Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement

by Mark D. Baker, ed.

Few themes trigger a neuralgic reaction among evangelicals more quickly than the atonement. The atonement is the bedrock of Christian faith. In Jesus Christ God acted for our salvation. But the meaning of the atonement is not easily grasped; an element of mystery surrounds God’s saving action.

Baker Academic, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006, 204 pages, $16.99.

—Reviewed by Wilbert R. Shenk, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Few themes trigger a neuralgic reaction among evangelicals more quickly than the atonement. The atonement is the bedrock of Christian faith. In Jesus Christ God acted for our salvation. But the meaning of the atonement is not easily grasped; an element of mystery surrounds God’s saving action. The scriptures use rich vocabulary, images and metaphors to interpret the meaning of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Yet devout Christians have debated how best to explain God’s atoning work.

Mark Baker, editor of this volume, is co-author with Joel Green of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in the New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (2000), a work that generated considerable response. In his introduction to the present volume, Baker briefly surveys New Testament teaching on the atonement, reviews historical and theological interpretation of the atonement, summarized in terms of the three main theories—conflict-victory, moral influence and penal satisfaction—and answers critics of the Baker-Green book, at least some of whom misunderstood the authors’ intention.

Eighteen chapters comprise the present volume. These were selected to illustrate how creative writers have used poetry, fiction, meditations and sermons to explain the atonement. These contributions are geared primarily to Western audiences. Chris Friesen’s “Atonement in the Coffee Shop” demonstrates how lay people engage with the profoundest theological issues. Dan Whitmarsh recounts how his junior-high students developed a dramatization that connected effectively with the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.

Two contributions drawn from cross-cultural situations clearly address the role of culture in understanding the atonement. Grace May shows how a Chinese American family, shaped by a culture of shame, struggles to come to terms with the cross and resurrection. G. H. Muzorewa’s Good Friday sermon, “Salvation through the Sacrifice of God’s Firstborn Son,” preached to a Shona congregation in Zimbabwe, reminds us that where the Bible is read inevitably must influence what an audience hears.

This brings us to Steve Taylor’s image of the diamond. A diamond cannot be viewed from a single angle. It is a single precious stone that consists of multiple facets; however, the whole diamond can only be seen as it is turned so that its facets are revealed. This challenging collection encourages readers guided by missiological sensitivity to engage in continuous exploration of the atonement.

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Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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