Redemption as a means to Salvation
Is the story of Jesus mainly about his death and a life that leads to it, or is the story of Jesus mainly about his life and a death that flows from it? On one view, it hardly matters: these are just two ways of looking at the same thing. On a more combative view, the difference is as great as night and day. Does the cross belong on the sleeves (and hearts) of Christians, as the glorious core of their faith, or does it belong in the repair shop, in need of drastic repairs, the primary Christian embarrassment for believers and an offense to outsiders?
The disagreement is not over Jesus’ death as a fact. Both sides largely agree about the reality and ...view middle of the document...
In Proverbs of Ashes, two feminist theologians make this case. They make it not with heated rhetoric but through a narrative intertwining their searing personal histories of abuse, depression, ministry and loss with reflections on where Christian beliefs have abetted the destructive forces in their lives and where they have been part of the healing.
Unlike many first-person approaches to controversial issues, the book’s net effect is neither bitter nor dogmatic. The authors’ honesty and vulnerability invite a genuine dialogue. Anyone who thinks there isn’t a problem should start here.
If Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker make a case against atonement in experience, Denny Weaver complements it with a case drawn from history. The Nonviolent Atonement is a full-scale attack on St. Anselm’s and others substitution theologies of the cross, and it also spells out an alternative, which he calls "narrative Christus Victor." The saving work of Jesus is his struggle against and victory over the structural evil powers of this world. Weaver adds "narrative" to the phrase Christus Victor because some might focus this battle entirely on Jesus’ death. Weaver’s point is that the saving work is one continuous story, in which the cross is just one moment.
A Mennonite, Weaver associates the elevation of the cross with the fall of the church. The rise of a theology of God’s redemptive use of punishment goes hand in hand with a church that learns to endorse the military force of a Christian state. His book also includes an impressive review of recent treatments of this topic by feminist, womanist and African-American theologians, perspectives that he weaves effectively into his argument.
If these two books call for a root-and-branch excision of atonement, The Glory of the Atonement is a collection whose writers bring a "don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater" caution. The former writers see the idea of atonement itself as an error. The latter collection see destructive effects sometimes flowing from faulty theological expressions. On the doctrine itself, the introduction quotes Emil Brunner: it is "the Christian religion itself; it is the main point; it is not something alongside of the center; it is the substance and kernel, not the husk."
The essays are careful studies of scriptural texts that bear on the topic and of major theologians who have developed it. The book is a handy way to engage the truly monumental tradition of substitutionary interpretation and a summary of the arguments for its prominence.
Robert Sherman and JoAnne Marie Terrell work carefully in the tangled ground between these two parties. Since criticism of atonement is often made in the name of the oppressed or marginalized, the African-American experience is of particular importance. In Power in the Blood? Terrell patiently works through the place of the cross in the history and faith of the black church.
This is an ambiguous story, for the theology of...