A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight (Part 2)

In ACCA McKnight seeks to bring all of the metaphors, moments, and stories of atonement together not necessarily into a single viewpoint, but rather under a single umbrella, so that each can influence a holistic view of atonement. His assumption is that each view brings truth to the conversation, but none are sufficient in themselves.

The umbrella that McKnight suggests is “identification for incorporation.” Very simply put, Jesus became human in order to identify with us, and because he identified with us we can be incorporated into him. We can have union with Christ. McKnight writes, “He identifies with us all the way down to death in order that we might be incorporated into him. To be incorporated “in Christ” is not only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but also a personal relationship with his people.” (108)

McKnight concludes his discussion of atonement by looking at its application. He details the application of atonement in fellowship (a community known by love), justice (Biblical justice, not necessarily political justice), mission (the church is responsible to participate in atonement), scripture (scripture speaks into our lives to transform us into doers of good), and finally baptism, Eucharist, and prayer (each of these contributes to engagement in identification for incorporation).

Coming from a perspective where I agree with Willard that discipleship is central to atonement, I have a little difficulty with McKnight’s concluding section. I appreciate his willingness to explore the application of atonement. Without this we become so influenced by the individualistic nature of our culture that atonement becomes commodified and shallow. He suggests numerous times that we participate in the atonement of others. However, I wrestle with his use of the word atonement here. Do we really participate in atonement, or do we assist is pointing the way to Christ? I think my fear is that this language could be misunderstood or lead us to lose the centrality of discipleship (the restored relationship with God) in atonement. Perhaps I am swinging the pendulum too far in response to my concern that we are making other important things too central to the Gospel.

Ultimately I agree with McKnight. Second Corinthians 5:18-20 is clear that we do have some role to play in the reconciliation (atonement) of the world. Though Christ does the actual work of atonement, we play a role as his ambassadors. Our actions, as McKnight writes, can open the floodgates of relationship “for humans to be restored to God, to self, to others, and to the world.” (126) Though I believe Paul encourages us to keep discipleship at the center with his exhortation to “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Co 5:20)

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