Recently I’ve had the occasion to tell a few different people who were not theologically educated what my dissertation was about. “Atonement theory” is not a very intuitive term, obviously, and people are often taken by surprise that arguably the central question of Christianity — why was Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection the necessary means of salvation? — has never received the same kind of “official” answer that questions about Christ’s precise relationship to God have. Thus telling someone about the topic in a more casual setting can easily lead to more detailed explanation than is appropriate.
Thinking it through over the last few days, however, I believe I have finally come up with an elegant and economical way to introduce the topic to a generally educated audience: “As you may be able to tell, Jesus has always been something of a solution in search of a problem…”