Tuesday, August 21, 2007

He was pierced for our transgressions

Things have been a little quiet here recently - apologies (holidays, camps, jury duty etc.). I aim to blog a little more over the next few weeks, at least until college gets into full swing.

One thing jury duty enabled me to do was finish reading Pierced for our transgressions (PFOT). Written in the wake of a fair bit of controversy about what Jesus' death achieved, PFOT aims to help the Church redisover 'the glory of penal substitution' - which is basically the teaching that

'Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory.' (Packer)

Evangelical Christians have pretty much always believed this, until recent years, when an increasing number from evangelical circles have questioned, attacked and even rejected the doctrine.

Others have reviewed PFOT properly elsewhere (just google it), so this is intended as an advert more than a review. If you don't own it (and you do read books), buy it. Then read it. Then buy it again and give it to others to read.

PFOT is in two parts. Part one kicks of with exegesis of the main relevant bible passages. The main strength here is that all the findings and arguments of others who've written defending penal substitution in the last fifty years are gathered in one place as a coherent whole. Also, the authors deal sensitively with the new perspective on Paul for those interested in those debates. From now on, anyone wishing to write against penal substitution must tackle this exegetical groundswell head on.

The section on theology (i.e. how penal substitution fits with other major themes and teachings in the bible) is marked by crisp logic built on sound exegesis. It is especially helpful to see how PS hooks into the bible's teaching on creation and the nature of God as Trinity - both areas where some evangelical thinking at a popular level can be a little weak.

The authors also show us that PS is pastorally necessary and historically well-attested. The historical section is especially eye-opening in the two main points is makes - PS is an old doctrine (whereas some critics argue it was invented in the C16th) and PS is an evangelical essential (whereas some critics have argued that one can be evangelical and reject it).

But it is in part two that this book really comes into its own. Part two consists of a step by step answer to just about every conceivable criticism of and objection to PS. Whilst many opponents of the doctrine have not listened accurately to the other side of the debate, the same cannot be said for the authors of PFOT. The authors present their opponent's views with calm precision, then politely, but firmly, show how each objection to the doctrine can be fully answered. This section alone (helpfully organised by the different types of objection) makes PFOT an invaluable resource for the Church.

PFOT can help God's people achieve a biblically balanced, nuanced, contextualised, practical and rich conviction about the glorious reality that 'Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.'

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