In his previous book, Problems with Atonement, Stephen Finlan compellingly argues that the doctrine of atonement has been more a stumbling block to a true understanding of the relationship between God and humanity than a genuine explanation of how we relate to God and God to us. Options on Atonement reprises these arguments briefly, then looks more closely at the solutions to the problem offered by a variety of modern interpreters. Finlan’s focus in this volume is on revelation, on the gradual human absorption of and interpretation of revelation received from God, the maturing of human cultures, and especially the light shed by modern family systems psychology.
At a time when public debates rage over the notion of evolution in the natural world, this book asserts that our understanding of divine revelation is likewise subject to evolution. If religion itself does not evolve, the author asserts, we are left only with an unsatisfactory choice: to remain mired in the past, or to repudiate all that is past, including our Scriptures. Will that be our choice? Or can we resolve to examine our traditions, including that of the atonement, in the light of new knowledge? Stephen Finlan chooses to do just that.
Stephen Finlan, PhD, teaches biblical studies at Fordham University and Seton Hall University. He is also the author of The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors (SBL and Brill, 2004), Problems with Atonement (Liturgical Press, 2005) and co-editor of Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology (Wipf and Stock, 2006).
Finlan's Options on Atonement in Christian Thought is an amazing tour de force that challenges its reader to keep the pieces of the doctrinal puzzle together in the way that its author has done. Beginning with a carefully nuanced survey of biblical precedents, moving through the multiplicity of Paul's images, and passing in review the insights of competing theological opinions, the author puts all the elements before the mind's eye of the reader. Then, the expression of his own evocative theory puts the pieces together and leads the reader to stand back and contemplate with awe.
Raymond F. Collins, Warren-Blanding Professor of Religion, Professor of New Testament, The Catholic University of America
This slim volume with its focus on questions facing many of today's Christians is an excellent resource for individuals and groups.
Finlan expertly untangles the various concepts of atonement in the Bible and teases out their different theological assumptions and implications. While demonstrating that atonement doctrines inevitably attribute violence and injustice to God, the author argues persuasively that none of the atonement thinking in Christianity derives from the historical Jesus. As Finlan charts the spiritual and psychological damage in which atonement thinking is implicated and the human violence it can incite, he offers a theological alternative based on the teachings of Jesus. Built on solid erudition and driven by a moral purpose, Options on Atonement invites Christians to move beyond violent images of God while keeping faith with their biblical tradition.
Robert J. Miller, Professor of Religious Studies, Juniata College
Stephen Finlan argues for the rejection of blood sacrifice and all related themes, such as payment of debt and penal substitution, in the Christian doctrine of salvation. Options on Atonement is an important work which should stimulate reflection and stir up theological debate. It will be of particular interest to a growing number of theologians and ethicists who are concerned to articulate and practice a theology of peacemaking.
James G. Williams, author of The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred and editor of The Girard Reader
[The] book is worth reading for giving us the `lay of the land' regarding the biblical background and the theological traditions behind our heritage of atonement theology and the issues that must be addressed if the use of biblical atonement imagery is to be pastorally effective.
The Catholic Biblical Quarterly
. . . this little book is valuable for its clear exposition of the various strands of ancient tradition that early Christians, especially Paul, used in their reflections on Christ's work of salvation.
Catholic Books Review