I appreciate Mcknight's synthetic approach to understanding the atonement in the light of the contemporary discussions that often tend towards polarization and the hardening of categories. The various theories or metaphors are discussed in a concise way - satisfaction, ransom, penal substitution, representation, moral example, Christus Victor, recapitulation and so on - showing the inadequacies of each model as well as its strengths and contributions and how we need to hold them together for a more balanced and holistic view of the death and resurrection of Christ. It augurs well with the Emerging Churches' ethos of generous orthodoxy, which seeks to embrace rather than exclude a diversity of viewpoints in Christian faith and practices. In taking this approach, the church can thus find its way towards charity and unity of faith as well as a more humble, mature and fuller grasp of the mystery, that is the atonement. He devotes several chapters towards the end to fleshing out the outworking of such a synthetic approach and how it could shape the church in her mission, fellowship, worship and work of justice.
I reckon that the book will be useful to one has already entered the contemporary discussion of the atonement for some time and is trying to make sense of the various approaches and theories but will probably prove a little daunting to a new reader who is just getting acquainted with the subject and its historical understandings. Mcknight skilfully steers us away from the slanted portrayals of those theories which have come under fire in some circles and provides us with a more nuanced picture of them, especially the penal substitutionary theory. Some readers might be tempted to charge him for going out of his way to agree with these positions (which he does not really buy, if pressed) for the sake of diplomacy. I doubt this critique is fair and would like Mcknight and synthetic thinkers like him to continue to expand on this work and thereby demonstrate more fully from Scripture and good theology how we do really need 'all the clubs in one bag'. I think even if one goes away disagreeing, one stands to benefit from the charity, humility and even-handedness that characterizes the spirit with which he writes.