Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement
ed. Mark D. Baker. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. 204 pages.
Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross represents a follow up effort by Mark Baker, Associate Professor of Theology and Mission at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California, to Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, which he coauthored with Joel Green in 2004. Baker argues that the most predominant and contemporary interpretation of New Testament atonement—penal satisfaction—has removed the scandal of the cross from the religious worldview of modern Christians in general and westernized Christians in particular. Baker asseverates that this fact has worked to the detriment of Christians, because “it is difficult to imagine that one soteriological model could express all that one may truly say about the saving significance of Jesus’ death” (15-16). He has worked for a decade to recover the scandal of the cross by recognizing the “diversity of atonement images used both in the New Testament and in the teaching and preaching of the church since the first century” (14). This volume collects a series of essays that do a credible job of helping Baker to accomplish his goal of presenting a variety of interpretations of the salvific nature of the cross.
The book’s great strength relates to the diversity of theological traditions, western contexts, and academic and pastoral viewpoints from which it draws. Contributions from C.S. Lewis, Richard Hays, and other scholars integrate well with reflections from others involved in pastoral ministries, where proclamation of the scandal of the cross most frequently occurs. The voices include a “chorus” of Mennonites, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Community churches, and others. Baker draws upon insights from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and New Zealand.
The book’s strength also signals a weakness. Aside from one contributor from Zimbabwe, the book decidedly lacks non-western views of the atonement. To achieve its aim in the most pluralistic terms possible, the book needed to draw more globally from contributors.
Baker understands the New Testament to contain five “constellations” of images drawn from the spheres of public life in the Greco-Roman world and Palestine: court of law (justification), commercial interactions (redemption), personal relations (reconciliation of either individuals or groups), worship (sacrifice), and the battleground (the triumph over evil). Since each is drawn from a different sphere of life, each necessitates a different set of images to express its function. The contributions in this volume present these spheres and images well.
A final strength of Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross is its capacity for use in numerous environments. It would work well in a seminary or even in advanced undergraduate theology courses. Similarly, a group of laity committed to reading it in a Christian education setting would not find it beyond their grasp. The short length of the essays (averaging about seven pages) makes it easy to parse out over a few weeks or even a liturgical season.
Mark Baker is to be congratulated for encouraging Christians to think more broadly about the images they use to conceptualize and describe the soteriological activity of Jesus Christ. This book will provide a rewarding and stimulating read for those who are not averse to such challenges.