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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2012
Off and on over the last past few years I have been thinking about the different metaphors used in the Bible to describe why Jesus came to walk among humanity, died, rose again and etc. (the fancy theological word for this is the "atonement"). Interestingly enough I'm not the only person thinking about this issue as modern Jesus followers re-discover of the mystery of the atonement. Folks such as N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, John Piper, Al Mohler and Brian McLaren are all offering their opinions on the subject - not to mention those from the mainline Protestant churches, Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

A big part of the reason why the atonement is such a big deal today is due to the increasing rift between neo- Calvinists evangelicals (John Piper, Al Mohler et al.) and the progressive evangelicals (N.T. Wright, Roger Olson, et al.). Add to this fire the growth of post-modern and post-post-modern Jesus followers who are looking at Christianity through different glasses/worldviews than their predecessor (Brian McLaren, David Fitch, Scot McKnight, et al.).

Knowing all this, I have every excited when I heard that Tony Jones had published an ebook on the atonement, "A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin". Tony, for those who don't know, was a driving force in the emerging church movement of the past few decades and the author of the book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School - meaning that he is a post-modern theologian scholar who, I was hoping, could bring some fresh air to the conversation.

And, to a certain extent, he does deliver - even though I disagree with his final conclusion, but I'm getting ahead of myself! =P

The outline of the book is fairly simple with the first part being more biographical in the sense that Tony shares with the reader why he started on the journey of questioning the predominant Protestant view of the atonement (i.e. penal substitutionary atonement or PSA). After the ground work is laid, Tony shifts gears into laying out all the views of the atonement the church has held since the time of Jesus (all quotes are from Tony's ebook):

a) Penal Substitutionary Atonement - First proposed by St. Anselm of Canterbury in 1098 AD and picked up by Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 1500's AD, this metaphors basically states that Jesus died to appease the wrath of God the Father that was directed towards humanity due to our rebellion against Him.

b) Union with God - A metaphor that was developed fairly early on in Christianity history with a strong connection to the Trinity and still held by the Eastern Orthodox Church today. In a nutshell, this metaphor views the atonement as an "invitation into the eternal, loving relationship of the Trinity - ultimately, into union with God."

"Orthodox incarnational theology, which is at the core of the original Gospel, teaches that God Himself, the second Person of the Trinity, became incarnate, not in order to pay a debt to the devil or to God the Father, nor to be a substitutionary offering to appease a just God, but in order to rescue us from our fallen condition and transform us, enabling us to become godlike."

c) Ransom Captive - This metaphor focuses on actions of Adam and Eve who "bargained away the freedom of the human race to Satan in exchange for the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil." Jesus, therefore, came as a ransom for the "captive human race" as stated by Jesus himself (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45). While this metaphor has been around since the time of Jesus, some folks see "holes" in it as it seems to give the evil one too much power - or as Tony puts it in the book,

"It seems that if God is the creator of all that is, then God can act any way that God deems appropriate. And it seems rather unlikely that God would set up the cosmos in such a way that Satan could gain the upper hand and force God to negotiate a deal." -

One good thing about the Ransom Captive metaphor of the atonement is that it has a strong emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus, which, sadly, is lacking in some of the other metaphors.

d) Christus Victor - This was THIS predominant understanding of the atonement for the first thousand years of the church and is still held by billions of believers today. At its heart, this metaphor simply states that Jesus' "death is God's victory over sin and death...the crucifixion is not a necessary transaction to appease a wrathful and justice-demanding deity, but an act of divine love. God entered fully into the bondage of death, turned it inside out by making it a moment of victory, and thereby liberates humanity to live lives of love without the fear of death"

e) Moral Exemplar - This is another fairly early metaphor with Jesus being "seen as a moral exemplar, who calls us toward a better life, both individually and corporately...God sent his son, Jesus, as the perfect example of a moral life. Jesus' teachings and his healing miracles form the core of this message, and his death is as a martyr for this cause: the crucifixion both calls attention to Jesus' life and message, and it is an act of self-sacrifice, one of the highest virtues of the moral life. We see Jesus' death, and we are inspired to a better life ourselves."

f) The Last Scapegoat - A recent player on the atonement scene developed by Rene Girard, a French anthropologist/literary critic who is still alive. While this metaphor is fairly complex, the root of it is this:

"In Christ, God becomes the one who is rejected and expelled. That is, the scapegoat is not one us who is sacrificed to appease an angry deity. Instead, the deity himself enters our society, becomes the scapegoat, and thereby eliminates the need for any future scapegoats or sacrifices."

g) Substitution, Without the Penal - To be true to fair to St. Anselm of Canterbury, we must mention that his original theory of the atonement is different than the PSA it eventually developed into. For St. Anselm, humanity "owe God a debt, and that debt is obedience. But because of our sin, we are incapable of paying that debt, we are incapable of obedience to God. Jesus Christ, being perfectly obedient to God, is able to pay that debt, and he did so on the cross. We are not thereby freed of our obligation to obey, but we are freed of the arrears that we owe."

h) God's Solidarity With Us - Jurgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, once proposed that common to every human being is the "experience of godforsakenness." As such, in "act of ultimate solidarity with every human being who has ever existed, God voluntarily relinquished his godship, in part, in order to truly experience the human condition." Because of this solidarity that was made available to humanity through the cross, we are "welcomed into the relation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." [note that the primary difference between this theory and the "Union with God" theory is that the Union metaphor includes an element of humanity being rescued from our "fallen condition" and being transformed while the Solidarity theory is primarily about God experiencing godforsakenness with us.]

As you can see there are many, many view on how the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus effected humanity and the world at large. None of these, as Tony mentions, are "superior to the rest." Each one developed out of the context of a particular time and place and each have a biblical foundation. Sadly though, some Protestant leaders (mostly neo-Calvinists evangelicals) are beginning to use the atonement as a measure of orthodoxy (i.e. if you don't hold to the PSA view, you are not a Christian)...hence the rift mentioned earlier....

At the end of the ebook, Tony Jones does mention which view of the atonement he holds too as well as why he holds to it. I found this very re-refreshing as a lot of authors try to hide their personal presuppositions behind a mirage of Bible passages and philosophical arguments.

For Tony there are four main presuppositions that affect his view of the atonement:

1) He does not believe in demons nor Satan as a being.
2) He hold a high view of God's freedom - meaning that God can do whatever He wishes.
3) He is a strong Trinitarian which maintains that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit has to have "full volition and participation in what the crucifixion achieves."
4) Finally, Tony is interested in understanding sin as it relates to humanity both individually and socially.

The only two views of the atonement that withstand these presuppositions is the "Last Scapegoat" and the "God's Solidarity With Us" theories. And of these two, the Solidarity one reflects his view the best.

As any long time reader would know, I happen to disagree with Tony's first presupposition, which means that several additional atonement theories become `available.' However, I do have to say that I do agree with his other three presuppositions which does knock a few of the views out to the side lines. I won't say that any of them are `removed' completely as they each bring something to the table that the others do not have. To that end, I prefer to hold all these views with open hands while recognizing the tensions caused by this mosaic view of the atonement. :D
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2012
For someone brought up in a fundamentalist church who has been struggling to move back into a relationship with Jesus against the odds there are many barriers, social, ethical and doctrinal. One of those barriers for me has been the doctrines of original sin and the atonement theory as taught to me. This book was very helpfully in providing a number of alternatives to the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. While only one was new to me, I loved having them laid out side by side in such a clear way. This short book is a great resource for those of us non-theologians struggling to make fresh sense of our faith.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2012
"A Better Atonement" deals with three issues: 1) Tony's argument against the merits of Original Sin; 2) A review of the standard theories of atonement; 3) A brief offering of a "better atonement."

This ebook is meant for folks who have yet to explore a theology that doesn't begin and end with Original Sin and Penal Substitution Atonement theory. Tony does an adequate job of offering an Orthodox (Eastern that is) theological understanding that begins not with the Fall, but with the Triune God of love. Tony shows that there is a different, ancient, and orthodox starting place to think about the Atonement that differs from the "Four Spiritual Laws."

I wish Tony would have carried out the Orthodox understanding a bit more, and perhaps added some Barth or T. F. Torrance to support his arguments for "A Better Atonement." However, this is a good basic text regarding the doctrines of Original Sin, the Atonement, and Trinitarian theology. It would be great for a Bible study, Sunday School class, or one's personal theological library.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2012
Jones does a great job unpacking some traditional and contemporary views on the atonement and leaves plenty of room for the reader to harmonize ideas together. Whereas Original Sin, as defined by Jones in his first section, passes guilt of sin onto us making humans the object of God's wrath, Tony's revealed preference (over against Original Sin) is to see humans more as victims of a "godforsaken" experience (implicitly inherited from Adam) into which Christ enters incarnationally, bringing redemption through God's solidarity with people in their most godforsaken places.

This view, the "Solidarity theory," is in harmony with the theology of Jurgen Molmann (perhaps most exclusively), but I can think of a few other theologians who speak to it as well. Most notably, I'd say, N.T. Wright, who I'd usually pin as a Christus Victor guy, makes clear arguments for the "solidarity model" (I'm thinking of quotes from his book Christians at the Cross).

In his support for the Solidarity theory, Jones is totally speaking my language. And, as he allows, there's room for synchronization among various theories. For example, though Jones sees no real personal need for the Christus Victor model, presupposing a dependence on a specific "demonology," I see no need for such a presupposition. Christ's victory over powers and principalities needs not be cast in a demonological framework in order for it to have relevance. Cast it somewhere closer to home; perhaps in political, economic, and social realms (and there is a demonic quality to the injustices and dehumanization which occur in those realms as well). The curse of sin, that under which humans have been oppressed (call it godforsakenness or whatever), does it's worst to us all the time. Christus Victor is not just about the defeat of Satan and demons (spooky stuff). It's the curse of sin, it's godforsakenness doing its worst to Jesus, just like it does to us (hear the connection to solidarity yet?) and Christ emerging victorious. I would say there's significant connection and overlap between the solidarity theory and Christus Victor, I'd even go as far as to say that Christus Victory is the true "end" of the solidarity theory. When we engage in solidarity with the crucified Jesus (recognizing that it was actually God who made the first move in solidarity with us), we share in his victory over death.

Likewise, there's overlap and connection between various theories, especially in specific contexts. Indeed, some of the distinctives come dangerously close to mere semantics. But this book does well to clarify things and avoid the semantic arguments. Jones does well to get down to the foundations of the atonement theories.

A Better Atonement is a great exploration of some of the big questions surrounding the cross and resurrection of Jesus. What happened on the cross and what was it all about? Jones provides a great alternative to the worn-out Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory and offers a great starting point for discussion. I recommend this e-book as a great addition to the conversation and a worthy read for anyone who's asking questions about the atonement, especially for those who are not quite comfortable with the traditional theories that have been so popularized in the Evangelical movement.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2012
A very short but accessible introduction to the issues surrounding various theories of atonement. It was an engaging and thought provoking essay but it really left me wanting more depth and detail. Of course, I am not sure I have the time or focus to really dig into these issues.

Jones rejects the concept of Original Sin and the growing tendency to equate Penal Substitution as the Gospel. He reviews the various historical approaches to atonement and then offers his own.

Books like this are really one of the benefits of the growth of ebook publishing. A nice extended essay on a hot topic for only a couple of dollars.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2012
I am thankful for Dr. Jones' ebook A Better Atonement. As one who has searched far and wide for resources on the various atonement ideas, I appreciate the value of several theories contained in one place. If you have questions about Original Sin and Penal Substitution, or are looking for alternatives to these ideas, A Better Atonement is a great place to start. Though there is not much time given to each of the 7 alternative atonement theories, Jones gives good citations for direction in further study.

In short, read this.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2012
As Tony Jones mentions in the beginning of this book, we all have our biases that we approach the Bible (and even life) with. So, upfront, I will tell you that my theology is close to that of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

With the way that Christianity is taught in America (and the West in general), many of us who think through the teachings deeply come up with some puzzling questions:

-Why does an all-powerful God require the slaughter of his innocent Son? Couldn't he just forgive us? After all, his son's death "paying our debt of sin" is not the same as forgiveness -- it is a loving act, but forgiveness means wiping a debt clean with no payment.
-Don't most atonement ideas portray an angry God the Father against a loving Son who is trying to save us from his ticked off Dad?
-Are people really depraved and incapable of any good on their own?

Tony Jones tackles these difficult questions that would not be so difficult if we hadn't been brain-washed into an unbalanced approach to Christianity. I highly recommend this book as a primer to get you thinking differently. I've read it twice and it is the kind of book you could probably read in one or two short sittings. Being heavily influenced by Orthodoxy myself, I can gladly state that Tony doesn't give into new or "liberal" ideas regarding doctrine (he's a firm believer in the physical death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the Trinity, which are all important to me as well).

You may find this whets your appitite for something a little different than what the Western Church teaches. If that is the case, I'd recommend this book as a follow up: The Orthodox Way
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2013
Good synopsis of Renee Gerard and moltmann's atonement theories, which are by far the best. Jones is a little snarky for my taste though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2015
As I have explored my faith in recent years, I have found it very difficult to keep. The penal substitutionary atonement concept didn't make sense to me, and I was always embarrassed to hear it spoken of and dared not use it myself in conversation with others.

I wanted to reconcile this divide of understanding, where the death of Jesus would make sense to me philosophically. Karl Barths section titled Nothingness in Church Dogmatics revitalized me, and this book poped up as if a revelation.

There's good knowledge in the book by Jones to give you a quick account of the problems of the traditional penal substitute analogy and provide some more preferential views. This is an easy read of maybe 100 pages. It's a great alternative to having to wade through some deep treaties of individual atonement views, when all you want is some peace of mind. There's not much fat, just substance to get you started on your way. After reading this, I'm comfortable knowing how to proceed forward with all the references this book provides.

The only reason I didn't do 5 stars, is I felt the culminating soliditary perspective and jones' conclusion wrapped too quickly. I was enjoying what this book was leading to, and then boom, it was done, caching me by surprise. This doesn't damage the book, as all the content is still present and my pros are not leased by this, it was just something that I felt could have been different.

Thanks for the writings Mr. Jones. I recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2014
I really liked this ebook from Amazon book and I went to bed with joy in my heart after finishing it one night. I was a bit worried at some thoughts in this book as I read it, but Tony did clear things up as I read along, and I did print out the last couple of pages to keep on my reading table to read over and over.

As a "born again" teenager (eons ago - I'm 80 now), I believed in original sin as that is what I was taught to believe. As I grew older and served as an organist in several churches, I gradually started to wonder just how "original sin" was passed down through the ages to me. Was it through some sort of DNA process? Then I started to believe in "evolution" and wondered what is sin? Different cultures have different "sins" and different churches called different things "sin." But, Tony does clear things up in this book. Sin is not a myth but original sin is and it isn't mentioned as such in the Bible.

He rejects the theory that Jesus died for our sins, and I have long rejected this theory too. The resurrection of the Messiah did away with eternal death and also solved the problem of evil. Jesus (the Messiah) wanted to suffer along with us in order to comfort us in our times of grief (although I don't grieve often) and I liked Tony's take on the whole subject of God's constant and overwhelming love for all of us at all times, and that God is not a wrathful God who needs to kill part of himself to pay for our sins.

This is a fine book and I totally recommend this book and Tony's other books to anyone with an open mind about religion and Christianity in particular..
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