The fulfillment of the law" he says, "is the death of the law"...
[Jesus] rather, as we have said, dies in our place, i.e. he identifies himself with us by entering absolutely into that place where we must die. He does not die 'instead' of us, but rather 'ahead' of us, bringing it forward to us. His absolute identification with us puts to death the Old Adam inus so that his death is our death. He dies ahead of us to bring us life here and now. This identification with him in death leads to identification with him in the new resurrection life."
I love this. What Forde is saying is this: there is the normal course of the human race... cursed, deserving a cursed death, ultimately ending in death. That is the course of all humanity under the curse of the law. Jesus came down into our world, born under law, and walked the fullness of that course ahead of us. He died a cursed death. But he created a new course, a new path. He conquered the curse by in effect saying, "That is not the end, not any longer. I am going to defeat that and make something new." He rose from the dead. He therefore fulfilled our place ahead of us, as a person under the curse of the law, while creating a new path for humanity ahead of us, by rising from the dead.
Through faith, we participate in that death and resurrection such that his death is our death, not merely a substitute for our death, and his resurrection is our resurrection. He said, after all, "I AM the resurrection and the life." His path becomes a new path for us. He is our new path. Through faith, we are identified with what he did ahead of us, as our great forerunner, and some day our resurrection, our victory is just as sure. That is the significance of the resurrection and why it has so much to do with his death -something I never really understood through the common atonement theory schemes. The resurrection is the breaking in of something new -not merely a new possibility for mankind but a new reality. It signals the defeat of the old and the entrance of the new. Because he died I died with him -crucified with Christ. Because he made this new path I am raised with him, and, after I die, I will be literally raised as he was... to the new creation when he returns.
What Forde really harps on is how this view of the work of Christ is "down to earth." There is no talk of some kind of transaction in the secret chambers of God in heaven. Jesus died a cursed death, the death due to all of us, right before our eyes, right here on earth. And he beat that death, he overcame the curse, not by fixing it but by dying through it and then making something new, a new creation through his resurrection from the dead, an event that happened here on earth. His victory was actual, seen, not merely inferred by some theologizing about how God must have thought Jesus' "payment" was "enough" since Jesus rose from the dead.