The doctrine of the Atonement is at the center of Christianity. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult concept to wrap our modern minds around, and it even seems nonsensical at first glance. After all, how does one guy dying on a cross a long time ago pay for the sins of the entire world? That’s a difficult question to answer, and indeed that’s probably why many Christians have never attempted to devise a valid response.
Under this arrangement, one might say that Jesus performs a ‘currency exchange’ in which our pledge of loyalty to the Father is transacted into something the Father can accept as a cleansing of sin…if we share Jesus’ virtual and corporate identity (see the point above about collectivism, and the New Testament’s references to the Body of Christ), and Jesus is sinless, then by corporate association, we too become sinless…” (pg 148)
Keeping things in proper historical context is all well and good, a skeptic may respond, but how does any of this information justify Jesus taking responsibility for our sin? He died and we aren’t held accountable for our actions? Not exactly. As Holding points out, “…if someone paid restitution for you…then you would be indebted to that person. The very notion of Christian ethical behavior is one of an obligation of the believer indebted to Christ.” (pg 535) This is very important from an apologist perspective, because it means that a seemingly valid objection to Atonement is just a misunderstanding generated by an anachronistic reading of the New Testament.
What follows this overview of the PTM is a solid refutation of many other common objections to Atonement. Holding demonstrates, for example, that Jesus’ crucifixion wasn’t a case of human sacrifice, thus undercutting the atheist charge that God is a barbaric jerk who killed his own son. Holding also explains why God couldn’t just forgive sin, and why Jesus’ death was necessary.
If the book gets a wide enough audience, which I hope it does, it should generate some interesting discussions. I am curious to see how the skeptics will respond to the arguments, if they do at all. I’m even more curious to see how other Christians respond to the book, as other reviewers have already raised some legitimate questions about Holding’s thesis.
In any event, the book’s worth reading. It’s well researched and written for a general audience, and it’s really cheap. I paid three bucks for it and read it in one day on my phone. It’s the kind of book you could give to your pastor or your college-age child who’s been watching too many anti-Christian rants on YouTube.