Evaluating our ‘better theory of the atonement’

Posted: October 16, 2015 by J in Bible, Theology
checklist with a ticked box and a pen

checklist with a ticked box and a pen

Well, that’s our take on the atonement. Others will have to assess its value.

However, in the first post of the series we outlined six criteria we believed a successful theory of the atonement needed to meet. The least we can do is to assess our account in terms of these criteria:

1.  It needs to make sense in the context of Jesus’ life and ministry – our account finds a great deal of continuity between Jesus’ life and his atoning work on the Cross. The Cross is not something different tacked on the end of a teaching ministry. Rather it is the climax of his ministry, the culmination his teaching and healings were pointing to.

2. It needs to make sense in the context of the Bible’s metanarrative, its big story – our view makes Jesus’ atoning work the answer to the big questions left hanging in the Old Testament, the denoument of Israel’s story and fulfilment of their prophetic hope. His death finally cleanses his people’s sin, and his resurrection brings them back from exile to God.

3. It needs to comprise both Jesus’ death and resurrection as integral to his achievement, such that it would be inadequate and incomplete if either were missing. Popular views of the atonement find little saving significance in the resurrection. Our account, while holding both events necessary, actually places the greater part of the weight on the resurrection.

4. It must be an account that gives full and equal role to Father, Son and Spirit.    By rehabilitating the resurrection to central stage, our approach makes the Holy Spirit a key player in the atonement. For it is He who raises Jesus, and the realm he is raised into is the new realm of the Spirit. It is likewise the Spirit who raises up God’s people in Christ.

5. It must be an account that give clues to the subsequent rise and shape of the community of Jesus as described in Acts and elsewhere.    Resurrection body –> resurrection community. Simple.

6. It must leave some room for mystery in this central mystery of our Faith.   Our account of the atonement is very brief. It doesn’t claim to know too much detail. It is light on mechanism, being content to assert connections rather than explain them. It is not mathematical and doesn’t invite a ‘book-keeping’ approach to salvation (as some theories do). Rather it relies heavily on what Calvin called ‘the mystical union’ – which for us is the union between Christ and the rest of the human race in a general way, and between Christ and his people in particular.


Whatever you think of our ‘better theory’, it does seem to live up to the criteria we established before we started. If there are other accounts of the atonement out there that do as much, we’d like to know about them.

  1. Alan W says:

    The phrasing, ‘invite a “book-keeping” approach to salvation (as some theories do),’ seems a little harsh. Doesn’t Paul use (not just invite) a logizomai-ing approach to salvation at several points? And is that a mere theory, or didn’t Paul stoop so very low?


    • J says:

      Nice to have you with us, Alan.
      I suppose the Grit is one place where you can get away with a sarcastic tone…

      The whole book-keeping thing probably deserves investigating in its own right. In some theologies it goes far beyond the idea of ‘reckoning’. Sorry if that sounds harsh, I’ve read those who hold these views describe them using this same language. I wasn’t intending ridicule.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s