I've heard it many times: “I don’t need to go to church. Jesus and I are alright!” Right now I am reading, for the third time, through Scot McKnight’s amazing book on the atonement titled A Community Called Atonement. One of the things I love about this book is how he reminds us of the many purposes the atonement accomplishes.
For McKnight the Kingdom of God is a society where the will of God is established. I think that Jesus’ proclamation is all about him becoming King and that through this all the ancient promises made to Israel are coming true. However, this kingdom is realized in the context of a society. It is good news that Jesus is becoming King because that means true peace and justice for all its subjects. What the atonement is intended to do then is create this society where Jesus reigns, where God’s will is established.
This isn’t the only reason for the atonement that McKnight provides (i.e. the save us from the wrath of God, to restore cracked eikons, etc.) but I think that it is a helpful one. Salvation, to be sure, is something that happens to individuals but it is never individualistic. Our sins are atoned for so that we may be part of something bigger. We are to participate in God’s grand redemption of the whole kosmos (i.e. Ephesians 1) within God’s new humanity, the church. The church is the foretaste of what is to come and the atonement brings us into this community. The next time you want to sleep in on Sunday morning remember this: “This is what you are saved for!”