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Four ViewsThe ecumenical creeds of the Christian church never settled on one theory of Christ’s atonement. Therefore, history shows a wide variety of views on how Christ’s death on the cross accomplishes human salvation.

The Nature of the Atonement includes contributions from well-known evangelical scholars that encompass the different views of atonement theology. The first three contributors argue that their model of the atonement best explains the bulk of Scriptural testimony and best fits the other views into their own. The last contributor argues that there is no overarching view of the atonement that takes into account all the others.

  • Greg Boyd presents the Christus Victor view – that the atonement was primarily about God’s defeat of the devil.
  • Tom Schreiner presents the penal substitutionary view – that the atonement was primarily about Jesus absorbing the wrath of God against human sin and thus providing forgiveness and restoration by taking our punishment.
  • Bruce Reichenbach presents the healing view – that Jesus took the poison and sickness of our sin and brought healing and wholeness through his death.
  • Joel Green presents the kaleidoscopic view - that no one theory of the atonement is adequate and that each has its place.

For me, the chapter on the healing view was enlightening. I had missed some of the parallels between sin and sickness, and Reichenbach’s presentation helped illuminate some of the biblical texts that I had unintentionally screened out.

Boyd’s Christus Victor presentation is not nearly as compelling as other versions of this theory I have come across.

Schreiner does well in presenting the penal substitutionary model, although I’m not sure what he means by stating that this model is at the “heart” of the atonement. Just what is the “heart?” And what significance does that carry? Of course, I affirm penal substitution as an integral part of Christ’s work. I was not convinced, however, that this is the central motif of the atonement throughout all Scripture.

It is disappointing that Green’s kaleidoscopic view leaves room for all theories of the atonement except for penal substitution. Green’s view is not quite as inclusive as it first appears. Everything but penal substitution has its place.

The Nature of the Atonement is a helpful introduction to the theories of the atonement.  The contributors do an admirable job presenting and defending their views.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Nature of the Atonement”

  1. I read a book titled “God S Loved The World” a few years back that did a great job of painting a multi-faceted view of the atonement. It was a really great read as it did not lock on to one as the most important but rather sought to display each angle. Thanks for the review.

  2. Andrew says:

    On your recommendation, I bought and read this book. Devoured it really. A pleasant read. I didn’t think anyone really was able to simply articulate why their view made the most sense as the central motif. Penal Substitution failed the worst in my mind. It barely made it out the door as a peripheral issue. The healing view was slightly strange. I probably have to go back and read it a second time but it seemed to be strangely physical. I didn’t like that. Out of all the arguments presented, Boyd’s was the most robust and fulfilling (especially through his responses to the other views). However, it would be a mistake to see it as a robust and fulfilling argument. The book was a pleasant guide to start a atonement study with, but more depth is needed to make the views persuasive.

    After this book, I seem to lie somewhere between spiritual healing and Christus Victor. The penal substitutionary view has always rubbed me the wrong way. Four Views further dissuaded this feeling. I need to read NT Wrights book on the subject so that he can correct my missteps. He always does.

  3. simmmo says:

    I think the sort of penal substitution espounded by the Reformed movement in the United States has no room in Biblical theology. It’s the sort of low grade theory that looks at the incarnation as simply God’s way of putting someone sinless to death in order that he could save people who have “faith” in some abstract sense. That’s why the very political message of the teachings of Christ in his ministry is not taken seriously. Ask someone like John MacArthur whether he thinks working for justice for the poor is a priority. No, reduce the gospel to this very other-worldly legal transaction and you have this sort gnostic religion which uses Christian terminology.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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