Thursday, December 22, 2016

Atonement and Salvation by Eric M Vail

I'll be honest, when I got more than halfway through this book and we were still doing, essentially, preliminary work - setting the stage for a discussion of atonement and salvation - I was a little worried. Yes, because Eric and I had similar theological training (we were even in a class or two together in seminary), much of the important groundwork for his presentation is are things I take for granted. It's not that any of it was unnecessary, in fact I think it makes this book incredibly accessible, it's just that I like to read books for new information, and I was in near total agreement for the first 80 pages. Well, I'm in near-total agreement for the entire book, but you get the idea.

What I needed to do was get out of my own head and read Atonement and Salvation with a little more distance. In truth, it is one the most clear and concise treatments of, really, the whole of Christian theology, I have ever read. While the prose may not be the most elegant you've ever seen, it's clear and insightful - you can tell Vail took great, great care in crafting this book.

What shocked me out of my self-oriented perspective was Chapter 8, where he gets to the real meat of the Atonement and Salvation discussion. Chapter 8 is perhaps the most powerful, important, and accessible chapter of theology I have ever read in any book. It's simply tremendous, maybe not for my personal growth, but as a resource for introducing the average Christian to what has always been a difficult and confusing topic. He builds on all that important preliminary material and crafts a picture of atonement that rings true to experience and reflects the massive, unfathomable love of God, while also taking seriously the whole witness of scripture in really responsible ways.

The final two chapters deal with smaller associated topics, including Christ as peacemaker and a critique of penal substitution theory that both pulls no punches, but also exhibits incredible grace. I began the book wondering who it could possibly be for - it doesn't largely break new ground academically and I couldn't imagine any lay person would want to or be able to work through 141 pages on atonement, but Eric Vail has done it. He presents the theology in an academic and compelling way, but with the deft and simplicity that would allow intent readers of any theological depth to follow the narrative and understand his presentation.

Atonement and Salvation is a real gift to the Church and I'm glad the Nazarene Publishing House continues to cultivate and publish such important material.

No comments: