Top Ten Books #9 (A and B)

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.35.58 PMBy John Frye

For my 9th book of ten that have shaped my life, I’d like to bind two books together and consider them as one. The two books are by Scot McKnight. (I’m not including them because Scot is a friend and this is his blog site. I write about them because of the profound seriousness of the subject.) The two books are Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory and the other is A Community Called Atonement. The first is a 451 page scholarly work that leads us into Jesus’ time in history, Jesus’ vision of himself and his mission, textual issues of strategic importance, and theological conclusions about Jesus’ salvific accomplishment. Scot has not told me this, but I see this first book as the strong, scholarly skeleton holding up the more accessible, popular second book A Community Called Atonement. The second book is a mere 177 pages and is accessible to students, pastors, scholars and the general reading public.

A popular fast-food chain hawked its wares by urging “Have it your way!” Too many Christian sects, i.e., theological streams want all theology their way. One of the great items on the menu is the atonement. The great American genius is to reduce everything down to their one way. “I believe only in penal, substitutionary atonement. That is the only view that is biblical.” Said mostly by entrenched American evangelical, fundamentalistic scholars and pastors. “We offer only one item on the menu. If you take it, take it our way.” These folks hunker down and seek to fight the onslaught of other (liberal) views. What they seem to forget is the delicious smorgasbord of biblical offerings; the veritable fascinating diversity of the community called atonement.

Scot, with both his scholarly tome and his popular book, invites us to a varied atonement menu all of which are cooked in the Bible’s kitchen. Why would anyone want to boil away the inviting multiple metaphors that the Bible itself uses to seek to explain something as huge, as mysterious, as delicious as the work of Jesus on the cross? Flowers aren’t just one color, so why should the magnificent atonement be? Isn’t it a dangerous move to shut down the Bible itself when it comes to views of the atonement? Who put the PSA crowd in charge of the Bible?

Some scholars get jittery about Scot’s historical, textual, Jewish cultural and theological work around the “a ransom for many” saying in Mark 10:45. I imagine that few of his detractors read Scot’s whole book including the footnotes. Running around shouting “The theological sky is falling! It’s falling!” only makes the detractors look silly. No scholar’s or group of scholars’ work is inerrant or as sacred as Scripture. The Bible is both a divine and human creation. Theology is merely a human pursuit. I find fearful, knee-jerk reactions very telling. Even Reformed theology is not God-breathed. Whether Jesus actually said “a ransom for many” or whether Mark, under the guidance of the Spirit, wrote the words as a theological gloss to expand on Jesus’ teaching for his original audience in the early church is no reason for sheer panic in the theological world. Panic does not become pastors and scholars.

I have told Scot that I think he is a gracious pastor-scholar. When it comes to scholarship I admire that he’s a peer Jesus scholar with N. T. Wright, James D. G. Dunn, Darrell Bock and others. With his more popular (pastoral, Christian living) books, I am confident that behind each one is a scholar’s mind and a loyal Jesus-follower’s heart. What do you do when a pastor-scholar teaches you that atonement is not just theory, a doctrine, but daily personal and corporate praxis?

What do you do with “prayer: the face of atonement”? Thanks, Scot.

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