Obviously the metaphor of Christus Victor was born out of the context the early Christian church found itself in, facing directly into an unprecedented barrage of persecution. It was shaped by the struggles they were facing and the cultural context in which it was born. These early Christians were giving imagery and metaphor to help them articulate their fundamental belief that through Christ they had been reconciled to God.
This is part of the healthy way that the church has evolved throughout its history in a continual effort to find new and meaningful ways to talk about their faith. That process of cultural evolution has continued.
The predominant metaphor that is heard today as the evangelical church talks about the atonement is one we call substitionary atonement. Sometimes we call it vicarious atonement or propitiation or judicial theory or penal substitution, but all of these subtle variants are a form of a metaphor that paralleled the development of the modern legal system. This framework focuses on the divide from the diagram earlier (see Part 1). Paul writes to the Roman church and says, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and we are disconnected from God by those shortcomings. The theory of substitutionary atonement lines this reality up against the model of the developing legal system. We have transgressed the standard that God has set for membership in his social order much the same way a criminal transgresses the social order that society has set for itself. Similarly to when someone breaks rules and must be penalized through fine or imprisonment, God has set a penalty for our transgression, and that penalty is death. Now that is a bit of a kludge on the metaphor, which has been articulated much more eloquently to reflect the nuances of the relationship between God, law and sinner by better theologians. However, in its most basic form, substitutionary atonement is a legal picture of our relationship to God. The twist comes in because God sends his son, to pay that penalty for us. In his death he saves us from the consequence of our own actions by stepping into the gap for us.