Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review of "Atonement, Law and Justice."

Atonement, Law and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts by Adonis Vidu is a dense work that seeks to explore how atonement theory has been understood throughout various cultures. What Vidu especially seeks to demonstrate is how understanding of the role of law and punishment in society affected a theology of the cross and vice versa.

Vidu accomplishes this by going through the thinking of the Patristics, Medieval theologians, Reformation theologians, Modern (or Enlightment) thinkers, and Postmodern thinkers. He normally highlights the thinking of the most influential thinkers and draws parallels to thinking about the role of judges, punishment and retribution in society at that time.

He concludes at the end of this massive study that the doctrine of divine simplicity is needed in order to recapture the heart of penal substitution. Since all of God's attributes are perfectly aligned (balanced? I am not sure a good word for this), we must not construe God as either more or less loving at the cross.

In one of my favorite quotes from the book, Vidu states "First, simplicity dictates that no matter what solution we come to on the issue of hell, we must not construe God as less loving, more just than loving, Second, theologically, the doctrine of simplicity helps us to say that, although God is fully present in all the majesty of his attributes, in each divine action, given the contingencies of the circumstances of those actions, certain traits are more easily recognizable by human selves." (Loc. 5411)

There lies the heart of this book. Vidu seeks to reestablish the doctrine of penal substitution by reminding the reader of a very old doctrine, the doctrine of simplicity. I love that! I love how Vidu draws his massive study together and places it squarely here. I couldn't agree more. Again and again, Vidu demonstrates how by simply reminding ourselves how God is balanced in all he does, we can regain a healthy understanding of the atonement.

However, I cannot recommend this work for everyone. It is a tough, tough read. It is nuanced, and one must have a firm grasp on atonement theory as well as legal theory. I am rusty on legal theory throughout history so this made the work extremely trying to read. It is heavily footnoted and thorough. It reads like a dissertation.

Keep in mind, however, that as far as a historical work on the atonement goes, I think this is a winner. His chapters on the Pastristic thinkers and Reformation thinkers were great. It is a necessary work for those engaged in historical theology to read. For the pastor (or those with limited time), read the last chapter where Vidu essentially recaps his entire book and begins constructing his argument. It is a great chapter and boils the whole work down well.

*Thanks to Baker Academic for providing a free review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review.*

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