February 09, 2009

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I love this book. It is without a doubt one of my favorites. Tolkien is a master of words, and when this is wedded with his fertile imagination and his deep faith you end up with a powerful work. And it only gets better with rereading.

I am always struck by the beauty and depth of the world he creates, the reality and dynamism of his characters, and the epic scope of the events. It feels like every page of this voluminous work is built upon a foundation of volumes of history. I also love the powerful themes of temptation and failure, virtue, hope, and redemption. It is truly a theological goldmine, a volume illumined with a "Christian imagination" that propels the action. Simply said, I love it!

McKnight, A Community Called Atonement

In this great little book on the atonement, Scot McKnight lends his capable hand to this very important doctrine, navigating the often contested waters with ease. McKnight asserts the importance of atonement both as a doctrine of the church but even more so as a practice of the church. Does atonement work? He asserts that yes, it does. It can and should create a community transformed by Christ's work, and transformed to further that transformation in the world.

McKnight lays out a nicely rounded out picture of the atonement by situating the doctrine in the larger Christian story, by investigating the biblical and historical roots and developments, and by asserting the continuing validity of the theory and even more the praxis of atonement.

I think this relatively short book is a great entry point into this important field of discussion, and beyond that it is a robust statement of how this doctrine stands at the core of Christian faith and life. A number of helpful avenues are explored, such as atonement as the work of the missional God and creating a missional community. I also think he takes a very even-handed approach to the modern criticisms of penal substitution, showing how the doctrine can be sometimes distorted by some of its defenders, but also emphasizing how it can express an essential aspect of our faith. Last, I think his own summary of atonement as identification for incorporation proves to be a helpful way of approaching this doctrine.

This certainly doesn't constitute a full review of McKnight's broad and far-reaching project, but I hope it gives some of the flavor of this great little book that can help the church to rethink what it means to be an atoned-for and atoning people.