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The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views Paperback – November 9, 2006
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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."
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 himself...you 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...