I have quoted Tony Jones on this blog a few times (Proposed Inaugural Benedictions, The Future of Seminary Education, and Incarnational Christian) over the years. Tony is is an ordained minister in the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches with a Ph.D. from Princeton Seminary (2011) best known for his role in helping launch what has become known as the emergent church movement. Currently he serves as theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch (Minneapolis, MN), teaches theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and works as a senior acquisitions editor at Fortress Press. He has a background in youth ministry, and is the author of more than a dozen books.
While it is unlikely that many readers will be surprised Jones’ answers negatively to the question that serves as the title of his latest book (p.234), it is quite likely that many readers will be impressed by the detailed cataloging and explanation of many of the best known (and a several not so well known) views of the atonement. Jones argues that the cross should continue as the preferred visual identifier for Christianity, but must be transformed by love and understood as a reason to move beyond violence.
Jones gives the greatest attention to the preferred modern Evangelical model: the Payment Model (also known as the Substitution Model or Satisfaction Model). In these three chapters Jones’ personal reflections alongside his effort to place this option in its larger historical context as one of several newer options is especially pastoral. Together these pages along with the considerable background on the cross and violence that precedes them set the stage for the book’s greatest contribution: a five chapter section on other ways to understand atonement. Following chapter length considerations of the Victory Model, Magnet Model, Divinity Model and Mirror Model, Jones presents brief sketches of six additional lesser known models. Notably each of the full treatments of a model ends with the same questions:
- What does the ____ model say about God?
- What does it say about Jesus?
- What does the ____ model say about the relationship of God and Jesus?
- How does it make sense of violence?
- What does it mean for us spiritually?
- Where’s the love?
By ending on love Jones forwards another central claim: it is time to move beyond understandings of atonement that center on God’s wrath and to embrace those that emphasize God’s love.
As a postmodern who also happens to be post-denominational yet has experience serving in or acquiring theological education in churches and schools affiliated with at least eight different denominations I am used to and appreciate a variety of approaches to any and all things theological, including atonement. I recognize, however, that many have spent much or even all of their lives in traditions that taught a single way and often presented such as the only correct option (sometimes without even noting that other options exist). I appreciate Jones noting that while many theological issues were considered important enough to become litmus tests for orthodoxy (and reasons to cast out heretics), atonement theories were never considered to be that significant (p. 20-21). I also appreciate his insistence that will the cross was violent it must serve to end violence, and his emphasis on approaching any proposed atonement model with an emphasis on God as a God of love rather than as a God of wrath.
Given what you know about atonement, I invite you to weigh in on the following:
These days, the church in America is in decline. That’s true of Protestants, both evangelical and mainline, and Catholics. Fewer people go to church every year. Why? Could it be the prevalence of the Payment/Penalty/Punishment view of Jesus’ death and the image of a wrathful God it requires? (p.136)
Note: While reading this book I found myself remembering Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement: Living Theology (Abingdon Press, 2007). I look forward to re-reading it later this spring or summer.
Tony Jones. Did God Kill Jesus (Harper One, 2015). ISBN: 9780062297969.Tweet