Previous | Next

Spring 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 1 · pp. 120–21 

Book Review

The Nonviolent Atonement

J. Denny Weaver. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001. xiii + 246 pages.

Reviewed by Ted Grimsrud

J. Denny Weaver of Bluffton College has for many years been seeking to articulate a thoroughgoing peace theology. Through many writings, Weaver has been indefatigable in applying his pacifist convictions to various aspects of Christian theology. {121}

His labors have born impressive fruit in The Nonviolent Atonement, a provocative and important application of Anabaptist peace theology to a central theological issue. While the book is aimed at a scholarly audience, Weaver writes clearly enough that pastors, college students, and educated lay people will surely be able to profit from reading it.

Weaver champions what he calls the “narrative Christus Victor” understanding of the atonement as the best alternative to either the Anselmian satisfaction or the Abelardian moral influence views. He argues that these two latter views (especially the Anselmian) both rely on necessary violence in making Jesus’ sacrificial death required for salvation and hence are not ultimately consistent with Christian pacifism.

Drawing on black, feminist, and womanist theologies, Weaver argues that traditional atonement views go hand in hand with violent oppression. These various nonmainstream theologies each helpfully point to alternative understandings of atonement, but Weaver believes that they need to be enhanced by additional elements of narrative Christus Victor—particularly that of making the nonviolent life and teachings of Jesus central to the doctrine.

Weaver’s take on atonement theology will be as notable for the reactions it fosters as for the positive theses it illumines. From Weaver’s right, questions might arise about the biblical grounding of his argument. He does interact with biblical materials, but only briefly, and he does not interact in any depth with more traditional ways of dealing with the biblical materials.

Those on Weaver’s left might question whether he actually has succeeded in excising the notion that Jesus had to die. By attributing a kind of cosmic transformation to Jesus’ resurrection (that is, Weaver seems to say that the resurrection had to happen for salvation to be established), is he also not implicitly still arguing for the necessity of Jesus’ death? How could there be a necessary resurrection without a necessary death?

These questions, however, should not be seen as criticisms nearly as much as evidence of the importance of Weaver’s path-breaking work. Regardless of one’s own convictions regarding Jesus’ death and atonement, and regardless of one’s own convictions regarding nonviolence, all readers will be deeply challenged by their encounter with Weaver’s thought.

Ted Grimsrud
Asst. Prof. of Theology and Peace Studies
Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Previous | Next