I’ve been reading parts of Scot McKnight’s new book A Community Called Atonement in preparation for a class that I’ll be teaching on October 21. In this book, Scot – whose blog is one of my favorites – introduces a perspective on “atonement” that I had never really considered.
By way of background, “atonement” is a way of talking about the work of Jesus. What is it that Jesus did in his life on earth and on the cross? Different Christians have dramatically different ideas, and there have been a lot of intense debates in recent years about which “theories” are reflected in scripture.
Scot says that most theories of atonement are inadequate. Atonement, he tells us, is about uniting things that are separated. Thus, we can think of it as “at-one-ment” – the bringing together of several different things as one.
But what things are in need of being “at-oned”? A lot, he argues:
1. Man is separated from himself. He has no proper, whole sense of self – no integrity, so to speak.
2. Man is separated from God. He rejects God and tries to live on his own.
3. Man is separated from his fellow man. He cannot live in peace.
4. Man is separated from creation.
Scot believes (and I wish he’d say this more directly) that most “theories” of atonement only relate to #2. They have nothing to say about 1, 3, or 4. “Atonement,” he says, must not only address the way individual people and God are brought together, but how all things are brought together.