This is a very influential study of the atonement that I haven’t read since theological college. Aulén claims that his aim throughout was ‘an historical, not an apologetic’ one but that’s hard to believe. He’s really positive about Luther (not Lutherism, so much) and the ‘classic’ idea of the atonement, but not so positive about the so-called Latin and subjective views.
Rather than a review, here are some of my reactions to the book.
* Aulén presents the three positions as choices or alternatives, whereas more recent atonement books treat the theology of atonement as multi-faceted. Still, Aulén’s book reminds us that there are some incompatible theologies.
* The presentation of the argument feels all out of order. The final chapter presents the three views – why not the first? Even so, the book does not start with the New Testament but with the church fathers and then the NT evidence. It feels to me that the evidence does not prove his arguments, but has been assembled to make his position.
* Some distinctions that Aulén insists upon don’t really seem as sharp as he makes them, especially between aspects of classic and Latin.
* Penance. Aulén claims the idea of penance was essential to the development of the Latin view. While not convinced of that, I found it very helpful to read how human penance radically changes one’s formulation of how atonement occurs.
* Aulén is insistent on seeing atonement as a work of God not humanity. I have the feeling a more robust Trinitarian theology might mean his accusations against the Latin theory hold less weight. Overall, a worthwhile read but not as ‘the’ presentation of atonement theology. It’s a book to provoke more thought, deeper reading, and prayer.