It’s no surprise that Keith Giles and I go way back. We’ve been with the same publisher for years. We’re working on our fourth year of the Heretic Happy Hour podcast. And even though we now live in different states, we’ve had the pleasure of becoming real-life friends. But none of that means I won’t also give an open and honest review of the work he does.
In the latest installment in his “Jesus-Un” series, Giles tackles the ever-debated over and much-misunderstood doctrine of the atonement, and he does so with an obvious firm grasp of the development of Christian thought, as well as the biblical exegesis used to argue in favor of whatever doctrine one happens to affirm. Surprisingly, given how confusing this doctrine can be, he also does this without being overly wordy, while at the same time not suffering from too much brevity. Indeed, Giles strikes a good balance between saying what needs to be said without being too heady or ivory-tower-ish.
What the author makes crystal clear is that Calvin’s doctrine of penal substitution – the often (and erroneously) presupposed “correct” doctrine here in the West – is not the best way to understand how the cross “works.” In fact, as I’ve heard him say before, “Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory [PSA] is probably the worst Christian doctrine ever imagined. Not only is it NOT the Gospel, it’s also a twisted concept that reimagines God as the wrathful volcano deity whose wrath cannot be appeased until a virgin child is sacrificed.” I applaud him for saying this. To my mind – as well as Giles’ – this doctrine has done Christianity a great disservice as it has been used to not only malign the all-inclusive love of God but harm others in the process.
In its stead, Giles gives his readers a lot of other doctrines to chew on, offering some pros and cons to each. This is a good approach for any Christian thinker who understands that no one atonement theory can fully encapsulate what took place on the cross.
All in all, Giles does the same thing I attempt to do in my own writings: distill complicated ideas down enough so that folks who don’t want to read 1,000 page scholarly tomes don’t have to. The only issue I have is that he does it better than me. I’ll forgive him, though, since his books, including Jesus Unforsaken, are so damn good.
With each installment of the “Jesus Un” series, I keep saying to myself that “this is the best and most timely one,” and wouldn’t you know it, this book is no different.
So, if you are a Christian who wants to understand the atonement outside the confining box of penal substitution, then this is the book for you.
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