Book Review | Exploring Christology & Atonement: Conversations with John McLeod Campbell, H. R. Mackintosh, and T. F. Torrance

This is a guest post from a colleague of mine at Houston Baptist University, Matt Davis.


What happens in theology when we are not asking the right question? Andrew Purves tackles this in his latest book, “Exploring Christology & Atonement: Conversations with John McLeod Campbell, H. R. Mackintosh, and T. F. Torrance.”

To address this, he opens and closes this work saying, “This book offers an account of the relations between Jesus Christ, who is the incarnate Son, and the Father, the result of which is the atonement, for in the incarnate Son the relation between God and humankind is savingly established” (9, 253). Some readers will immediately notice in what he does say (as well as what he does not say) what path he hopes to take the reader on. This book is aimed to engage just this sort of reader, as well as those who are prepared to learn just what he implies in his thesis.

Okay, all well and good. So, what is the “wrong” question?

Well, for Purves, it could take a number of variations, but it is any question that too easily allows us to separate our answers on the atonement from the Incarnation (and its manifold implications). Some might ask whether a book is needed at all for this. Is it even possible to separate the atonement from involving Jesus? Is he not, you know, sort of necessary for the whole thing? Purves brings his own education and his summary of the contributions of three Scottish theologians – Campbell, Mackintosh, and Torrance – to this conversation. They respond, yes, some people have talked about the atonement in a way that displaces the central, mediating role of the incarnate Jesus.

How then should we approach the topic? It is here, in his introduction, that Purves begins. Like an experienced guide, he gives us two reminders for the path ahead: first, “We do theology because we are baptized” (17); and, second, “All theology is en route” (23). That is, we must remember the theological journey is not simply one of knowledge but, primarily, an act of worship. And because we are limited, both epistemologically and ontologically, we should tread clothed in humility as we discover and attempt to understand that which has been revealed. We should be hesitant to put too much emphasis on anything detached from these realities – whether trusting too deeply in reason or in things that have not been revealed to us.

What sort of question(s) should we ask? How should we consider the atonement? Over the course of the next three chapters, what was implicit in his introduction becomes more explicit: Purves believes these three Scottish theologians help us to keep our course by reminding us that there is no atonement without the incarnation. In chapter two, Purves argues that we begin with the incarnate Son, not a priori but a posteriori, because this is where Scripture begins. The questions in the gospels and epistles, rather than speculative, abstract philosophical questions, center us on the supremacy of this revelation, this image of the invisible God. Chapter three deepens the argument, calling us to realize the power of understanding the hypostatic union of Christ to overcome any tendency to reduce the necessity of Christ in the atonement “as only forgiveness of sins or amelioration of God’s wrath or substituted punishment” (100). Finally, in chapter four, by understanding the depth and implications of the “magnificent exchange” we realize the grace of God effects not simply our legal standing with Him, but also our ability to become like Him.

It is from this point that Purves devotes a chapter to each theologian to summarize their contributions and provides “theological engagement” (i.e., from other theologians, as well as Purves) with those contributions at the end of each chapter. (Interestingly, Campbell’s “theological engagement” section is by far the longest compared to the brevity for Mackintosh’s and Torrance’s chapters.)

Purves ties up all his exploration in the last chapter with practical theology – that is, with its import for faith, worship, and ministry.

A few closing remarks are in order on audience, readability, and recommendation.

This book is for theologians (professional or aspiring) and learned members of ministry who want to know more about the theological contributions of three Scottish theologians to the conversation of Christology and the Atonement. It is not an introductory work on every theory of the atonement, but rather to the contributions of these theologians in that conversation. It is of typical theological density and will be more readable for those already familiar with atonement language and arguments. At times, it is easy to get lost in his writing as he wades through the mountain of things he wants to say, say well, and say within the scope and word limits of this work. (This is, admittedly, a minor criticism for me, but seemed worth noting for some readers.)

All in all, this book is a labor of love and worship, and every page bears this. I am grateful to have read it.


Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Karl Barth’s Ideal Church Service

“Would the sermon not be delivered and listened to quite differently if everything outwardly and visibly began with the baptism and moved towards the Lord’s Supper? Why do numerous attempts to bring church liturgy up to date prove without exception so unfruitful? Is it not because they do not fix their attention on this fundamental defect, the incompleteness of our usual service, i.e. its lack of sacraments? 
– Karl Barth

I agree with Barth – one of the largest problems with many churches is the lack of attention or effort given to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Ideal church service: baptism -> sermon -> Lord’s Supper.

Agree or disagree?

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2015

TOP5

Happy Holidays!

Here are the five most read blog posts on Cruciform Theology from 2015:

1) Open Theism & “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

2) Read the Bible Like a Texan, Y’all

3) A World of Terror Needs the Original Ending of Mark’s Gospel

4) A Cruciform Reading List

5) Ascension: The Locus of Atonement in Hebrews

The “stats” say that these are the posts that people liked the most from 2015 – so if you’re a recent subscriber or just happened to miss one of the above, please enjoy!

Looking forward to a great 2016!

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing! Blessings to you all!

A World of Terror Needs the Mary of Advent

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Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Christian tradition, my tradition, she is rightly honored as the theotokos, the bearer of God. Unfortunately, Mary is far too often white-washed into an American picture of a submissive woman, a passive agent in the Christmas story otherwise dominated by men and single-mindedly focused on a male child. However, Mary should be seen as one of the ultimate heroes of our Christian faith.

It was Mary,  knowing the possible consequences of her suspicious pregnancy (The Virgin Mary on Trial), who said “Yes” to God’s outrageous and dangerous plan of salvation. May we have her courageous obedience.

It was Mary who bore a child whose status, even as an infant, caused her to flee to Egypt as a refugee. It was Mary who braved and survived the brutal slaughter and savage man(child)-hunt of a megalomaniac “king.” May we have her brave endurance.

It was Mary who stood up in a world of injustice and loudly declared that the Lord was going to topple the powers that be, exalt the lowly, send the rich away and fill the hungry. Her Magnificat, the first and oldest Advent hymn, is a political and social subversive celebration that the justice of God was now powerfully breaking into the evil world of injustice. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized, her hymn is “the most passionate, most vehement, one might say, most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men.” May we have her subversive orientation to the work of God’s Kingdom coming through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

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