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An Excellent Resource on Definite Atonement
on 8 December 2013
My entire review is on my blog found at this link:
What this book has been set forth to do is provide an updated resource for the legitimacy of definite (limited) atonement. In case you're unsure of what that means, it views the atonement through the lens of election, "teaching that Christ died only for the elect, to secure infallibly the salvation of the elect" (p37).
The book is divided into 4 main sections:
I. Definite Atonement in Church History which goes over definite atonement's controversies and nuances in church history
II. Definite Atonement in the Bible shows to prove definite atonement's presence or absence in the Bible
III. Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective: What are definite atonement's theological implications?
IV. Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice What is a pastor to do with the consequences of definite atonement?
Clearly, I cannot give this book an "adequate" review (consider it's size. It's massive! It's 704 pages (front-to-back) with 23 different essays from different authors. I actually did not read any essay in the Church History section. However, I read all but one of the other essays in this book. I will comment mainly on the section titled "Definite Atonement in the Bible", and loosely on the remaining two sections.
***Definite Atonement in the Bible***
This was easily my favorite part of the book. There were 6 essays, dealing with how D.A. is seen in the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), in Isaiah's suffering Servant, in the Synoptic Gospels and Johannine literature, in the Pauline epistles, in Paul's theology of salvation, and in the Pastoral and General epistles.
D.A. in the Pentateuch was intriguing. I had come to the understanding that D.A. could easily be refuted because even though Israel underwent the Day of Atonement, not all of Israel was saved. However, I realized it was more tricky than that because Israel was called "out of the world" by God. Ah, there's that election status. Alright Williamson (author), you got me there.
In the Suffering Servant, J. Alec Motyer [Tyndale] does a fantastic job explaining how D.A. is seen in Isaiah 53 [and the surrounding chapters]. I say "fantastic" not because I necessarily agree with him, but because he is so clear (which, unfortunately, not every author is. Just wait until I get to the Theological section). Motyer goes through the dimensions of salvation seen in the Suffering Servant passage, along with the "many" intended recipients of salvation and what "many" means in context.
Harmon does a good job showing D.A. in the Synoptics, but his real focus is seen in the Johannine literature where he points to and elaborates on many of Jesus' discourses (Bread of Life [Jn 6:22-58], High Priestly Prayer [Jn. 17:1-26], and the Throne Room Vision [Rev. 4:1-5:14]). He shows how Christ died for His people, how Jesus died for the "world", and what those "universal" texts (may) mean. He does a good job (though I was hoping for more) of explaining 1 John 2:2 and shows a parallel between it and John 11:52 giving more backdrop to the situation.
Gibson's first chapter on the meanings of Christ dying for "me," for "us," for "the church," for "His people," for "all," for the "world," was particularly interesting, including the section on the "Perishing" texts [Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11; and Acts 20:28-30] which was particularly illuminating.
However his next essay was a bit more obtrusive. Maybe that's harsh, because it was good. However, I felt like there were so many side-roads or new discussions popping up that I felt lost at times. "Karl Barth? Who invited you?" His thoughts on the Trinity and D.A. were helpful, though the format still led to some confusion.
Finally, Thomas Schreiner. He covers topics such as how God desires to save all [1 Tim. 2:1-7]; God is the Savior of all, especially of those who believe [1 Tim. 4:10]; the false teachers who fell away from Christ who "bought them" [2 Pet. 2:1], and more. After reading Gibson, Schreiner was a breath of fresh air. He is a very clear and coherent writer. Though, I will say that there are times when he gives ideas that sound right, and in the next paragraph scraps the whole idea. But aside from that, I appreciated his input into this topic (D.A. in the Pastoral/General epistles).
What I liked about this section is that the authors go to the source itself (the Bible), and show you what they believe it says. You can take it or leave it from there. You can look for yourself in your own Bible and see if you agree or not, why or why not, and what you think about their conclusions. But a least you can see who they arrived there.
***Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective***
Quite frankly, this section was hit or miss for me. I didn't read Macleod's essay (the first), but I read all of the others. I found every one of them (except for Wellum's "The New Covenant Work of Christ") to be difficult to read. While I think it is an accurate statement that I don't know enough about this subject as a whole (which is why I requested this book), I found many of the authors in this section weren't always clear in the subjects they were talking about. If they interacted with other scholars and discussions, I frequently found myself entangled in a mess of who's who on what's what? I wasn't always sure which side of the debate the author was vying for.
Wellum's essay on Christ's New Covenant work was a a sigh of relief! Finally, an essay I understood and could take something away from. I felt like I didn't have to work to understand this chapter. Wellum shows the connections between Christ's atonement for His people and His High Priestly ministry for His people (Priesthood, typology, the old and new covenants) and how Christ fulfills the office of the OT High Priest. I found this to be a very good mixture between the Theological Perspective and the Biblical Exegesis.
***Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice***
Strange's chapter was fairly good, yet in the end I felt like I was left on a cliffhanger. I'm not really sure if all the ends were tied at the conclusion or not on unlimited atonement, the universal call to evangelize, and those who will never hear.
Ferguson's essay dealt with Jesus's teaching on D.A. in John 10, which was an interesting read. However, I felt he spent more time talking about the other sides deficiencies rather than the assurance that DA provides. Campbell? Federal theologians? Older Calvinism? How does help me to assure my flock if I'm a pastor? His conclusion made sense, but it felt like I took the long road there and was then left wanting.
John Piper. Of course Piper's essay will be good. He broke his essay down into mini-sections, and when I was reading Piper's view, I knew it was his view of D.A. When he spoke on Driscoll's view or Ware's view, I knew he was talking about Driscoll or Ware. There was no confusion. I never stopped to think, "Wait, who/what is he talking about? How did I get here?" And for that I am thankful.
Two points I was glad to see Piper touch one were as such:
1). Piper goes to explain how one, believing in D.A., could preach a sincere and valid Gospel to the entire, unevangelized world.
2). Piper explains how one who was atoned for my Christ's blood could be under the wrath of God before being saved. If they are really atoned for, how are they still under the wrath of God at all (even before salvation)? Piper gives a pretty good explanation. Not perfect or amazing, but it makes sense to a degree.
All in all, this is a huge book. You will see a lot of names. You will see a lot of Greek in the Bible exegesis section #2 (though not an overwhelming amount). This is a book geared more toward Bible college, seminary, scholars, and not the layman (unless you really know your stuff). Though I wish some scholars could have been more clear or concise in their writing, I understand this is a tough subject to write on, and I am but one reader trying to understand the aspects of this doctrine so that I can better speak with and understand those around me. I won't understand everything. This book is an incredible resource that will hold for years to come on the doctrine of Definite Atonement. Now, I'm waiting for the other side (Unlimited Atonement) to come out with a book so I can see their position. We'll see.
[A big "thank you" to NetGalley and Crossway for allowing me to read and review this book before it came out. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy].