Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff
Brian McLaren identifies five themes in Hardin’s book: who is Jesus? What is the message of the bible? What is a relevant atonement theory? Is there an approach to violence and peacemaking? What kind of G-d do we believe in? (xiii) Hardin treats these themes, drawing especially on the work of Rene Girard (p 160); it is violence done to an innocent victim that is the key for interpreting the Bible!
Hardin comments on the Emmaus bible study (Lk 24:13-33); it was the forgiveness expressed by G-d in this resurrected Jesus that collapsed all the previous theological ideas and assumptions. Their theologies dictated a violent or retributive response by G-d (p 28). We need to read the bible from the perspective of Jesus, Hardin pleads, and Jesus talks of a relational G-d, not a retributive G-d: relation to Abraham, to Israel, to Jesus.
Hardin points out that Jesus’ parables emphasize this relational G-d, for whom perfection is not about holiness (temple institutionalism) but about mercy for those on the outside (p 75). Hardin talks of three principles of biblical interpretation: the powerlessness of G-d (dying on the cross), Jesus as the lens, the non-negotiable aspect of love (mutual interpenetration). But key for Hardin is the atonement, the non-violent perspective; he does a good summary of the Anselmic theory that holds Jesus ‘paid the penalty’ (p 102).
Hardin writes compellingly of this love as expressed in Isaiah, and then sketches atonement theology of Paul and of the gospel writer, John. A short essay on the centrality of Jesus in revelation, love and forgiveness, by Walter Wink, closes this powerful and evocative book.
Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.