In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement. J. I Packer and Mark Dever. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007, 188 pp., $16.99, paperback.
The doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement is falling on hard times. Modern day theologians, pastors, and people in the pew view the idea of penal substitution as something completely horrific and foreign to the teachings of Scripture. To think that God had to punish Christ in our place is something that seems strangely outside the teaching that God is love. Yet, at the heart of the Scriptures is the teaching that man has spurned God and now is not able to pay the penalty for his sin and therefore needs someone to pay the penalty for him. Only God can pay the penalty of sin that was committed against God. Therefore Christ must come and take our place. He is our substitute. This is the very heart of redemption.
J. I. Packer and Mark Dever have done the church a favour with this helpful collection of pieces on the topic of the atonement. Packer is the Board of Governors’ professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver and Dever is senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington. Both men have contributed much for the cause of Christ in their years. Now, some of Packer’s best teaching on the atonement, and Dever’s highly acclaimed piece on the topic, appear together in one attractive and well priced book. Crossway should be commended for this release.
The genesis of this book comes out of that evangelical powerhouse foursome of Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and C. J. Mahaney. These men are well known individually and as those at the heart of Together for the Gospel. Commenting on how important Packer’s writing on the topic of the atonement had been in their lives, it was thought that these works needed to be released again for a new generation. Dever approached Packer on this and Packer agreed as long as Dever’s article on the topic from Christianity Today was also included. He agreed, and In My Place Condemned He Stood was born.
Packer introduces the book with a brief look at atonement, penal substitution, and redemption and sets the stage for the other treatises in the book. In “The Heart of the Gospel” (originally a chapter from Packer’s Knowing God) looks at the issue of propitiation (“averting God’s anger by an offering”) sets the stage for the need for penal substitution with the reality that God is angered at man and that anger needs to be appeased. It needs to be atoned for.
Packer goes on in “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution” (originally the Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture in 1973) to survey approaches to viewing the death of Christ in the church. He concludes, that penal substitution is necessary and logical, because God’s wrath needs to be appeased. Therefore the cross is directed at propitiating God first, and then second turns humankind toward Him. Penal substitution is completely logical when you look at the reality of sin and the sinner’s relationship to God.
Next Dever looks at criticisms of penal substitution in “Nothing But the Blood.” Dever’s chapter is quite important to the book as a whole because it deals with the current issues and debates surrounding the atonement. It is good to interact with opposing views and identify where the current trends are going on a theological issue so one can better present the Scriptural teaching.
Finally, Packer’s “Saved by His Precious Blood: An Introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” is probably worth the price of the book. This was originally written as an introduction to Owen’s book on the topic of limited atonement. Owen, and Packer, defends vigorously the teaching that Christ died for the elect. This article by Packer has been used in many a questioning mind to bring them fully over to the Calvinistic understanding of the atonement. It is a fitting look at how that penal substitutionary atonement is applied.
Dever and Packer conclude by expressing the reality that to be Christ-centered one must be cross-centered. Ligon Duncan rounds out the book with annotated reading lists on the topic of the atonement.
At the heart of the ministry is the atoning work of Christ. As Paul said, we preach Christ and Him crucified. No pastor, ministry leader, or Christian for that matter, can afford to not think through the scriptural teaching on the atonement. Particularly we need to see the reality of the death the unbeliever is in. Our synergistic approach to salvation, so prevalent in today’s society, needs to be eradicated from our thoughts. Dead means dead. The unbeliever has no power to save himself or even to participate with God in saving him. He is dead in trespasses and sins. He has angered God and that anger needs to be appeased. The ultimate sacrifice necessary to appease the anger of an infinite God is in the matchless death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He stood in our place condemned so we could be redeemed. He paid the penalty in our stead. This is the very foundation of salvation.
These issues are not abstract and scholarly. They are at the very heart of the Gospel message. As the Bliss wrote in his hymn, “Guilty, vile, and helpless we; Spotless Lamb of God was He; ‘Full atonement! Can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Hallelujah for the great lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his death on the cross. Praise the Lord that He stood in my place condemned so I might have salvation.
Packer and Dever have done an incredible service to the church. All believers no matter the theological persuasion need to read this book and meditate on the reality of the penal substitutionary atoning work of Christ. Cannot be more highly recommended!