Tuesday 29 July 2014

Two Books on the Atonement

I’m about half-way through a book which I suspect will be in my top 10 reads of 2014:

Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 305pp., ISBN 978-0-310-516743.

It ticks a lot of my boxes:

• A foreword by Michael Horton
• The written-up version of a Wheaton PhD carried out under the supervision of Kevin Vanhoozer
• But readable and highly accessible, in relatively short chapters, with helpful structural indicators, and main points summarised at the end of sections and at segues between chapters
• A worked example of the value of interrogating a topic (atonement in this case) from the perspective of both biblical theology and systematic theology in a way that tries to draw lines between those two disciplines
• Shows a way through some of the false divides often created between biblical theology and systematic theology, Old Testament and New Testament, covenant and kingdom, Jesus and Paul, gospels and letters, etc.
• Reformed, but not uncritical of that tradition where he disagrees with it
• Written with devotional warmth and respect for Scripture and tradition

Essentially, from my reading so far, what Treat is offering is an expansive perspective on the atonement, bringing together the kingdom and the cross. As he summarises at one point: ‘[T]he Bible is a redemptive story of a crucified Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom on earth through his atoning death on the cross. This unfolding story of victory through sacrifice is the tapestry in which kingdom and cross are interwoven’ (129).

For those interested in exploring further, there’s an interview with the author here, and early reviews of the book here, here, here, and here.

Also just out, looking at the atonement from a more expanded perspective is this:

Michael J. Gorman, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement (Eugene: Cascade, 2014), xii + 277pp., ISBN 978-1-62032-655-8.

In the Introduction, Gorman suggests that ‘most interpretations of the atonement concentrate on the penultimate rather than the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death’ (2). For Gorman, the over-emphasis on how Jesus’ death brings atonement risks distracting us from seeing ‘that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death was to create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together’ (3).

I’m really looking forward to reading this too, though my sense at this stage is that discussion of the effects of Jesus’ death, or its relationship to ‘covenant’, may not be quite as missing as Gorman seems to think. However, that may be because I’m currently reading Treat’s book which does place atonement on a yet wider cosmic stage of ‘the restoration of human vicegerency’ (120), where ‘what the world was created for, and what was lost in Adam and Israel, has been regained in Christ’ (143).

Again, for those interested, there’s a two-part interview with Michael Gorman here and here, and an early short reflection on the book here.

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