Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Atonement Theology for Muslims?

Missionaries and theologians within the New Testament were determined not to identify a single, correct understanding of the atonement but to find context-specific ways of making the word of the cross accessible and challenging to varied audiences…. The images of the atonement that have surfaced in the history of the church have often taken shape through similar commitments to articulating the significance of the cross in particular settings.

This encourages us to believe that no one model of the atonement will fit all sizes and shapes, all needs and contexts where the church is growing and active in mission. This means, ultimately, that the next chapter of this book is being written in hundreds of places throughout the world, where communities of Jesus' disciples are practicing the craft of theologian-communicator and struggling with fresh and faithful images for broadcasting the mystery of Jesus' salvific death.

-Mark D. Baker & Joel B. Green. Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Kindle Locations 2949-2954).

Is this a good start?


Cody Lorance said...

They aren't wrong about how atonement theology has been contextually conceived throughout the ages. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Warrick, have you finished the book? I read it in seminary, and the authors go on to completely deny penal and subtitutionary atonement. Perhaps a good start, but certainly not a good finish.

Warrick Farah said...

Hi Elnwood,

I don't understand them as denying PSA per se, but they do devote an extraordinary amount of time to dealing with caricatures of it in the American church. Their main point on PSA, as I understand them, is that when you use a system of justice in the PSA metaphor, you have to take into account the system of justice that the biblical authors would have been referring to. The impersonal justice code and retributive justice sense that exists in the American system, for instance, is not what the biblical authors refers to when they speaks of substitution and exchange. It is more restorative and personal in nature.

They do endorse the way Vanhoozer articulates his view of PSA, for example. So I don't think it would be correct to say that they completely deny PSA. That being said, I don't agree with everything that they say. But maybe you've had a different understanding of how they dealt with PSA?

The main point is that we have a lot of work to do to try to create a theology of atonement for the specific contexts we're working in, one that is both relevant to the audience and faithful to the Bible.


Anonymous said...

Hi Warrick,

It's been a while since I've read it, but I remember parts of it vividly, and it caused me to deeply question whether I wanted to finish my seminary degree there.

As I recall, it focused on Charles Hodge's penal substitution, and said he was wrong because he was wrongly influenced by his Western society of justice. Along the same lines, it even critiqued Anselm's view of the atonement, which came hundreds of years earlier.

My professor, who was Eastern Orthodox, also concurred that the book was denying penal substitution, and agreed with it, as that is what the EO tradition teaches.

I do think it's helpful to look at the atonement from an honor/shame perspective. That's one of the strengths of the book.

However, I think the book falls into the trap of "Western = bag, Non-Western = good." So as you wrote, they encourage us to create a theology of atonement for non-Western contexts. But they criticize and deny the ones the Western contexts have articulated for their contexts. It seems hypocritical.

Anonymous said...


I should add that I read the first edition of this book. Apparently the second edition responds to the criticism of the first edition, and the section on Vanhoozer is new. I'm quite certain the first edition denied PSA, but I can't speak to the second edition. If they've moderated their statements since then, so much the better.

Warrick Farah said...

Elnwood, you said, "they encourage us to create a theology of atonement for non-Western contexts. But they criticize and deny the ones the Western contexts have articulated for their contexts. It seems hypocritical."

Very good point.

Gene Daniels said...

I found a very good article by Rayan Mahoney that deals with the same issue, "Evangelical’s Politicization of Atonement Theology"


He examines the way Modernity has distorted the biblical position on the atonement because it has lost a sense of how metaphorical language is supposed to function.

I greatly appreciated this article, which the author sums up thusly, "Penal Substitutionary Theory is not wrong in what it affirms, but Evangelical appropriation of it is wrong in what it denies."

Anonymous said...


I read that article. I was disappointed that he never named any of these "Evangelicals" who have misappropriated penal substitution. It seems like a straw man argument to me, I certainly don't recognize this evangelical, and I don't know any evangelical who denies the validity of other atonement models.

Describing the TEDS statement of faith as a "consent to lie" was particularly over-the-top. A statement of faith should not be considered exhaustive on any topic, whether "The Work of Christ," or any other, but as an affirmation of what the Bible teaches.

The real irony is that most of the critiques of penal substitution (it's cosmic child abuse, a punishing God is not a loving God, etc.) are peculiarly Western critiques of the doctrine, and in particular from Western postmodernism.

In an age where theologians and churches are denying penal substitution and censoring songs like "In Christ Alone" when it speaks of the satisfaction of the wrath of God, it behooves us to teach clearly the penal substitution. Not because it's the only valid model, but because it is a true biblical model.