Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Book Review: A Community Called Atonement

A Community Called Atonement
(by Scot McKnight)

I picked up this book while searching for information of the different theories of atonement. I didn't find exactly what I was looking--but what I did find was no less marvelous.

In "A Community Called Atonement," McKnight builds a unified theory of atonement from the ground up, resting it on thoroughly Biblical foundations. I love how creatively titles Part 1 "Where to Begin?" and follows that with chapter 1, "With Jesus, Of Course!" This may seem an obvious place to begin, but as McKnight points out, many theologians try to begin with Paul. Without a proper understanding of Jesus and His message as understood through the Gospels, McKnight argues, we cannot truly understand the depths of His atonement. It's only when we start with His Kingdom message that we can see that atonement is about more than personal salvation--it's about raising up a people to worship God in unity.

After laying a foundation of Kingdom, God, creation in God's image, sin, eternity, community, and practice, McKnight brings us into a discussion of metaphor. He reminds us that we are probing into something that works beyond human understanding and that all our theories of atonement are really metaphors to help us understand atonement. How one understands atonement depends on how you understand the problem. Is it our transgression of a holy law? Our suffering under the curse of death? Our need to be remade into the image of Christ? The reality is the problem is multi-facted; so, too, must be atonement. Each metaphor is like a golf club--suited to a specific purpose. You can't play the game with just one club. Rather, you need them all at different points in time. Thus, McKnight seeks a bag that can hold all the clubs. To do so, he takes us through the story.

Beginning with Jesus, then reading through Paul and the early church fathers, McKnight shows how the story of atonement unfolds--not simply as a single theory built by combining passages here and there, but as a growing story. In each stage, McKnight asks how the actors in the story and those watching would have understood atonement. How did Jesus understand His own death and resurrection, in His own words? How did that fit into the Jewish context of the time? For example, he shows how the connection to the Passover actually reveals a very nationalistic understanding of redemption that we cannot simply brush aside. At the end of this section, he finally gets to what I had been originally looking for--a look into the different theories of atonement. Of course, he spends only a few pages on this, focusing only on how they each fit into the bag that he has constructed (you'll have to read the book to find out what that bag is).

Finally, he brings atonement into the realm of practice. Yes, practice--because atonement is not simply something to believe or understand. It is a force working to create fellowship and justice, that propels us into the mission of the church, and becomes a living story in our daily lives. We participate in atonement.

This book is on my must read shelf. It does get a little theologically heavy at times (McKnight has a thing for foreign words), but the depth of understanding that he brings to the Gospel and atonement is invaluable. I especially appreciate how he brings atonement into the realm of practice--showing that the Gospel is not simply a one-time salvific event, but a story unfolding through our lives.

If you get a chance to read this book, be sure to share your thoughts below. I always love a good conversation about a good book =)

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