Because the book is a collection of essays and reviews on those essays, and lacks a singular theme or proposal apart from “the atonement,” it is difficult to provide a comprehensive and sustained review. However, what can be taken away from the book, in consideration of the four themes of “Christus Victor,” “penal substitution,” “atonement as healing,” and what is referred to as the “kaleidoscopic view” (embracing a number of views of the atonement that does not allow for any one view to dominate), is that the more satisfying approaches to the atonement are those that take into account the historical narrative of Scripture and the way in which the cross and the Resurrection fits into and indeed is the climax of that narrative. Satisfaction grows when the understanding of atonement is connected to the whole of the life of Jesus, rather than the cross alone, as atonement is considered along the lines of the in-breaking of God into His creation in order to bring about His purposes, which is precisely what the life, teachings, and mighty deeds performed by Jesus are summarily intended to convey. Thus, we are better able to understand why so much rich and metaphorical imagery is attached to the atonement language found in Scripture – the authors did not necessarily have one particular model in mind when presenting it, but labored to communicate what it was that took place in the Christ-event. A relentless focus on the cross, and what is achieved there, while incredibly significant, such as is found in the penal substitution view of atonement, tends to lead to abstractions and philosophical theologizing that is disconnected to the ongoing story of God’s covenant people which reaches its climax in Jesus and is carried on by His disciples, thus leading to views of God that are supported more by cultural norms than by Scripture.
It appears that we occupy a moment of history where nothing considered theologically “orthodox” can be taken for granted, and isn’t at the same time, up for lively discussion. We might expect this tilling-of-the-theological-ground to be the result of some secularist onslaught to disrupt the foundations of Christian orthodoxy, but it’s not; rather, the upheaval is from within Christendom’s own ranks. One of the many hot topics of the hour is our understanding of the “Atonement”—how is it in fact that God reconciled humanity at the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The traditional Penal Substitutionary view (essentially, that God satisfies his wrath against human sin upon Jesus at the cross) has come under some heavy scrutiny of late; some see it as promoting violence, others, as a rational cover-up (as did Gustaf Aulén nearly a century ago) of what was, until Anselm of Canterbury in the twelfth-century, the Christus Victor model, characterized as it were by some of its supposed mythological attributes (such as the “deception of Satan by God”).
If you are eager to pull up a chair to this vital, if not central, discussion I suggest The Nature of the Atonement in James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy’s Four Views series. The editors state that, “The purpose of the book is to foster dialogue between four different interpretations of the atonement. Each contributor offers an essay explicating and defending their particular view of the atonement.” The defendants and the views are as follows:
1. Gregory A. Boyd the Christus Victor View: “Through his incarnation, life, death (primarily) and resurrection, Jesus manifested the power of God over Satan, demons, and the entire spectrum of rebellious principalities and powers.”
2. Thomas R. Schreiner the Penal Substitution View: “The Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy God’s justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners.”
3. Bruce R. Reichenbach the Healing View: “Christ voluntarily assumes this virulent poison (sin and death resulting from human sin), so strong that it brings death, ours, and his, but at the same time not so strong that death can permanently hold the Physician. God’s part is mercy to send his Servant/Physician to heal and restore him to life and power.”
4. Joel B. Green the Kaleidoscopic View: “Paul, and with him other New Testament writers, generated a wide array of models for communicating the saving importance of the cross. Taken as a whole, these images tend to congregate around five spheres of public life in antiquity: the court of law (e.g. justification), the world of commerce (e.g. redemption), personal relationships (e.g. reconciliation), worship (e.g. sacrifice), and the battle ground (e.g. Triumph over evil).”
Each of the scholarly participants offers a concise but detailed defense of their view of the Atonement followed by responses from the other three views. This outline of defense-immediately-followed-by-critique makes for a rather enjoyable and lively read; something you don’t always get when reading a singular view presented in one volume by one author. This format also has the advantage of allowing one to grasp the strongest arguments in favor of a particular view while at the same time hearing the most valid critiques of the same. And though all participants offer strong arguments in favor of their view, it is this reviewer’s perspective that Gregory Boyd presents the most compelling case for the Christus Victor model. The deciding factor is the ability of Boyd’s C.V. model to hold a clear line of soteriological continuity from the incarnation through to the ascension of Jesus and beyond, namely that in Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, resurrection and enthronement, God was at last vanquishing the kingdom of evil. The runner-up—the Penal View—has a great case, but seems only to be able to loosely connect the life of Jesus to his atoning death, in a non-straightforward manner. But of course, you’ll have to make up your own mind.
So with the host of theological/doctrinal issues presently up for grabs, the Atonement being one of them, The Nature of the Atonement will help you make an informed decision on where you might land in the debate. And not merely because you already know your position going in or that you are just going to a priori hold to your present soteriological idiosyncrasies (whatever they may be), but because you’ve listened openly to other’s cases and you’ve done your homework. After all, it’s then and only then when you can begin to make your own case for the nature of the Atonement.
The book titled “The Nature of the Atonement” is a series of essays written by four evangelical scholars. Each one writes his point of view in an essay form as the other three write their critical response to the authors point of belief. Each author is assign a topic, it is as follows: Gregory A. Boyd-Christus Victor view, Thomas R. Schreiner-Penal Substitution view, Bruce R. Reichenbach-Healing View and lastly Joel B. Green-Kaleidoscopic view. It is a very informative book, with the knowledge and imagination of these writers, you should have no problem leaning one way or another.
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