A Book Review
Jeremy Treat’s The Atonement: An Introduction, in Crossway’s Short Studies in Systematic Theology Series, equips readers to appreciate and grasp what Christ accomplished through his work and death.
Unlike many other books on the atonement, this one does not survey the many models and theories on the topic. You will find no mention of Irenaeus, Origin, Grotius, Abelard, Aulén, Hooker, or Girard. Instead, the author begins with the framework through which he suggests we must understand the atonement. After ruling out faulty frameworks such as a “Going to Heaven When You Die” view, a social gospel, or the “American Dream” (16–18), Treat argues that the right framework is God’s kingdom. His definition of the kingdom of God is “God’s reign through God’s people over God’s place” (19). He begins with the kingdom because it’s anchored in the Old Testament, communal, salvifically comprehensive, and practically tied to discipleship. Christ died to establish God’s kingdom. The rest of the book explains what Christ accomplished, how He did it, and the implications of his work for life and church.
Without summarizing every chapter, here is how I understand Treat’s perspective on the atonement. He recognizes the validity of many atonement models. Eschewing “one-dimensional reductionism,” he lists and describes 20 “dimensions” of the atonement—many of which embrace key components of standard atonement views (e.g., Christus Victor, Apocalyptic Deliverance, Therapeutic Healing, Moral Example, and even theosis). Simultaneously rejecting “disconnected plurality,” he locates substitution as the mechanism by which Christ solved the problem of sin. Substitution—Jesus dying “for us”—is, according to Treat, the heart of the atonement by which every other dimension is achieved.
I think this book evidences a healthy trend of recognizing that many of the traditional atonement models have something to offer. Joshua McNall, Joel B. Green, Scott McKnight, Kevin Vanhoozer, Hans Boersma, and Fleming Rutledge have all championed multiple “dimensions” in their atonement books. I also appreciate how Treat does not seek to impose a system upon the atonement, but rather seeks to let Scripture speak as to how various dimensions relate to one another. Treat, similar to Tom Schreiner’s chapter in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, sees substitution as the means of the atonement. Treat defends his position, but I felt that others could make the same claims for Christus Victor or recapitulation. Further defense of substitution as the most significant aspect of the atonement would be welcome.
Overall, this book is an excellent introduction to a theological perspective on the atonement. Clarity, frequent appeals to Scripture, pastoral tone, and practical exhortations persist from cover to cover. For a broad introduction to the atonement that includes historical theology, look elsewhere, but read The Atonement for a compelling perspective that seeks to incorporate what Scripture as a whole has to say on the subject.
Special thanks to Crossway for a review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know.
See below for more books on the atonement that I recommend.