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Tony Jones and A Better Atonement (?)

When we’re talking about the Atonement, we have to take into consideration that it’s a historical discussion as much as it is theological. We also have to keep in mind that it’s not so much a conversation whereby we will arrive at the definitive meaning of ‘atonement,’ but a discovery of various theories of atonement that all attempt to answer the question: Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

Last year, during the Lenten seasons I picked up the book The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views. The book, edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, contains a very lively dialogue between four differing views: Gregory Boyd, Thomas R. Schreiner, Joel B. Green and Bruce R. Reichenbach. The point-counterpoint highlights the following perspectives: Christus Victor, Penal Sunbstitution, Kaleidoscopic and Healing (respectively). This was a wonderful cadre of contributors and while it got a bit long in the narrative, was fun to dive into.

This year I quickly read through Tony Jones’ A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin. I don’t say quickly because it’s an un-academic treatment (which it isn’t meant to be, really), but due to the fact that it’s pretty short. While there’s much to learn about the development of atonement theories in the few pages offered, there’s also much to learn about Jones himself. He’s pretty open about his positions and delimitations, which is helpful to know as you read. Since we’re talking about a perspective and not a doctrine, per se, transparency helps the reader understand how the author arrived at his Better Atonement.

** Tony Jones teaches on A Better Atonement at Baylor **

Ultimately, Jones argument is twofold. First, he dismantles the long held doctrine of Original Sin, which by its nature leads directly to the Penal Substitutionary model, which Jones rejects. Secondly, using Jurgen Moltmann as a springboard, he constructs a very Trinitarian model of atonement which he describes, “In the crucifixion, God opens the Trinity to us. The eternal love of the Trinity is made available to us in the ultimately humbling act of death on a cross, and our experience of godforsakenness is overcome, for we are now welcomed into the relation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Providing a stern defense of his belief in a historical crucifixion and resurrection, Jones’ trajectory constructs a sound new model of Trinitarian atonement. Pedestrianly put, this model acknowledges the Trinity in Christ on the cross, where one member of that dynamic relationship, the Human One, actually died. In Christ’s death on the cross, he experiences a god-forsakenness, an disconnection from his fundamental relational connection to his own God-ness. This disconnection is the same disconnection that every human experiences. His god-forsakenness is the same god-forsakenness that each of us experiences. Therefore in his resurrection, read re-vivification of the Trinity, his humanity is raised from god-forsaken, disconnection and death. In his resurrection, we are resurrected from our own state of god-forsaken, disconnection and death.

“God’s Solidarity with Us ‘When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness…He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and godforsaken can experience communion with him.’[24] So writes Jürgen Moltmann at the climax of his groundbreaking book, The Crucified God.”

This view has an extreme justice bent. Jones’ better atonement addresses social sin, the destructive nature of groups, nations, and civilizations, in a way that others seem anemic. Jones writes:

Further, sin has a social nature. We attempt to counteract our experience of godforsakenness by filling our lives with striving, often at the expense of others. This inexorably leads to wars, violence, oppression, and inequality. Jesus’ life, and particularly his death, show God’s ultimate solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed—with those who most acutely experience godforsakenness.

I’ll leave it there and recommend this e-book because it’s good. The answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” is not only one of the provocative and enduring questions of the faith, but also timely, no? Jones stuffs this e-book full of historical and theological developments. It’s well researched and quite remarkable that it’s so concise. I think it’s pretty balanced along the theological fault lines. So…is a ‘Better Atonement’? Um…it’s good, definitely ‘Another’ atonement.

**I don’t know how to accurately site quotes from the Kindle, yet. It’s short…they’re in there.