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The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2007
The atonement, broadly speaking, refers to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

It was John Wesley who once said, "Nothing in the Christian system is of greater consequence than the doctrine of the atonement."

If Wesley is correct, then the atonement is a Christian belief that deserves to be discussed.

_The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views_ (IVP Academic, 2006) seeks to give the Christian doctrine of atonement its proper due by fostering dialogue between four scholars, who hold as many interpretations of the atonement.

The four understandings/theories of the atonement under examination are:

1. The Christus Victor model: the atonement is a divine conflict and victory in which Jesus fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world.

2. The Penal Substitution model: "the Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his satisfy God's justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners. The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God's holiness and love are manifested." (p. 67)

3. The Healing model: the atonement is primiarly a healing/restoration from sin and its resultant sickness.

4. The Kaleidoscopic model: the atonement is understood in multiple ways and no one theory has priority over the others.

None of the participants in the book disagrees as to whether the different theories are viable explanations of the atonement. Where the difference of opinion lies is in which theory is primary or foundational. The first three models purport to be foundational while the fourth model, the Kaleidoscopic view, claims that there is no foundational model.

In my mind, the foundational or controlling theory of the atonement is the one that can explain why it was necessary for Jesus to become a man and die. Based on the presentations in this book, the last two models (Healing and Kaleidoscopic) are lacking at this juncture. The Christus Victor model is presented well, but I am still left scratching my head as to why Jesus had to die in order to conquer the powers of evil.


The format of the book is enjoyable to read. A theory of the atonement is presented for roughly 20-30 pages followed by brief responses/rebuttals from the participants representing the other three views.

The book isn't the easiest to read. It tends toward academic speak. A strong interest in the topic, however, will allow the lay reader to make it from cover to cover.

I think the most valuable purpose of the book is to remind Christians of the richness of the atonement. It is multi-faceted and Christians need to recognize it as such even if they disagree on which facet should have priority over the others. As one contributor notes, "the model of penal substitutionary atonement is so pervasive in American Christianity that many Christians may wonder whether the saving significance of Jesus' death can be understood in any other way." (p. 169)

Let us not impoverish ourselves by only thinking of the saving work of Jesus Christ from one perspective.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2007
I found this to be an excellent comparitive study of different Christian views of Jesus' atonement. The authors are all strong scholars and come from diverse theological backgrounds. I found myself highlighting many sections of the text that helped make sense of Christian beliefs and interpretations on this issue. I highly recommend this book for people wanting to gain a better understanding of the different Christian views of what Jesus' death on the Cross accomplished and its purposes - you will come away enriched in your own understanding and more knowledgable of other Christian traditions' views.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2013
I was born and raised in evangelical and reformed churches on the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. And, as one contributor to this work points out, the penal substitutionary model "is so pervasive in American Christianity that many Christians may wonder whether the saving significance of Jesus' death can be understood in any other way." The first reason, then, that you should read this book is because you will come away with a whole new understanding of "other" Christians as well as a deep appreciation for their views on the atonement.

After all, for about 1000 years or so, until the time of Anselm, the Christus Victor perspective dominated the church's thinking and teaching. And today this model is seeing something of a revival of interest on both the popular front (CS Lewis) and the theological (NT Wright)--I happen to be Anglican today. So, I thought, there must be something here worth investigating. And, sure enough, as I read the opening essay by Greg Boyd, I couldn't help responding, "Yes, of course!" as I was blown away by the force of his presentation.

But then I moved on to Tom Schreiner's case for penal substitution and I recovered my senses with an "oh yeah." Next came Bruce Reichenbach's healing model and a "wow, that's important too!" By the way, one thing I really appreciate about this work is the irenic nature of the responses to each essay.

Finally, wowed as I was by each presentation, I found Joel Green's essay on the kaleidoscopic model to be a brilliant synthesis. It's not easy reading as he delves into epistemology and hermeneutics to make his case that each view properly appeals to different historical and cultural circumstances. The responses, while affirming appreciation for the multiple dimensions of God's atoning work, worry that Green's approach teeters on the brink of postmodernism and that their own model is more foundational or basic to a robust Christian theology and ethic. I, for one, came away convinced of Green's "both and" vs. "either or" approach.

But here's why you really need to read this book. As another reviewer noted, the value of this book is that it is a great reminder of the richness of the atonement. Though I opened the book as an academic exercise, it quickly turned into a devotional read instead. My heart was swept away as the authors both plumbed the depths of our sinfulness and mined the riches of God's saving work in the atonement. And only in a "four views" work like this one would you find such riches all in one place.

In closing, here is the one passage that really jumped out at me, from Green's presentation:

"What makes this consideration particularly important is that both Scripture and history teach us that the human heart is 'deceitful above all things' (Jer 17:9 TNiv) and idolatrous. As church history makes painfully obvious, the easiest thing in the world for us fallen creatures to do is to convince ourselves we are following Christ while we are in fact following Caesar, our nation, our culture or some such thing, and to unconsciously (or consciously) revise our understanding of Christ to conveniently accommodate this idolatry."

Highly recommended!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
In Bible College and Seminary I was taught the various views of the atonement. I remember hearing about the ransom theory, the satisfaction theory, the moral government theory, and the penal substitution substitution theory, and the example theory, but for some reason, I don't ever remember learning about the Christus Victor view. I went back and looked at my notes, and sure enough, not a word was said about it.

I am trying to figure out why. Was it because my professors didn't know about it? Or possibly they did know about it, but didn't think it was worth mentioning. Either way, it kind of ticks me off, because after reading this book, I believe that the Christus Victor view is correct. Why did nobody ever at least mention it or bring it up in class?

Oh well, I've learned about it now, thanks to this excellent book edited by Jamed Beilby and Paul Eddy. This book presents four views on the atonement (which are not all the possible views).

The introduction points out that there are three main paradigms that guide atonement perspectives. The first paradigm is the Christus Victor paradigm, which is Satanward in its approach so that Jesus is seen to be fighting against and triumphing over the devil and his works. The second paradigm is Godward in its focus so that the work of Christ on the cross is said to satisfy or appease something within the nature and character of God. The third paradigm is manward in focus so that the work of Christ is thought to accomplish something for humanity. All of the various theories about the atonement fall into one of these paradigms, and this book chose four theories to consider.

This, of course, is the main weakness of this book (and all "Four View" books), for the reader may not recognize that there are more than four views on the atonement. Regardless, the four views chosen were as follows.

The Christus Victor view, explained and defended by Gregory Boyd, essentially sees that Jesus came to destroy the devil's work.

The Penal Substitution view, explained and defended by Thomas Schreiner, argues that sin has a penalty, and on the cross, Jesus bore that penalty for all mankind.

The Healing view, explained and defended by Bruce Reichenbach, says that the cross of Christ was intended to restore all creation and relationships to their rightful role within God's design

Finally, the Kaleidoscopic view, explained and defended by Joel Green, argues that on the cross, Jesus did something significant within each of the three paradigms listed above.

The reason I ended up siding with the Christus Victor view is because of how it presents God in light of Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals the Father to us, and in Jesus we do not see a God who is out to get us, who is just waiting to pounce on every sin, and who must exact bloody revenge for every slight against His holy character. And while it is certainly true that there are negative consequences for sin, and far-reaching implications for restoration and liberation within the cross of Christ for all mankind, the central reason Jesus went to the cross, it seems, is because Satan demanded it, and in so doing, Jesus defeated and triumphed over the devil. It is not God who is bloodthirsty and legalistic, but Satan. It is not the wrath of God that must be appeased, but the wrath of the law by which Satan screams for justice! So Jesus gave Satan "justice" and in so doing, destroyed the devil's works.

I am certain I am explaining this poorly, but then, I just now learned of this view!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2011
When believers think of Christ's work on the cross, should their mental backdrop be a battlefield, a courtroom, an operating room, or perhaps all three? James Beilby and Paul Eddy, as editors of The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, investigate this question as they seek to "foster dialogue between four different interpretations of the atonement" (20).

These interpretations are the Christus Victor view, the penal substitution view, the healing view, and the kaleidoscopic view, defended by Gregory Boyd, Thomas Schreiner, Bruce Reichenbach, and Joel Green, respectively. Each scholar provides an essay-length defense of their particular view, followed by a brief response by the other three participants. In their responses, each scholar is supposed to acknowledge similarities and demonstrate primary differences between their view and the one under consideration.

Noting the "complexities of the Christian view of the atonement" (9), Beilby and Eddy provide an introductory chapter that adumbrates the layout of the book and outlines the varying possible perspectives. In thinking about the atonement, they give three broad categories: the Christus Victor paradigm, the objective paradigm, and the subjective paradigm. Each of these "paradigms" is directed toward satisfying some individual, either Satan (Christus Victor), God (objective), or man (subjective 12, 14, 18). They argue that most of the perspectives on the atonement can be grouped under these broad categories. Regarding atonement metaphors, the editors assert that "all of the contributors represented in this book acknowledge that the New Testament provides a plethora of images by which to understand Christ's work" (21). However, each scholar, excepting Green, "will contend that their particular theory has a justifiable priority over the others" (21).

One strength of this study is its multifaceted scope. The book presents four views side by side and allows the reader quickly to see what the primary differences and similarities are between the various positions. By including defenses of positions by those who hold to these divergent views, this volume adds a valuable dimension to the evangelical discussion on the issue of the atonement. The "panel discussion" format of the book also provides a glimpse into the way these views respond and interact with each other.

Though a strength, the scope of the work is nevertheless inevitably limited. All the views of the atonement are not discussed. For example, the moral government theory, the example theory, and variations on the interpretations defended are not addressed. However, the editors do not intend the work to function as a history of interpretations, and they do accomplish their goal of providing an articulation of four views that are currently espoused in evangelical discussion.

Another strength is the way that Beilby and Eddy order the essays. In their introduction, they give a brief overview of the three main categories involved in the atonement debate. The following essays then fall into these categories in sequential order, with Green arguing for the validity of all of them. This structure is helpful in orienting the arguments of the various authors in the range of interpretive options. One drawback of this approach, though, is the nuanced nature of the essays themselves. The contributors do not give an overview of an approach but rather argue for a specific form of that approach. Thus, Boyd argues for the Christus Victor view, but modifies it according to his various theological presuppositions (36-37).

Consequently, many proponents of these four views might not wholly agree with the essay representing their position. Related to this, in Reichenbach's defense of the healing view of the atonement, he does not argue for the supremacy of his approach like the other contributors. In fact, his responses to the other positions share this same deficiency. He insightfully affirms and critiques various aspects of the given position, but does not couple that with a defense or argument for the healing view (54-60, 106-09, 196-201). Therefore, in this work, it is sometimes unclear as to how the `subjective' view of the atonement relates to the other positions.

There is also a tension present within the work regarding the "evangelical view" of the atonement. The book's back cover labels the contributors as "four evangelical scholars" without reservation, but some statements in the book create a level of interpretive tension. For example, Schreiner strongly argues that penal substitution is "the heart and soul of an evangelical view of the atonement" (67). Though he nuances this statement, the impact of what he says remains.

This assertion is the substance of Green's primary critique of Schreiner's position. Green denies this statement by saying that "it would be more accurate to claim that the atonement is central to evangelical faith, and that the penal substitutionary model is central to one strand of evangelicalism" (110). Also, some would question Gregory Boyd's status as an "evangelical" due to his wholesale assimilation and strong advocacy of "open theism." Indeed, many scholars have concluded that Boyd's open theism is "beyond the bounds" of evangelical orthodoxy.

Some discussion of this apparent tension by the editors would have improved this otherwise clear and helpful resource.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2010
The Nature of the Atonement presents four competing views of the nature of the atonement from four different authors. Each author does an excellent job of representing his respective view and takes time to thoughtfully rebut the other three. This is not an easy read and assumes a working knowledge of Scripture, but is great for those who want a meaty, provocative book about one of the most important of all Christian doctrines.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2008
The ecumenical creeds of the Christian church never settled on one theory of Christ's atonement. Therefore, history shows a wide variety of views on how Christ's death on the cross accomplishes human salvation.

The Nature of the Atonement includes contributions from well-known evangelical scholars that encompass the different views of atonement theology. The first three contributors argue that their model of the atonement best explains the bulk of Scriptural testimony and best fits the other views into their own. The last contributor argues that there is no overarching view of the atonement that takes into account all the others.

Greg Boyd presents the Christus Victor view - that the atonement was primarily about God's defeat of the devil.

Tom Schreiner presents the penal substitutionary view - that the atonement was primarily about Jesus absorbing the wrath of God against human sin and thus providing forgiveness and restoration by taking our punishment.

Bruce Reichenbach presents the healing view - that Jesus took the poison and sickness of our sin and brought healing and wholeness through his death.

Joel Green presents the kaleidoscopic view - that no one theory of the atonement is adequate and that each has its place.

For me, the chapter on the healing view was enlightening. I had missed some of the parallels between sin and sickness, and Reichenbach's presentation helped illuminate some of the biblical texts that I had unintentionally screened out.

Boyd's Christus Victor presentation is not nearly as compelling as other versions of this theory I have come across.

Schreiner does well in presenting the penal substitutionary model, although I'm not sure what he means by stating that this model is at the "heart" of the atonement. Just what is the "heart?" And what significance does that carry? Of course, I affirm penal substitution as an integral part of Christ's work. I was not convinced, however, that this is the central motif of the atonement throughout all Scripture.

It is disappointing that Green's kaleidoscopic view leaves room for all theories of the atonement except for penal substitution. Green's view is not quite as inclusive as it first appears. Everything but penal substitution has its place.

The Nature of the Atonement is a helpful introduction to the theories of the atonement. The contributors do an admirable job presenting and defending their views.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2009
This is one of the biggies in Christian thinking. The Atonement...the theology and historicity on how God made God and Man one again after the Fall of man into sin.

After reading this book I remembered a line from one of the foremost thinkers on the Atonement I know, the well-known Biblical scholar Dr. Robert Traina: "I'm glad that the Atonement for me personally doesn't depend upon a theory but a man on a cross". Amen to that.

Don't get me wrong, I love theology and its lingo. I think it is of absolutely crucial importance in our day, but I have to admit that this book left me a little confounded. Why did they write this book, anyway?

Yes, if you think that Jesus dying on a cross primarily, or solely, to pay a price for your sins and take your sins on gotta at least wonder what in the world that means. How does your sins get transferred to Jesus? If a price was paid, to whom did Jesus pay it?
Thus, it very important to realize that the Atonement is greater than the Penal Substitutionary theory.

However, is it necessary to limit ourselves to one theory? The authors acknowledge this and Gregory Boyd especially points out that all theories have truth in them...his theory just has more truth or overarching truth.

The question I hate to ask in the end is this: does it matter which theory is the megatheory, the one that "binds them all?"

Actually, I think it makes a huge difference but this book is not the book to answer that question. Therefore only four stars. This is much like a menu when all you want to do is to eat. Read it but go on to deeper and more meaningful books that allow you to get a better view of God...which is the whole idea anyway. A hint is in place, however, on what difference I think it makes what theory you hold to. Your view of the Atonement is definitive for your view of God. We better get that right or we will be very surprised one day...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2014
Though I am not particularly fond of most "three views", "four views" or "counterpoint" kinds of books from my reading of them in the past, I would have to say that this particular work was pretty good. I thought the authors were all clear and stayed focus on the issue. It is a great survey on the atonement debate. Each men were quite able to present their perspective. The introductory chapters by the two editors James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy excellently summarizes the historical positions on the atonement in church history. I believed the lay person will be able to be caught up to speed with this introduction for what follows in the work. With the exception of Joel B. Green's kaleidoscopic view, the other three positions (Christus Victor, healing and Penal substitutionary view) hold that there might be other motifs to the atonement besides the one they are advocating, but believed each of their respective theme is more "important" than the others. That is, their respective view best explains the other motifs. The Kaleidoscopic view instead see no need for other motifs to fit into one arch-perspective. After reading the work, I realized that further discussion of what each view means by their perspective is "important" might be fruitful in the discussion/debate, for it seems the Penal Substitutionary view understood his to be important in the sense of a logical priority of penal substitution to be a prerequisite to the other effects and outcomes of Christ work on the cross, while the Christus Victor and the healing view (which should really be called 'wholistic shalom' view in my opinion) understand importance to mean which motif best allow other motifs of Christ death on the cross to fit in. After the reading I also thought about how any future discussion between the various views might enjoy further progress by being conscious of theological methods used, and a biblical evaluation of the anthropology assumed in each perspective, since the atonement is shaped by it in how the atonement is supposed to be the solution that addresses the problem of man. I show my bias by saying that Thomas Schreiner's presentation for penal substitutionary atonement is a great chapter, his exegetical background was helpful.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2015
To simply see that there are various views held within Christianity, this book will provide other views than penal substitution which is the predominant view with evangelical Christianity in America. But I found the other views lacking historical perspective.

The first view presented in the book is Christus Victor. This was the dominant view the first 1000 years of the church and is still held by the Orthodox (Eastern) church today. I think this view would have been better to have been presented by someone within the Orthodox church (perhaps the goal was to only have "evangelicals" present their views.). Greg Boyd presents his understanding of Christus Victor, which is based more on his rejection of penal substitution and God's wrath than what caused this to be the primary understanding of atonement until Anselm the latter part the of the eleventh century.

Thomas Schreiner present the Penal Substitution view, and I think does the best of all in presenting an understanding of the atonement.

The Healing view by Bruce Reichenbach seems a rather obscure view, and perhaps a very new one. I did not find this convincing, and he did not seem to hold it very strongly, acknowledging validity to other views as well.

The Kaleidoscopic view is the last one presented by Joel Green. It basically states all views bring something worthy of consideration, while at the same time essentially dismissing the penal substitution view. This view seems to be a recent one; appears he may even be the initiator of view.

I do not know of a better book to recommend, but will be looking for another to better understand the historical context of the views of the church, as the Penal Substitution view is relatively new to the scene though the dominant one today. I was hoping to get a better understanding of Christus Victor than this book delivered.
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