This is an excellent book: highly readable, with careful exegesis, a logical structure and a compelling case for an orthodox understanding of the atonement. Contrary to what some of the critics (and even endorsers!) of the book suggest, the authors are not attempting to provide a comprehensive work on the atonement as a whole. Their aim is more modest, to provide a defence ofthe orthodox doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Their argument is straightforward: penal substitution is not the only aspect of God's redeeming work in Christ but it is central. And just like removing a central piece from a jigsaw, removing penal substitution from the cross grossly distorts the picture. This is clearly and helpfully explained in chapter 4 (The Pastoral Importance of Penal Substitution) a must-read chapter for those who think that penal substitution can be discarded with little if any consequences.
The book is divided into two parts: the first sets out the case for penal substitution, biblically, theologically, pastorally and historically; the second, responds to the objections against penal substitution and adopts a scholastic (prosecution - defence) style which is clear and engaging.
Some readers may find the exegetical chapter (chapter 2) heavy going but perseverance is rewarded as the chapter provides a compelling case for penal substitution. The authors anticipate common objections to their exegesis and provide careful and precise responses. The chapter dealing with the historical pedigree of penal substitution (chapter 4) is particularly helpful as it demonstrates that penal substitution can be found in writings that pre-date Athanasius. Hopefully this will put to bed once for all the claim that penal substitution is a creation of the reformation (alas I doubt it will). The chapter also helpfully and concisely records recent affirmation of penal substitution by leading evangelicals and organisations.
Part 2 is a real resource for those seeking to defend penal substitution against the recent attacks of Green, Baker, Fiddes, Mann, Chalke, Wink, Goldingay, Stump. The chapters on penal substitution and violence (chapter 9) and penal substitution and justice (chapter 10) are particular highlights which will be invaluable to readers seeking to engage with the current debate.
The Final Word nicely summarises the mood and substance of current (popular) objections to penal substitution. Critics frequently resort to 'the vague objection' (unsubstantiated criticism) or 'the emotional objection' (forceful language in the absence of a reasoned argument) to discount penal substitution. The authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions are not guilty of using either. Rather they have provided a clear, careful and rigorous defence of a most important biblical doctrine.
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