Atonement: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, Part 6

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.

Atonement for this world

Moreover, Gorman argues that the new covenant provides a perspective on atonement that is this-worldly. It’s not just about what happens in heaven (as important as those things are).

The spirituality of the new covenant, as a participatory spirituality, is decidedly a this-worldly spirituality. It is this-worldly, first of all, because it is fundamentally Jewish and therefore affirms the goodness of creation. It is this-worldly also because it is grounded in, and is a means of sharing in, the events of a very this-worldly reality: a Roman crucifixion that Christians confess to be the divine “medicine for the world” (crux est mundi medicina, a saying of the ancient church).

(Kindle Locations 5700-5703).

We are not called to leave God’s good but fallen Creation. We join with God in his redemptive mission. What Jesus did for us, so that we might participate in his life, is not theoretical. It’s a life lived in the real, dirty, dangerous world of Roman-occupied Palestine, a life we are called — and empowered — to share.


There are political implications to all this. Gorman writes (with paragraphing added to ease Internet reading) —

Now one might expect that the logical conclusion of this line of thinking is for the Christian community to see the political sphere or public life as something to avoid at all costs. But [contrary to Lipscomb] the this-worldliness of the cross and of Christian spirituality will not let us draw that conclusion.

Members of the new-covenant community are still to seek the welfare of the city in which they reside, as Jeremiah told the exiles (Jer 29: 7). But this must be a good they seek in cruciform mode. Their lives should be a living presence and voice that reflect the cross of the crucified Messiah.

The church doesn’t flee into the hills. Nor does it raise an army. Rather, it lives the cross. How?

This is not, I would submit, the way that most discussions of Christians and politics (or public witness) proceed. If politics as it is normally understood and practiced is at least in part about the exercise of power, Christians have far too often sought to share that secular power, to control the political and/or public realm, and even to participate in the exercise of power in ways that are antithetical to the cross.

Submission and service do not naturally lead to passing laws to forcing the unwilling to act like Christians. Nor do they encourage war and conquest.

As we all know, in fact, at times the cross has ironically and idolatrously become the symbol of such un-cruciform power, whether in the execution of medieval crusades, or in so-called “cross-lightings” by the KKK, or in contemporary popular war propaganda in which crosses and American flags are merged into a single blasphemous icon.

Ouch, but undeniable. The cross of Jesus, a symbol of submission and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom, has often become a banner under which armies and vigilantes imposed their will by force.

The church’s presence in the world, as an alter-culture, including its alternative politics, is thus grounded in the twin realities of divine love, on the one hand, and human sin and need, on the other. The world, or the human city (in Augustine’s words), is therefore both the focus of the church’s cross-shaped mission and the source of the church’s cross-shaped suffering, its temptations and trials.

The world is our mission while also being, at times, the enemy of the church. Our goal is not to defeat the world but to win the world for Jesus.

The church is salt and light. Its cruciform voice will be double-edged, like that of the prophets, offering both critique and hope, judgment and salvation, with both aspects of its message shaped by the cross.

Therefore, the church must both hold out salvation and redemption while honestly but lovingly pointing out sin as sin. It’s not that we are the judges of the world (yet). That comes later. For now, though, we serve the weak and powerless by standing for them and teaching God’s will toward the weak.

That is, when questions come up regarding how to deal with minority groups, immigrants, the poor, and so on, we address those questions in light of scripture, not our back pockets and certainly not our political affiliations. We declare God’s love for the oppressed. We declare God’s judgment against those who take advantage of the weak.

As N. T. Wright has written with respect to the book of Revelation, in which pagan culture and politics are so thoroughly critiqued, “The church is to live as the alternative polis, not by separating itself into sectarian isolation but by bearing witness …”

We speak truth to power. But that requires us to learn to think in cruciform terms.

“The aim is not to damn, but to redeem; the leaves on the tree [Rev 22: 2] are for the healing of the nations, and the gates stand open for the kings of the earth to bring their treasures .”

(I’m so proud of myself. I wrote about the leaves of the tree of life in this series before running across this quote.)

Yet this witness may be costly, Wright says, because although the world needs structures of power, “power corrupts and the church must bear witness against that corruption, by critique, by non-collaboration, by witness, and if need be by martyrdom.”

(Kindle Locations 5814-5836).


In short, Gorman’s book is a major step forward in understanding the atonement, indeed,the scriptures as a whole.  His thesis is solid, even though, as I’m sure he’d agree, there’s room to expand on it.

And it’s not complicated. In essence, the idea is that the atonement is best thought of in terms of the new covenant promised by Jeremiah coming into effect by virtue of the work of Jesus. Jesus died so that the new covenant could come into effect.

There are numerous threads that wind through the scriptures that connect with this theme, and Gorman only outlines a few, but they are enough to demonstrate the richness of the idea. Good ideas suggest other good ideas.

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.
This entry was posted in Atonement, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, by Michael J. Gorman, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Atonement: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, Part 6

  1. This is not on subject, but I recall where you mentioned the author of the fourth gospel was uncertain .don’t know if you have read this bible study book or not, so thought I might get your opinion.

  2. John Fewkes says:

    Following are some thoughts from “John on JOHN” — a class/commentary I wrote some time ago and occasionally have opportunity to share. May be of some help.

    That John is the author is largely undisputed. Some feel the book was the product of the church at Ephesus with the apostle John at the heart and that the “elder John” was the penman. 2John and 3John begin with “the elder” and that is used to lend credence to this view. Eusebius states that in Ephesus there was John the apostle and John the elder, both greatly loved. Also, in the gospel John is not mentioned. Would John refer to himself as the beloved apostle? Would not that seem conceited? See 13:23-25, 19:25-27, 20:2, and 21:20. What about the “witness” in ch.19:35 compared with 21:24 “we know that his testimony is true”? In Jn.5:2 the statement, “there is a pool indicates that the gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The arguments for a later date are usually based on the content of John that is supposed to refute the teachings of the Gnostics and Cerinthus. Some feel the pool mentioned may not have been destroyed with Jerusalem, but that is unlikely in my view. The pool would likely exist, and some rubble of the pillars would likely be there. Some scholars believe it was first written in Aramaic before AD 70 and then translated into Greek. Others feel it was written about AD 80-AD 90. Barclay puts the date at AD 100. But its existence was well known by AD 100 along with the synoptic Gospels, which argues for an earlier date. That it is the mind of the Holy Spirit through the apostle John there can be no doubt.

    In a time of persecution, the risk to life may have been strong; the synoptics do not name the authors. The John 21 exchange regarding Peter displays an intimacy that is hard to ignore, leads me to ponder if John 21 was written very soon after Peter’s death.

    BTW- comparing the women at the cross (Mt. 27:56; Mk 15:40; Jn 19:25 (Lk 23:49 – other women) may lead to seeing John and James as cousins to Jesus. If this is true, it may explain, at least in part, several things mentioned in the Gospels. Among several incidents, consider the petition of the two to have places of honor in the kingdom (Mk. 10:35). Consider John being the beloved apostle and being admitted to some events not allowed the others. John was at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mk.5:37; Lk.8:51); the transfiguration (Mt.17:1, Mk.9:2; Lk.9:28); the second watch in the garden (Mt.26:37; Mk.14:33); his closeness to Jesus at the table (Jn.13:15); and Jesus committing to John the care of Mary (Jn.19:26).

    (I tend to place an early date on the Gospel and Revelation, but certainly not as a salvation or fellowship issue)

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Laymond and John F,

    The theory that John’s Gospel was written by Lazarus was originated by Ben Witherington, one of my favorite commentators. There’s a lot in favor of the argument.

Comments are closed.