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Scot McKnight wants you to have your golf bag fully equipped—theologically speaking. That's the controlling metaphor of McKnight's 2007 study of soteriology, A Community Called Atonement (4 stars).

Here's how the metaphor works. Each "theory" of the Atonement is, like a particular golf club, better suited to some situations than others. Ministering the gospel is like playing a round of golf. Just as a golfer knows when to use a driver, a wedge, or a putter, the way we proclaim, teach, or share the Good News should be adapted to the situation. You can hit the ball out of a sand trap with your driver, but why would you if you had a wedge available?

The strength of the golf-bag metaphor is that it asks us to stop being partisan toward one particular theory of the Atonement and to minister with the best tools at hand. McKnight is a peacemaker and a bridge builder, which makes his book welcome.

Plenty of discussion recently (some of it acrimonious) sounds like people are saying that all the other clubs are better than your putter—and that your putter is inherently defective. Meanwhile, others defend the putter as the only club needed, since each round ends on the green. Indeed, penal substitution is like a putter, and it should be used often in connection with other Atonement metaphors. But there are still those divinely ordained "hole-in-one" situations, where some theological driver or iron does it all.

The Undivided God

Penal substitution, a biblically grounded, 16th-century Reformation development of Anselm's 11th-century "satisfaction theory" of the Atonement, has been the main target of criticism. In penal substitution, God the Son bears the penalty for our sins on the Cross. The Son having paid our debt, God ...

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In the Magazine

May 2008

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