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Archive for October 20th, 2012

BOOK ANALYSIS

There have been many great books that have been written concerning the cross of Christ.  Books like Redemption Accomplished and Applied (1955) by John Murray, Systematic Theology (1941) by Louis Berkhof, and the five books written by Leon Morris called The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (1955), The Cross in the New Testament (1965), Glory in the Cross (1966), The Atonement (1983), and The Cross of Jesus (1988).  Another major work that is among the classics affirming the doctrine of the cross is John Stott’s The Cross of Christ (1986).  John Stott’s book has been a very popular and cherished by many.  But with all the books concerning the cross of Christ that have been written, distorted views continue to exist concerning the cross.  The continual confusion has lead to another important book (336 pages) with its groundbreaking research.  Endorsed by many prolific pastors and scholars, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, written by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, covers two major parts in the book.  Part one covers the biblical, theological, pastoral, and historical elements.  Part two answers the critiques with an apologetical twist.

In lieu of all the important facets covered in this book, the crux or the heartbeat of the book is centered on this God-glorifying, biblical statement when it comes to exalting the heart of the gospel: “That the Lord Jesus Christ died for us—a shameful death, bearing our curse, enduring our pain, suffering the wrath of his own Father in our place—has been the wellspring of the hope of countless Christians throughout the ages.”[1]  This statement is referred to as “penal substitution,” “substitutionary atonement,” or “vicarious atonement.”

For the purpose of this book analysis, concerted efforts will not be focused on the summary of the content, but will involve critical interactions from the book in order to discover the weaknesses and strengths so that a passion will be lit for you study more concerning areas you think that were was not presented in the book; and to encourage you with the wonderful resources documented and written by these fine authors.

In regard to the weaknesses in this book, there are a few that I see.  Some of the weaknesses can be found in pages 47-48 and 213.  There are probably other pages that could be discussed, but these pages will be my focus for now.  And just a footnote: there are not many weaknesses compared to the vast strengths, but it is enough to devote some interaction with them.

In regards to page 47-48, the author (s) somewhat seems to blur the connection of penal substitution of Christ when using the example of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2).  Although I appreciate the efforts of the author (s) in trying to tie in the idea that if Nadab and Abihu offered a good sacrifice[2], God’s wrath would be averted (Lev. 9:24)—however, I disagree with how the paradigm is connected to penal substitution.  In page 47, the author (s) says this in the context of Nadab and Abihu, “…God’s wrath must be overcome in order to draw near to him….” The problem with that statement is that there was no way to overcome God’s wrath because Nadab and Abihu had rebelled against God and there would be no way for them to avert God’s anger even after their sin was committed.  Moreover, performing good sacrifices do not always avert God’s anger as seen in Lev. 9:24.  If there is a certain sin that is an abomination, it maybe too late to avert God’s anger.  Although I appreciate the applications of the word kipper (כפר) to relate to “averting God’s anger,” it does not fully correspond to the idea of penal substitution of Christ as seen in the New Testament or other passages in the Old Testament like Isaiah 53.  The passage in Leviticus 16 and Leviticus 10:1-2 may teach some aspects of penal substitution, but it does not illustrate penal substitution in its full complexities.  The passage in 10:1-2 seems to be teaching more on the failures of Nadab and Abihu rather than making atonement to be in right relationship with God.[3]  The children of Israel were already God’s people.  The only time they would need to make atonement or avert God’s anger is when sin is in play.

On another note, when examining the Leviticus 16 passage that is covered in pages 42-50, the blood of goats and bulls that were “sprinkled on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat” had to be repeated annually (Lev. 16:29-34).  But with the penal substitution of Christ who is our High Priest, He only performed one sacrifice; and the sacrifice was enough to avert God’s anger forever (Hebrews 9:11-14).  As a result, I see aspects of the atonement being illustrated in Leviticus and its foreshadows to Christ’s sacrifice, but it does not teach a complete detailed idea of penal substitution as revealed in the New Testament or other passages in the Old Testament like Isaiah 53.  With all due respect, it appears that the author (s) maybe theologizing the text prior to exegeting the passages.  Each passage in the Bible have different contexts.  As a result, much care must be taken into account in order to preserve the exegesis process.  Theologizing or systematizing a passage should come after exegesis.

Another area of weakness would be page 213 where the author (s) discusses the perfect obedience of Christ in relation to the law.  In page 213, the author (s) say this in regards to the perfect obedience of Christ,

Christ’s entire life on earth was part of his atoning work, for he lived in perfect obedience to the law of God, which was binding upon us but which we failed to keep.  This integrates perfectly with the doctrine of penal substitution.  The righteousness of Jesus’ life was imputed (credited, or reckoned) to us, so that we might be justified, or declared righteous by God, and stand pure and blameless before him.”

It would be good if the author (s) pointed out what law is binding upon us.  Is the entire Mosaic Law binding upon us or is it the moral law that is universally binding to us all?  I think this needs to be addressed for the sake of clarity since many debates these days—at least in my experience, has been centered on the law.

At this juncture, let us now transition into the positives.  As I said earlier, the book have many enriching truths in regards to penal substitution.  I believe this book adds more clarity, truthfulness, and sacredness regarding the doctrine of penal substitution.  I hope that it will fuel more confidence to the preacher of the Gospel.  The preacher and Christian will have more confidence in this wonderful doctrine and will be better equipped in defending the Faith from enemies of the cross.  Upon reading this book, I really enjoyed the exegesis that was used in the passages such as Isaiah 53:13-53:12; the Gospel of Mark; the Gospel of John; Romans; Galatians 3:10-23; and 1 Peter 2:21-25 and 3:18.  I appreciated the author’s effort in spending much of their material on the significant passages that contributes to penal substitution.  Another portion of the book that really made the reading enjoyable was the explanation of the penal substitution in light of a biblical theological framework.  For example, discussing the doctrine in light of creation, decreation, the consequences of sin, truth, goodness, justice, salvation, relationships within the Trinity, and redemption, made me appreciate Christ’s sacrifice more.  It is amazing how all of the sobering theological terms just mentioned somehow link to penal substitution.  Without them, it would be hard to grasp my thinking around the forensic nature of penal substitution.

Another part about this book that I was keen on were the pastoral implications of penal substitution.  It is a powerful reminder for me that when someone sins against me, that person did not offend me more than I have offended Christ.  The wrath of Jesus’ Father should of been poured out on me and consumed me.  It is sobering that Jesus – by taking on my sin in order that His righteousness be injected into me, His just Father who could not tolerate sin, targeted His wrath towards His Son because He became our substitute (Isa. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21).  His anger crushed His own Son (Isa. 53:10; Rom. 5:9).  This is why the cross precipitates my mind and heart to look to the cross and say, “If you could forgive a wretched man like me then I should forgive those who have hurt me.”  The cross of Christ humbles you and will make you a better shepherd and Christian when it comes to dealing with difficult people God has placed in your life.

When the book turned its attention towards the “historical pedigree of substitution” by quoting giants of the faith in church history, it provided me strength and perseverance when hostile speculations and attacks go against this holy doctrine.  It’s a powerful reminder for me that if the brethren in the past could go through the attacks with perseverance, we should too, because we have the same Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:13).

When journeying into the second part of the book, entitled, “Answering the Critics” one who is unfamiliar with some of the heretical logics thrown at Christians will appreciate this part of the book.  The book rebuttals some of the hostile rationalistic thoughts such as, “Penal substitution is the product of human culture, not biblical counseling,” The violence involved in penal substitution amounts to ‘cosmic child abuse,’” etc.[4] The authors do a fairly good job in answering the critiques in a loving and truthful way by discussing the doctrine of penal substitution in relation to the Bible, culture, violence, justice, our understanding of God, and the Christian life.  Much of the attacks against penal substitution is prevalent and driven mostly by the academic world, but I suspect that in the near future, the attacks against penal substitution will permeate and spread its disease to others not involved in the academic world.

CONCLUSION

Penal substitution is a serious doctrine that must be exalted amongst all Christians.  To separate oneself from this doctrine is to sever oneself from orthodoxy.  To substitute rationalism for penal substitution is to make oneself hostile before a Holy God.  Since this doctrine is the heartbeat of the Gospel, which is linked to salvation, one must preach this truth with passion and integrity.  One must not substitute rationalism, lies, or inaccuracies for the sacred and biblical understanding of penal substitution.  The cross was bloody and costly.  We must not cheapen it in order to satisfy the masses.  One should also be careful when treading the waters of penal substitution when using illustrations in preaching or teaching.  The book has an appendix called, “A Personal Note to Preachers,”on pages 329-336 that discusses the negative implications of illustrations used in explaining penal substitution.  Brethren, let us work out our theology in fear in trembling!


[1] Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 21.

[2] See complete quote regarding “overcoming God’s wrath and good sacrifices” by the author (s): “It thereby highlights the fact that God’s wrath must be overcome in order to draw near to him, and that only by performing the sacrifices in the correct manner is this possible” (Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007], 47).

[3] Kent Maitland, “Book Review: Pierced for Our Transgressions,” The Bible Belt, entry posted n.d., http://biblebeltstudies.blogspot.com/2011/10/book-review-pierced-for-our.html (accessed October 19, 2012).

[4] Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, 9-10.

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