Random. Recapitulation. Satisfaction. Penal Substitution. Moral Influence. Christus Victor. What encompasses the meaning of “atonement”? Did only Christ’s death bring atonement? Does Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension contribute to his atoning work? To whom does the atonement extend? Do we have to choose just one theory or are we allowed to mix and match?
Locating Atonement, edited by Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders, are a collection of essays from the third annual Los Angeles Theology Conference. Rather than discussing which atonement theory (or theories) work the best, the speakers at the LATC were asked to address the relationship between the atonement and other biblical doctrines. How does the atonement work within the web of biblical doctrine in Christian theology? If placed beside the doctrine of the Trinity, or creation, or human suffering, or the image of God, what would the atonement add to understanding of these doctrines?
“No doubt theologians should focus on giving a proper account of particular doctrines, their shape, their dogmatic function, and so forth. But theologians should also pay attention to the relationship between different doctrines in the wider scheme of Christian theology” (14)
The Atonement and . . .
Chapter 1 (External works of the Trinity) – Adonis Vidu sets the atonement within the oneness of the Trinity – there are no works that the Father does that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not involved.
[T]he whole Trinity is active in the death of Jesus, not just the Father punishing the Son. The whole Trinity is present to us in a new way in the human nature of the Son, taking upon itself, in this new human nature, our penal death (42).
Chapter 2 (Creation) – Here Matthew Levering critiques Nicholas Wolterstorf’s critique of satisfaction theories on the atonement and his belief that Jesus rejected the OT reciprocity principle. After this Levering draws upon Aquinas and offers an account of reciprocal justice as grounded in the created order.
Chapter 3 (Image of God) – Ben Myers argues that the church fathers had a consistent and rational explanation for the atonement, one that was rich in christology and the human condition.
Chapter 4 (Wisdom) – This was by fay my favorite chapter as Strobel and Levenson show that “the atonement is the doctrinal elaboration of the movement and action of God incarnate for us through death into resurrection; it is doctrinal reflection on who God is and how he is for us in the descent and exaltation of Christ” (89). He shows how God’s wisdom, which is foolishness to the world, defeats death in the grotesque death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 5 (Covenant) – Jeremy Treat views the atonement through covenant. Sinners are reconciled to God through the death of Christ, the one who fulfulled the covenant obligations and who took on himself the covenant curses, and we are now brought together as family.
Chapter 6 (Incarnation) – R. Lucas Stamps argues for the necessity of Jesus’ two wills (a.k.a. “Dyothelitism”) for the atoning work as God-Man as it better explains Christ’s “divine intention and human obedience” (138).
Chapter 7 (Punishment and Retribution) – Hill and Jedwab focus on the viability of penal substitution, that the B was punished by A in place of C. B = the Son; A = the Father; C = sinners. If the previous sentence is any indication, this essay is quite analytical.
Chapter 8 (Divine Wrath) – In their essay, Yang and Davis respond to objections against divine wrath and then present their own understanding of divine wrath along with some reasons why we as Christians should see God as possessing this attribute.
Chapter 9 (Shame) – Shame is separate from guilt. “Shame is ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is ‘I did something bad.’” Christ took on our humanness. He began his human life in shame. He associated with the shameful. He died the ultimate shameful death. Mark McConnell shows that Jesus took on our shameful stats as sinners before God so that we could have Christ’s life, strength, and obedience.
Chapter 10 (Human Suffering) – Bruce McCormack relates the atonement to human suffering saying that, at best, human suffering is an analogy to Christ’s sufferings.
Chapter 11 (Eucharist) – Eleanor Stump writes about the atonement in relation to the Eucharist where one reenacts their original surrender to God, though it is more like the renewal of a marriage vow. It strengthens a Christians perseverance to finish to the end. Of all of the essays, I think this one had the least to do with its intended topic.
Chapter 12 (Ascension of Christ) – Michael Horton shows how the ascension is a crucial aspect of Christ’s atonement. It was after the ascension that Pentecost happened where the Holy Spirit came and filled the believers. Christians are united to Christ by the Spirit, the one “who brings the powers of the age to come into this present age” (235).
This book will likely be over your head unless you are in seminary, or you have graduated seminary, or you are well-versed in atonement theology. If you are, then this book is right up your alley. But if you are like me and you haven’t read much theology on the atonement, this book will be more difficult for you. But I can’t give this book the boot simply because of my lack of experience on the theology of atonement (and philosophy, and patristic theories, etc).
For those who have a rich interest in atonement theology, there is so much detail and nuance to be understood, to be grasped, worked and wrestled with. I’ll warn you that this is dense, it’s not always easy to read, and having a different author for each essay varies the quality, but if you have a good handle on atonement theology, you will enjoy this book.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.