Where is God in the story of Jesus’s death? A response to Tony Jones’s Did God Kill Jesus?

Ted Grimsrud—August 22, 2016

A review of: Tony Jones. Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2015. viii + 296pp.

Popular emergent church blogger, writer, and teacher Tony Jones begins this lively exercise in popular theology with a story of a typical summer camp revivalist preacher trying to scare 11- and 12-year olds into a Christian conversion. He points out with horror the spiritual abusiveness of such manipulation. He uses this story to set up his agenda for the book—how can we redeem, as it were, the hurtful story of salvation that summer camp preacher used on the kids?

Jones argues that the way to redeem the Christian notion of salvation is to insist on always putting love at the center. Notions of salvation that are not ultimately about God’s love do not pass the “smell test” and need to be discarded—or at least reshaped.

Looking at the traditional atonement models

Although Jones is critical of received salvation theology and is committed to finding new ways to articulate how Christians should understand salvation that make love central, he still accepts the basic framing of the issues that have characterized evangelical Christianity for the past one hundred years. He starts with a discussion of sacrifice as the central biblical motif and sees Paul’s theology as the core of the biblical teaching.

And, he accepts the approach to atonement theology that has become standard, to consider the various “atonement models.” So he begins with by devoting a section to the “payment model” (i.e., Anselm’s satisfaction model). He then takes up the “victory model” (a.k.a., “Christus Victor,” the approach Gustaf Aulen attributed to the early fathers) and the “magnet model” (i.e., Abelard’s “moral influence” model). These three have stood for several generations as the core “atonement models.” Like many other writers have recently done, Jones seeks to draw on what he sees to be strengths in each model, rather than focusing on one as superior to the others. Continue reading “Where is God in the story of Jesus’s death? A response to Tony Jones’s Did God Kill Jesus?