Monday, September 07, 2009

Book Review:"The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views"

I just finished reading "The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views". Not a book for light reading"Also, in spite of the attempt to be inclusive of as many general views as possible, it only described four specific views. They are:

Christus Victor: The Christus Victor is likely the oldest view of atonement, declaring Christ the victor over sin, death, etc. It encompasses other views such as Penal Substutionary Atonement and Healing Atonement as well. There are a couple of things I liked about the defense of this view. First is that it is one of the oldest views. There is a great deal to be said about looking at the traditions of the church fathers, especially when that tradition goes back to the first few centuries. Also, the fact that this also includes so many other views within the framework of belief.

Kaleidoscopic View: Similar to the Christus Victor view, it also includes other viewpoints within the framework of the view of atonement. What it does do, however, is to drop any particular view as the primary way of how things work. This is also attractive because as you read through the Bible, in both Testaments, there are differences in how atonement is described.

Penal Substitutionary View: The Penal Substitionary view is the viewpoint which seems most often taught within what is considered "evangelical" churches today. While the Bible does use the imagery of Christ paying the penalty for our sins, that is one of several different images used throughout the Bible. Things that struck me about this as I read through the book. The contributor for this viewpoint was absolutely sure his belief was the "primary" way God worked in the world and made this clear in rebuttals to nearly every other viewpoint. Some of the things mentioned about God seeking "Justice" to satisfy his "wrath" prompted word studies around those words.

This is probably my least favorite view because, at least the way this is taught today, does not paint God in a very kind and loving light and can be quite manipulative.

Healing View: This viewpoint is a lot harder to pin down and is one of what sounds like several in a larger category. Basically, it takes the scriptures that talks about Christ being our healer and extends that out into a view of sin as a disease and Christ's death as the anti-body for that disease. This is also an attractive view for me as it does paint God in a loving (not angry) light.

One thing I have been coming to the conclusion about with many of these issues such as calvinism, atonement, etc is that there is not necessarily one absolute way God works and, to believe and act as if there is does at least three things...
  • It limits your fellowship with other believers who do not hold those views because you start believing yourself "better" than them.
  • It causes you to look at scripture in frameworks that are not necessarily intended by God. As you see through the debate in this book, atonement can be looked at one way by one writer and differently elsewhere, even by the same writer. This is especially true when you look at Paul's writings.
  • It causes you to put God into a box of your creation. Remember, God is God (and I am not). God's ways are not our ways.
In his defense of the kaleidoscopic view of atonement, Joel Green mentions that each of these views spoke to people within their time. Is it time to adopt a different viewpoint as our "primary" or, to follow his lead and teach that no particular view is primary.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

Well, if "no particular view is primary," it gets really confusing for those of us with simpler minds than yours, Joel! :)

Glad you are thinking all these things out for me. I am just like: "Jesssuuuuuuus, help!"