McKnight Book Seeks to Expand View of Atonement

Scot McKnight 'A Community Called Atonement'

CHICAGO, IL (September 4, 2007) – Scot McKnight hopes his new book A Community Called Atonement will expand people's view of Christ's sacrificing work by integrating different theories and adding his own.

McKnight is the Karl A. Olson professor in religious studies at North Park University. His previous works include Jesus Creed and Embracing Grace.

The new book is part of the new Living Theology series by Abingdon Press. McKnight says Atonement is targeted for lay people, students, and pastors. Unlike his recent books, Jesus Creed and Embracing Grace, Atonement is not for Sunday school classes, but neither is it a highly technical work.

Talking about a theory of the atonement – what was Christ accomplishing and why – is an easy way to get someone mad at you. "For some, it's a battleground of fidelity," McKnight says. Unfortunately, he adds, the theories are too constrictive and the debate often too academic.

Still, there are important reasons to enter the fray, he says. "Atonement explains the heart of the gospel," McKnight says. "There's an atonement theory in every proclamation of the Gospel."

"Atonement is the work of God and we get to participate in it," McKnight says with wide-eyed enthusiasm. The theme of the entire book, he adds, is rooted in 2 Corinthians 5:18 – "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."

Everyone has a theology about atonement; they just don't know it, McKnight says. "If you believe the atonement is about getting out of hell, then you hold a penal substitution theory of the atonement," he explains. "If your view of the atonement is to make change possible in the world, if you focus on justice, then it is the ransom theory."

"The whole Reformation" was rooted in the penal theory, says McKnight, which focuses on restoring the individual to God.

McKnight advocates for a theory that is focused on reconciling people with God, but also people with one another and with the rest of creation. He writes "...that atonement is only understood when it is understood as the restoration of humans – in all directions – so that they form a society (the ecclesia, the church) wherein God's will is lived out and given freedom to transform all of life. Any theory of atonement that is not an ecclesial theory of atonement is inadequate..."

McKnight is an avid golfer and uses the metaphor of carrying a bag of clubs in discussing the various views of atonement. Each is necessary in specific situations. Using only one theory is the equivalent of a golfer using only one club, he says.

Asked whether he is a better golfer or theologian, McKnight replies, "I hope I'm a better theologian."