Sunday, July 27, 2014

To stimulate conversation about atonement of Jesus' death

This is a short response to Michael Gorman's book, "The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement" (Cascade, 2014), in terms of his interview at Crux Sola.

The purpose of writing this response is to generate further conversation about atonement. Otherwise, I appreciate the author's great work.

I do agree with and like Gorman's participatory atonement of Jesus' death which we need most desperately in our day. But as a critical scholar myself, I have to say that not all books in the NT can be read with a single view of atonement. Whereas the so-called Paul's seven undisputed letters can be grasped in such a direction, Deutero-Pauline letters, Pastoral letters, and especially Hebrews, do not share such a view of participatory atonement. Rather, these later books emphasize "static" atonement of Jesus' death (in the sense that Jesus' death is understood as a penal substitution, for example). There are plenty of references or theology about such a static atonement. So much so, in these books there is an emphasis on believers' faith in Jesus, which is quite different from Paul's seven undisputed letters.

Now when it comes to the gospels, Jesus' death is not needed for the forgiveness of sins or for salvation since baptism and repentance of people are enough for such purposes. If we follow the logic of the gospels, Jesus' death is a result of his costly preaching about God's rule in an unjust, hostile world. In other words, if people had accepted his challenging message about God's rule, he would have not been executed on a cross. So overall, the NT does not give us one view of atonement nor one reason of his death. What we as critical readers need is how to explain and explore Jesus' life, teaching, and death in his context, in the early church's context, and in our day. In the end, the reader's essential task is discernment: what to accept in what way and what to reject why.

If you wonder about my view of atonement and biblical interpretation, please go and see a list of my works at my web site, especially "Christ's Body in Corinth," "A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters," and "Biblical Interpretation."

See also my small article, "Jesus' death in context," published in Living Pulpit 2007 (available through ATLA Religion database).


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