At Kent Eilers’ invitation I welcome the opportunity to participate in the discussion. He has summarized in a very accurate and helpful way themes from the book. I hope my responses will not be an intrusion into the discussion.
1. One purpose of the book is to overcome the imperialism of claiming one view is the only right view. Therefore it will not be a step forward to substitute a new one for the preferred view of your tradition. So I am open to the language of “fully orbed” or a more “comprehensive” view of atonement.
In theory, we ought to be able to go off to some wonderful place (e.g., at the foot of the Rocky Mts) and construct a unified view. I think that ultimately they all fit together but we are also called to be faithful in particular situations. In fact, that is why we have many theories.
Perhaps we have to live with the glorious variety for a while-the same way we live with four gospels and many letters in the NT. Certainly there are “priorities” but they usually mean different things in different places. Context does not mean relativism. There may not be one priority for all times and places, but in certain situations there may well be a priority. So I am reluctant to say one theory is most adequate or even that they are all equal. If theories are valid it is because they witness to some aspect of saving power.
2. I assumed the piece by Sarah represented a non-western critique of descriptive language. Then it turned that the writer is probably a westerner, protesting the dominant empirical view from within the West. When I re-read the piece, the words were the same, but I interpreted them differently. Thus we have the possibility of multiple contexts of two authors and two ways of reading the same text. Given the finite character of human beings, and the prohibition against graven images,and the plurality of contexts, I don’t see any choice but to acknowledge the fragile and limited character of language. That’s why we have to re-do theology in each generation and write a new sermon for Sunday.
3. The distinction between indicative and mimetic is important. But religious language tries to unite the two, i.e., to describe something with such power that the language draws the listener into the reality. This is why I think theories begin with an image, i.e., a word that catches our imagination and prompts us to look beyond the descriptive. If language is only descriptive, it would be flat. But I can not imagine how it could be totally mimetic, since that would assume it is the Word itself. I think God uses things of this world to reveal God. So we say that even Scripture must be given life by the Spirit. I am also reminded that there have always been two ways of testifying to the resurrection: reciting the words of the witnesses (descriptive) and the experience of the power of Jesus and the Spirit in our world, community, and our lives (mimetic). History tells us never to separate the two approaches.
4. Re. Rene Girard. I do not think he is an example of sacrifice defined by the Letter to the Hebrews, since that sees Jesus as our High Priest and views his sacrifice leading to salvation. The Girardian approach sees God using the cross as a judgment against ritual violence (scapegoating). I am willing to call it #11.
5. Re. Benjamin Peters search for the appropriate response to a victim of violence: When I wrote that we must be confident in proclaiming the cross I did not mean that that would give easy, instant answers for difficult situations. It might, however help one to know what not to say and provide some options for responding. Sometimes simply being with a person is the first way of being gracious.