Anyone who follows this blog knows we have have a number of conversations about atonement and the various theories associated with it, leading as it did to a recent book of mine called Community called Atonement. But a few new books have passed my way and I’d like to mention two of them:
Let us suppose we know the “problem” and we know the “result.” If we define the former as “sin” in all its many variations and connotations and the latter as union with God, etc., then we need to realize this: the way we define the problem and the result determines which image we “exploit” when we speak of atonement. Are we sufficiently varied in our understanding of the problem? Do we reduce it to sin as offense or go one step further to offense-guilt and then find ourselves constantly in need of talking one image — justification? Or, do we let each of the images come into the conversation? Do we let them play their own game and even create tension? Do we let each of them become pointers to the Deep Magic of Redemption?
There is an uncontrollable urge on the part of many to find the “central” metaphor or the “core” metaphor or even the controlling idea. I have long done my best to resist this, and so has…
Neil Livingstone in his new book Picturing the Gospel. Thanks Neil, this is a fine, fine book. Written at an accessible level, this book explores three central images:
1. Images of New Life: life — born from above; adoption — chosen in love; kingdom — a good world order.
2. Images of Mercy and Restoration: justification — being right with God; forgiveness — picking up the bill; atonement — taking away the shame.
3. Images of Deliverance: salvation — the mighty hand of God; ransom and redemption — love pays; freedom — free for life.
OK, I’d like to have seen more on the “problem” — the images of the problems — that are resolved by these images of new life, etc., but this book is a nice introductory level book on the significance of seeing atonement through the various images used for it in the Bible.
From a different angle comes Justyn Terry’s The Justifying Judgement of God. Terry wants to know the “principle metaphor” and to find this he examines British preaching — and I like this because atonement theory is inherent to any form of gospel preaching we hear.
This is an academic book that studies British atonement theology — we could give a list of names but that is probably not necessary in this brief review — and then enters into a theory by examining the ever-wordy Karl Barth.
I confess that I was disappointed Terry wanted to find the principle metaphor until I read through his study — he defines the central principle as “judgement” which surprised me but he defines the term holistically, relationally and cosmically. Judgment is not only condemnation of sin but also God’s making things right and establishing justice.