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The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views


James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 208 pages.

The appropriately titled The Nature of the Atonement attempts to shed light on the complicated character of this biblical principle by presenting and critiquing four dominant theological constructions that have attempted to encapsulate the particularities of the atonement. The book successfully explicates the complexities of atonement theory by exploring a number of different views and intentionally clarifying that the Church has not recognized any atonement model as the official or dominant perspective. This unsettled doctrine has consistently generated clashes of disagreements among theologians, perhaps more than any other theological proposition, and this book adequately expresses this dilemma. Without glossing over the messiness of atonement theory, Beilby and Eddy invite the reader to become spectators and perhaps participants to this dialogue, if one is daring enough to engage the issues.

James Beilby

In the introduction the editors set the stage for the reader and the scheme for the rest of the book by giving a general overview of the historical development of the atonement. Scanning from the early church into the contemporary scene, a number of atonement theories are given attention in this section with a brief summary, thus calling to attention the theological implications of each perspective. Unfortunately not every strand of thought can be given adequate consideration in this work, but it does offer individuals a starting point for a more substantive survey, if one desires to do so.

The next four chapters of the book provide the reader with an in depth summary of four popular views on the atonement: Christus Victor, Penal Substitution, Healing view, and Kaleidoscope view. One of the strengths of this book is that each chapter is written by an individual who personally holds to that theory, whereby the reader gleans the benefits of having an insider perspective, as each author’s theological investment shines through. Some may criticize the demeanor of some contributors as being arrogant, especially those who maintain that their view is the dominant model, but modest approaches would defeat the purpose of the book in bringing out the specific issues at stake and their implications for theological reflection. The writers uphold a level of persuasive writing that reveals the historical and contemporary nature of atonement thought as multifaceted and spirited. Additionally, each contributor is given an opportunity to respond to the other perspectives, and they do so in a critical, yet respectful manner. The various responses at the end of each chapter further elucidates this theological jockeying, and is also valuable in pointing out the weaknesses of each position that only a dissenting voice can adequately address. The inclusion of the Kaleidoscope view is questionable in that it can essentially make a single unique claim–it gives equal validation to all the other views. Consequently, the only legitimate criticism it can offer is to the arrogance of other views who parade as the dominant theory. In its place this book would have benefited greatly from including a subjective view of the atonement, such as the moral influence theory. In leaving this out, the volume lacks one of the most dominant perspectives that has continuously arisen within the Church. With this exception, Beilby and Eddy’s book successfully navigates the multivalent field of atonement theory.

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Category: Fall 2007, In Depth

About the Author: David Bradnick, Ph.D. Theological Studies (Regent University School of Divinity), is an instructor in the philosophy department at Stevenson University and York College of Pennsylvania. His dissertation is titled "Loosing and Binding the Spirits: An Emergentist Theology of the Demonic" (2015).

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