I have birthday money, so I’m thinking about what books I should get with it. Right now, I’m thinking King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, How God Became King by N.T. Wright and A Better Atonement by Tony Jones.
You might notice a trend, but all three of these books argue that modern-day American Christians have lost the true meaning and method of salvation. Most Christians grow up with the concept of penal substitutionary atonement – Jesus died to save me from the wrath I deserve; he bore it in my place. McKnight in particular argues that when we look at the first statements of the gospel – the writings of Paul and the sermons of Acts – a heavy focus on the individual and the wrath of God is not in sight.
In fact, although atonement is clearly a piece of the salvation story, I would argue that the penal substitutionary variety creates a distorted view of God. Rather than seeing a God who loves the world so much that he would sacrifice anything to bring humanity back to a sin-free Eden, we see a God who is so angry, Jesus had to die to save us from him. And we can see how many Christians’ view of grace, sin, judgment and the end times all grow out of this view of God, which I would speculate is the result of misguidedly attempting to reconcile the incomplete, even inaccurate, description of God in pieces of the Old Testament with the much different descriptions of him provided by the New Testament.
So I look forward to getting and reading those books because, frankly, theology blogs sometimes feel a little over my head, and I haven’t given this issue enough thought. But I’ve been thinking about it a little more lately thanks to the work of another theologian, who treats the issue of salvation and atonement on a level I can understand.
I’ve been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to my oldest daughter the past few weeks. We just finished the part where Aslan, the Christ figure of Lewis’ fantasy world of Narnia, dies and rises again. And I can’t help but think how much better all of us would be if we grew up learning about God the way we learn about Aslan.