Tony Jones on Jesus’ miracles
Having read Tony Jones’ new little e-book, A Better Atonement, this morning, I really appreciated these paragraphs about Jesus’ miracles. Under the heading, “Why Jesus Died”, Tony connects Jesus’ life and, especially, healing ministry to his death (a definite improvement on penal substitution which has problems doing exactly that).
The significance of the miracles, however, is sometimes misunderstood. They were not significations of Jesus’ divinity (as evidenced by other magicians and sorcerers on the scene in Jesus’ day). Instead, they were little in-breakings of the new age that Jesus, as the Messiah, was inaugurating.
Especially in the healing miracles, Jesus touched the people who had been condemned as “unclean,” and thus unworthy of Temple worship – a woman with an issue of blood, blind men, lepers, paraplegics, a crazed demoniac – and cleansed them. He upset the order of things by bringing the people who been marginalized – now you can include tax coolectors and whores – by the dominant religion of his time and place and making them “right” with God again.
So when Jesus’ three years of traveling, teaching and miracles ends in Jerusalem, on a Roman cross, his death culminates the life that he lived. His execution amidst common thieves is his ultimate act of solidarity with every human being who has experienced godlessness and godforsaknness. In other words, every human being.
Tony follows these points up with a section about why Jesus rose from the dead. It’s not hard to see why he did so, considering the significance of his miracles: If the miracles are little in-breakings of the eschatological kingdom of God, the resurrection is the paradigmatic event in which that kingdom is fully established, even if we await its full consummation and the resurrection of our own bodies. I’m reminded of Pannenberg’s idea of prolepsis and futurity here: Jesus’ resurrection was the proleptic in-breaking of God’s futurity, and so were his miracles. And in his crucifixion, every single human being is invited to take part in the kingdom of God.
I commend Tony for presenting such a full account of the atonement in his book. The atonement is, as he points out, something of a salient topic among those of us who might identify as emergent or post-evangelical or something similar, and a controversial one in the encounters between us and our more conservative, more often than not (young, restless and) Reformed, brothers and sisters. Even though the book is short and written in a easily understandable, mostly non-academic tone (as you would expect from a book largely adopted from blog posts), it would be a mistake to dismiss it as shallow. The ease and clarity with which Tony handles the issues demonstrate a both deep knowledge of the material at hand, a sharp theological mind and a pastor’s (or is it theologian-in-residence’s?) communication skills. Tony is a blessed man. And so are we who benefit from his books.
A Better Atonement, then, is nice little introduction to atonement theories many of those dissatisfied with standard evangelical theology in this area will find very helpful, complete with a very satisfying alternative proposal. I found myself pretty much agreeing with everything he said.
The only thing that I missed was a good bibliography for those who might want to explore the issues in more depth. Perhaps Tony could provide such a list in a blog post.
Oh, can say how much a like this little cottage industry of theologians writing short e-books that seems to be forming? Scot McKnight’s Junia Is Not Alone and Andrew Perriman’s Hell And Heaven in Narrative Perspective are examples besides Tony’s A Better Atonement. There’s something nice about the immediacy of these books. They don’t represent rigorous academic discourse, but feel conversational, like attending an informal Bible study lead by these guys. I also like the immediacy supporting them financially, directly and without publishers taking a lion’s share of the money.