A book review from this site is long overdue. At times it’s difficult to decide which book to review. Not long ago, I read a blog from a favorite poster boy from the denomination that my church is affiliated with. In this post, the author went on at length to answer the question, Why did Aslan have to die? That’s right, Aslan, as in the fictional creation of C. S. Lewis. The author went on to explain what appears to be Lewis’ view of the atonement. Why a Bible believing evangelical would care what a dyed in the wool Roman Catholic thinks regarding Christ’s atonement is beyond me, but nevertheless, that was the topic of discussion.
It should come as no surprise that Lewis seems to utterly reject the biblical and historically accepted view of penal substitution. Rome has made it a habit of rejecting most everything that is essential to the gospel. But what caused me to take a step back is that the author seemed to defend Lewis’ position as if it were his own. Here we have a professed Conservative Baptist defending a Roman view of the atonement. Here I was thinking that in conservative circles, penal substitution was the accepted understanding of Christ’s atonement. It seems that we cannot take anything for granted.
Which brings us to the work at hand. It seems that now more than ever, the pew-sitting Christian must be informed and trained in these matters because their leaders are doing more retreating than anything else.
Title: Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution
Authors: Steve Jeffery, Michael Overy, and Andrew Sach
Publisher: Crossway 2007
Page Count: 336 (not including endnotes)
Availability: $24.51 on Amazon
Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution is absolutely a must read for every Christian. That is the beauty of this work. It is written not only for the pastor, not only for the theologian, but also for the everyday pew sitting Christian. The authors have not “dumbed down" the material nor have they shorthanded their work in research, but have taken the time to clearly articulate and explain the issues and the responses in such a way that everyone can benefit. Though an extremely helpful work, it is still written by fallible men. Before I continue to gush over it, I’d like to first mention a few things that would improve the already spectacular quality of this work.
In chapter 2 when the authors are building a biblical foundation for the doctrine of penal substitution, I do not understand why they chose the Gospel of Mark to represent all three synoptic gospels. There is a real possibility that I am making a mountain out of a molehill here, but this smells of Marcion priority to me. No one will deny the authors that if a doctrine as substantial as penal substitution is taught in one synoptic gospel then it stands to reason that it is taught in all three. That taken with the need to save space and time for the larger argument makes me very sympathetic to the approach of one synoptic gospel being representative of them all. But why did they choose Mark? Would it not make more sense to choose Matthew, the first gospel written by a decade? Why not Luke, a gospel known for its detail and written by a man who conducted careful research? In fact, Mark would make the least amount of sense to stand as a representative of the three synoptic gospels because it was written after the other two. That is unless you believe that Mark wrote first and Matthew and Luke were adapting their stories to Mark’s. I feel very strongly that Marcion priority is a hair’s breadth from unchecked liberalism and should be stamped out at every turn. These authors, though they do not come out and say it, seem to have a Marcion priority as a pre-understanding when they make their arguments. I wish that they would reconsider and perhaps rewrite chapter 2 with an argument from Matthew.
This is really getting nit-picky, but these authors all hail from the United Kingdom, which becomes painfully obvious in chapter 5 as they look at the historical record of penal substitution. All of Christianity draws from the same pool for the first 1500 years of church history, but at the reformation we have a variety of heroes to choose from. With this in mind, it is curious that from the 18th century forward the authors only choose English heroes that championed penal substitution. I was shocked to see that Charles Hodge only got an honorable mention toward the end and absolutely no mention of the American fundamentalist movement in the early 20th century. Not that I think the work should be Americanized, but one might be led to think that the Brits have a corner on the penal substitution market. This is actually ironic in the light that not a single English reformer is mentioned in this chapter. One would think that this would be an excellent time to boast in men like Wycliffe or Tyndale or Knox. If those are the only critiques I can come up with, then I feel comfortable recommending this book to a friend; now on to the good stuff.
The authors of this book did an excellent job of showing how the doctrine of penal substitution is linked with nearly every major doctrine. They demonstrated quite persuasively that to deny penal substitution begins to pull at a thread that will unravel the whole tapestry of Christianity. To deny penal substitution attacks the trinity, the doctrines of grace, and the very nature of God. But, ironically, supporting and affirming the doctrine of penal substitution is to support and affirm all of those other doctrines. In fact, it goes much deeper than that. According to these authors (whether they purposed to do this or not, I do not know) a clear understanding of penal substitution will affirm a thoroughly Calvinistic understanding of soteriology. That sounds like a brash statement, but let me give you an example. On two different occasions (p. 146 & 248) the authors defended against the accusation of penal substitution being a case of cosmic child abuse and the doctrine of imputation by raising the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ as the answer. Our guilt is not arbitrarily placed on Christ nor his righteousness randomly placed upon us. It is because we are joined to him that it can be said that he died for us and that we have died with him to sin. On the surface this doesn’t seem to be dripping with Calvinistic theology. But if you think about it, this position demands the doctrine of Particular Redemption. In other words, Christ did not die for those who are not joined to him. Penal substitution is the glue that holds so much theology together, but if removed it is the lynchpin that will unravel nearly all Christian doctrine that is good for life and godliness. The authors demonstrated this very well.
One last aspect of the book that I very much appreciated was the logical order in which the authors presented their case. After a brief introduction, the authors went about making a biblical case for the doctrine. As true men of the Word, they went above and beyond to prove that this is a doctrine that comes off of the pages of Scripture and is not an extrapolation from ivory tower theologians. Next, the authors demonstrated the importance of this doctrine when combined with other doctrines. We’ve already spoken of one example. After this, they authors commented on the practical application of this doctrine and how it affects the everyday Christian. The last line of defense was to demonstrate the place that this doctrine has had in history. Thus far the authors have been presenting the doctrine in a positive light, giving evidence after evidence for its truth and its necessity. The foundation has been laid and it is secure. From this point onward the authors go on the offensive as they take on accusation after accusation against this doctrine. The order that they laid this book out is so vital. If they had began on the attack by answering the accusations head on, people may have tuned out and never read on to the importance of the doctrine. But because they build an irrefutable foundation, the offensive is almost unnecessary and is added more out of an obligation rather than a real need.
By the time one finishes this book, they will have a clear understanding of what the doctrine of penal substitution states, what it doesn’t state, and why it is foundationally important to each and every Christian in the body of Christ. This is well done and a must read.