A Community that Should be Called Atonement


Greetings faithful followers... Please forgive the lack of posts recently... I've been busy elsewhere and find I only have a decidely finite amount of time and energy these days... But I promised that I would return with a review of Scot McKnight's "A Community Called Atonement" once I'd finished it and our church book-group had a chance to discuss it...

So here goes, but once again I want to state from the outset that these are my opinions alone, I'm not foisting them on any of the rest of the group... although actually we were fairly unanimous on this one... and it wasn't universal acclaim...

The thing is it all started so well... The editor's preface had claimed that the series to which this book belongs offered "approachable theology" suitable for church small groups... Scot's own prologue offered a helpful analogy of why we need multiple metaphors for the atonement (I've written on that elsewhere), and the title suggested to me a principle that I have been seeking to substantiate for some time, i.e. that the language with which we express our theology (particularly our theology of the atonement) significantly shapes our relationships within the church and with the wider world...

However, it all fell apart pretty fast... As I read it on my own, the further I got into it the more uneasy I felt about the theologically less-literate members of the book group reading it... And our later discussions suggested that many felt left behind by some of the language and concepts (and none of our group are dunderheads by any means... they just haven't had the "benefit" of a university-based theological education. At the same time, I felt that Scot was simplifying things in unhelpful ways, e.g. conflating some atonement metaphors e.g. recapitulation/ransom and Christus Victor obscuring their distinctive emphases, strengths and shortfalls. But I thought that all this would pay off as he explored, for me, the key issue of how our theology of atonement does or should shape our Christian community and its relationship with the wider community. But the pay-of never came... Indeed the last section, exploring atonement in terms of "Missional Praxis" was very thin... each section being little more than a few sentences... And these got thinner and thinner as the end approached... with the last chapter on liturgical expressions of this, almost reading like a set of notes for a much more developed piece... It was almost as if the editor had been breathing down his neck, and he had finished it in a hurry. The editor's preface promised that this series would not offer a 400 page monograph... but although I wouldn't have wanted a 400 page theologically dense textbook, perhaps a 400 page book would have been a more realistic way to explore this issue in the depth, breadth an colour that it deserves... and which Scot McKnight is more than capable of providing...

There were glimmers of what might have been... his emphasis on atonement being the restoration of the image of God within us was very helpful... and perhaps might be the metaphor for the moment, in a world obsessed with image (although his insistence on using the word Eikon as a theological shortcut was unnecessarily obfuscating and alienating to the non-theologue). As such I hope that he returns to this subject, freed from the artificial constraints of this "Living Theology" series, to explore it more fully, especially in terms of its implications for the shaping of Christian community...

However, I may have trouble convincing my book-group to give it, or indeed any further book by Scot McKnight, a go...


(If you are interested in what is next on our list, we decided to go with Brennan Manning's "The Ragamuffin Gospel")

Shalom

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