The thing that began my long-standing love affair with theology was trying to find an answer to the question of why Jesus had to die. Growing up in a Lutheran church, I don't recall ever hearing any answer to this question. Then one evening I asked my father-in-law, who I knew to spend an inordinant amount of time in Bible study. He said he didn't know. It's just so foundational that a lot of people don't even question it. Poking around to see who did have an answer to this question, I very quickly met St. Anselm, and yes I even read Cur Deus Homo.
Now perhaps I was very sheltered before this. I may be the only person in the last 500 years to have read Cur Deus Homo before becoming familiar with the satisfaction theory of the atonement in its modern form. It was extremely fascinating to me to see the way Anselm reasoned. I was particularly taken with his claim that humans are being redeemed to make up the number of fallen angels so that there will be a perfect number of worshippers in heaven. I didn't think he was right, of course, but I was charmed. I've been in love with theology ever since.
While I've found in the years since then that nothing, absolutely nothing, can be as pointless and counter-productive as debating theories of the atonement, I've never quite been able to let this question go.
With that background, when I saw David Brondos' Paul on the Cross announced on the Fortress Press web site, I bought it immediately. Unfortunately I have a bad habit of buying books faster than I can read them, so this one has been sitting on the bookshelf for nearly a year. Finally last week I started it.
I should've read it sooner.
I'm not sure yet if I buy his argument, but Brondos' suggestion is nothing less than revolutionary. He builds on the New Perspective on Paul, but goes beyond it, I think, and critiques the key scholars involved in the New Perspective.
Brondos begins his book by making a sweeping survey of atonement theories from Irenaeus to Barth and Bultmann, rejecting all of them. Then he presents a reconstruction of the first century Jewish story of redemption and a reconstructed early Christian story (i.e. pre-Paul as echoed in the gospels). In the second half of the book he argues that Paul's story of redemption is essentially the same as the early Christian story and that expressed in the gospels.
The upshot of all this is that, according to Brondos, the search for a "theory of the atonement" as we typically think of it is misguided because they all think of salvation as something the follows "mechanically" from Jesus' death and try to explain how the atonement "works." Against this Brondos claims that Paul, in agreement with other earlier Christians, is proclaiming a gospel where Jesus as God's Messiah is bringing about redemption of Israel through his obedience to the will of God primarily in his life and teaching, with his death being a consequence of this obedience and the resurrection being God's seal of approval. I'm only halfway through my first reading, so I might be misrepresenting a lot of this, but I think that's the gist of it.
I don't know what the academic community thinks of Brondos' ideas. The only review I've been able to find was by D.A. Carson who, predictably, thinks he's wrong. It seems to me that Paul doesn't talk enough about Jesus' teaching for this idea to hold (at least as I've understood it), but it does have the very great merit of bringing Paul and the gospels into much better harmony than the standard reading of Paul would have them. I think I'm going to have to try re-reading the New Testament from this perspective.