So McKnight takes us on a tour of the Christian story to unpack all the various metaphors and components to atonement: recapitulation, ransom, Christus Victor, satisfaction, substitution, representation, etc. He says, "What we are most in need of today is not a continuance of the atonement wars for a privileged metaphor, but a vigorous discussion of the value of each of the metaphors so that each image is invited to the table. . . . I'm arguing instead for an embracive category, one that includes each metaphor in a larger, rounded whole. We need to use all the clubs in our bag and we need a bag that can hold them all."
The golf bag, so to speak, is what he calls "identification for incorporation." Jesus, in the incarnation, identifies with us, becomes what we are, and experiences our humanity and suffering. And this identification has the purpose of incorporation, that we are incorporated into Christ, the second Adam. McKnight does a fantastic job of showing how all aspects of the atonement are wrapped up in being "in Christ." Justification is in Christ (Gal 2:17), sanctification is in Christ (1 Cor 1:2), redemption is in Christ (Rom 3:24), new creation is in Christ (2 Cor 5:19), freedom is in Christ (Gal 2:4), new life is in Christ (Rom 6:11) and on and on.
So it's more than a cognitive matter of getting the "right" atonement theory or doctrine down pat. It's rather that all of the different vocabulary sheds light on the lived reality of being in Christ. It's more than holding the "right" golf club; it's actually playing the game. Or, to change the analogy, McKnight says that it's like playing the violin:
"The magic of a violin is the capacity for the violinist to make each string work in harmony with the others to create the appropriate sound. If a violinist somehow managed to play only one string on the violin, the sound could never be complete. Some theories of atonement ask violinists either to pluck all but one string or to play gospel music as though only one string really mattered. I want to contend that we need each of the strings, and that we need to seek for a violinist with a bow that can stroke the strings so well that the potency of each string creates a harmonious composition that puts our hearts at rest." (p. 114)And in case anybody's worried about McKnight denying substitutionary atonement or penal substitution, he's quite clear that he affirms these and that the Bible teaches that Jesus suffered death on our part. It's a reflection of his identification (he died our death) for the purpose of incorporation (so we might partake in his resurrection and be raised with him). McKnight also notes that "substitution" is not complete enough as a metaphor. He argues that "we ought to use the term representation more, for it is true that Jesus 'represents' us the way a priest represents the people before God."
There's much more that could be said, but I'll spare the details here and simply commend the book to you. It's quite accessible and doesn't get bogged down in theological jargon or minutiae. If you don't care to get into all the theological analysis and would prefer a treatment that simply probes each of the various images and metaphors, take a look at Neil Livingstone's Picturing the Gospel, which looks at images from redemption and ransom to justification and new life in a very practical way and spins out implications for ministry and witness.