Friday, September 14, 2007

A Community Called Atonement- Part 1

Over the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing a new book by Scott McKnight called A Community Called Atonement. While I am not being compensated in any way for this review or any endorsement (or lack thereof), I was fortunate enough to be provided an advance copy of the book by my wife, Jessica, who works at Abingdon Press. Those of us in the Nashville Emergent Cohort were asked to comment on several chapters while the book was in production, so these blog posts are an extension of that conversation.

Before I dive into the text itself, a few preliminary comments are in order. First of all, the word atonement (click here for a brief introduction to the concept) is itself an extremely loaded term that carries all kinds of baggage, both good and bad, with it. Atonement itself is an English word, and literally means “at one-ment”; literally, how we are made at one with God. The very fact that it is an English word makes its theological usefulness debatable because it has no direct translation into other languages. In a seminary class on Paul’s letter to the Romans, we asked the professor, who is French, how the tradition he grew up in deals with atonement theories. He responded, “Well, we don’t believe in atonement.”

Just because the word atonement is English, however, does not mean it is not worth discussing. The concept is certainly older than the sixteenth century origin of the particular word. When Christians talk about atonement it is usually in reference to how the death of Jesus works in the process of salvation. There are any number of different “atonement theories”, depending on whose list you look at, and I’m sure I’ll be referencing what I consider to be the three primary atonement theories (Christus Victor, Substitutionary Atonement, and Moral Influence) in these posts.

What Scott McKnight wants to do in this book is to push our understanding of atonement past a mere explanation of the function of Jesus’ death into a way that we talk about the substance of the Christian life. In fact, on the back cover McKnight poses the question, “Can atonement be a way of life?” From a cursory glance at the book it seems that McKnight wants to talk about atonement as a summation of the whole gospel, and that the interaction of different understandings of atonement all have something to say about the way Christians go about proclaiming the gospel in the world in both word and deed.

In light of the baggage the word atonement carries with it, this seems an ambitious undertaking, but one that Scott McKnight is well suited for. Stay tuned for my summations and assessment of his arguments, and please comment if you agree or (especially if) you disagree with my reflections.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I'm fascinated to hear about this. (Jess was showing me the book when I was visiting, but it looked like heavy reading, so I'm glad you'll be doing the reading for me and bringing it down to the level for us common folk ;o) I did my senior religion paper at Furman on atonement theologies and have always found them fasincating (particularly because the idea of atonement, particularly substitutionary atonement, is so disagreeable to me)... so I'll be really curious to hear what this guy has to say!