Atonement: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, Part 2

deathofthemessiahandthebirthofthenewcovenantWe are continue to reflect on Michael J. Gorman’s The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement.

Transformation — another missing element

Gorman cites several New Testament texts that speak of our salvation in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus, such as the baptismal discussion in Romans 6. He concludes,

In texts such as these, we see that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death was to create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together. Moreover, this people will not simply believe in the atonement and the one who died, they will eat and drink it, they will be baptized into it/ him, they will be drawn to him and into it.

That is, they will so identify with the crucified savior that words like “embrace” and “participation,” more than “belief” or even “acceptance,” best describe the proper response to this death. (Even the words “belief” and “believe” take on this more robust sense of complete identification.)

But most models of the atonement stop short of this goal, focusing on absolutely necessary but nonetheless penultimate [next-to-last] issues, such as forgiveness of sins or liberation from evil powers.

To put it even more starkly, some discussions of the atonement may be compared to arguments over which type of delivery is best in dealing with a difficult birth situation— forceps, venthouse (suction ), C-section , or whatever — when the point is that each of them effects the birth of a child, each solving the problem from a slightly different angle. But it is the result (a healthy child) that is most important, and it is the child, not the delivery process, that ultimately defines the word “birth.”

(Kindle Locations 152-162) (paragraphing added).

It’s great to be forgiven. It’s great to enjoy liberation from the powers that oppose God. But where does personal transformation fit into atonement? Where is there room for the Spirit’s work in making us become like Jesus? Why does atonement theory only brings us to break the surface of the baptismal waters when there is so much more to Christianity than “getting saved”?

[PS — Gorman’s thoughts will lead to a deeper understanding of baptism and communion, which is one reason I’ve interrupted the series on 1 Corinthians to cover this book. Communion and baptism are about to show up in Paul’s arguments, and we need to cover Gorman’s ideas in preparation.]

Faith in how we’re saved

Atonement theology is obviously an important question among the Churches of Christ. I mean, if the preacher doesn’t preach on the Five Step Plan of Salvation at least monthly, his soundness will be in doubt. It’s as though we are saved by faith in how we’re saved.

Thus, Gorman says,

I contend throughout the book that in the New Testament the death of Jesus is not only the source, but also the shape, of salvation. It therefore also determines the shape of the community—the community of the new covenant—that benefits from and participates in Jesus’ saving death.

(Kindle Locations 178-180).

Hence, atonement theories should also tell us the shape of our salvation and church. And most theories do not.

Faith, hope, and love

Gorman further explains,

What I will argue is that, throughout the New Testament, faith, as a practice, is about faithfulness even to the point of suffering and death; love, as a practice, has a distinctive, Christlike shape of siding with the weak and eschewing domination in favor of service; and hope, as a practice, means living peaceably (which includes nonviolently) and making peace. Thus the summary triad “faithfulness, love, and peace” is appropriate.

(Kindle Locations 185-189).

That is, our familiar faith, hope, and love should be understood to mean faithfulness, peace, and love. This is how we individually and as community must live.

The most unfamiliar of these teachings is his equating of “hope” with working toward peace. “Hope” is not just the confident expectation of the new heavens and earth — an afterlife with Jesus forever. It’s also God’s mission, in which we participate, the bringing of shalom — peace — to God’s world. “Blessed is the peacemaker.” That’s us.

Inaugurated eschatology

The greatest form of hope in the Bible is for a new creation in which violence, suffering, tears, and death will be no more. We see this expressed in such lovely, inspiring texts as Isa 65: 17– 25 and Rev 21: 1— 22: 5. Those who have this hope for a new creation and, more to the point, those who believe that this new creation has already been inaugurated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, will begin to practice its vision in the present. Accordingly, the practice of hope is the practice of peace.

(Kindle Locations 191-195).

Both Gorman and N. T. Wright (among many others) teach “inaugurated eschatology.” “Eschatology” is the Second Coming, the new heavens and earth, gehenna — the end of the age. “Inaugurated” means that it’s already begun. The church and our salvation and the Spirit are all foretastes of what is to come. The peace we are promised in the afterlife is not fully available today, but we can and should be striving toward it.

Therefore, our congregations should be previews of heaven. Really. No … seriously. I mean it.

And that means we just have to stop being selfish, arrogant power-trippers. We have to build, with the help of God, peace within our churches. Not merely the absence of conflict but right relationships with each other (as well as God, of course). The Sermon on the Mount and Romans 12 are pretty good templates for how to do this.

Hence, our preaching must be much less about how we’ve already been saved and much more about how the future that God is creating for us impacts how we live today.

There is no room for legalism in a church filled with the shalom of God. There is no room for anything but submission, service, and sacrifice. And when we get this and begin to live this, the conflict will be much more easily resolved because they will no longer be about who gets his way but how we best let God have his way.

Suddenly, then, the study of Revelation (and the prophets on which Revelation stands) becomes relevant. It’s not about some future war in which Christians strap on machine guns and blow away the enemies of God. It’s about living today as though Jesus had already returned, as though our congregations were already heaven, with God come down from heaven to live among us and to dispel the darkness with the light of his presence.

I mean, if through the eyes of faith we could see God with us — Immanuel! — we’d behave differently. And we’d discover that, today, the leaves on the tree of life are carried to the nations by God’s children.

(Rev 22:1-2 ESV)  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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12 Responses to Atonement: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, Part 2

  1. Ray Downen says:

    This lesson might well concern those who make light of the baptism commanded by Jesus. Because we believe Jesus was resurrected and now has the right to rule US, we surrender to HIM as Lord, are buried AS HE WAS and are raised INTO NEW LIFE as He was. Living for Him follows! As BABES in Christ, we are helped by the Spirit of Jesus. Our goal in life should be to bring honor and praise to JESUS, the risen Lord.

    After we turn to Jesus as Lord and are baptized, we are promised the help of God’s Spirit in serving and bringing honor to Jesus by what we say and do. Does the Spirit replace Bible study and prayer? For some it may. But it’s IN Bible Study and prayer and service that we open the door for letting Jesus and His Spirit into our hearts. Jesus came to serve. We are called to serve.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    Without a grace based transformation process Christianity is not much different than the other major world religions.

    Jay said,

    “In texts such as these, we see that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death was to create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together.”

    “Therefore, our congregations should be previews of heaven. Really. No … seriously. I mean it.”

    The current crisis in the churches of Christ and most other conservative Christian groups in the USA is this. They believe that God is most concerned with doctrinal and ecclesiastical perfection. Transformation and living as a transformed people is an after thought at best.

    There is no “magic” in being immersed in water if there is no repentance and “pledge of a good conscience toward God. Bible study and prayer to ascertain doctrinal and ecclesiastical perfection is different than a prayer of confession and repentance and asking the Holy Spirit to transform us.

    If we were to change our view of the nature of God who is “truth” but who is essentially a nature of a redeemer, transformer, sanctifier, servant, protector, provider, life giver, just judge, hope giver, deliverer and so on then we may spend less time and energy on the pursuit of doctrinal and ecclesiastical perfection and more time on the true Kingdom of the Lord. But it will take a fundamental change in the way we view God’s nature.

  3. Alabama John says:

    Most people are just followers and never get as deep in discussion, debate, as on here.
    If a movement was started that preached and taught all that are going to heaven drive red Pickups, soon that would be the dominate color and type truck.
    Folks figure why take the chance, do it to be MORE sure just in case.
    Same with many of our teachings to follow and interpretation of scriptures.
    After its all said and done we will not do the judging but God will and I believe He will be gracious and understanding when He looks at our heart.
    Far too many want to be the revealer of right and wrong and in most cases it is a damnable ego trip for which they will answer to God for.

  4. Grace says:

    Oh! Another series how the CofC camp has the perfect theology about baptism. There must not be many comments on recent posts so something must have gone wrong, we’ve got to get people to argue over something on here.

    I’m sure there are plenty readers on here, shucks this is better than going to Japan and having tickets to watch sumo wrestling.

    Thanks for the giggles

  5. Jay Guin says:


    Would you please re-read the post to see whether you’ve fairly characterized it?

  6. I remember a Firm Foudation editorial from the 70’s or early 80’s by Reuel Lemmons in which he described baptism as being dipped, plunged, immersed into Christ – with nothing said in Scripture about “coming up out of” Him. If we would look at baptism in this way, we could see that the purpose of baptism is to from that point forward to live in Messiah Jesus. What a difference that would make in our lives!

    In my Masters Thesis on The Use of Baptism in Exhorting Christians, I found that the baptism passages in the Epistles all pointed to one or more of the following: purity of life (faith[fulness]), assurance of salvation through the Holy Spirit (hope) and unity in the one body of Christ (love). This corresponds very closely with the quote from Gormon above under the heading Faith, Hope, and Love. The only thing I missed was his aligning hope and hope.

  7. I meant my last sentence to speak of aligning hope and peace.

  8. Grace, many (most?) of us on here, though we have a high view of baptism, regret the perverted practice of some of our Church of Christ brothers who rush people into the water with little or no concept of who Jesus is or why his death occurred or how our baptism is into him, his death, his resurrection life, or his body, replacing these relationships with a shallow view that binds God to a formulaic, “checklist” by which He MUST judge all men.

    To me, this is little different from the “cheap grace” offered by the usual practice of salvation via reciting after someone else the equally formulaic “sinners’ prayer,” except that baptism is abundantly discussed in Scripture while there is a paucity of examples or theological discussion of the sinners’ prayer there.

  9. Grace says:

    Your attacking people who call out to God to save them from their sins is not anything monumental here. A sinner calling out to God is not “cheap grace” it’s a humble person needing a Savior. And did your attack surprise me…No, not at all.

    Jerry said: “In Scripture while there is a paucity of examples or theological discussion of the sinners’ prayer there.”

    Is that so, really?

    Genesis 4:26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

    The meaning of the name Enosh means frail, mortal man. Enosh realized his frailty and mortality, and the vanity of human life without God. So, he began to call on the name of Jehovah, the Hebrew word for Lord.

    The name Jehovah means I am that I am. Jehovah is the eternal God, the only One who is. Enosh, this frail mortal man realized he needed the eternal God.

    Throughout thousands of years people have cried out from the depths of their being to God, to draw near to, to cry out to, and to have a relationship with the omnipotent One. Calling on the Lord began with the earliest generations of mankind recorded in the Bible that comes from the deepest part within man.

    Here are references of how people “Call on the name of the LORD” that come from the Hebrew Scriptures the apostles knew and taught. To call on the name of the Lord does not mean baptism neither in Hebrew or Greek.

    Genesis 4:26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

    Genesis 12:8 Then he went from there to the mountain east of Bethel. He put up his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.

    Genesis 26:25 So Isaac built an altar there. And he called upon the name of the Lord. He put up his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

    Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.

    Psalm 116:3-6 The pains of death surrounded me, And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the LORD: O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul! Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.

    Wonder why Jesus never told people that it’s wrong to call out to God?

    Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

    Luke 18:9-14 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

    John 14:12-14 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

    Romans 10:12-13 This includes everyone, because there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles; God is the same Lord of all and richly blesses all who call to Him. As the Scripture says, “Everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.”

    Anyhow, attack all you want, it’s no shock at all. Carry on with your feud you so want to have.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Jerry and Grace,

    This is NOT a series about baptism and the Sinner’s Prayer. Can we please talk about atonement?

  11. John Fewkes says:

    I am certainly glad that I have a Red pickup — is Ford okay or must it be a Chevrolet?
    At One Ment has always been the work of God in which men/women are called to participate through submission. Would God save the one killed on the way to baptism? He will always do what is right — His decisions are NEVER wrong, even if we would create HIM in our image of justice. God always has the choice; our understanding of scripture will never determine HIS actions. Would God save the one who refuses baptism? Is lack of submission a cause for judgement? I personally would counsel great caution, but should God in HIS infinite wisdom, grace, justice, mercy, kindness — seeing into the hearts or all — NOT agree with my counsel to one who refuses to submit, that is HIS business, not mine. Our responsibility is to PROCLAIM the gospel as best we understand it — we are NOT authorized to offer compromise, not matter how much WE would prefer — the ambassadors (of Christ) are entrusted with a message; they MAY NOT change the message.

  12. Alabama John says:

    I believe as you do, but when being asked the question by those dying looking you in the eye it is much more hard to say to them I don’t know than it is to one another of us on this board.

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