Confession: I don’t care much for theology.
That would seem to be a problem, given I’m getting a degree in history and theology, but my problem is not so much the study of God (the strict definition of the word) but how hard those who know a lot about theology make it for the rest of us.
Sometimes when I read the Homebrewed Christianity blog or listen to their podcasts, or when Daniel Kirk quotes at length from Karl Barth, or when Richard Beck gets deep into the weeds with William Stringfellow, my head starts to hurt. I don’t think I’m an unintelligent person, but it seems the best theologians wind their thoughts into sentences of unimaginable length, using inaccessible words and phrases almost as a sign of how theological they’re being. I don’t care for that kind of writing, and I don’t think it does a service to the study of theology – which, granted, is a fairly complex subject.
So I am very much appreciative of Tony Jones’ short e-book, A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin. In it, Tony tackles a complicated subject – atonement – and makes it easy to understand.
Jones breaks his argument into three parts – an argument against the doctrine of Original Sin, an interlude in which he defends the historicity of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection, and an overview of alternatives to the dominant theory of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA).
The value in Jones’ book lies in the final chapter, his overview and analysis of the various atonement theories. He runs through eight of them then concludes with his own. This section is clearly written and easy to understand, which is a refreshing break from typical theology writing. Close behind it is the interlude and its defense of Jesus’ actual bodily resurrection. This might not be fair to the more liberal among us, but this section gives Jones an immense amount of credibility as he questions the dominant atonement tradition of the modern church. Let’s face it: It’s not terribly surprising for someone who rejects the physical resurrection of Christ – the oldest, most central doctrine to orthodox Christianity – to question a newer, less central doctrine. But Jones is a passionate and eloquent defender of the resurrection and the miracles of Jesus, which gives what he has to say about the work being done through those miracles, through that resurrection and through the crucifixion added weight.