Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Precious Blood": A Review

I've been thinking a lot about blood lately. I've been preaching through the Gospel of Matthew in recent weeks and we are at a major turning point. The confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi changes the narrative drastically. No longer is the story about life, vibrancy, and public miracles. Instead, its about suffering, judgment, wrath, a public death, and blood. Blood.  The Bible is, to say the least, a very bloody book. Not just because it is full of tales with murder and war, but God is a God that requires a lot of it.

It is this thought that moved me to the wonderful book Precious Blood: The Atonement of Christ edited by Richard D. Phillips with contributing chapters by Philip Ryken, Carl Truman, RC Sproul, Joel Beeke, and several others.  The book is basically broken up into two parts:  biblical/systematic theology and historical theology.

The book begins looking at the biblical/systematic theological truth of the atonement.  Why is the cross necessary?  The contributers walk the reader through what Scripture says and why penal substitution is the root meaning of the cross.  The first chapter is fascinating.  Written by Beeke, the author looks at the Passover and relates it to Christ. The parallels between the lamb in Exodus and the Lamb in the Gospels is striking and Beeke draws some conclusions that I had not seen before.  Likewise, the chapter looking at the atoning work of the cross is helpful. Walking the reader through the images of the temple (propitiation), the market (redemption), and the courtroom (justification) is a helpful way to understand the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

The section on historical theology is pretty straightforward.  There's a chapter on the early church and their soteriology, on medieval theology, the Reformers (of course!), the puritans, etc. The two most helpful chapters here are the ones on the theology of the Early Church and on the more contemporary issue of responding to those in the non-violent atonement camp.

Regarding the Early Church, the contributor slowly guides the reader through the complications of asking what the early church believed on this issue.  We must remember, the author notes, that the early church, though wrote theology, were as much apologists for the gospel.  They were having to fight off Gnosticism, Marcionism, docetism, all the while running for their lives from various persecutions.  But that does not mean that nothing is said on the subject.  The author lays out the case in their belief in the recapitulation theory, the ransom theory, and even penal substitution.

But the most helpful chapter to me personally was the last chapter which was a response to the critics of penal substitution.  It is increasingly popular in evangelicalism today to write off penal substitution as a form of "divine child abuse." The chapter walks the reader through what has been said on the subject and how a right view of God, man, Christ, and the cross - as the Bible presents it - demands a correct understanding of penal substitution without all of the unnecessary rhetoric. The author makes an excellent point here.  All of the talk about being open to other views on the atonement, and the author agrees that there is something to Christus Victor and others, this is all really an effort to undermine penal substitution. It is, if you will, a "anything but propitiation," campaign that has gained a lot of traction.

Overall this is an excellent book on an important subject that you need in your library.  The gospel is under assault and books like this will contribute to the recovery of the gospel.  I conclude with the books conclusion:

But what about the culture? Is it true that our postmodern world does not register with the legal considerations of penal substitutionary atonement? If this is so, might it be that the world so little knows the truth about God and that our culture has, in its sensual addictions, as Paul puts it, suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness and 'exchanged the truth about God for a lie' (Rom. 1:18, 25)? If this is the case, and an assessment of postmodern culture based on a belief in the authority and truth of Scripture is bound to reach such a conclusion, then for Christians to collaborate in so deadly a deception will neither advance the true cause of the gospel nor reflect the merciful love of God towards the world.

But is it really true that the biblical gospel of Christ's atoning death as our penal substitute cannot hope to reach today's world? Once we see that the gospel reveals not another warmed-over version of failed humanistic thinking but, rather, a rejection of Western individualism for a saving, covenantal solidarity with God's own Son, who loved us enough even to take our sins t the cross, then perhaps Williams is right when he suggests that, contrary to its critics, 'penal substitution has a bright future and will preach well.' -225

For more:
Blogizomai - The Problems With Penal Substitution: McLaren on the Atonement
Thesis - Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology:  From Cultural Accommodation to the Social Gospel 
Theology - God as Butcher: McLaren on Penal Substitution
Blogizomai - Its Not Just a Theory: Stott on Penal Substitution
Blogizomai - Theology Thursday | Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution: A Review of the Evidence
Blogizomai - "Salvation Brings Imitation": Piper on Christus Exemplar 
Theology - The Postmodern Social Gospel:  Brian McLaren Proves My Point  
Theology - Allison: A History of the Doctrine of the Atonement  
Theology - Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 1 - Introduction
Theology - Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 2 - Christus Exemplar and the doctrine of sin and depravity
Theology - Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 3 - The History of Christus Exemplar
Theology - Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 4 - Christus Exemplar and Humility
Theology - Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution:  A Look at the Evidence
Reviews - "Death by Love" by Mark Driscoll
Reviews - "In My Place, Condemned He Stood"
Reviews - "It is Well"
Reviews - "The Lost Message of Jesus"

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