Tag Archives: Atonement

Book Review: Atonement

Atonement is a collection of presentations given at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology edited by Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer.  This collection includes the following speaker/authors.  I’ve included the title of each chapter with their corresponding author below.

J.I. Packer                            The Necessity of the Atonement

John R. De Witt                   The Nature of Atonement: Reconciliation

James M. Boice                    The Nature of Atonement: Propitiation

John R. Gerstner                The Atonement and the Purpose of God

R.C. Sproul                          Sacrifice and Satisfaction

James M. Boice                    The Language of the Marketplace

Sinclair Ferguson                Christ, the Sin-Bearer

Alistair Begg                         Preaching the Cross

In short, this is a quality book offering various viewpoints on individual aspects of Jesus Christ’s atonement.  The atonement is under attack today, from everyone from liberal theologians to fundamental conservatives and every sort of animal in between.  In the introductory chapter, Packer offers an exposition of Romans 8:32 in which he seeks to define how Christ’s death on the cross was the only way that God could justify a sinful people.  Rightly focusing on the justice of God, while highlighting propitiation, Packer concludes that the atonement of Jesus was “necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin.”

In chapter 2, De Witt teaches on 2 Corinthians 5:21 and brings the reader to the understanding that sinners need reconciliation to God.  He states, according to the Apostle Paul, “reconciliation, therefore, is a breaking down of barriers or a restoration of a breached relationship” (see Romans 5:9-11).  The focus of chapter 3 is 1 John 4:10, specifically propitiation, which James Boice gives its proper due.  Building upon the previous chapter, Boice sets out to also define reconciliation and redemption.

Chapter 4, The Atonement and the Purpose of God, by Gerstner builds upon the rich theology found in Romans 8:29.  In reaching his conclusion, Gerstner first sets out to define the Calvinistic acrostic, T.U.L.I.P. He focuses primarily on the total depravity of man (T) stating that this is the primary objection that most people offer when confronted by the doctrines of grace (Calvinism).  “Those who object to the decrees are actually suffering from a lack of conviction of their depravity.  Only if you are convinced that you are not just sick, but dead, will you know that there is only one person who can make you alive – the Giver of life Himself – and therefore be utterly persuaded of the decree of unconditional election.” 

In Chapter 5, R.C. Sproul  discusses Sacrifice and Satisfaction by expounding on Galatians 3:13.  In doing so, he contrasts the blessings of God, such as those found in Numbers 6:24-26 with what it means that Christ became a curse for us.  This is a striking chapter that really puts into perspective the sacrifice that Christ made in dying for His sheep.  In chapter 6, Boice now explains the principle of redemption by describing The Language of the Marketplace.  In doing so, Boice gives proper attention to the Old Testament premise of “kinsmen-redeemer”. 

Chapter 7, “Christ, the Sin-Bearer” is built around Isaiah 53:3-4, in which Sinclair Ferguson concludes, “Without Jesus Christ bearing our sin, there is no salvation.  The very reason for his suffering and agony, the very reason he goes to the cross of Calvary, and the very reason he is marred beyond human recognition was so that he might be the sin-bearer of men and women.”  Alistair Begg wraps up this collection of presentations with a pastoral perspective by emphasizing the importance of Preaching the Cross where he states, “Without the cross of Jesus Christ there is no gospel.”   Concluding, Begg adds, “the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ…compels me in evangelism, saves me, corrects my silly notions of struggling on, and it forms my character.  A person who lives near the cross will be marked by holiness, love, and endurance.”

This is a helpful book for anyone wanting a quick, but thorough, study on various aspects of the atonement.  It will rightly point you to Scripture and expand you thinking on the glorious work of Christ on the cross.  Each of these chapters is essentially an introductory treatise on larger doctrines of the Atonement.  As this book concludes, the cross of Christ is essential for the Christian to realize and recognize what Christ has accomplished and to understand it so that they can rightly proclaim the Gospel.

Theology in Song

The song below, Glorious Day as performed by Casting Crowns, and originally written in 1908 as the hymn Oh Glorious Day, by Rev. John Wilbur Chapman is rich with theological themes.  Every time I hear the song I can’t help but notice how filled with doctrine this song is, such that it truly causes me to reflect on the glorious work that God has done for His children and then to worship Him for it.  In Psalm 66:1-4 the psalmist says, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!  Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!  So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.  All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name. Selah.’”  What is the source for singing praises to God?  A right understanding of who God is and what He has done is the source for a fountain of worship.  Everything in the believer’s life should flow forth from a right understanding of who God is and worship is no different.  I’ve summarized some of the more overt theological themes from the song.  Understanding their place in reality makes them much more than mere words in a song.

  1. Heaven filled with His praises – Doctrine of Angels
  2. When sin was as black as could be – Doctrine of Sin
  3. Born of a virgin – Doctrine of the Virgin Birth
  4. Word became flesh – Doctrine of the Incarnation
  5. Living He loved me –Doctrine of the Atonement – Active Obedience/Sinlessness
  6. Dying He saved me –Doctrine of the Atonement – Passive Obedience/Propitiation/Substitutionary Atonement
  7. Buried He carried my sins far away –Doctrine of the Atonement – Expiation
  8. Rising He justified –Doctrine of the Resurrection/Doctrine of Justification
  9. One Day He’s Coming – Doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming
  10. Bearing Our Sins – Doctrine of the Atonement – Penal Substitutionary Atonement
  11. My Redeemer is He – Doctrine of Redemption
  12. Took the nails for me –Doctrine of the Atonement – Penal Substitutionary Atonement
  13. The grave could no longer conceal Him – Doctrine of the Resurrection
  14. Then He arose, over death He had conquered –Doctrine of the Resurrection
  15. Now He’s ascended  – Doctrine of Christ’s Ascension
  16. One day the trumpet will sound for His coming – Doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming

Book Review: Scandalous – The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

Scandalous, by D.A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) and published by Crossway is a well-written, clear exposition of 5 Scripture passages that detail the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As Carson states in his Preface, “nothing is more central to the Bible than Jesus’ death and resurrection” and this is precisely the focal point of his book.  Dr. Carson begins his book with a look at Matthew 27:27-51 in Chapter 1 entitled: “The Ironies of the Cross.”  In classic Carson style, he brings out the following paradoxes from his look at this passage: 1) The man who is mocked as king – is king 2) The man who is utterly powerless – is powerful 3) The man who can’t save Himself – saves others 4) The man who cries out in despair – trusts God.  Of note in this chapter was John 2:19 “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” to which Carson adds:

“The point is that under the terms of the old covenant, the temple was the great meeting place between a holy God and his sinful people.  This was the place of sacrifice, the place of atonement for sin.  But this side of the cross, where Jesus by his sacrifice pays for our sin, Jesus himself becomes the great meeting place between a holy God and his sinful people; thus he becomes the temple, the meeting place between God and his people.  It is not as if Jesus in his incarnation adequately serves as the temple of God.  That is a huge mistake.  Jesus says, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’  It is Jesus’ death, in his destruction, and in his resurrection three days later, that Jesus meets our needs and reconciles us to God, becoming the temple, the supreme meeting place between God and sinners.  To use Paul’s language, we do not simply preach Christ; rather we preach Christ crucified.”

Chapter 2 was most significant for me because it brought to my attention an oft-read passage from Romans 3:21-26, but one which is of supreme importance.  So much so that Carson titled this chapter, “The Center of the Whole Bible.”  Here Dr. Carson does some of his best expositions from the book and he adds a strong statement that “the hardest truth to get across to this generation is what the Bible says about sin.”  The central question of humanity is how a sinful man can be just before a holy God.  In summary, this passage answers that question by detailing the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.  Dr. Carson highlights 2 key terms which are critical to understanding not only this passage, but the centrality of the cross in the entire Bible: Redemption and Propitiation.  To Redemption, Carson states that until recently it was always considered economic language and this is how the Greco-Roman world would have understood the term, as in the redemption of slaves.  Carson points out that Romans 3:24 says Christians have been redeemed from slavery to sin and are now slaves of Jesus Christ (see Romans 6).  But, he asks, “How does this work?  In what sense, then, are we redeemed?  What has freed us?  The answer: God has presented Christ as a propitiation.”     

“Propitiation”, “expiation”, “sacrifice of atonement”, and even “remedy for defilement” are all terms used by various translations, but propitiation is the best.  Carson defines propitiation as the sacrificial act by which someone becomes favorable.  He then takes a paragraph to explain the pagan application of the word, which refers to offering a sacrifice for the purpose of making the gods propitious or favorable.  Carson then sets out to define the other related terms, mentioned above, and follows to expiation.  This term actually stands in contrast to the definition of propitiation of making someone favorable in that it “aims to cancel sin.”  The object of propitiation is God Himself.  The object of expiation is sin, which is cancelled.  Carson concludes, “Expiation refers to the cancelling of sin, and propitiation refers to satisfying or setting aside God’s wrath.  The particular word used in Romans 3:25 is used most commonly in the Old Testament to refer to a propitiating sacrifice that turns aside God’s wrath.”

In this chapter, Carson introduces objections to the meaning of propitiation brought on in the 1930’s by C.H. Dodd.  Dodd argued for the meaning of expiation versus the propitious act of God, because he believed in the pagan nature of propitiation (previously mentioned) and said it could therefore not apply to God.  Carson states that he misunderstood the personal nature of God’s wrath and was wrong to separate the nature of expiation and propitiation, whereas biblically they “hang together.”  As Carson writes, “In Christian propitiation, God the Father sets Jesus forth as the propitiation to make himself propitious; God is both the subject and the object of propitiation.  God is the one who provides the sacrifice precisely as a way of turning aside His own wrath.  God the Father is thus the propitiator and the propitiated, and God the Son is the propitiation”

Chapter 3 is an exposition of Revelation 12 and is entitled, “The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb.”  Here Carson seems to approach the cross from an eschatological (end time) point of view encouraging believers in the face of future opposition.  This is a beneficial chapter to help challenge the reader’s view of their millennial position.  The concluding applications drawn by Carson as they relate to society are 1) Analyze culture biblically and theologically, not merely sociologically and psychologically.  2) Use the weapons that Christ has provided, weapons based on Christ’s atoning death.  

In Chapter 4, “A Miracle Full of Surprises” Dr. Carson highlights John 11:1-53.  This is the familiar passage of Lazarus’ resurrection.  The purpose of this chapter is to show that in the midst of despair Christ draws attention to Himself.  “In our deepest loss, we need more than friendship and a listening ear – though they are wonderful.  We need more than mere arguments – though in some cases good arguments stabilize us.  We need the reality of God Himself – God as he has spectacularly and definitely disclosed himself to us in the person of his Son.  He will require of us that we focus our attention on him, both for this life and the one to come.”  Dr. Carson concludes his discussion on the scandalous nature of the cross and resurrection with an exposition of John 20:24-31 in chapter 5, “Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus.”  Here Carson confronts the nature of doubt and counters it with true, genuine belief in Jesus Christ.      

Scandalous is an accessible book, regardless of theological knowledge or background, and is a commendable read to anyone wishing to better understand the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.