Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

Michael Gorman – The Death of the Messiah… [Feature Review]

[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”1620326558″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51-K0sC-AFL._SL160_.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”107″]Page 2: Michael Gorman – The Death of the Messiah…

Admittedly current theories carry a portion of the meaning of Jesus’ death.  Yes, the cross provides forgiveness, liberation, and demonstrates God’s love.  Yet “the cross does all these things because it is God’s mysterious way of bringing about the multi-dimensional new covenant.”(210) Thus not only would the how of atonement include the “objective accomplishments” (or metaphysical mechanics) of the cross, but also the subjective call to participate in Jesus’ death.
Gorman spends a great deal of time breaking down texts that elucidate this covenant, which is a “covenant of peace.”  This becomes a call to that covenanted people to participate in making peace.  The prophets saw the Messiah’s coming as the dawn of an eschatological age of wholeness and peace.  Scandalously the New Testament proclaims that Jesus brought that age climactically in his death and resurrection.  This event brings peace between humans as the Prince of peace activates his covenanted people to be formed in kind.  Thus by the Spirit they continue making peace by practicing unity through reconciliation and non-violence with their enemies.  It is this continuous effect of the messianic age that becomes their “ecclesial identity marker.” (241)
Several things make Gorman’s book a wonderfully fresh addition to the discussion of atonement.  (1) He is fiercely loyal to biblical language.  Certainly the word “covenant” is more biblical than “Christus victor,” “penal substitution,” and other named atonement theories.  But it stands larger than a simple cipher: the concept of covenant engages the whole canon embracing God’s will to covenant with all of creation from Genesis to Revelation.  (2) He offers a way to integrate many atonement themes like forgiveness, victory, liberation into a simple framework.  No single theme from this list can stand overarchingly in our theology of atonement.  Rather, each gift is fruit of the covenant God has made with his people. (224-231) (3) Gorman fully integrates theory and practice.  The New Testament’s constant rejoinder to carry one’s cross, preach “Christ crucified” and have the same mind of Christ is a call not simply to “imitate as much as it is to participate.” (124) (4) Gorman’s Covenant model fully integrates the entire story of Jesus.  This is a notably absent from the current theories, which focus mostly on one aspect of Jesus’ life.  (5) This is one of the most insightful and yet accessible discussions of atonement and its implications I have read.  It is readable, and should be (relatively) easy for anyone who is somewhat conversant with the canon and atonement to read.
The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of a New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement is deeply biblical, scholarly, and yet accessible enough to deserve a wide audience.  Michael Gorman’s theory richly integrates scripture, theology and practice.  He, however, admits more work must be done on the intersection of atonement and covenant.  The textual engagements, while often Christologically profound, are far too brief and will need expansion.  With those few caveats this is a remarkable beginning that hopefully will be pursued by other authors and Gorman himself.



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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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