I've never blogged through a book before but I thought I's share some thoughts on Scot McKnight's "A Community Called Atonement"
Being that its the week before Holy Week, I thought I'd give myself to reading Scot's book on this important subject. So far: I Like!
I need to begin with a confession: I've never been to crazy about modern day atonement theories. It seems to me they straddle somewhere between the "we've got this all figured out" and the "we can't really say much about it" camps.
At it's core I do believe that the atonement is "mystery" but I think there is a great deal we can say about it.
I tend to agree with Joel Green who suggests in his excellent book, "Recovering the Scandal of the Cross" that within the Scriptures there are several models or frameworks for what we have come to call the atonement. And, I must admit all of them resonate with me on some level. I think that we should be comfortable with that. In the western church we have focused on one primarily which I believe is a detriment to the others.
What makes matters worse, at least for me, is that we take this amazing event and reduce it to something that is inherently personal; this whole idea of Jesus and me as my "personal" Lord and Savior. And, then we attempt to live in community as loosely connected automatons.
I, so far have really enjoyed McKnight's approach that the atonement is not individualized but communal in nature. It effects us on the individual level on so that we can live it's reality together in community: With God and neighbor.
So here goes my take on Chapter 1:
He begins with this idea of asking the question whether or not the atonement works in that it creates a change in us so that we might live reconciled lives to God and one another. Of course his answer is yes, it has the potential to, but he echoes the sentiments of my generation [not so much chronologically as theologically and ecclisalogically] when he says:
"This generation is tired of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not make a difference, of an old-fashioned atonement theology that is for individual spiritual formation but not for ecclesial-reformation, and of an old fashioned atonement theology that does not reconcile humans with humans....If a previous generation was taught that evangelism and social justice were disconnected, even if one could [or even should] flow from the other, the present generation knows of a holistic human being in an interlocking society of connections where any notion of gospel or atonement must be one that is integrated and community-shaped if it is to be called 'good news' at all." p.2
To which I reply a hearty: AMEN!
He goes on to share this beautiful story of a person he knows who embodied this idea of being transformed for the sake of the other and then moves into asking the question: which atonement theory will it be. He suggested that whichever theory a church lands on as it's primary model will shape how the church lives out their understanding in the community and will give shape and form to its preaching.
Then I began to think: If we have been, at least in the western world, peddling a primarily penal substitutionary theory of atonement, which I think many believe, whether they would admit or not, seems to put the "Father" at odds with the son [which I don't believe it does], then what picture of God are we painting and what kind of communities are we creating?
I would argue that with this as our primary understanding we are creating communities of hierarchical authority that has a ticked off God as it's head who can only love the people created in God's image if his son takes the hit. Justice and judgement, at least it seems to me, then become much more retributive and personal than redemptive and communal.
Well, those are my brief thoughts on chapter 1. I'll try to add more as I move through the others. If you've read the book and would care to comment and dialogue I'd welcome it.