The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy


In recent years much debate has taken place within evangelical circles concerning what Christ actually accomplished on the cross.  A number of factors has brought this debate to a head: a feminist charge that traditional atonement theories encourage abuse, radical new ideas that reject conservative views, the fact that Scripture itself offers several images to explain the atonement and the growing popularity of the Christus Victor understanding (pp. 9-12).  It is the goal of this book to sort through four of the most widely held theories of the atonement held by conservative Christians.  The method used is to follow four scholars who respectively explain and defend the four theories.  Each position is then critiqued by the other three theologians.  This allows for a healthy exchange of ideas and solid rebuttals by those who have carefully studied all the pertinent issues.  The four views under discussion are: 

• Christus Victor represented by Gregory A. Boyd.  In Christus Victor the central feature of the atonement is Christ’s triumph over Satan, and the evil powers of the world, thereby setting humanity free from Satan’s clutches.  This centers on “the truth that through this incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ, God defeated the devil” (pp. 12, 24).

• Penal substitution represented by Thomas R. Schreiner.  Penal substitution is defined by Schreiner as: “The Father, because of His love for human beings, sent His Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy God’s justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners.  The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God’s holiness and love are manifested” (p. 67).  The primary difference between Christus Victor and penal substitution is that in Christus Victor it is Satan who must be satisfied by the death of Christ.  In penal substitution it is God (pp. 103, 115).

• Healing view represented by Bruce R. Reichenbach.  Here Christ’s death provided the means whereby all things can ultimately be restored to its pre-fall condition (p. 120).

• Kaleidoscopic view represented by Joel B. Green.  In this view God sent His Son for a kaleidoscope of purposes: to fulfill the Law, to call sinners to repentance, to bring a sword, to be a ransom, to proclaim the kingdom of God, to save the lost and so on (p. 164).  Summarized by theological themes, Christ died for our justification, redemption and reconciliation, as a sacrifice and to triumph over evil (p. 166).  Green believes the world needs to be reconciled to God, but God does not need to be reconciled to the world.  In other words the atonement deals with expiation but not propitiation (see pp. 166, 173, 186).

The format of the volume is most helpful in introducing the main arguments and disagreements concerning particular views of the atonement.  It is not the final word on the subject but is well worth reading by those desiring a beneficial overview of the atonement debates and its significance.