June 28, 2008

The Nature of the Atonement, Bielby and Eddy

In The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, four scholars are asked to put forth a comprehensive understanding of what they consider to be the foundational metaphor or central thrust of the New Testament's teaching on atonement. They are then asked to interact with each of the other three author's views, facilitating a dialog between the different views and accentuating both commonalities and disagreements. The four scholars and views are as follows:

Gregory Boyd, Christus Victor
Joel B. Green, Kaleidoscopic
Bruce Reichenbach, Healing
Thomsa Schreiner, Penal Substutition

Because of the nature of the book, that is, that each scholar is already abridging an in-depth discussion in their short essays and that each scholar interacts with the others, I will simply restrict my review to some brief comments of evaluation and commendation.

In most evangelical circles, it would seem that the penal substitution view holds sway as the dominant (and sometimes almost the only) view. And Thomas Schreiner does an admirable job of displaying the deep scriptural roots and theological reasoning that make this such an important view. Greg Boyd, in what was maybe for me one of the strongest pieces, displayed the deep scriptural roots of the Christus victor model, showing the importance of victory of death and evil for biblical thinking about sin and salvation. Bruce Reichenbach ably deploys arguments for the healing aspects of atonement, emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation as part of this understanding. Joel Green's essay was also very strong, emphasizing that the context of Jesus' death and the purposes of God are two essential aspects of thinking about the atonement. This leads him to assert that no one metaphor or model will fully illumine the significance of Christ's death, nor will any one model necessarily be the best way to speak the truth of Christ's death into our cultural setting today.

Each author does their view justice, in showing the deep logic that underpins it and the way the atonement fits within a larger Scriptural and theological framework. Each author also sets out to show how their view sets the foundation for or interacts with other views and metaphors, which make up subsidiary ways of speaking about Christ's death. For this reason, I think this book makes a great entry point into this lively and important dialog about the work of Christ and the nature of the atonement. It deals deliberately with the text of the New Testament and also, in less depth, with the historical interpretations and understandings of Christ and his death.

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