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Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross

Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition

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Christianity Today 2005 Book Award Winner


"Exegetically sensitive, ecumenically attuned, [this book] offers its readers a dogmatic delight filled with insight. . . . For those interested in a careful repackaging of the atonement in light of current debates or those concerned with how the church should embody Christ's cross, this book will serve as an important resource."--James R. A. Merrick, Trinity Journal

The cross is central to any understanding of Christian theology. But what is the primary significance of the cross: God's victory over death and hell? The moral example of a righteous sufferer? God's Son taking the punishment for the world's sin? Or is it possible that in our postmodern setting these traditional views of the atonement are irrelevant and outmoded? In this important study, Hans Boersma proposes an understanding of the atonement that is sensitive to both the Christian tradition and to postmodern critiques of that tradition.

Throughout his work, Boersma takes seriously the critics of traditional atonement theology. He also acknowledges a certain paradoxical tension between violence and hospitality that will remain a mystery. Nevertheless, he offers a substantial response in the form of an alternative account of violence that also reenvisions the atonement as divine hospitality.

In the first section, Boersma considers the basic theological issues as well as the postmodern critique. He also addresses the question of election and proposes a biblical vision of "preferential hospitality." In the second section, Boersma embraces the three historical views of the atonement and suggests that the "recapitulation" theory of Irenaeus is most compatible with the metaphor of divine hospitality. The third section looks at the church as the community of God's hospitality, both in its role as the continuing presence of Christ in the world and as a proponent of public justice.

This is an important contribution to contemporary theology. In light of current criticisms, Boersma offers a new model for looking at the atonement that draws on the rich resources of the Christian tradition in its portrayal of God's hospitality in Jesus Christ.


"This is a bold book. It takes courage in today's academic culture to argue that divine violence is an unavoidable part of bringing the sinful world into an eschatological state of pure hospitality. Those who tend instinctively to reject any notion of violence as unworthy of God better take Boersma's arguments seriously."--Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology, Yale University Divinity School

"Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross is an important contribution to the ongoing task of articulating orthodox Christian theology in light of contemporary thought. Boersma is a creative, constructive theologian who is not afraid to tackle some of the toughest criticisms leveled against the Christian tradition. His courage in the face of postmodern criticisms is matched by his courage to take the tradition seriously. This book is learned and erudite, engaging an impressive range of biblical, theological, and philosophical sources."--James K. A. Smith, associate professor of philosophy, Calvin College

"Boersma combines postmodern philosophy and ancient theology to address how God's hospitality at the cross undermines violence and supports human hospitality. Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross is a model of how scholarship and praxis are united in the work of the kingdom."--Robert Webber, Myers Professor of Ministry, Northern Seminary

"This is generous evangelicalism at its best. Boersma does not merely react but responds to contemporary objections to the violence inherent in traditional theories of atonement. At the same time, Boersma's hospitality, like that of the God of the gospel itself, should not be confused with an anything-goes, everyone-in relativism. On the contrary, Boersma's style matches his subject matter. Given evil, corruption, and falsehood, a certain exclusion, even violence, is both moral and legitimate. Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross responds to postmodern sensibilities with a nonreductionistic reappropriation of the moral influence, penal, and Christus Victor theories, all of which are but moments in a broader recapitulation theory that views Christ's saving work in terms of his threefold office as prophet, priest, and king. Boersma does a fine job of bringing Scripture and tradition to bear on the contemporary situation--all for the sake of the church's participation in the divine hospitality."--Kevin Vanhoozer, Blanchard Professor of Theology, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"Christ prayed that all may be one, and he even died to bring about that at-one-ment. Yet Christians now find themselves, paradoxically, divided up according to models of Christ's atonement. This is a noble and beautiful book--a labor of mind and heart to synthesize and unite all that is in the science of our salvation as it has come down to us in Christian tradition and as it is emerging in theological currents today."--Scott W. Hahn, professor of Scripture and theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville

The Author

  1. Hans Boersma

    Hans Boersma

    Hans Boersma (PhD, University of Utrecht) is Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin. He previously taught at Regent College, Vancouver. Boersma is the author of numerous critically...

    Continue reading about Hans Boersma


Christianity Today 2005 Book Award Winner

"[A] fine book. . . . I found [Boersma's] discussion of the moral influence and substitutionary models extremely rich. Indeed I think his chapter on the latter should be required reading in all evangelical seminaries."--Stanley Hauerwas, Canadian Evangelical Review

"A scholarly review and analysis of differing historical and contemporary understandings of God's work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, particularly with regard to hospitality and violence. . . . Well structured and readable. . . . Recommended for scholarly theological collections."--George Westerlund, Library Journal

"One of those rare evangelical tomes that engages critically and creatively with a major doctrine under attack--the Atonement. Boersma has written a spirited defense of divine violence as a means toward an eschatological state of pure hospitality."--Christianity Today

"This is an honest and intriguing reexamination of one of the central themes of Christian theologizing (the atonement) in light of more recent concerns (the violence of God) and postmodern vocabulary (hospitality)."--Stephen Finlan, Review of Biblical Literature

"Boersma offers a penetrating analysis of one of the most contentious doctrines in contemporary theology at perhaps its most contentious point. . . . The scope of Boersma's argument is impressive. He engages an extraordinarily wide range of authors from the patristic period to the present, and his treatment of alternative points of view is both incisive and generous. Substantively, his contention that divine violence is a category that cannot be dismissed from atonement theory without compromising the very commitment to non-violent communion at the centre of the Christian hope is argued with great consistency and power. . . . Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross constitutes a significant contribution to contemporary thinking on the atonement that combines pastoral sensitivity with exegetical and theological depth."--Ian A. McFarland, International Journal of Systematic Theology

"Readers of Boersma's study will find that he ranges over a considerable body of historical and theological material on the doctrine of the atonement. They will also likely find themselves engaged and provoked by some of his emphases and claims. Certainly, Boersma's insistence that we view the atonement within the overarching context of the triune God's hospitality toward sinners has much to commend it. . . . Those who hold to a traditional Reformed understanding of the atonement will also be pleased with some aspects of Boersma's defense of elements of the satisfaction view. . . . Because of the importance of his subject and the extent to which his modifications of Reformed theology represent popular tendencies in theology today, Boersma's study deserves careful assessment."--Cornelis P. Venema, Mid-America Journal of Theology

"[Boersma's] treatment of Predestination in the Calvinist tradition is balanced and thorough. Also, his section on the Pauline theology of Election and salvation is insightful and is a welcome corrective to a tendency to bypass exegetical issues in other recent treatments of the Atonement. Above all, Boersma is to be commended for his attempt to present an approach that is both faithful to the tradition of Christian discourse regarding the Cross and yet is sensitive to the contemporary situation. He avoid an anachronistic approach to Scripture that forces the texts to conform to our modern sensibilities and he rejects facile solutions to the paradox of the God of justice and the God of mercy. . . . [This book is] thought provoking and raises questions that any contemporary attempt to retrieve the theology of the Atonement cannot ignore."--Gladstone H. Stevens, S.S., Modern Theology

"A thought-provoking book that ought to cause a stir among those not only interested in contemporary constructive theology but also people thinking and teaching in the area of Christianity and violence. . . . The work is a constructive attempt to retrieve traditional theories of the atonement while answering the modern charge that a focus on the cross in Christian theology leads inevitably to violent praxis. . . . Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross will surely become a standard work in soteriology and Christology, deserving to be read by those from across the full theological spectrum. . . . Boersma makes a strong case for the ecumenical appeal of the recapitulation/reconstitution paradigm. This book should, therefore, go a long way in furthering the discussion on the atonement."--Adrian Langdon, Studies in Religion

"Exegetically sensitive, ecumenically attuned, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross offers its readers a dogmatic delight filled with insight, helping the church affirm that God sent his Son to extend his gracious hospitality to the world. For those interested in a careful repackaging of the atonement in light of current debates or those concerned with how the church should embody Christ's cross, this book will serve as an important resource."--James R. A. Merrick, Trinity Journal

"In this courageous and refreshing book, Hans Boersma faces many of the central contemporary challenges to traditional atonement theologies and proposes a critical retrieval of these traditions, with far-reaching pastoral and social consequences. Showing an uncanny ability to bring together biblical scholarship, contemporary philosophy, historical theology, and social criticism, his ambitious project proffers an integrated account of the nature and implications of Christ's work on the cross. . . . The usefulness of this book to pastors, teachers, and students of theology is great. Boersma offers a fresh and compelling theological account of the atoning work of Christ, and shows implications of this proposal for the church in its preaching, sacraments, confession, and life of hospitality. This book challenges readers through its theological argumentation and provides practical wisdom for teachers and leaders in the church."--J. Todd Billings, Interpretation

"The book engages an impressive range of theological, biblical and philosophical sources. . . . Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross is a rewarding book that offers both readability and theological substance. . . . The book ends with a strong section on the public face of hospitality that should stimulate discussion on the continuation of the presence of Christ in the Church through the proclamation of the Word, baptismal fellowship, the celebration of the Eucharist, and the Church's own role in suffering. The application of atonement theories to Christian faith and praxis makes the book an approachable source for any reader who wishes to learn more about the three subject matters indicated in the title."--Wolfgang Vondey, Pneuma Review

"You will not find a more encompassing and courageous critique of the [atonement] tradition in light of contemporary issues and sensitivities than this splendid volume by Hans Boersma."--Patrick Madigan, Heythrop Journal

"Hans Boersma is an amiable and charismatic person. He is willing to engage carefully with postmodern and feminist critiques of the atonement, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of a Reformed and evangelical theologian."--Terry A. Larm, Evangelical Review of Theology

"Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross is an important contribution to the ongoing discussion concerning the difficulty which the violence of the cross presents for Christian theology. Having listened to contemporary concerns, Hans Boersma presents a creative reappropriation of the Reformed theological tradition, drawing particularly on the thought of Irenæus and contemporary biblical scholarship. . . . One of the strengths of this book is Boersma's presentation of the development of Reformed theology from Calvin to seventeenth-century Federal Theology. . . . Even those who do not find themselves ultimately convinced by Boersma's arguments will have gained from engaging with this excellent book."--Jonathan Slater, Toronto Journal of Theology

"[A] fabulous stud[y] in atonement theory. . . . [Boersma] works carefully through the Christus Victor model, the satisfaction and substitutionary theories, and the moral-influence or subjective presentations of atonement, allowing his efforts to be guided along the way by the wisdom of Irenaeus of Lyons. . . . Boersma moves creatively through evangelical hospitality, baptismal hospitality, eucharistic hospitality, penitential hospitality and cruciform or sympathetic hospitality as ways in which the work of the cross is carried forward through local churches. . . . [This book] offer[s] much food for thought for those wishing to go to the next level in their understanding of the cross."--Adam C. English, Review and Expositor

"[A] well-argued and well-written book. Its case for the paradoxical relation between God's redemptive violence--and by implication, the goodness of the 'penultimate' created order and the profound consequences of sin and evil--and God's 'ultimate' eschatological hospitality is a timely one, especially in view of both secular and ecclesial postmodern calls for an elision of such paradoxes. Thought-provoking and controversial, this book does what good theology should do: stimulate reflection on the heart of Christian faith."--Lois Malcolm, Theology Today

"Boersma's work excels in two ways. First, it is extremely contemporary and current. Boersma is not afraid to work with contemporary philosophers in an unapologetically theological way. His work with radical orthodoxy also keeps this book on the theological cusp. Second, Boersma's fearless yet considered appropriation of the notions of substitution and violence continues a vital dialog."--Aaron Perry, Asbury Journal

"Those who critique the critics of atonement theology and reject efforts to downplay the cross often suggest that these revisionist approaches are not serious about the depth of sin and understate the cost of reconciliation. Boersma's book, crisply Reformed in tenor, may be the most thoughtful and nuanced exploration of these concerns. He carefully probes how far glib dismissals of notions of wrath or expiation might go in preventing us from appreciating what God is against or what is incompatible with God's love."--S. Mark Heim, Christian Century