In the two previous posts I discussed the discord in my students that led me to teach an atonement unit, as well as the transparency I shared about my own struggles and some of the initial questions that I, as well as my students, asked and to which we desired answers. In designing the means by which I would instruct these students—that is, the question of pedagogy—I decided upon a few different approaches. First, I had the students read a selection of Bible passages on their own and make notes about what each passage said about the atonement. This had the two-fold benefit of putting the foundation for the study of the atonement in the Scriptures, as well as forcing the students to form questions and come to some initial conclusions on their own.
Next, we read out loud in class a collection of quotes I had gathered from various sources in church history. As we read each selection, we discussed key points, asked questions, and identified what atonement theory (or theories) were best represented by that quote. After several days of reading through these selections, we had covered a great variety of ideas, positions, historical debates, and introduced and defined significant terminology.
Third, I gave the students the chapter “Which is the Fairest of the Them All?” from Scot McKnight’s book, A Community Called Atonement. We read this together and discussed its helpful perspective and tried to tie together some of the threads from previous conversations.
Finally, I gave the students a two-part written exam. The first part was intended to explore how well they understood some of the basic terminology of key theories of the atonement and their understanding of McKnight’s position. The second part was much more difficult and theoretical. I asked, “Since a number of different atonement theories seem to have biblical support, why do some scholars still insist on one view of the atonement as the only/primary atonement model taught in Scripture?” My goal in asking this question was to see how well students thought through the entire issue of the atonement. The better they understood the questions and issues related to the atonement, the more I thought they would make connections between the atonement and the gospel, as well as the challenges of sharing the gospel if we don’t have a single atonement theory to share.
In the final post in this series I will share some of my own conclusions on the meaning of the atonement and some final reflections on teaching the atonement.