Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Atonement

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Atonement

Article excerpt

The Atonement. Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology. By Eleonore Stump. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, 538 pp., $60.00.

Eleonore Stump's most recent book is proposing a significant contribution to the philosophical theology of the atonement. It belongs to a select number of works on the atonement that can be considered classics. It is guaranteed to be longstanding required reading in specialized seminars.

In the evangelical academia, Stump is a much beloved interlocutor. Her influence extends in this context primarily through her work in philosophical theology. Numerous evangelical "analytical theologians" have profitably used her work on divine attributes, hell, theodicy, and, not least, Thomas Aquinas. Given the renewed evangelical interest in the Thomistic tradition, but also in light of some of the recent erosion of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA), Stump's Atonement has been much anticipated by many of my peers, myself included. Stump's popularity with evangelicals is due in no small measure to her personal character, which embodies so well the virtues of love, hospitality, and patience. Such virtues have been on display in the very process of writing the book, particularly in her openness to critique, through the numerous presentations of this material prior to publication, and her uncompromising search for truth. The comprehensiveness of her presentation is the culmination of a painstaking process of subjecting her manuscript to a barrage of objections and questions. Those who will find this book compelling as a whole will certainly refer to its holistic nature. In characteristic style, Stump has left no stone unturned, no assumption unexamined, no objection ignored.

In this limited review my aim will be to raise the kinds of questions in which evangelical readers will be most interested. Because Stump takes exception with both Anselmian atonement theories, under which she groups both PSA and other Catholic proposals, and some aspects of the Thomistic approach, the book can be assessed from those angles as well. Mindful of the audience of this Journal, however, I will be concentrating on the implications of her approach for PSA.

Atonement, Stump insists, needs to be understood as at-onement, as reconciliation between God and humanity. Thus, what drives her account of the atonement is this regulative ideal of union, which is expressed in Christian theology through the notion of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The union between the believer and the Spirit, however, is not a second stage made possible by some objective transaction accomplished in Christ. Rather, atonement encompasses it as well.

One of the most significant contributions the book makes, in addition to the atonement reflection itself, is Stump's theology of union, or indwelling. She defines union as "mutual within-ness of individual psyches or persons" (p. 117), and she believes that we can understand this in terms of shared attention. The psychological phenomenon of shared attention has been the object of much interest by recent neuroscience. Appealing to the notion of "mirror neurons," Stump suggests that in shared attention, there is a replication of the inner thoughts and feelings of one person in another. Therefore, "when Paula empathizes with Jerome in his pain, Paula has a painful feeling; and the painful feeling that she has is her feeling; and she feels and understands it as Jerome's feeling of pain. By rough analogy, in union simpliciter between Paula and Jerome, Paula has Jerome's psyche somehow accessible to her within her own; only she feels and understands that accessible psyche as Jerome's, not hers" (p. 117). Thus a mutual indwelling of sorts is possible between persons, whereby a person "mind reads" another, such that the other person's thoughts and feelings are internalized within her, yet not as her own, but the other's.

In union a certain closeness between persons is realized, which Stump suggests is shaped by the "offices of love" (p. …

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