Update – and some atonement reading

I’ve not forgotten about this, but the middle of the semester is a very intense time with little time for reading beyond the bare essentials. I’ve been working on some partially finished things (e.g. Whitopia, Watchmen) and watching a few interesting things while I do busy clerical work. Hopefully, in the next few weeks I’ll break out of the logjam and be hard at it. And summer is coming soon!

I will mention a couple of interesting things I consulted last week as I prepared to do the Atonement in class. I reviewed previously read books Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and its companion volume Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross. While some elements of the books have been viewed with suspicion (I’ve heard and read a scathing review or two…), there are lots of things I like. At the very least, they provide a good introduction to issues some people have with the exclusive emphasis on the penal substitution view common in much of evangelicalism. They actually go a bit farther than that, but read in that way they are helpful. The first does a good job with the variety of biblical images, discusses the historical development of the views and talk about how to contextualize the atonement in other contexts (notably Japan, as my children have some interest in that culture). I still think there is some proper life in penal substitution, but I’m not committed to exclusivity – it seems the biblical imagery is a bit broader. The second one provides concrete examples in literature, sermons, etc. of what the various models for the atonement might look like, which is a very helpful tool for helping students thinking about contextualization, even if they don’t agree with the various models.

The other book I reviewed for class was Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement. What I especially find helpful here (there are lots of good things) is the focus in the final section on what impact the atonement has on Christian praxis. As I encourage my students to go beyond applications like “we should be thankful” (although that’s true enough) or ‘we should worship because…” (again, great as far as it goes!), it’s nice to be able to point them toward something that does that (and to borrow a few of his ideas so that I look a lot smarter than I really am!). McKnight does a good job of trying to think how the atonement would work – we have a ministry of reconciliation (which certainly is using atonement language!). He emphasizes fellowship, justice, and mission (he talks about being missional, and though I am sometimes annoyed with the word and its sometimes appearance as jargon, I’ll forgive him for that!) . Again, elements of his applications necessarily depend on his particular view of the atonement, but still it’s a good model regardless of where you land on this.

Obviously, these aren’t the end all of atonement theology, but they were useful as reviews of some helpful issues for me – especially as I think about and try to teach my students issues related to relevance and application, and I commend them for the assistance I found there.


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