A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin

I just finished reading this latest book by Tony Jones. To begin my review, I have a minor nitpick with regard to the editing. I am by no means a professional editor, yet I found many typographical errors throughout the book. I am sure this was a cost saving measure, as the book was self published (and I think it is only currently available digitally). But I found myself having to guess at the correct wording of more than a few sentences. I found it humorous to see a quote from Mark Driscoll in the book where Mark says meritous instead of meritorious, and THAT error is highlighted by a (sic) after so many of Jones' own errors in the book are left uncorrected. Funny. But overall this is a minor point and should probably be expected given the nature of the book's publishing process. I found similar editing issues with his previous book, The Church is Flat, also self published. I do commend Jones for self publishing and wish him and others great success in pushing this type of publishing forward. Perhaps Jones will become an exclusively indie author and open doors for other indie authors to have more and continued success? The book business is changing just like the music business.

A Better Atonement was a very fun read for me. The nature of the atonement and issues regarding penal substitution and original sin have been an ongoing interest for Jones that I have followed with interest over the years. I remember an Emergent Village podcast from several years ago where Jones and others solicited requests for new atonement metaphors. "The atonement is like a ..." I don't recall what the winning metaphor was. Anyone remember?

The book is apparently in part made up of a compilation of Jones' blog posts about the topic with new material added in. I gather this from self references to the blog that remain in the text of the book. Another editing nitpick I suppose. I am glad to have a definitive statement from Jones on these issues in book form. It makes his overall argument effective and compelling.

The book is written in two parts. The first addresses the doctrine of original sin and the second the doctrine (or more accurately theories) of atonement. I was not particularly swayed by Jones' arguments against original sin. Although he specifically stated that he did not wish to set up a straw man, I found that his arguments were primarily positioned against an Augustinian biological understanding of original sin. Perhaps it is just my own understanding of original sin that I find to agree with Jones' understanding of humanity's proclivity toward sin? I do not believe I am guilty of Adam's sin, but I am predisposed toward sin because of Adam. And to the extent that my inherited predisposition unavoidably leads to my own sin, I am guilty. I am not a paedobaptist, and I think Jones is primarily arguing against a paedobaptist view of original sin.

On atonement, the book summarizes all of the major theories. Jones is careful to point out that his intention is not to fully dismiss PSA, but only to usurp its authority as the dominant theory. For many evangelicals, PSA sits on the throne of atonement theories, with all others in submission. I think Jones wants to at least give other theories equal place alongside PSA. Or even to give other theories a higher role of importance. Jones makes Solidarity his personal choice for atonement theory. As a well know fan of Jurgen Moltmann's work, it should comes as no surprise that Jones supports the Solidarity theory of atonement as described in Moltmann's book The Crucified God.

A few years ago I gave a Good Friday message where I outlined the various atonement theories. As does Jones, I believe that PSA is a narrow view of the atonement that does have value, but one that scarcely suffices alone to explain the magnitude of meaning behind Christ's death on the cross. In isolation, penal substitution presents a very negative view of god the father, posits god the son in a subservient role within the trinity, and makes Christ's resurrection an afterthought. There is much more to the atonement than merely PSA. I applaud Jones for continuing to take up this important issue, and I recommend the book to anyone interested in learning more.


tony said...

If you're inclined, send me the typos you found so that I can correct them. Same with the other book.



Ken said...

Thanks for the comment Tony. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to edit it. Sorry to point out a problem and then not be able to help with it. :) But I did do a quick look at the atonement book again and here are the first four issues that I found

Location 13
You can find me Tony at his website

Location 35
I also took at class on theology

Location 76
This blog is not particularly a place for forensic arguments, like, say, my dissertation will be.

Location 91-92
and thus there choice was discovered by God.

I have the Kindle edition, so I don't have page numbers, just location numbers. Sorry to not be of more help.