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Customer Review

on 1 August 2008
Steve Chalke opened a can of worms with his book 'The Lost Message of Jesus' in 2003 when he cast doubt on the penal substitution theory of atonement and in July 2005 a symposium was held to discuss the issues. Various papers were given at the symposium and several of these are gathered together in this volume, some having been reworked. It's a collection of very different essays, some focusing strongly on exegesis of particular texts, others giving an overall view of the issues, several peppered with Greek and Hebrew text (which might cause problems for readers) and most assuming a fair knowledge of the overall theology of the atonement. Generally the papers are all erudite and well written with the obvious disadvantage of a fairly short space in which to discuss important issues.

Chapter 12 contained what I found the most helpful summary of the penal substitution theory along with its problems (although the writer, Oliver D Crisp, did not find these insurmountable). However the arrangement of the book felt so piecemeal that it was difficult to find much overall coherence. This book would serve better as something to dip into rather than read through (as suggested in the introduction).

Joel B Green pleads in his paper "...that we remind ourselves, often, that debates regarding the appropriateness of penal substitutionary atonement as an exposition of the saving message of the cross of Christ comprise an intramural conversation and not one that can serve to distinguish Christian believer from non-believer or even evangelical from non-evangelical." The very next essay by Garry Williams comments "I cannot see how those who disagree [with the penal subsitutionary view] can remain allied without placing unity above truths which are undeniably central to the Christian faith." In some ways this characterises the tone of this book - a handful of articles by those looking outside the traditional evangelical view of penal substitutionary atonement, interspersed with a far larger number of articles from those upholding the view and attempting to counter the arguments from the other side. Although generally couched in polite language the overall feel of this book was of people on either side of a divide shaking their fists at each others' inability to see the 'truth' of their position.

Derek Tidball's paper is the final one in the book and, as such, apparently provides a conclusion to all the debate (and comes down on the side of penal substitutionary atonement). This reader felt that many of the points made on both sides weren't answered by the opposing view and, as such, the book didn't particularly move the debate on. Tidball does, however, state "I do not believe that penal substitution atonement is the only legitimate interpretation of the cross, or that it says all that needs to be said about the cross"; it's just a shame, when reading this book, that few others seem to hold with this view and that the overall feeling is one of conflict and disagreement.
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