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The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views Paperback – November 9, 2006
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The Amazon Book Review
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"The directness of the responses is a strength of the book. It serves to highlight differences, expose weak points, and provide the reader with questions and issues to pursue. The book makes a positive contribution both through highlighting the diversity of thinking about the atonement within evangelicalism and through encouraging discussion about this diversity." (Mark D. Baker, Religious Studies Review, March 2010)
"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." (Ched Spellman on Says Simpleton, April 11, 2008)
"Those looking for evangelical and scripturally founded treatments of the atonement will find this book a lively register of current opinions." (Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 2007)
"There are a number of reasons to applaud The Nature of the Atonement, not least its provocative and illuminating presentation. . . . If you are looking for a more focused discussion on the atonement--that is, in terms of today's evangelical milieu, The Nature of the Atonement can certainly serve as a fine forum for exploring essential matters of the Christian faith." (Kathleen Borres, Catholic Books Review, http://catholicbooksreview.org/2006/beilby.htm)
About the Author
James K. Beilby (Ph.D., Marquette University) is professor of systematic and philosophical theology at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. His books include Why Bother With Truth? (with David Clark), Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views and The Meaning of the Atonement: Four Views (both with Paul Eddy), Naturalism Defeated?, For Faith and Clarity and Epistemology as Theology. His articles and essays have appeared in such publications as Faith and Philosophy, Philosophia Christi, Religious Studies, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, Sophia and Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.
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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."
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!