The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement
Gorman holds the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, and the title of this book unquestionably pays homage to Brown’s magisterial work. As the subtitle indicates, the book focuses on the connection of the biblical revelation of the new covenant to the atoning work of Christ.
Gorman observes that it is “rather surprising” that the major historical and contemporary discussions of atonement theory neglect the biblical teaching of the new covenant (p. 1). Most atonement models focus on how Jesus’s death is atoning. In the author’s view, this is to focus on the penultimate rather than the ultimate effect of his death. He argues that the Bible focuses on participation with Christ, the result of atonement: “With this emphasis on participation, and thus transformation, I will claim that the New Testament is much more concerned about what Jesus’ death does for and to humanity than how it does it” (p. 5). His thesis, repeated often throughout the work, is: “The purpose of Jesus’ death was to effect, or give birth to, the new covenant, the covenant of peace; that is, to create a new-covenant community of Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus who would fulfill the inseparable covenantal requirements of faithfulness to God and love for others through participation in the death of Jesus, expressed in such practices as faithful witness and suffering (cruciform faith), hospitality to the weak and servant-love for all (cruciform love), and peacemaking (cruciform hope)” (p. 203; italics deleted).
Gorman demonstrates how deeply imbedded the hope of the new covenant is in the prophets, how significant it was in the apostles’ interpretation of the Christ event, and how the New Testament writings are grounded in this covenant. His argument is rooted in biblical exegesis; every chapter engages the text with sophistication and clarity of expression. He uses repetition effectively, engages the literature of biblical and theological studies skillfully, and summarizes his argument regularly.
Gorman takes pains to argue that this model of the atonement is not to be placed in opposition to traditional models. Rather, he demonstrates how each fits within the new covenant model. He concludes, “Christian theology has developed, and continues to need, multiple models of the atonement because the ultimate goal of Jesus’ death—the formation of the new-covenant community—is a multi-dimensional reality that is the soteriological result of a multi-dimensional reality—the human condition—within which human beings need salvation” (p. 231; italics deleted).
The author defines his audience as “quite broad: any and all who are interested in the significance of the death of Jesus for Christian theology and life” (p. 8). He has written at a level that is accessible to most adults. Whether or not the reader is convinced by the argument or fully accepts Gorman’s conclusions, the process of walking through this book with a master biblical scholar is beneficial. After all, what could be more important to a follower of Jesus than to understand and live out the virtues of faith, hope, and love?
About the Contributors
Glenn R. Kreider
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.