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The Mosaic of Atonement: An Integrated Approach to Christ’s Work

, 2019
ISBN: 9780310097679

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The Mosaic of Atonement offers a fresh and integrated approach to historic models of atonement.

While modern treatments of the doctrine have tended toward either a defensive hierarchy, in which one model is singled out as most important, or a disconnected plurality, in which multiple images are affirmed but with no order of arrangement, this book argues for a reintegration of four famous “pieces” of atonement doctrine through the governing image of Christ-shaped mosaic.

Unlike a photograph in which tiny pixels present a seamless blending of color and shape, a mosaic allows each piece to retain its recognizable particularity, while also integrating them in the service of a single larger image. If one stands close, one can identify individual squares of glass or tile that compose the greater picture. And if one steps back, there is the larger picture to be admired. Yet in the great mosaics of age-old Christian churches, the goal is not for viewers to construct the image, as in a puzzle, but to appreciate it.

So too with this mosaic of atonement doctrine. While no one model is set above or against the others, the book notes particular ways in which the “pieces”—the feet, heart, head, and hands—mutually support one another to form a more holistic vision of Christ’s work. “This is my body,” Jesus said to his followers, and by reintegrating these oft-dismembered aspects of atonement, we will note fresh ways in which it was given for us.

Resource Experts
  • Explains how four different pieces of atonement fit together to form a larger picture
  • Identifies a properly nuanced account of penal substitution
  • Explores the ongoing, loving influence of atonement

Part 1: The Feet: Recapitulation

  • Early Will I Seek Thee: Irenaeus on Jesus as the True Adam
  • Where Are You, Adam? Recapitulation and the Human Origins Debate
  • How Beautiful the Feet: Recapitulation and the Foundation of Atonement

Part 2: The Heart: Penal Substitution (and Vicarious Judgment)

  • Older than the Pews: Penal Substitution in Early Christian History
  • According to the Scriptures: The Bible and Penal Substitution
  • Right but Repulsive? Further Critiques of Penal Substitution
  • The Beating Heart: Penal Substitution as the Hub (Not the Whole) of the Atonement

Part 3: The Head: Christus Victor

  • Triumph through Trickery: Reexamining the Role of Deception in Christ’s Victory
  • Winking at the Devil: Examining the Ontic Status of the Satan
  • O Sacred Head, Now What? Staged Triumph as the Telos of Atonement

Part 4: The Hands: Moral Influence

  • Beckoning Love: Rethinking Abelard and Moral Influence
  • Unmasking Violence: Girard and Moral Influence
  • Perfecting Hand(s): The Spirit’s Place in Moral Influence

Top Highlights

“The proper response to the atonement is not a confident attempt to figure it out; the proper response is worship.” (Page 21)

“In the end, I will argue that indeed some belief in the historical ‘Adam’ as the head of God’s image bearers is necessary if one wishes to affirm a robust view of Scripture, sin, and the atonement.” (Page 51)

“This paradoxical reality also has implications for God’s people.” (Page 241)

“within my own account of creaturely evil, salvation remains entirely by grace.” (Page 236)

“The overarching claim to be made in this book is therefore that particular pieces of atonement theology do fit together, not as a puzzle, but as a mosaic icon meant to guide our worship.” (Page 25)

In this major new work on the doctrine of the atonement, Josh McNall presents a comprehensive and cogent approach, integrating the differing perspectives of recapitulation, substitution, victory, and moral influence. His judicious and balanced treatment rejects both the extreme that makes penal substitution the one and only model and the opposite extreme, which neglects the biblical theme of judgement. The scholarly command of the literature and clear argumentation make this a valuable resource for teachers, students, and pastors alike.

—Thomas A. Noble, research professor of theology, Nazarene Theological Seminary

The atonement is a gloriously multifaceted accomplishment. But while much recent atonement theology champions the many-splendored nature of Christ’s atoning work, Josh McNall argues that it’s not enough to merely uphold the various images of atonement in a disconnected plurality. Rather, they must be integrated. By engaging with Scripture, church tradition, and an array of contemporary theologians, Josh McNall shows how the various images and models of atonement interlock and support one another, providing a fuller and more coherent understanding of the atonement. This book offers a unique contribution and advances the broader conversation that seeks to understand the meaning of the atonement by showing how the various images and models fit together, not as a puzzle but as a mosaic meant to inspire worship.

—Jeremy Treat is pastor for preaching and vision at Reality LA, Los Angeles, California, adjunct professor of rheology, Biola University, and author of Seek First and The Crucified King

Joshua McNall has produced a reasoned and readable account of the atonement. He gets away from the defensive tribalism that the atonement is only “this” or else that the atonement consists of a disparate number of images. Instead he holds forth the cross of Christ in its biblical horizons and sets it upon the rich tapestry of historical theology. McNall exposits important themes related to substitution, triumph, transformation, and recapitulation. Importantly, he shows that these are not competing ideas but pieces of a mosaic that all fit together! This is an ideal primer for anyone wanting to get a grip on the dense debates about the nature of the atonement.

—Michael F. Bird, academic dean and lecturer in theology, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

Joshua McNall (PhD, University of Manchester) is Assistant Professor of Theology at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. His other books include, A Free Corrector: Colin Gunton and the Legacy of Augustine (Fortress, 2015), and the popular-level, Long Story Short: The Bible in Six Simple Movements (Seedbed, 2018). He lives in Bartlesville, Oklahoma with his wife Brianna and their four children.


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  1. Charlie Orr

    Charlie Orr