The philosophy of religion, as commonly understood by Christians in both the Catholic and Reformed traditions, whether they think it a worthwhile enterprise or not, begins with arguments for the existence of a deity, proceeds to show that this deity is necessarily unique, eternal, and suchlike, and leaves it to reflection on divine revelation to consider whether this deity might be properly designated as ‘three persons in one nature’. Much later, after discussing the metaphysical implications of the incarnation of the second person of the triune godhead, one would arrive at theories about the death of Jesus Christ as putatively redemptive, and describable as sacrificial, atoning and the like.
Some good work has been done recently on how, when and why this paradigm established itself in Christianity. Plainly, its origins lie in Greek philosophy, as L. P. Gerson (1990) has recently demonstrated with great thoroughness. Subsequently, at the Enlightenment, philosophers started to look for natural explanations for the existence of religion. The supernatural claims of Christianity rapidly became a matter of secondary interest as all the intellectual energy went into discussing the rational foundations of theistic belief, as Buckley (1987), Preus (1987) and Byrne (1989), among others, have recently shown.
Suppose, however, that, instead of beginning from what is logically antecedent and perhaps even extraneous to the Christian religion, one were to focus straightaway on what might seem to an outsider the most arcane and esoteric, if not even the most implausible and unpalatable, of all Christian doctrines—that the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is to be regarded as a ‘sacrifice’ which ‘reveals’ our ‘sin’ and offers ‘redemption’: what sense might we derive from such a proposal?