Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Atonement: Suggested Reading

This morning I finished reading The Atonement Debate (Zondervan, 2008) and though there is much that could be said, let me just recommend a few books which would give one a good start in understanding the issues and stakes involved with this debate.

First, in defense of the penal substitutionary view, I would recommend two books: In My Place Condemned He Stood (Crossway 2007) by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, and Pierced for Our Transgressions (Crossway 2007) by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach. Second, contra the penal substitutionary view, I would recommend Recovering the Scandal of the Cross (Intervarsity Press 2000) by Joel Green and Mark Baker. Many scholars and books could be arrayed on various sides of this debate but I think these three works make a good start of it.

Now, before I close, I simply must say something about the second to last essay in The Atonement Debate, or at least about its title.It is written by Lynette J. Mullings and entitled "The Message of the Cross is Foolishness: Atonement in Womanist Theology; Towards a Black British Perspective." This title arouses so much in my mind that I'm tempted to write a long entry about it, but I cannot. So let me just say this: perspectivalism does not provide the right solutions to theological problems.

I do not deny that culture and experience play a part in theological formulations and biblical understandings so that there is real value in listening well to persons from a variety of backgrounds. However, it is an existential fact that Christ is not divided--he is not one Christ for one culture and another Christ for another culture. I am eager to listen to the mind and heart of a black woman from Britain, but I am deeply concerned about scholars spending their precious little time developing hyper-perspectival theories of the atonement. I simply cannot see how this will move us towards the center of the glory of what God has done in Christ.

For where does it stop? Is there need for me to write an article entitled, "Towards a white, male, american, californian, irish- (paternal) jewish (maternal) heritage, adult convert, married with child, health-conscious, pet-owning understanding of the atonement"? I'm going to a great extreme to make a point: yes there are particular implications of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for my particular social situation, in every detail, but Christ himself is not divided. Thus, the body of Christ is not helped by falling into the world's divisive perspectivalism, and indeed that is the birthpace of this impulse within Christendom.

Am I eager to listen and learn from those who have contemplated deeply on the cross in their particular social context? Absolutely. But I'm equally concerned that confusing essential meaning with application will be disastorous, not helpful, for the unity of the body of Christ.

Oh bother, as my hero Winnie the Pooh would say, I'm out of time. Hope my point is sensible.

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