PREFACE TO MY NEW BOOK ON THE ATONEMENT

 

In March, my book The Atonement: A Biblical, Theological, and Historical Study of the Cross of Christ (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019) is scheduled to be released (350 pages). Here is a portion of the preface:

 

The doctrine of the atonement of Christ is the heart of Christianity. The cross of Christ is the heart of the apostles’ preaching. Christians—those who bear the name of Christ—are not only a people of the Book but also a people of the cross. 

The literature on this subject in the history of the church, and especially since the twentieth century, is nothing short of staggering. My attempt in this short work dwarfs in comparison. All one can do is bring his teacup to the ocean of truth. Nevertheless, I have attempted to provide something of an overall summary of the doctrine which will be beneficial to the church.

In writing on such a vital topic—one that is central to Scripture and theology—I hope to avoid the Scylla of distortion through oversimplification and the Charybdis of distortion through overcomplication. Much confusion ensues when this topic is treated with too broad a brush or when it is crushed under the weight of excessive theological speculation.

There are many ways to approach the topic. The approach I take in this book is to begin with Old and New Testament canonical theology and trace the key texts that deal with the atonement. Then, I move to the systematic realm, where we look at the theology of the atonement. Finally, I conclude with a summary section on historical theology, which traces the development of the doctrine of the atonement in church history. 

In the past twelve years, my research and writing has focused mostly on the question of the extent of the atonement (see The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review [Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016]). That volume weighed in at more than 800 pages. Nevertheless, I was not able to address all of the exegetical and theological issues related to this question. In this volume, the reader will note that I have not only addressed this subject again in the chapter “The Intent, Extent, and Application of the Atonement,” but I have also attempted to address each atonement text specifically in relation to this question, including why I think these texts affirm an unlimited atonement exegetically. A resurgence of interest in recent years concerning the question of the extent of the atonement merits this approach, and this additional material can be viewed as something of a companion that furthers the case for unlimited atonement found in The Extent of the Atonement.

Clearly Scripture speaks of the atonement with a multivalent voice. Several key metaphors are employed by the biblical writers to express and explain the atonement. People differ over how to approach the biblical material. Does Scripture single out one metaphor over all others? Should we single out one metaphor over the others? Should we synthesize all the metaphors into one model? Should we simply let all atonement metaphors stand on all fours without attempting to rank their relative importance? Should we see the biblical metaphors as being in competition or complementation? Answers are not easy to come by. Nevertheless, let us sit at the feet of Scripture . . . and at the foot of the cross, that we may better understand this marvelous mystery that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:19).

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