Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church

Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church

Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church

Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church

Synopsis

Concerned to reinvigorate the church's teaching on the cross, the resurrection, and salvation - the atonement - Peter Schmiechen here invites readers to rediscover the wealth of the Christian tradition. In Saving Power he makes ample use of primary sources to unpack ten distinct theories of atonement, welcoming aspects of each rather than championing only one. Along the way, he demonstrates that while most Christians assume the basic theme of atonement to be sin and forgiveness, other powerful themes - liberation from oppressive powers, reconciliation in the face of division, and the hope of resurrection in the face of death, for instance - also deserve to be studied and preached.

Excerpt

This is a book about interpretations of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the church today. The thesis is that atonement has to do with the saving power of God in Jesus Christ. The New Testament and later traditions reveal how such saving power is interpreted in many ways. The life and work of the church depend on claiming the richness of these many witnesses to saving power.

This perspective is confounded by confusion and lack of confidence, much to the detriment of the church’s preaching and mission. If there is no clarity regarding the richness of these many theories, then preaching and piety are shaped by a single view of atonement. While this may appear to have the advantage of single-mindedness, it ignores a wide range of other ways saving power addresses different human needs. For example, forgiveness of sins is a quite different theme from that of the victory over death or the reconciliation of divided parties. Persons held captive to shame do not need to be forgiven but released. Given the diverse spiritual needs of people, focusing on but one aspect of saving power really amounts to confusion regarding atonement. By contrast, if there is no confidence regarding the proclamation of saving power in Jesus Christ at all, then ministry and mission live under a cloud of gloom. The heart may yearn for the proclamation of the power of the cross, but the will to do so is absent. Much of the lack of clarity and loss of nerve stems from the fear that atonement is the weak point in the Christian message because there is but one theory (namely, penal substitution) and it is flawed. Whether one openly subscribes to such a view, or quietly fears that it is true, in either case the drive to proclaim the cross is undercut. This paralysis regarding the cross, however, leads to a general shutdown of all systems: If one cannot find a way to confess the saving power of the cross, then Jesus becomes irrelevant and the church has no good news. The situation is not im-

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