For this series, we’ll be spending a lot of time in the gospels as well as the epistles in the New Testament. But I will also be interacting with a couple of key resources along the way, some scholarly works I’ve found to be especially helpful. Here are three in particular:
The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge
I wrote about Rutledge’s book in 2019 when I tapped it as the most important book I read that year. More recently, I included The Crucifixion in my post about the 20 most influential books I’ve ever read. Needless to say, this one has been critical to my thinking on atonement and the cross over the past couple of years. Rutledge helped flesh out the varied biblical motifs for atonement for me, pushing my thinking beyond the well worn substitutionary narrative. Jesus dies in our place, to be sure; but the biblical writers offer up a host of other images for explaining what happened on the cross. From the ransom model to the Christus Victor understanding to the recapitulation of Israel’s (and Adam’s) story, the Bible bears witness to a host of ways of answering the question, “What happened when Jesus died on the cross?” And I’m indebted to Rutledge for her careful and capable treatment of these views in this seminal work.
This is what I said in my 2019 post about this book:
In just a few sentences, [Rutledge] summarizes her primary thesis: “The Passover lamb, the goat driven into the wilderness, the ransom, the substitute, the victor on the field of battle, the representative man — each and all of these and more have their place, and the cross is diminished if any one of them is omitted. We need to make room for all the biblical images.” And she’s right. In fact, Rutledge argues that we diminish the biblical witness when we refer to these motifs as “theories.” Each image helps provide a composite view of the intricacy and the beauty of Christ’s cross. Rutledge threads the needle with aplomb: she writes with the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor. But unlike others who have attempted to tackle such theologically deep topics, Rutledge is imminently readable.
If you’re looking for a complimentary text to read as we make our way through this series, I recommend beginning with Rutledge. This book convicted me of the necessity of preaching / teaching this series in the first place.
N.T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion.
I first read Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began back in 2017. In typical fashion, Wright casts the crucifixion of Jesus as the climax of the biblical narrative, the culmination of God’s promises to Abraham and Israel. In a church culture that is increasingly unfamiliar with the whole of the biblical narrative, this is a major step in the right direction. In addition, Wright helps to correct an understanding of the cross as simply God’s method to save us so we can “go to heaven when we die.” By framing the cross as the culmination of God’s covenant promises, we are able to see it as God’s means for delivering us into an entirely new realm, the new heavens and new earth promised through Israel’s prophets centuries before the birth of Jesus.
A Community Called Atonement: Living Theology by Scot McKnight
I’m not relying as heavily on this one, but McKnight’s scholarship and insights are always helpful. Interestingly, I found his “golf clubs” metaphor to be a really helpful way of thinking about the different atonement motifs we find in the Scriptures … and I’m not even a golfer!