A Covenant Model for Atonement

This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.

In First Things, Peter Leithart reviews Michael Gorman’s The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant. Gorman proposes a “covenant model” of the atonement (in contrast with substitutionary atonement, Christus Victor, moral influence, etc).

By as [sic] “covenant” model, he means a model that emphasizes that the “ultimate” goal of Jesus’ death is to realize the prophetic promise of the new covenant by gathering a transformed people, empowered by the Spirit to live in courageous, suffering faith, hospitable love, and peaceable hope. Christ’s death is the source of this community of the new covenant, and, as the community participates in Christ by the Spirit, His death on the cross also provides the cruciform shape of that community’s life and mission. The new covenant model, he argues, integrates what is often separated – ethics, spirituality, ecclesiology, pneumatology, mission – and is able to incorporate the best insights of the more common atonement models into a larger whole. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of atonement, the “how,” the covenant model focuses on the “what”; instead of stopping with penultimate ends of the atonement (forgiveness of sins, for instance) the covenant model highlights the ultimate aim, the formation of a people.

Leithart lauds the book as “compelling” and “helpful” but has a couple of criticisms.

If we claim that the death of a Jewish teacher 2000 years ago changed the world, we’d better be prepared with some answer to the inevitable “how” questions.

Finally, I think Gorman’s argument would have been clearer and firmer if he had paid more attention to the features of the “old” covenant that Jesus fulfills.

Read the whole article.