Seedbed is pleased to announce the release of How Jesus Saves: Atonement for Ordinary People by Joshua McNall. With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, groups can use it with the accompanying video study. Also available is a Church Kit in which pastors can lead their entire congregation with sermon outlines and enhanced small group reflection guides. Learn more here.
What is How Jesus Saves about and who might find this book helpful?
The title tells the story for this book. It’s about that single, simple word: How? For many Christians, the claim that Jesus saves is the essence of the faith—but we often struggle with explaining how salvation actually works.
This can be a massive barrier for ordinary Christians.
Why is the cross good news? How can one person act on our behalf—either to bear the judgment for sin or to win the victory for us? These questions are not just for academics, pastors, or theology professors. They are for anyone who has ever looked up at a cross and wondered how an instrument of death and torture could result in eternal life.
Is it important that people understand the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? Why can’t a person just acknowledge their human predicament, trust that Jesus dealt with it, and wait for the next life?
While eternal life is one gift that comes from Jesus’ work—it’s not the only one. And it is often misunderstood. Jesus preached the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And that message is very different from a “get out of jail free” card that applies primarily to the afterlife.
Salvation is also about transformation in the here and now—it’s about holiness, justice, mercy, and new life on both sides of the grave. If we miss the Kingdom then we’re not preaching the Jesus-gospel.
In your book you explain that the layers of meaning present in the atonement reflect the layers of brokenness in our human predicament. What does this mean?
Many Christians tend to emphasize just one aspect of our problem apart from Jesus’ work.
For some, this aspect is guilt that leads to condemnation; for others it is injustice that leads to suffering; for still others it is death that brings an end to life and those relationships we cherish; and for others it is shame that leaves us feeling worthless, broken, and defiled.
Each of these “layers” is important. But depending on your background, you may need to expand your perspective to see why Jesus’ saving work is bigger, better, and more amazing than you dreamed. In a weird way, the gateway to a more beautiful and transformative gospel is a fuller picture of just how deep our problems run.
What happens in the life of the church when one model of atonement is elevated at the expense of others?
Choosing just one aspect of Jesus’ saving work often results in a diminished appreciation for God’s goodness, a blindness to inconvenient truths about ourselves, and a distorted view of God.
Some conservative Christians focus almost exclusively on the idea that Jesus bore the punishment that we deserved. In some cases, this runs the risk of making salvation merely the crude result of a “penalty-swap” that raises massive questions about God’s justice. On the flip side, progressive Christians sometimes focus only on the concern for victims that occurs when we witness Jesus’ Kingdom-love and Kingdom-ethics. But by itself, this may diminish the seriousness of human fallenness, our inability to resurrect ourselves or others, and the uniqueness of Jesus as someone far greater than a wise and loving moral teacher.
The answer is to leave behind the narrow tendency to choose just one aspect of reconciliation to rule all the others. The Bible doesn’t do that, and we shouldn’t either.
What do you believe is the biggest objection to Jesus’s work on our behalf? Why does the critique ultimately fail?
I’m convinced that the biggest hindrance to a transformative recognition of Jesus’ saving work is not some rational objection about penalty-bearing or about how exactly Christ defeats the devil. The biggest challenge is distraction. As I put it in the book,
In a digital age especially, our attention is repeatedly diverted by a flood of flashing, dinging, ringing, vibrating notifications (even as you try to read this short introduction). Interruptions—both trivial and important—assault us. Our distractions involve work, school, money, politics, laundry, podcasts, children, and celebrity breakups. Like a dog that is jolted from its thoughts by the appearance of a furry friend across the lawn, our biggest hindrance to sitting at the foot of cross is the human equivalent of ‘Squirrel!’
My prayer is that this book helps people look up from their devices and distractions to catch a glimpse—not only of the cross, but of the risen and ascended Jesus who sends his Spirit to make all things new. That’s what salvation is about, and it’s worth taking time to study and to notice.
If ordinary people took the claims in your book seriously, how would it impact the world? What would happen in our hearts, homes, churches, and cities?
For some people, a fresh understanding of salvation will involve a new-found freedom from shame. It’s one thing to say that Christ willingly took on your penalty (which is true), but it’s another to say that he has also borne your shame. He entered into the human experience of abuse, public exposure, and shameful nakedness. As many readers know, the sense of shame cannot be magically erased by punishment. It must be shared and then slowly extinguished by the power of union with a God who sees and knows and loves.
For others, the impact of this book will be a realization that the cross and Kingdom go together. We don’t have to choose—and indeed we must not choose—between lifting high the saving death of Jesus and living sacrificially to be part of his Kingdom in the here and now.
For others, the impact will be a fresh appreciation for the Spirit’s role within salvation and atonement. One of my favorite sections (in chapter five) unpacks how the Holy Spirit prevents our understanding of salvation from falling into two of the most common secular narratives that exist today: the way of authenticity and the way of self-improvement.
Finally, the impact for yet another audience will be a biblical appreciation for how Jesus willingly takes on the judgment for our sin, but not in a crass or pagan way in which the “big mean God” vents sadistic rage upon an innocent victim so He can then be nice to us. The biblical story is better than that—and God is calling us to live within it. But that same biblical story still does teach that Jesus bore the judgement for our sin—so I’m exciting about communicating that reality in a way that avoids misunderstanding.
Whatever your background, my prayer is that the many-sided significance of Jesus’ work will result in passionate worship and sacrificial service of the God who saves sinners and transforms them by his Spirit.
Like the subtitle says, atonement is “for ordinary people”—so I’m praying that this book connects with those who have questions about Jesus and the gospel.
In How Jesus Saves: Atonement for Ordinary People Joshua McNall addresses this great Christian doctrine with simplicity without sacrificing the nuance this topic demands.
- College or Young Adult Ministry
- Small groups
- Neighborhood Bible studies
- Sunday School
In these pages you will:
- Come to understand the meaning of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection
- Engage with a book that is highly readable and written in ordinary language
- Appreciate the goodness, beauty, and truth of God vis-a-vis atonement doctrine