Kent has kindly invited me to comment briefly on the ‘traffic’ on your blog this month, and I’m glad to do so. What I have to offer are mostly questions, questions you may find of interest and/or bizarre:
- When the subject of theological inquiry is atonement, or salvation more broadly, it is right and proper that emphasis falls upon ‘the saving power of God’. This emphasis is reflected in a good deal of the discussion so far, coming to expression in particular ways in the concern that atonement theories be rhetorically effective, contextually apt, and bear down upon actual ministry situations. Would there be any merit, however, in contemplating what else might come to the fore is the emphasis was shifted from the ‘the saving power of God’ to ‘the saving power of God’? What might follow from recalling forcefully that talk of atonement, along whatever lines, is first and foremost always talk about God, and that such talk must seek to do justice to God, and only then to do justice to our varied ‘contexts’? Might one not worry that too much attention to questions of rhetorical effectiveness, cultural correction, ministerial utility etc. move in far too pragmatic a register, unless themselves set firmly in the context of struggling to let the God of the gospel himself come to speech?
- What makes a theory of atonement a theory and what do we take theories to be good for exactly. Are theories rhetorical tools by which we give summary and concise expression to the rather unruly biblical witness itself? Are they analytical descriptions of how various strands of the Scriptural witness to God’s saving acts ‘hang together’ or ‘work’? Do they re-state the content of the biblical witness, or only lay out its working form or logic? Do they aim to explain what is really going on in a cluster or corner of the Scriptures? And to whom are such theories useful—are they for use chiefly ‘in house’, i.e., within the Christian community (and even then, by whom and to what end?), or are they produced for ‘outside consumption’, i.e., are they themselves a piece of proclamation/witness? It seems to me our working answers to such questions will likely be the driving motors of contesting assessments of whether model X or Y is to be preferred or criticised, advanced or left off.
- Is theology theory?
- Is it enough for a properly evangelical account of atonement merely to safeguard ‘divine initiative’ (criterion #5), rather than, say, God’s sole saving agency?