A Christian Life: Living Across the Lines. A Grounded Theory Study of Understandings of the Atonement Among Evangelical Christians
Sievers, Jeremy H.
Aim: To explore evangelical Christians’ understanding of the atonement and establish whether there is a relationship between different ideas of the atonement and wellbeing in the lives of participants. Methods: Christians were recruited through church newsletter advertisements from churches that identified as being evangelical. Participants each took part in a semistructured interview lasting between sixty and ninety minutes. Using constructivist grounded theory, the resulting data was analysed until theoretical saturation was reached. Findings: The initial finding was that the specific beliefs participants held about the atonement did not appear to be a predominant factor related to their wellbeing. Instead, reports from participants implicated other factors as being more significant, particularly their early experiences in life. However, as Grounded Theory Methodology is an emergent research method, data analysis led to the construction of the theory, “A Christian life: living across the lines.” This substantive theory is composed of two main categories: “Living between the lines” and “Patterns in the thinking space.” The theory explains that while participants had expectations of a life of faith that was prescribed as being between the lines, or boundaries, of beliefs, a majority of participants had spent some time, and for some, significant time, outside the lines and in what the theory describes as a “thinking space.” Conclusions: It is proposed that rather than understanding Christian life as defined by a narrow set of boundaries around beliefs and actions, it is preferable to expand that understanding to encompass the wider experience of participants, whose lives wove in and out of the lines, experiencing God both inside and outside the lines. Findings from this study raised questions about the level of awareness of the different theories of the atonement that have been important to Christian belief over the centuries. In general, participants were reasonably ill-informed about the range of atonement images and theories. In particular, recent vigorous debate about the atonement that has taken place in the academy seems to have had limited impact on what is disseminated at the local church level of the participants.
Advisor: Rae, Murray; McKenzie-Green, Barbara
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Theology and Religion
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: atonement; evangelical; christian; wellbeing; psychology; theology
Research Type: Thesis