Joel B. Green and a Kaleidoscopic Model of the Atonement
This fourth and final post reviewing the models of the atonement articulated in Four Views on the Nature of the Atonement focuses on the view known (slightly obscurely) as the Kaleidoscopic Model. I hope you’ve enjoyed engaging with these posts- feel free to comment below with ‘Yay!’ or ‘Nay!’ content!
The kaleidoscopic view of the atonement makes a case for embracing a plethora of ways for understanding the significance of Jesus’ death. Joel B. Green insists that we seek to understand the events of Jesus’ life and death in the context of the first-century Palestinian world within which they took place, and asserts that theological reflection on the significance of Jesus’ death cannot be severed from the socio-religious and socio-political contexts to which they belong. The historical context then, along with an understanding of God’s eternal purpose as revealed in Christ, provide two points of reference between which a wide space opens up for discussing how the Christ event accomplishes salvation.
Green argues that the New Testament’s witness to the Christ event reflects an ongoing concern for unity and diversity in its articulation of the significance of that event. The unity is essentially theological and is reflected, for example, in the assertion that God demonstrated his love by means of something Christ did (cf. Romans 5:8). This unity is then manifested missiologically in the diverse ways in which the significance of God acting in Christ is portrayed by the apostolic testimony (e.g. reconciliation, substitution, illumination, justification), a diversity that reflects the various social contexts into which the kerygma of the Christ event was addressed.
In evaluating Green’s Argument, I would like to suggest that perhaps the most significant difference in the Kaleidoscopic view- in relation to the other models of the atonement I’ve posted on- is that the Kaleidoscopic view emerges from a strand of Narrative Theology, while the other models (particularly Christus Victor and Penal Substitution) reflect a commitment to Systematic Theology. Green’s methodology is evidenced in his insistence on understanding the Christ event in the light of the socio-religious and socio-political climate of First Century Palestine (a methodology that is evidently happy to embrace historical-criticism as a tool by which we might gain greater theological clarity). One might say that the proof of the theological pudding is in the eating- so what is gained or lost in Green’s Kaleidoscopic view of the atonement?
In terms of losses, it could be argued that the Kaleidoscopic view allows for far too much imprecision in explaining exactly how the atonement functions for the believer. Additionally, by not explicitly aligning with any one classical view of the atonement, the Kaleidoscopic view runs the risk of falling foul of the cult of novelty. What I think is gained from a Kaleidoscopic view of the atonement is a sense of the sheer scale of the gospel, and a remarkable sense of the whole biblical narrative reaching a climax. I think one of the great strengths of Green’s presentation is his observation that God demonstrates his love by means of what Christ does, an observation that perhaps implicitly suggests a Christology of divine identity. Although Green does not explicitly develop this connection, a Christology of divine identity would certainly influence how one would answer Anselm’s question, ‘Cur Deus Homo?’ (‘Why did God become man?’) and may even help to steer a path through the theological issues that can beset the subjective and objective views of the atonement (e.g. does atonement facilitate a change in God’s demeanour toward humanity or vice-versa?)
From my perspective, whatever one loses in terms of precision is more than made up for by the scope and potential of the Kaleidoscopic view of the atonement as argued for by Joel B. Green. While the three contrasting views in the book do not exactly want to shut down other models of the atonement, their claims to primacy are already foreclosing to some extent on both the scope of the atonement and conversation about the atonement. Of course nobody reads anything from a place of absolute objectivity, and I am under no allusion that my own opinions, let alone those of Joel B. Green, are coloured by cultural and epistemological presuppositions. That being said, a faith seeking understanding must decide upon a reading of the biblical text that adequately and faithfully interprets the central kerygmatic content of that text: the person of Jesus Christ. My personal conviction is that Joel B. Green’s Kaleidoscopic view provides the most satisfying interpretation of the biblical text as it relates to the atonement.