International Bulletin

of Missionary Research

Vol. 39, No. 4
October 2015
pp. 236–45
 

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Book Reviews

Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts.

By Adonis Vidu. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014. Pp. xviii, 286. Paperback, $24.99.

The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World.

By Werner Mischke. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Mission ONE, 2015. Pp. 352. $24.99.

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Adonis Vidu, associate professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts, provides a history of the ideas of law and justice in relation to various theories of the atonement. He notes that all theories of the atonement are attempts to make sense of how God deals with the problem of sin in light of his nature as the loving and just God. Vidu masterfully takes us through five periods of church history—patristic, medieval, Reformation, modern, and postmodern—and expounds the views of key theologians in each.

At the descriptive level his approach shows how different theories of the atonement understand and modify the concepts of divine law and justice. But Vidu wants to go beyond the descriptive to ask how “these writers [have] properly described the action of God in Christ” (xv). Given the author’s preference for the penal-substitutionary theory, it is understandable why law and justice serve as the foil for evaluating other theories.

By this criterion the patristic dramatic theory of the atonement appears to fail the test, since its concept of divine justice seems overstretched. As Vidu notes, Gregory of Nyssa’s ransom theory juxtaposes divine goodness, justice, and wisdom in outwitting the devil (22). The fact that the theory is primarily directed at Satan rather than God suggests that it is better understood according to its own logic. Divine wisdom is the key to understanding God’s “deception” of Satan. One is reminded of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Aslan, representing divine wisdom, understands a “deeper magic” to which evil is blind. So, it is not the case that God deceived Satan, but that Satan was self-deceived: “Oft evil will shall evil mar” (J. R. R. Tolkien).

In the Reformation, especially with Calvin, the penal-substitutionary theory finds its clearest expression. This is the outcome of the Reformation’s dissolution of the continuity of nature and grace under the impact of nominalist philosophy. By seeing divine justice as issuing directly from divine revelation and not as something discoverable from nature supplemented by revelation (as in Aquinas), the Reformers severed the link between law and nature, which was to lead eventually to the view of law as having its own independent status apart from God’s revelation (102).

Vidu’s template serves best his critique of modernity and postmodernity, where politics and law are the main conflicted issues. While modernity presupposes an enduring self whose well-being needs to be protected by some kind of “law,” even if it is only to ensure one’s personal self-fulfillment, postmodernity sees the self as a constructed self—constructed, that is, by powers and systems over which one has no control. One is essentially a victim whose vision is clouded by the “plausibility structure” into which one is unconsciously enculturated. Atonement in the postmodern context cannot be about God’s justification of sinners based on his law and justice, since justice itself is a construct of the powerful.

In both modernity and postmodernity, there is no place for divine action on humanity’s behalf, since, for the former, law itself is divinized (“legal positivism,” 195–96), while in the latter, law is replaced by a “philosophy of alterity,” a purely horizontal concern for the “other” (197).

Vidu’s insightful study shows how atonement theories were influenced by historical developments in politics and law (235). But surely there are other cultural influences besides politics and law. What about the honor/shame (H/S) culture that is increasingly recognized to be a dominant feature of the ancient Near East? It could in fact be argued that the Christus Victor theory and Anselm’s satisfaction theory may be better construed against the backdrop of an H/S culture.

Here, we need to look at The Global Gospel, by Werner Mischke, executive director and vice president of training ministries for Mission ONE. Mischke’s work grows out of an increasingly global awareness that has affected practically all aspects of theological thinking in the last twenty years. Mischke’s book, unlike that of Vidu, is not concerned about atonement theories as such but about how best to communicate the saving work of Christ in the Majority World.

The book is divided into four sections. Section 1 addresses the nature and problem of shame from a sociological perspective. Outside of the modern West, much of the rest of the world is largely shaped by H/S culture, which is also the culture of the biblical world. Citing Paul Hiebert, Mischke points out that Western theology appears universal because it is set forth in abstract, propositional forms as if it were contextless, but in point of fact it is shaped by the Enlightenment view of truth and universal reason (58, 60). The “Four Spiritual Laws” of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) exemplifies this Western approach.

Mischke wisely avoids essentializing the East-West divide by recognizing that both shame and guilt exist in every culture, albeit in different degrees and expressions (41, 67). The Gospel deals not only with our guilt but also with “the covering of our shame and the restoration of honor before God” (64). Only in recovering this fuller truth can we effectively proclaim the “total Gospel.”

Section 2 discusses nine H/S dynamics in the Bible. In each, the Gospel redefines and subverts its ancient meaning and significance by exposing its dark side and giving it a new meaning. In this way the New Testament reverses the way H/S was understood. Mischke takes this grand reversal as the central motif of the New Testament (81–204). For example, in the world, honor as a limited good sets the stage for honor competition, as seen between King Saul and David (99). But in the New Testament, the concept of limited good, which leads inevitably to violence, is overturned in Christ, the source of unlimited honor for the Christian (100–102). In Section 3 these dynamics are juxtaposed to the biblical teaching of the atonement. Mischke shows how, when read in light of these dynamics, the Gospel story makes much better sense in the Majority World.

In the final section Mischke deals with the teleological aspect of the H/S dynamic. The ultimate end of human existence is the glory of God. Ascribing honor to God is what we do at worship, which will continue throughout eternity. If honoring God is “man’s chief end,” perhaps it may serve as a more comprehensive interpretive lens for understanding the divine attributes than justice provides.

Mischke’s project is missiologically motivated, and he succeeds admirably in making it pedagogically accessible as well. I have only one small grievance. Even though Mischke aims to create awareness of one’s own cultural blind spots, yet while exposing Western theological “imperialism” and “paternalism,” he seems to have made a slip by Westernizing a traditional Korean name: Soong-Chan Rah instead of Rah Soong-Chan (211, 215). In this regard, Turabian is perhaps more culturally sensitive (see A Manual for Writers, 8th ed., 16.2.2.2)!

—Simon Chan


Simon Chan is Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College, Singapore.

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To cite this article:

[Chicago] Chan, Simon. Review of Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts, by Adonis Vidu, and The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World, by Werner Mischke. International Bulletin of Missionary Research 39, no. 4 (2015): 236–37. http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2015-04/2015-04-236-vidu.html.

[MLA] Chan, Simon. Rev. of Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts, by Adonis Vidu and The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World, by Werner Mischke. International Bulletin of Missionary Research 39.4 (2015): 236–37. Web. .

 

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