The dominant view of atonement for the first 300 years of the Church was Christus Victor. Jesus death and resurrection made him Lord, and established him as sole victor over the forces of death and destruction. Jesus death was a ransom paid to the devil. The Penal Substitution view was there in Scripture, but for some reason the early church was less interested in that view. It wasn’t until Anselm in the 11th century that the Church substantially changed position, and began to put its weight on the other foot. It was the legal and forensic climate of those times that provoked the switch.
In other words, it was a cultural shift that provoked a theological shift. That’s a pretty important point, because we are in a time when culture is changing dramatically, and here we are having a lot of theological debates. Maybe Phyllis Tickle is right, that every five hundred years the Church has a great rummage sale and old questions suddenly have new answers.
We could conclude from this that every time the culture changes, the church becomes unfaithful. Or, more positively, and more wisely, we could conclude that when the culture shifts God speaks in new language. God speaks to a new culture in new ways through the Scripture because a new culture asks new questions and also HEARS in new ways.