The 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