Friday, January 24, 2014

The Atonement Short List

This week I received an email asking me to recommend a book on the atonement that would not be too difficult. It got me thinking about quality books on Christ's death that are accessible for the ordinary believer. Here are four suggestions. The season leading up to Easter is an especially appropriate time to read any of these.

What John Piper has done in this book is take fifty of the results of Christ's death given in scripture and listed them for us as fifty reasons why Jesus came to die. That, of course, makes perfect sense because any results of Christ's death are intended purposes of Christ's death, since God has the power and wisdom to do things so that only exactly what He wishes is accomplished. This means that there are no unintended results from anything God does, only purposed results. And any purposed results are rightly called "reasons why."

Each of the fifty reasons is allotted two pages of text. First, supporting scripture is given and then there are several paragraphs of explanation. This makes the book especially suited for devotional reading, two or three reasons at a time. Anything more than that might be too much, as there is so much reflect on in each little section.

I'd call Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die an introductory level book—there's nothing difficult in it—and yet I'd say almost everyone will learn a thing of two from it. And who among us doesn't need a reminder of the infinite wisdom of God in the cross of Christ?

The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness
by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington

The bulk of this book examines the apostle-authored texts dealing with Christ's atonement, moving from Acts through Revelation. Over and over, page after page, the authors show us from numerous biblical texts that the apostles are teaching us a precious truth:
[T]he Great Exchange that results from the death of the perfect sacrifice is a twofold substitution: the charging of the believer's sin to Christ results in God's forgiveness, and the crediting of Christ's righteousness to the believer results in his justification.
There you have it: the great exchange of Christ's atonement. If you desire to better understand and appreciate this great exchange, this book is the right place to start. It's good theology coupled with writing that anyone can understand.

Leon Morris wrote the definitive scholarly work on the cross of Christ, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Happily for those of us who aren't exactly scholars, he took the material from his big book and made a shorter version just for us. In The Atonement, Morris explains the terms associated with the atonement, like justificationsacrifice, and propitiation, so the lay Christian can understand the meaning and significance of what Christ accomplished for us. 

What's more, even though it was written in the 1980s, drawing from research done in the 1950s, many of the arguments in The Atonement, especially those found in the chapter on propitiation, are applicable to current debates about the nature of the atonement. 

I've recommended this book here before, but it needs to be included on this list, too. It's the one I suggested to the emailer mentioned at the beginning of this post.

This book makes the case for one of the most precious truths I know, that Christ's death on the cross was a penal substitutionary atonement. The first part "sets out the positive case for penal substitution," showing us the biblical evidence for it, the theological framework undergirding it, its pastoral importance, and its place in church history. Explaining the theological framework is especially significant, because objections to penal substitution are often not primarily scriptural, historical, or even pastoral, but theological. Without the proper theological foundation, penal substitution won't make much sense, and the majority of objections to it grow out of theological systems that clash with it.

The second part of Pierced for Our Transgressions contains responses to specific arguments made against the doctrine of penal substitution. The authors "outline every objection we have been able to find... and respond to each in turn." I enjoyed this part because I love analyzing arguments and responding to them. You may or may not enjoy it as much as I do, but either way, this section will be a valuable reference when you run into one of the arguments in a book or article—or maybe even from a real person.

While this is a scholarly book, it's surprisingly accessible, especially if you're willing to take your time with it. Christ's penal substitutionary death is the grounds for the big "Yes" to all the promises of God that you enjoy. It's the center, the heart, the hinge of your spiritual life. Pierced for Our Transgressions will help you learn it, love it and thank God for it.

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