In this book, readers will enjoy a fascinating and cordial discussion between N. T. Wright and Simon Gathercole on the meaning and nature of the doctrine of atonement. These two highly respected scholars discuss in clear and understandable language the meanings of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Their discussion explores various theories of atonement and looks closely at the Old Testament to discover Paul’s meaning of his words that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Wright presents his case first, then Gathercole responds with a contrary point of view. Their discussion confronts questions including: What exactly is this “scandal of the cross”? What role does the notion of sacrifice, as understood in its ancient context, play in the atonement of Christ? Is the atonement a “victory”? How so? Was Christ a “substitute,” taking humankind’s place on the cross and suffering the death and judgment that sinners deserve? How does the death of Christ on the cross rescue or liberate sinners from death? Does the cross achieve benefits for only humans, or do those benefits extend to the entirety of creation? This book is a succinct conversation in which all these questions receive attention, with nuanced differences between the two interlocutors. This conversation along with Robert Stewart’s introductory framework make this book an excellent primer to the study of the atonement, and readers will come away with a deeper understanding of the meanings of the cross.
This heady conversation among serious theologians who are good humored, agile, and erudite is a model for how the church thinks. The topic of atonement remains a mystery beyond formulation, which of course is why the church has never pronounced definitively on the theme. In the meantime the pondering of these theologians lets us see (1) how faithful thinking is done, (2) how thick the claim of Christ is, and (3) how serious generous interpretation is generative of new possibility. This is a welcome conversation that sketches out imaginative scenarios for future work. The practice of this book is one of deep faith and bold thinking, just what the church must now undertake in fresh ways.
—Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament,
Columbia Theological Seminary
Jesus’ death bears many meanings in Scripture and Christian interpretation, including the defeat of Satan, forgiveness of sins, demonstration of love, creation of community, sign of solidarity, and start of the eschaton. In this book, eminent scholars N. T. Wright and Simon Gathercole—having already written books on Christ’s cross—speak, spout, split, and specify these many meanings in amazing ways. Enlivened by queries from the floor, their conversation concludes without closure, and yet this slender volume offers entrée into today’s atonement debates. Stewart’s introduction and concluding bibliography further enhance its value as a starting point for those just dipping their toes into the ocean of literature on Jesus’ death.
—Michael McClymond, Professor of Modern Christianity,
Saint Louis University
Reading this enthralling book deepens and remolds our understanding of the cross of Jesus. Wright’s holistic atonement is truly enlightening, Gathercole’s substitutionary atonement is thought provoking, and Stewart’s view of the Lord’s Supper is enriching. This book must be read by all Christians who tussle with different atonement theories.
—Andrew S. Park, author of Triune Atonement,