Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module THEO3791: The Cross of Christ

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO3791: The Cross of Christ

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


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Excluded Combination of Modules

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  • This module will explore recent debates in Christian theology about the role that the cross of Christ plays in the process of salvation. It will have two main foci: it will explore debates about ‘penal substitution’ in and beyond evangelical theology, and it will sample the variety of accounts of the cross that have emerged from broadly liberationist theological viewpoints (e.g., queer, feminist, and black theologies) in recent years. The module will enable students to investigate a contemporary doctrinal controversy that has provoked widespread argument in both popular and academic circles, to understand some of the roots of that controversy in the Christian tradition, and to provide fair and thoughtful assessments of key claims made in it.


  • Classic evangelical accounts of ‘penal substitution’ – i.e., the idea that Jesus saves by undergoing the punishment for the sins of humankind, as their substitute, on the cross. We will explore the content of this account, the ways in which it is conveyed in preaching and worship, and the roles that it has played in evangelical identity.
  • Criticisms of penal substitution. We will explore and assess a wide variety of arguments that have been made for and against this penal substitution tradition, including debates within evangelical theology over the past twenty years.
  • The background to contemporary atonement debates. In order to deepen our assessment of the arguments for and against penal substitution, we will look briefly at recent analyses of biblical, patristic, medieval, reformation, and modern approaches to the atonement, in order to understand the use made of these sources in contemporary accounts of atonement.
  • Accounts of atonement from other sources. We will look at ways in which theologians from broadly liberationist theological viewpoints (e.g., queer, feminist, and black theology) have drawn on those scriptural and traditional resources, and developed accounts of the atonement – often in critical conversation with penal substitutionary accounts.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • demonstrate accurate and detailed understanding of a variety of positions in contemporary debates about the atonement;
  • provide careful critical assessments of the arguments for and against penal substitution;
  • provide careful critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of accounts of atonement from broadly liberationist theological viewpoints;
Subject-specific Skills:
  • produce nuanced interpretations of modern theological texts in their intellectual contexts;
  • relate modern theological ideas accurately to the wider Christian tradition;
  • identify, discuss, and critically evaluate doctrinal disagreements in contemporary theology;
Key Skills:
  • acquire and interpret information through close, nuanced reading of primary and secondary sources;
  • present complex information and argument accurately and compellingly in written form; and
  • research defined topics independently, with some initial guidance.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching: This module will be taught in regular weekly classes of 1.5 hours each. Classes will include both lecture and seminar elements, though the balance and arrangement of these will vary over the course of the module. The lecture elements convey information and exemplify an approach to the subject matter, enabling students to develop a clear understanding of the subject and to improve their skills in listening and in evaluating information. The seminar elements enhance subject-specific knowledge and understanding both through preparation and through interaction with students and staff. The aim of this combined mode of teaching is to create a dialogical learning environment where students can engage, with suitable guidance, in advanced level discussions of key primary texts, against the background of a broader understanding of the intellectual contexts for those texts.
  • Both formative and summative essays develop subject-specific knowledge and understanding, along with student skills in the acquisition of information through reading and research, and in the structured presentation of information in written form.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 Weekly in terms 1 and 2 1.5 hour 30
Preparation and reading 170
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative Essay 1 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3,000 100%
Component: Summative Essay 2 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2 3,000 100%

Formative Assessment:

1,500 word essay

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University