Systematic theology and and historical investigation don't seem to be friends. Systematic theology likes to call up historical investigation and talk about doctrine, philosophy, application and other stuff. Meanwhile, historical investigation is all like, "Hey dude, why can't we ground this in reality? No one cares what you think the Bible is saying. We aren't really even sure what the author's intent was."
It's sad because I think the two could get along really well if they just hung out a bit more. They both have something to offer. Thankfully, Peter Laughlin thinks so too and has written a really good book merging the two fields together exploring their relationship to the atonement. The book, Jesus and the Cross: Necessity, Meaning and Atonement attempts to cover a lot of ground by exploring why the atonement was necessary, whether divine violence is approved of at the cross, how the cross relates to the problem of evil and Jesus' own intention in his ministry. Whew!
Part philosophical, part theological and part historical? I love it! It makes for a really engaging read. There are some fascinating ideas that Laughlin explores (the origins of evil are unexplainable because they are literally irrational) and wonderful (God invests meaning into the death of Christ). I also like how Laughlin seeks to synthesize modern thinking about the historical Jesus with theology. His conclusion is that much modern thinking about Jesus fails to reconcile what Jesus actually taught about evil and his death.
So what you end up with is a creative, orthodox synthesis of the best of modern scholarship.
My only beef in all honesty is how Laughlin seems to discount penal substitution upfront. I was expecting this and it is unfortunate. He seems to offer what amounts to a Christus victor model, which I am ok with. However, I still think it is unnecessary to choose which model we want. I think most models of the atonement can be best friends.
So it would seem that Laughlin has sat down with systematic theology and historical investigation and attempted to reconcile their differences. I think he succeeds and I also think he demonstrates an excellent model of how theology should be done (especially in light of Wright's historical work on the gospels).
This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
*Thanks to Pickwick publishing for providing me this free review copy in exchange for an unbiased review*