Resource of the Week: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross

Every week I’m going to post a blog that simply points you to the “resource of the week.”  It will be: theological, political, social justice focused, church ministry related, or some other random thing that I think will help Christ-followers in the journey.

This week, I want to point your attention to an important book: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Mark Baker and Joel Green.  When the first edition came out, conservative reformed folks were not too happy.  This book attempts to give each atonement image in the New Testament an equal voice and is critical of popular formulations of “penal satisfaction” perspectives of the cross.  In the next few weeks, I plan to say much more about this book, but for now, I hope you will order the newly updated second edition!  Also, to familiarize yourself with the conversation on atonement theory, you can start with this article: Two Foundational Stories of the Cross: How They Affect Evangelism.

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  • AaronT

    Read it in seminary a couple years ago. Good book. I need to look at it again.
    Enjoy your blog!

    • @95cd707f64b3604110afd9417227fdbf:disqus , thanks for reading my blog! Also, the new edition has lots of updated content.

  • Luke Thomas

    I’ll right I will ask it, since this book seems to be promoting a view of the atonement that says it is not mainly about our relationship with God.  Is the main reason for the atonement to satisfy God or to make us right before God?  Or would you say that it is mainly Christus Victorus or Example or something else?  I get the feeling from reading Bakers other book that I can just do whatever I want with atonement as long as I don’t promote penal substitutionary atonement. In your opinion Kurt what does Christ death on the cross do exactly.  And what exactly is wrong with substitionary atonement?

    • @a787032fbc0ba2e3356e70a573406ba4:disqus … thats not the point of the book.  Here are some thoughts…

      In the New Testament, there are an array of
      images that express the significance of the cross.  Mark Baker, who is a personal friend, has written vastly on
      this subject.  In his book, Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross:
      Contemporary Images of the Atonement[1],
      he first explains how the way the story of the cross has been told over the
      past several hundred years has led to some collateral damage.  For instance, imagine if the following
      perspective is your primary way of understanding the heavenly Father, when your
      earthly father was abusive.  It may
      lead to some problems.


      For many people, the cross and the atonement
      that took place there, is mostly about how God the Father needed to be appeased
      in order to grant humanity forgiveness.  This is because God is holy and just.  When God sees sin in humanity, his
      justice burns with anger.  God
      cannot tolerate to even look at a person because of their depravity.  So, what is the solution?  God takes his Son Jesus who is holy and
      sinless, places him on the cross to appease God’s wrath.  God the Father then, beats up on the
      Son instead of directing such holy wrath towards us sinners.  Therefore, when we accept Christ as
      Lord, our sinful-self is not what God sees, but rather God views us through Jesus’
      perfect holiness, allowing us to be in relationship with the Father.  This view, which is a distorted version
      of what is often called penal satisfaction, “can too easily lead to a situation
      in which we might conclude that Jesus came to save us from God.”[2]


      The need to be saved from a God, whose
      primary essence is love, doesn’t seem to be a healthy way of thinking about the
      cross.  Not only so, if we were to
      take a look at the relevant biblical passages, certainly this idea of atonement
      is described in courtroom language (penal).  The problem is that instead of placing the story in the
      context of a Hebrew court scenario in which the goal is restorative, we often
      assume that the court should be one of retribution (demanding penalty or
      payback to appease the judge).  For
      a Hebrew mind, Jesus’ saving work had more to do with restoring shalom, right
      relationships between God, others, creation and self.  His resurrection restores us back into such a harmony,
      freeing us from the power of alienation.


      It is unfortunate that many
      have accused Mark and others of denying substitutionary atonement, when exactly
      the opposite is true.  Jesus truly
      is our substitute from the consequences of sin and death.  Mark makes this clear when he states:
      “Although we raise a number of critical concerns about the model of penal
      substitutionary atonement, we do not
      reject the idea of substitutionary atonement [emphasis mine].”[3]  As I have already suggested, the cross
      and resurrection is God’s victory in Jesus over the powers.  This is a view that keeps in tact
      substitutionary atonement without the violent appeasement of God towards Jesus.

      [1] Mark D.
      Baker, ed., Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the
      Atonement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006).

      [2] Ibid., 22.

      [3] Ibid., 25.

      • And… I think it is important to note that Baker was not trying to come up with a new theory on atonement just because he was uncomfortable with an angry God… the book (and I would guess Mark too) is genuinely trying to find a biblical view of the atonement.  Having read his books and taken two of his classes, I know that his view on atonement is one of broadening the beauty, power, and impact of our view of the cross.   Baker is trying to go back to a more biblical view of the atonement… in other words, attempting to strip away (as much as possible) the stuff that we ascribe to it based on our culture and not the bible.  Specifically, the “penal” aspect of the atonement.  

        As Kurt has mentioned, our views are much different then their view of justice and “court room” drama would be.  If anyone is interested, Dan Van Ness’ “Crime and Its Victims” has a nice historical summary on why we have the views we do and why our Western legal thought is different than modern day indegenous and pre-1066 legal thought.  

  • Kellen Freeman

    This is a textbook for my Doctrine of Christ course this semester in seminary. Looking forward to getting into it.

    • @ab0c82620257a94ba9cff83e6f6907c1:disqus … I’ll let Mark know that. What school are you at again???