Top critical review
22 people found this helpful
Good as far as it goes, but a missed opportunity
on 17 September 2007
This book has been heralded with the kind of fanfare that earlier ages reserved for Kings returning gloriously from battle. Witness the 10 pages of endorsements at the front of the book.
What is the fuss about and does this book deserve this wave of acclamation?
Many people sensed that the banner for the age old message of the gospel had to be raised when well known British evangelical Steve Chalke described the doctrine of penal substitution, that Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the cross, as `Cosmic Child abuse' in his book `The Lost Message of Jesus'. He was not making an original comment. The phrase was first used by feminist theologians. What was shocking was to hear it from someone thought to be part of the evangelical establishment.
It was not only the repudiation of traditional doctrine, but the manner in which it was made that was deeply unsettling. There was an atmosphere of emotional and moral blackmail about it. The traditional doctrine is nasty, nice people don't believe it.
It is to the credit of the three authors here that they steer well away from the attempts at emotional manipulation that pollute much theological debate at present. Instead they present their case in an objective manner, basing it on their chosen texts from the Bible.
However, while this book is good as far as it goes, I do not think that this is the book succeeds in putting forward a full biblical doctrine of the atonement that can answer present attacks.
The book is divided into two sections `Making the Case' and `Answering the Critics'. The first section is drawn far too narrowly and there is not enough room in the second section to answer the 27 criticisms addressed in sufficient depth.
The great mistake of the book is to think that penal substitution can be best defended by being defended in isolation. It is a key truth, but it is not the whole truth of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Yes Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the Cross, but he also defeated the powers of evil there and put the power of sin, and sin itself, to death. More than that this book deals with Jesus as victim on the cross but where is the detailed exposition of the equally necessary truth that Jesus was and is our Priest as well as victim? This more than anything else proves the `Cosmic Child Abuse' charge wrong. Concentrating on Jesus as victim can give the impression that at the cross God the Father is acting as God and Priest wielding the knife, as it were, over his victim his son. It has to be said that there is many a sermon that leaves this impression because the truth is not clearly put: that Jesus at the cross is both Priest and Victim who then presents his own sacrifice before the Father, and lives to intercede on the basis of it on our behalf.
So, while this book makes some good points it is a missed opportunity.
A good short introduction to everything Jesus has done for us to save us is provided in 'Aspects of Atonement' by Howard Marshall. What is needed is a more detailed book with the breadth of vision displayed in it.
In the meantime older books like John Stott's The Cross Of Christ provide a more balanced, better rounded exposition of penal substitution.