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Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts [Kindle Edition]

Adonis Vidu

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Book Description

Atonement, Law, and Justice provides a critical reading of the history of major atonement theories, offering an in-depth analysis of the legal and political contexts within which they arose. The book engages the latest work in atonement theory and serves as a helpful resource for contemporary discussions.

"Adonis Vidu has written a learned, thoughtful, and intriguing study of the history of atonement as it relates to concepts of law and justice. Of particular interest in the current context of wider discussions of the doctrine of God is Vidu's articulate exposition and defense of atonement in relation to divine simplicity. This is a fascinating and significant book that repays careful reading."
--Carl R. Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary, Pennsylvania

"Adonis Vidu does much more than provide a meticulous and perceptive overview of the history of atonement theology. He argues that we understand this history properly only by tracing the medieval interlacing of justice and law and their disentanglement in the modern period. And by linking the doctrine of divine simplicity to God's agency in the crucifixion, Vidu presents a nuanced plea for the inclusion of the role of punishment in a fully-orbed understanding of the death of Christ."
--Hans Boersma, J. I. Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver; author of Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross

"The story of how the Christian doctrine of the atonement developed is both fascinating and important. Too often, however, it is told without proper attention to the importance of various intellectual contexts. In this work, Vidu calls clichés into question and works to show how different models of the atonement are related to varied notions of justice and law in the Western intellectual tradition. It is a work that will open further inquiry, and it will repay careful study."
--Thomas H. McCall, associate professor of biblical and systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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About the Author

Adonis Vidu (PhD, University of Nottingham) is associate professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and is the author of several books, including Theology after Neo-Pragmatism. He previously taught at Em

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1700 KB
  • Print Length: 307 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0801039193
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 1 edition (12 Aug. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00LWBY11K
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #849,317 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book on Atonement Published This Year 1 Oct. 2014
By Chris Woznicki - Published on
Vidu's primary thesis in this book is that "the history of atonement thinking could be read as an ongoing conversation with the history of thinking about justice and the law." He is clear on the fact that he does not think justice theories explain the development of atonement theory, rather that theologians are influenced by contemporary theories of justice and that contemporary atonement theories also influence theories of justice. In order to show the relationship between theories of justice and atonement theories Vidu takes the reader on at +2,000 year long journey detailing various theories of justice and their relationship to atonement theories. He begins by tracing the contours of justice and divine forgiveness in ancient Greece and Rome, however this is primarily for the purpose of setting up a discussion of Patristic thoughts on justice, the law, and Christos Victor (or dramatic theories of atonement). Here he covers Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine's understanding of law and of atonement. Vidu goes on to address what he calls the "Legal Revolution" during the medieval period. During this period law became more professionalized than ever, and canon law came to the forefront. This created a shift from the patristic age, which saw justice as primarily about reconciliation to seeing justice as objective and commensurate with divine justice. This leads the the "legal based" atonement theories of Anselm and Aquinas, though Dun Scotus bucks this trend. However Dun Scotus deviation from the norm can still be understood as participating within the same overall conversation - except he concludes that law is completely arbitrary, so atonement need not have occurred in a way that "satisfies" the conditions of justice. Vidu also discusses Abelard's atonement theory, which contrary to popular belief still has justice at its center point. Eventually we get to the Reformation, here the relationship between Law and Atonement becomes even more complicated - due to diverging views of the nature and purpose of the Mosaic law. This variance in views on the Mosaic law leads to a split between how Luther (crudely anti-law) and Calvin (crudely pro-law) understand the atonement. Modernity however represents a completely different shift in the conversation. During modernity morality was severed from legality and law began to be defined primarily as the will of the people. This led to the search for atonement theories which emphasized morality over the legal nature of atonement. Finally we get to the postmodern period which Vidu believes is tied together by its rejection of violence within atonement. Post-modernism has rejected any and all violence and has rejected law as a form of perpetuating violence, and therefore tries to disentangle God from this violence, thereby rejecting violent atonement theories.

The most interesting chapter in the book is the final chapter, Adonis Vidu's discussion of atonement theory and divine simplicity. In this chapter he argues that tradition by and large has always affirmed Divine Simplicity the upshot of this affirmation is that it will affect the way we describe divine action. Unlike all other agents God's actions spring uniquely from his nature, in the sense that they have unity in ways that are unlike human agents. Human agents are fragmented in a sense, we often feel "a strife of attributes," God however experiences no such strife because God is simple. That is, there is no action of God that is more just than loving or more loving than just, etc. because all of God's actions are motivated by all of God's attributes, which just are God's being. Vidu notes that this has several implications for atonement theory:

1) God never enacts certain traits more than others - God simply is his attributes. This makes the opposition of love and wrath impossible. While his attributes remain distinct they are never in competition.
2) There is unity in divine action. This means that the Father cannot stand against the Son, etc. The Godhead is the subject of each divine action, the works of the trinity are undivided.
3) God is not moved from wrath to mercy. Divine simplicity and immutability does not allow this. There can be no change in how God feels about humanity, only his treatment of humanity has changed.

The final upshot of his thesis is that since God - being simple - acts in different ways than human beings do, we cannot strictly speak about law, justice, and atonement as tough God were simply some really big, wise, powerful human being. God's justice, and how he enacts justice, is different than our justice and how we enact it. At best we can speak of God's justice analogically, not univocally.

Overall this was a very fascinating book. A couple of my biggest takeaways were that -
1) The Patristic theologians (contrary to popular belief) really were concerned about justice, though their understanding of justice is different than ours,
2) Abelard's moral exemplar theory (unlike modern moral exemplar theories) really is concerned about justice too, and
3) Divine simplicity is vital to the doctrine of atonement.

If you are looking for a book that is both a survey of atonement theories in their historical and cultural contexts as well as a constructive contribution to the atonement conversation then look no further, because you get both of those things in Atonement, Law, and Justice. This book is definitely a contender for my top books of 2014 list.

Note: I received this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Work on the Atonement 24 Jan. 2015
By Resolved For Christ Blog - Published on
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.*
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely 17 Dec. 2014
By Joel L. Watts - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Adonis Vidu has no need to argue in his work, Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts, which atonement model is the most accurate. Rather, his purpose is to trace a path of model development next to evolving systems of justice, from the ancient world to the modern. Vidu matter of factly states, "the history of atonement thinking could be read as an ongoing conversation with the history of thinking about justice and the law." (xiv) His book does not simply fill a gap, but may in fact help us understand atonement modeling as a contextual paradigm, perhaps loosening our tight grip on particular expressions.

Atonement, Law, and Justice has 6 chapters, with the first 4 examining the development of atonement and justice since before the Christian-era. Chapter 5 examines the atonement via various modern lens with the final chapter acting the the author's view. Chapter 1 examines the development of justice and law in Patristic thought, although Vidu is smart in bringing in Homer, Plato, and other familiar pre-Christian influencers first. Nothing develops in a vacuum, not even Christian theology. As such, we encounter philosophy, before we are led to Augustinian theology (which is based on philosophy!). To be quite clear, our usual notions of the atonement as retributive justice are called into question — if we are to be consistent with the cognitive environment of the New Testament writers. For the ancients, justice is order, but not necessarily equity. Thus, the gods were unrestrained in achieving that order, with little or no expectation between the deities and humans. Law was second, if not third. For the modern (American) reader, the notion of an executive pardon (refusing to punish a law-breaker) may be the best image here. It wasn't until the Romans borrowed Stoicism that justice existed outside of social order, becoming an internal virtue.

This move from justice-as-order to justice-as-equity fed directly into early Christian thought. After all, once justice becomes a virtue, then one can assign it to God. This then separates justice from non-justice, good from evil, and law from disorder, leading us into the rollercoaster of atonement models and justification theology. Where once the divine could contain deceit, evil, etc... the doctrine of divine simplicity started to take hold, giving way to a higher refrain of justice only complete in God. Because of this, we move from the ransom theories to a satisfaction model. Before I go too far into summarizing this chapter, allow me to simply suggest that this chapter is a hallmark in not only the study of Augustinian theology, but in early Christendom. In the end, Augustine's move towards anchoring the sacrifice of Christ to a divine justice sets the stage for medieval atonement models.

Is God tied to or bound by law? That seems to be the discussion between Anselm and Abelard in the late medieval ages. More than that, however, is the shift (Vidu calls it a revolution) from law-as-specific to context, to a universal notion of law and legal remedies. Because of this universality in viewpoint, Anselm is able to offer his satisfaction theory, which precludes free grace. In other words, a wrong required a penalty. Abelard, on the other hand, moves away from original sin, but into a realm of what is desirable. Vidu shows that these two men and the third, Aquinas, are very much products of their time. Here especially, Vidu slows down and gives us a great depth of understanding as to how changing notions of law, justice, and universality shape the various atonement models during this time. Likewise, we are introduced to John Duns Scotus (p79 — 87) and left to wonder if the notion of atonement, as developed as it was by European developments in law and justice, did not contribute to the development of our Western society, ending with the separation of Church and State. I suspect that this portion of Vidu's thesis is at least a remarkably important read in understanding Western Christianity, Christian civilization, and how our doctrines have shaped our current political realities. I cannot stress this enough — I desire more from Vidu on this subject, and would have sacrifice more time and pages to read more from our author on Don Scotus.

We are now ready to be reformed, which is the subject of chapter 3. Here, Vidu takes us through Luther and Calvin, who existed in Duns Scotus' now secular shadow — where law was autonomous. If anyone has read anything from the New Perspective on Paul theologians (E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, or N.T. Wright), you will become immediately familiar with Vidu's take here. Because the notion of the Law and what authority it has has been transformed in European society of the time, the same thing shapes Protestant theology. Luther and Calvin cannot be divorced from their time, but like several others before them, are shaped by it.

Up until recently, legality and morality were thought to be the same. In our current world, we know better. Which is, perhaps, why so many Christians challenge the very idea of atonement. Secular law is decided by the State whereas, for the most part, moral law is still divine (or at least above the State). Names like Kant and Schleiermacher come to the forefront. Ritschl as well. And each, leading the way in the liberal Protestant tradition and thought, removes the exchange in atonement, making it subjective (according to Vidu). This is the sum of chapter 4.

Chapter 5 turns to post-modern thought, tackling the changing of terms and ideas from historic Christian lexicons to psychologist-influenced trends. His first engagement with a modern theology is with Andrew Sung Park, a seminary professor of mine at United Theological Seminary. Park incorporates Han into the equation, something Vidu takes to task. I should not like to decide who is correct here. From here, Vidu tackles feminist and postcolonial views on sin and atonement. Theologians and thought leaders such as Foucault, Derrida, and Girard are given special treatment by Vidu. He treats each one well, giving them their voice — and then attempts to demolish their arguments. It is up to the readers to decide if he succeeds. Their arguments are met from the positive angle in chapter 6, where Vidu begins to shape his view on atonement, law, and justice.

There are few deficits in Vidu's work. He does not take into account Jewish thoughts on justice and law. I would like to have seen how the rabbis fit into these paradigms. Further, there are no counters to the hegemonic West. Augustine is left without Cassian and Aquinas has no Gregory Palamas. I realize he is not writing an encyclopedia or multi-volume set; however, in getting into the cultural contexts, which themselves stand as comparisons one to another, a bit of the East should have been mentioned.

I started this book with a distaste in my mouth. I do not believe in penal substitutionary atonement — although the atonement takes center stage in my theology. However, while I am not convinced that PSA is correct, I am convinced Vidu has provided the Church a rather important book in discerning the doctrine of atonement and allowing that it has developed. Also, I think he has called us to be mindful of our context and the way we approach issues of Christian thought. Finally, especially in chapter 5, Vidu gives us reason to suspect the liberal Protestant tradition along with post-modern thought may in fact be bankrupt when it comes to their stances on the atonement. It is expertly researched, meticulously crafted, and properly presented.
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