The Atonement Creating Unions

Ax Exploration in Inter-Religious Theology

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Godfrey Kesari
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , January
     2019.
     236 pages.
     $29.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532652622.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The main objective of Godfrey Kesari’s The Atonement Creating Unions: An Exploration in Inter-Religious Theology is to bridge the epistemological gap between the Christian doctrine of the atonement and Visistadvaitic Hindu theology (6). Kesari notes that Hindus have a hard time accepting the notion of a God demanding the innocent blood of Jesus Christ (2-4). In addition, the author comments on the multifaceted nature of the doctrine of the atonement, wherein Christian theologians ranging from Anselm to Karl Barth have written extensively on this doctrine, hence creating different atonement models (5).

Yet, in spite of the multifarious nature of this doctrine in Christianity, there has never been an atonement model which has used another religious tradition as its base. Kesari seeks to address this issue by creating a model called “the atonement creating unions” (26). As ambitious as it may seem, Kesari himself admits that this book is not meant to be comprehensive; it is only meant to initiate and foster interreligious dialogue and understanding. In a sense, this book is also very much missional, for it seeks to contextualize westernized Christian theology for an eastern theological context (Visistadvaitic Hindu theology). 

Kesari achieves these goals because he tries to translate Christian theological jargon by putting it into a Visistadvaitic Hindu mode of expression. Since Visistadvaitic Hindu theology expresses salvation as one of union with Brahman (44), the author does not want to use the language of penal substitution because it does not “directly suit the Indian context” (82). Indian Christian theologians such as M.M. Thomas have recognized this contextual mismatch and have hence tried to avoid using the language of substitution altogether (80).

Therefore, Kesari shifts the focus of Christ’s atonement to Christ dying for humanity so that humanity can have a renewed union with God (83). In this way, Kesari can possibly assuage the worries of those who adhere to Visistadvaitic Hindu theology that God is an angry monster requiring a sacrifice (82). 

Kesari additionally makes his atonement model relevant for the Indian cultural context by addressing the issue of estrangement, an issue that Christian theology and Visistadvaitic Hindu theology both share. To illustrate, he states that alienation (or estrangement) in traditional Christian theology is considered to be sin (6-7).  Human beings are completely alienated from God, from one another, from themselves, and with nature (7). Kesari points out that the same is true with Visistadvaitic Hindu theology (54-60). An Indian interpretation of Christian salvation, then, asserts a four-fold union with God, humanity, self, and nature. Kesari biblically supports his atonement model by citing Genesis 1, in which humans were initially at peace with God, others, self, and nature. The gospel, as portrayed in the New Testament, is one of liberation and freedom allowing the human being to restore this four-fold union mentioned in Genesis 1 (124-25). To Kesari, this is how the atonement can be understood in Visistadvaitic Hindu theology. 

In sum, Kesari’s The Atonement Creating Unions is an admirable first step of many in fostering dialogue between Visistadvaitic Hindu theology and Christian theology in the Indian subcontinent. Kesari’s penultimate chapter is quite successful in explaining the whole point of his atonement project: he writes, “A genuine conversation between the two theological traditions will be of mutual help and will promote an enhanced life together under the divine (165, emphasis mine). Interreligious dialogue, therefore, should not be apologetical in nature. Rather, it is meant to be one of fostering mutual respect for different theologies. And for this reason, this book is a must-read for those who are interested in comparative religion. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kristoff Reese Grosfeld is a graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
April 25, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Godfrey Kesari is the Vicar of the Holy Innocents Parish Church, Southwater, UK

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