Atonement Theology

Several weeks ago, as I was sharing about some of the better books I read in 2010, I put together an emotionally stirring post in which I discussed three different books on or related to the doctrine of Justification.

However, there was one book on the subject that managed to slip through the cracks. And normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to mention it here, because honestly…  no one really cares. But since this blog is as much for me as it is for you, I’m coming back to it for the sake of completeness.

If I haven’t mentioned Scot McKnight around here, my apologies. He is someone worth being familiar with.  He maintains a popular Christian blog. He is a professor in New Testament at North Park University. He writes prolifically on both an academic and popular level. Add to all that a busy speaking schedule at various conferences and such. Think of him as a North American version of N.T. Wright.  I think he would take that for the compliment it is meant to be.

Anyway, if you are only going to read one book on Justification/Atonement, his is the the one.

I know I said that Michael Bird’s was the understanding of Righteousness/Justification/Atonement that I found most compelling, and it is.  But no one is reading that.  You’ve got the problem with the cover.  But let’s be honest, the only people picking up this book didn’t even notice that there was a cover – myself included.  That is to say, the book is all content and written for the extreme Bible nerd.

The beauty of McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement is that you get many of the same ideas, but in a much more accessible way. That isn’t to say it is dumbed down. Not in the least. It is just that McKnight’s book has a different purpose and a different audience.

I’ll try to sum up what is going on in the book in a few sentences.

There are a number of theories that try to explain what the Bible is affirming about Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.  A book that I read a year or so ago outlined four views

  • Christus Victor – Which more or less says that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God won out over the cosmic powers of evil.  Which of course includes evil in individual’s lives, but that is secondary.
  • Penal Substitution – This would be the view that most evangelical Christians in the South are exposed to on a regular basis.  This view highlights the need for an atoning death to appease the perfect justice and wrath of God.
  • Healing View – Not a widely held view that I am aware of, but the idea here is that humanity has a sickness.  Call it sin, call it brokenness, or whatever.  In Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity’s problem is fixed or healed.  If the focus of Penal Substitution is on what is going on with God in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the healing view stresses what is happening in people.
  • Kaleidescopic view – You probably saw this coming, but this view more or less says they are all good and necessary. Can’t we all just get along.

Ok, so gross over-simplification for sure. It looks to me like McKnight holds something of a modified Kaleidescopic view. But the modification is important. He, like Bird and others, would say that the important thing is being “found in Christ.”  I know that when we read (or memorize) the New Testament, one can easily skim over the phrase “in Christ,” but it is in there a whole, whole lot.  Paul never really struck me as one to waste his words.

McKnight argues that being “in Christ” is foundational.  Everything else flows from that.  Imputed righteousness.  Justification. Healing.  And so on.  In his discussion of the classic Reformed doctrine of “double imputation” he says…

I not only agree with double imputation, I up it. I think being “in Christ” involves multiple imputations: every thing we are is shuffled to Christ and all that Christ can offer us is shuffled to us. It is that big.

And in search of language to hold all the theories of the atonement together, he lands on “identification for incorporation” which is not so unlike Bird’s “incorporated righteousness.” I’ll let McKnight sum up his understanding for himself…

Jesus identifies with us and we gain access to everything he is by being incorporated into him, by entering into this “in Christ” realm. Every theory of atonement emerges from this central, life-giving identification for incorporation.  Atonement is what happens to a human being who is united with Christ. Union with Christ, in other words, is the foundation of atonement, and those who are so in union form the new community where cracked Eikons can be restored to God, self, others, and the world.


Four (more downers) for Friday

Ok, first thing to notice. I got a new look. I know, it’s fly…  like a G6.

Now, down to business. Last week, I promised to offer up some tunes that weren’t of the the “sad b%$#@*&” variety, but I just wasn’t able to pull it off. What you see before you is the best I’ve got to offer from the previous week.

Get excited.

William Fitzsimmons – The Tide Pulls from the Moon // Folks, this one is worth the price of admission alone.  You did pay to get on my site, right?

James Vincent McMorrow – If I Had a Boat // “I’d row in the morning. I’d row in the evening.  All over this land.” If you missed out on the somewhat obscure Peter, Paul, and Mary reference, that’s ok.  It was pretty lame.  Great song though.

Andrew Belle – The Ladder // Somehow I missed out this guy’s music last year.  Criminal.  If you close your eyes, you would think you are listening to Greg Laswell’s long lost twin.  I guess you don’t really have to close your eyes.  It doesn’t make any difference. My good friend Bobby threw a couple of his tunes up yesterday.  By the way, Bobby does have twitter.  @bharrison24.  You should flood him with twitter messages until he caves and joins the #twitterevolution .

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow // So I thought these guys were pretty cool. Then I went to their myspace page, and saw that they played The Tonight Show. I guess that’s forgivable. Maybe. By the way, their theology is pretty spot on. No preacher man can save their soul. 

And that’s a wrap my friends.

Be safe.

And don’t listen to crappy music.

Words to live by.

The Wisdom of Stability

At my workplace, we recognize someone’s birthday by getting a piece of paper with their name printed on it and then co-workers write a word that we think describes the individual. Despite the fact that I’ve forgotten all the words on my sheet done a few months ago, I think it is a good thing to do. And while I could make a guess at what words found their way next to my name, I am fairly sure one word that many would affirm as descriptive of me didn’t make the list…


It was likely avoided because most people would see that word as pejorative. I, on the other hand, wear it more like a badge of honor. There isn’t any sphere of my life where I can’t make a case for standing apart as being a good thing. Well, maybe one or two. But in my fantasized life of total detachment, those one or four things stay connected to me.

It is one of the many reasons I like traveling. When visiting a place, I’m not just seeing the sights as most tourists might. I’m evaluating… Could I live here? Or here? Or wherever? The act of being in another place (no matter how briefly) reaffirms for me that I’m not tied down. I’m not stuck. We could pick up and move at a moment’s notice. We could start over some place else.

And yet, I’m beginning to recognize what any moderately sane person intuitively knows even if they are unable to articulate it. Namely, that a constant state of restlessness – a perpetual hedging of bets – a sustained fostering of the “grass-is-greener” mentality is damaging. It is unhealthy for families. It holds relationships hostage. It keeps work undone. But worst of all, it leaves the soul divided. And so for several years now (and yes, it is taking years), I’ve been growing in my awareness that this dream of an un-pinned down life isn’t good.

I say all of this by way of introduction to a book that I’ve found particularly helpful in bringing clarity to the fog of ideas that has taken some time to accumulate in my own life.

This is a book about staying put. I suppose someone could (and probably has) written a book on the merits of “going.” And a fine book it would be. One can’t necessarily turn to the Bible and find an air-tight case for never leaving. Where would be be without some of the great goers of the faith? Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Paul. Even Jesus leaving the familiarity of the God-head in order to be with a broken humanity is predicated on his willingness to go.

And yet, this book on page after page offers exactly what the title suggests it will… wisdom.

Lots of it.

In the great tradition of Scripture’s wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes), Wilson-Hartgrove’s insights aren’t true for any and every situation, but his words are ignored at our own peril.

In a culture that is defined by mobility and distraction, Wilson-Hartgrove guides the reader to the truths we know deep down inside of us to be right. We all long for rootedness, connectedness, sustaining a flourishing life for ourselves, those we love, and those we want to love. But this can only happen through the intentional choice to stay.

Or in his own words…

Stability challenges us to question assumptions of our hyper-mobile culture, but it ought not to make us immovable. Staying put and paying attention are, rather, dynamic disciplines aimed at helping us grow and progress towards wholeness.

However, what I appreciate most (and there is much to appreciate) about Wilson-Hartgrove’s work is his recognition that stability is about far more than physical presence. Physical presence in a particular place both contributes to and is a manifestation of presence with a particular God and particular people.

I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone.  Not to kids heading off to college.  Or even young singles/marrieds who are searching for their place in the world.  But for those of us who think that the search can and should last a lifetime, consider afresh that your place may very well be right where you are.

Four for Friday

It’s Friday…  again.

1) Freelance Whales – Day Off // Brand new single from one of my favorites.

2) Ben Ottewell – Lightbulbs // Ottewell is the frontman for Gomez, and this is a single off his forthcoming album, Shapes and Shadows.

3) Chris Bathgate – No Silver // Another single off of a much anticipated (by me) album, Salt Year, due for release this spring.

4) The National – Conversation 16 // As anyone who has been married for a while knows, it takes work to keep the daily interaction from becoming so predictable that the conversations can be allotted their number.

Kind of a downer list here.  I suppose I’ll have to come up with something more “cheery” next Friday.  Peace.

I Am A Man

A few years ago, I was attending a high school graduation. As I was scanning the names of students graduating, one stood out as peculiar.


Literally, that was his name. I know I am stereotyping, but I ventured a guess at his racial background, and he was indeed African-American.  I have often thought of that unusual name and every time it came to my remembrance, I found it amusing. I thought it strange that parents were so compelled to instill manliness in their child that they felt his name needed to be a constant reminder.

Well, this morning I discovered that I was wrong about his parents’ motives. At least, I think so. I came across these words and photo from Russell Moore. My ignorance of civil rights history kept me from recognizing that this child’s parents probably weren’t affirming his masculinity.

They were affirming his humanity.

On a wall in my study hangs one of my favorite pictures. It’s a photograph of a line of civil rights workers—in the heat of the Jim Crow era. They’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder, all of them bearing a sandwich-board-type sign. The sign reads, simply: “I Am a Man.”

I love that picture because it sums up precisely the issue at that time, and at every time. The struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in this country wasn’t simply a “political” question. It wasn’t merely the question of, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it from before the Lincoln Memorial, the unfulfilled promises of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (although it was nothing less than that). At its root, Jim Crow (and the spirit of Jim Crow, still alive and sinister) is about theology. It’s about the question of the “Godness” of God and the humanness of humanity.

You can read the rest HERE.

(HT: JT)

Four (Daytrotters) for Friday

If you unfamiliar with the music site Daytrotter, I’d like to commend it to you.   I actually don’t know all that much about it myself other than they regularly put up some great music from the artists you I love.  I believe the way it works is that a different band comes into their studios everyday, they play a mini-set, and then Daytrotter makes it available to the rest of us.  I love it…  both the idea and the music.  Below are some samples of what you might find.

Freelance Whales – The Great Estates (Daytrotter Sessions)

AA Bondy – A Slow Parade (Daytrotter Sessions)

Iron & Wine (with Rosie Thomas) – Naked As We Came (Daytrotter Sessions)

Blitzen Trapper – The Tree (Daytrotter Sessions)

One other thing…  they have a pretty slick app for all you iPhone users.  Non-iPhoners – don’t hate.

Happy Friday!

revising resolutions

Now that we are just a little over ten days into 2011, it seems appropriate to re-look all those resolutions made in the euphoria of a new year.  I’m not bailing on any that I’ve made.  At least, not yet.  No, I’m resolutely convinced that the things to which I’ve committed myself are entirely worthwhile.

And yet, I want to be careful to guard against a certain mentality that comes with spiritual commitments of this type.  I am all to aware of how prone the human heart (and yes, that includes my own) is towards twisting something good and life-giving into a caricature of what it was meant to be.  I don’t want to end up there, nor do I want to lead anyone down that path.

These gifts of the Word and prayer were meant to lead us to the One who gives life.  They don’t do so in themselves.  Over the past couple days, I’ve been wrestling with how to express my concern for putting too much stock in these sorts of spiritual practices, but I wasn’t quite able to find the right words.

Thankfully, I found those words (as I often do) in the writing of another.

I’ve been looking forward to cracking open Scot McKnight‘s One.Life for a couple weeks now, and when I did he had this to say early on…

we will also see that the personal practices of piety, like Bible reading and praying and going to church and other spiritual disciplines, have a place but they are a means to the end.  They are not the goal, and they can’t measure adequately who is a Christian or who is a follower of Jesus.  p. 24

Or as Richard Foster described the pathway of spiritual disciplines in his classic The Celebration of Discipline...

The path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur.  p.8

So with reminders like these, hopefully I’ll be able to avoid that thing that exists inside each of us, especially religious people, and most especially professional religious people, to draw attention to “spiritual” achievements.  “Look at me!” “Think highly of me.” “Be like me.”

Too easily my grandiose goals of reading and memorizing and praying are motivated out of a desire to impress God and/or others.  And while we may have some success with the latter, with the former…  well, not so much.

Four (Films) for Friday

I don’t end up having as much time as I would like to watch movies.  But over the holidays, my brother-in-law was in town and we generally go see a couple movies when we are together.  So with his help, I was able to see four movies in two weeks (unheard of) – two in the theater and two on DVD.  Here’s the rundown…


I finally got around to seeing Inception on DVD.  I had heard great things about it and it definitely was one worth seeing.  There was lots to love about it…  the concept, cast, effects, and pace were all great.  What I appreciated the most were the observations about dreaming itself.  Like when we dream, we never really know how we got to where we are in the dream.  We don’t remember the events leading up to the ‘now’ of the dream.  Also, the idea that in a dream we are both creating the dream and responding to it simultaneously.  All fascinating.


True Grit was as you might expect…  gritty.  The Coen brothers spin their tale (well, not really theirs), and do so with the sort of craftsmanship one has come to expect from them.  I thought the casting was superb and each played their part well.  One interesting note…  the movie is set in Arkansas (and I’m assuming Oklahoma), but the scenery in the film was so obviously neither.  Rather, it was New Mexico that had the honor to provide the backdrop.


Ok, this one is sort of cheating, but we (the family and I) found ourselves watching The Fellowship of the Ring… again!  And because it is so good, it makes all others pale in comparison regardless of whether it is showing for the first time or the fiftieth…  one film trilogy to rule them all.


Which brings us to number 1…  The King’s Speech.  And I have to say, this was something of a surprise.  Maybe it was because I had no expectations at all and that I knew absolutely nothing about the movie in advance.  But I don’t think that’s it.  For a host of reasons, this will be the one that my mind will return to repeatedly in the near future.

It was my favorite kind of movie.  A simple, almost insignificant, story that is told so well that one can not help but be drawn in.  It does what I wish more films would do… take the ordinary (ok, so he’s the king of England – not so very ordinary) and help all of us to see the beauty of the small stories.  I don’t want to say much more than that, so as not to ruin it for anyone, but in my opinion this is about as fine as film-making gets.  I’m thinking it is going to win some of those shiny trophies this awards season.

So this is the new year…

… and I don’t feel any different.”
Death Cab for Cutie

Often when I’m hiking, I can only see where the trail leads for the next several yards.  The surrounding landscape dictates how much is in view.  The rise or fall of the terrain.  The trees or rocks around me.  But occasionally, I’ll get to a place where everything opens up for a moment and I’m able to see the trail for a mile or more.  Those times can be especially helpful.  It is nice to know that I’m still moving in the right direction, and to see where I’m heading and what is involved in getting there.

This also describes how I feel at the beginning each new year.  Lots of the year, it feels like I have my head down and am simply plodding forward.  One day after the other.  But the rolling of the calendar from December to January provides an opportunity for me to mentally picture the year stretching out before me and envision what a new year might hold for me, my family, and the people I know and love.

Honestly, it is difficult to really know what the year has in store.  But Lord willing, there are a few things that I (and in some cases my family) will endeavor to accomplish in 2011.  I’m taking the liberty to share a few in the hopes that if I say it “out loud” that I’ll be more accountable to actually stay the course.

1) Bible Reading

Many started 2010 with the goal of reading the whole Bible through, and there were some who actually made it to the finish line.  It was a discipline and there were many a day that both for me and my friends it was simply a matter of churning through the chapters.  That being the case, the benefits of actually reading the entire Bible are hard to quantify, but they were numerous.  I’ll try to remember to come back to explaining them in future posts.

Anyway, I’m planning on doing it again.  I’m using a slightly different plan this year, and the reading will be delivered to my Google Reader via this little link.

2) Scripture Memory

Most everyone who did the Bible in a Year plan with me shared that they missed lingering in the Scripture.  Being given the luxury of time to dwell on a section, chapter, or book.  I felt that at times too, so I’ll be camping out in Philippians this year.  So much so that with any luck, the family and I hope to commit the entire book to memory.  The inspiration for this came from here.  I favor the NIV (2010), so I adapted it some.

I’ll keep you posted.

3) Praying for the World

Yup, that’s right…  the World!  After reading Radical, this was one tangible thing that I felt like I could do.  Plus, it is a great way for my family to learn the names of countries and little bit about them.  We’re using Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World as our guide.

While any of these would be monumental accomplishments on my part, these are just a few of the things I’m hoping to see happen in 2011.  There are many other hopes and dreams that I have for the year ahead, but they are the among the vast realm of things that I’m less willing to share in this venue.  Who knows?  Maybe a few of them will find their way onto here.

Stay tuned and Happy New Year!