Winter avers that it begins with reconciliation with God. To atone, one has to rebuild the relationship with God. This relationship has to be built on love, necessarily. And how does recompense for sin plays into all of this? By asking for forgiveness and recognizing the sin. Winter provides several examples from the gospels which leave no doubt about the recognition of wrongdoing and asking forgiveness. One example (of many) that illustrates this completely is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here no compensation is required of the youngest son other than recognition of his abandoning his father and the associated contrition. Indeed, this ties in with Winter's earlier claim that for atonement to have occurred, it was not necessary that Jesus die a painful death -- despite claims that he bore the sum total of the burden of the sins of humanity.
Winter also addresses the obvious question: is the profound notion of atonement than cheapened by the fact that the first step to achieve it is the mere asking for forgiveness? But Winter reminds us that atonement is the state of achievement of grace, which cannot be obtained cheaply. And again, in keeping with the lack of need for Christ to have suffered at his death, Winter goes on to say that Christ is the perfect vehicle for the process of atonement. The author returns several times to the theme of "vicarious atonement," as a process where one atones for the sins of the others -- as mentioned by Isaiah. As St. Basil recommends that such a vicarious atonement cannot be fulfilled by one person in place of another. This is because we all are born with the taint of original sin. Christ is perfect because Christ is undoubtedly the Son of God. He is sinless. At the same time by becoming human, Christ became the human vehicle for vicarious atonement. Christ, as the perfect human, alone is capable interceding for human sin -- that is asking for forgiveness and repenting. This is the crux of Winter's thesis. And the notion of Christ as the intercessor to God is not unprecedented. Both Moses and Abraham were called upon to intercede and become conduits to God's message to his people. The Old Testament contains enough evidence for this. The best evidence for this intercession comes in the form of the Lord's Prayer, where we ask God (through Jesus) to "forgive us our trespasses and lead us not into temptation."
Winter, throughout the book, demonstrates that the violent death of Jesus was not necessary, especially in refuting St. Anselm's thesis that it was necessary as a collective burden of human sins and to appease a vengeful deity. And we see that is was perhaps unnecessary. But the violent and painful death did happen. And Winter is aware that his thesis will come under scrutiny and critique that atonement might indeed not have been possible if not for the violent death. Winter addresses this issue in last chapter of his book, "The Inevitable Crucifixion." Indeed, he seeks to dissociate the death of Jesus from Jesus' role in the pursuit of atonement and eventually salvation. Winter places the violence of Jesus' death in the context of the history of the time and the legality surrounding the religious dogmas woven into the fabric of Jewish society while the Roman's (with their pagan worship) ruled what was then known as Palestine. Jesus was not a fiery speaker, not did he challenge the Jewish faith or the Roman rulers directly. But there is enough direct evidence in the Gospels which shows that Jesus was critical, not of the Jewish faith, but the system of beliefs that the Pharisees had enmeshed themselves in. Jesus' death, the violence of it more to serve notice to others who might seek to emulate Jesus, was an immediate retaliatory response to Jesus the individual. There was no fear of the consequence of Jesus presence on earth; indeed, Jesus operated as just another Jew.
Winter creates an interesting thesis and supports it well. His book is well cited from the Old and New Testament as well as from other's perspective. From the perspective of the lay reader, and not a scholar who wishes to pursue the study of atonement, it would be preferred if instances of opinions of others that were skipped by the author (in the interest) of brevity, were included. This would make this book a comprehensive treatise on the notion of atonement.
Kent, W. (1907). Doctrine of the Atonement. In the Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from New Advent:
Winter, Michael. (1995) the Atonement. in. Problems in Theology. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.