For the Sake of the Cross: Resources on the Atonement

23 March 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

To learn and to grow, you need to read more. I’m here to help.

The following works are my recommended reading list for understanding the concept of the cross and atonement.

You’re not going to read them all in one night, let alone in a single year. So I’ve divided the list by (1) difficulty level and (2) theological implications.

I have books on here with which I do not entirely agree, and some with whom I strongly disagree. It would be irresponsible of me to recommend the latter without offering my strong advice to read books from the “entry-level” section before attempting to read those from the other sections.

ENTRY-LEVEL WORKS

C.J. Mahaney, The Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing. A short book that serves as an introduction to the gospel and its influence.

John Piper, 50 reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. The title says it all; Piper’s book deals with the various reasons that Christ had to die.

Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation. This is an introuctory work though admittedly quite dense and serves as a text or reference book. It deals in a thorough way with the issue of salvation, including atonement and election. The strong scholarship provides an excellent background for further study.

John Stott, The Cross of Christ. One of my favorites. Stott’s work is highly readable yet rich and informative, and like Demarest’s work, should provide a foundation for further exploration.

R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross. Similar to Stott’s work, Sproul articulates the relevance of the cross both to theology as well as personal spirituality.

ADVANCED STUDY

The J.I. Packer Collection. A collection of essays, not all of which are on this subject, though Packer has been one of the greatest proponents of substitutionary atonement.

J.I. Packer, Mark Dever et al. In my Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement. As I mentioned, the doctrine of the atonement is under theological attack. This book answers some of those objections with lucid writing and clear scholarship.

Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. One of the most well-known books on the subject, Morris thoroughly analyzes the ways the cross is understood from a scriptural standpoint. What the book lacks in readability it makes up for in the density of its scholarship.

Alister McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Luther’s Theological Breakthrough. Luther never wrote a book called “The Theology of the Cross,” nor did he employ that phrase often. Nonetheless, historians are able to reconstruct this theology. McGrath’s work is among the best in its explanation of Luther’s crucial theology.

Leon Morris, Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance. Like The Apostolic Preaching…,this work is an excellent analysis of the concept of atonement in the Biblical world.

Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God. Moltmann came to understand the gospel through the lens of WWII Europe. Hence his book reads very differently from other authors, and the work embraces the raw harshness of the “crucified God.” For this reason it is a favorite, and my copy is well-worn. I should mention, however, that Moltmann bends heavily toward something known as “liberation theology,” so the book must be read discerningly.

Marin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. Though not a theological work, per se, Hengel brings together a wide assortment of ancient sources and historical data in order to fully understand what actually happened at the cross.

Peter Bolt, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel. Bolt’s work is a construction of a Biblical theology of the cross in Mark’s gospel. This book seeks to orient the concept of the atonement as the book’s central theme.

CRUCIFORM THEOLOGY

Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement. An excellent book exploring the relevance of the atonement to our contemporary, postmodern culture.

Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. This work describes the way community and spirituality have been influenced by the radical nature of the cross.

Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Gorman’s works are both excellent in their ability to orient readers to the “cruciform” nature of our theology and what the cross reveals about God.

RIVAL VIEWS OF THE CROSS

Thomas Schreiner et al. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views. This book is a good introduction to other, popular views of the cross. Not all views are represented here, but the ones that are debated are both significant and relevant for our culture.

Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. Boersma’s work has enjoyed popularity not least of all for his ability to articulate the Christus Victor motif as a dominant view of the cross.

N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God. Though not written on the atonement specifically, Wright’s work uses the model of Christus Victor to explore the way(s) God has dealt with the problem of evil.

Joel B. Green and Mark Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts. The scholarship represented here is good, though incomplete. Among the errors is the suggestion that “redemption” is a pagan concept that Paul uses to explain the gospel, therefore we should also borrow from other traditions to explain the gospel.

Leonardo Boff, Jesus Christ, Liberator: A Critical Christology for Our Times. I disagree markedly with his conclusions, but this is a good book to read for those wanting a detailed work on “liberation theology.”

23 March 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.

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