Book Review: “In My Place Condemned He Stood”

October 22, 2008

 

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!

 

 

 


Book Review: Francis Shaeffer

October 8, 2008

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. By Colin Duriez. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. 240 pp., $24.99, hard cover.

 

One of the most important figures in the areas of theology, apologetics, and culture of the last century is Francis Schaeffer. Until now there had not been a solid biographical work dealing with the life of this important figure. Colin Duriez, someone who knew the man personally, has helped to fill this great need by providing a look at the life of this great man. With an analysis of his books, interviews with Schaffer before he died, his family, friends, colleagues, and people who studied at L’Abri, Duriez offers a volume on the man that essentially comes from the very heart of Schaeffer himself.

 

Francis Schaeffer was born in 1912 and lived quite a tumultuous life until the Lord took him prematurely from Cancer in 1984. Growing up poor in Pennsylvania, he studied hard in school and sensed the call to pastoral ministry. He studied at Hampden-Sydney College and after studied for his seminary studies at Westminster Theological Seminary and then finished at the new Faith Theological Seminary which was formed out of controversy at Westminster. Much of Schaeffer’s apologetical thinking was developed under the Father of Presuppositional Apologetics, Cornelius van Til (although he departed in some key areas). Schaeffer saw how Christianity affected all of life. This thinking is what began his great cultural studies and how he developed the thinking that one could see where one was at and where one was going by studying the development of cultural expression in previous years (areas of art, music, philosophy, etc.). Serving as a Presbyterian pastor for a number of years he convinced the denominational body that a survey trip of Europe was necessary following World War II to see how the New Theology there had affected the churches. Schaffer’s trip was something that changed his thinking and developed a new approach to ministry as he sought to intellectually address issues in the growing modernist and soon-to-be postmodernist society. This resulted in the founding of L’Abri (The Shelter) in Switzerland where Schaffer could meet with those who were searching and talk openly about how Christianity was relevant and addressed issues of culture, the arts, and everything. Through Schaeffer’s speaking and writing, vast amounts of believers became in-tune with what was going on around them and were becoming more and more willing to present Christianity as culturally relevant and intellectually responsible.

 

There was much controversy and pain in the life of Francis and his wife Edith. People did not understand their new approach to ministry by interacting with people on this kind of casual level at L’Abri. The schedule was intense and with people living with the family it often took tolls on the family relationships and on health in general. Schaeffer though saw himself as being a defender of Christianity by presenting the Christ of the Scriptures and how all men everywhere need to be transformed by Him. Schaeffer’s unique approach allowed him to reach people who were not being reached by the church. The intellectuals of the world turned to Schaeffer as the one who presented a culturally relevant Christianity. To this end he was greatly used of the Lord.

 

Duriez traces all the events of the life of Schaffer from birth to death in a very readable way. He presents the life of this man and his family as a choice servant of God. This is a solid contribution to the history of evangelicalism in the last decade, to the history of apologetics, and ultimately, to the life of this man, so often misunderstood in his own life and today. The only real weakness is that Duriez does not interact with his theology as much as would be helpful. He admits in the beginning that this is not a theological biography, but one is necessary. Duriez offers a helpful look at the life of this man. Now, someone must look at the theology of this man to continue to better help the church. But, this book is highly recommended as a well-written account (from the very mouths of Schaeffer and those who knew him best) of the life of pastor turned denominational leader turned missionary turned prophet and apologist. May all of us have the dedication that Schaffer did for the cause of Christ today in our ministries. Read and be challenged and encouraged by the work of God in the life of His servant.


Book Review: For Us and For Our Salvation

October 8, 2008

For Us and For Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church. By Stephen J. Nichols. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. 172 pp., $14.99, paper back.

 

Stephen Nichols is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary), is Research Professor of Christianity and Culture at Lancaster Bible College in Lacaster, PA. He is the author and editor of a number of books. He has the uncanny ability to turn difficult theological and historical issues into things interesting and even exciting for the average Christian reader. His, “Guided Tour” books are helpful introductions to the lives and theology of key Christian leaders in history. Now he is turning to issues of cultural history as well with his recent books on Blues music and his cultural history of Jesus in America. Nichols knows that the study of church history and historical theology is essential to the church and the believer today. His book on the doctrine of Christ in the early church is no exception.

 

We live in a day of historical anemia. People have absolutely no historical context in which to understand the theological trends of the day. Little do most know that much of what is considered “new” in theological trends and fads is hardly new but generally has been dealt with in the church before simply under different names. That is where looking at the person and work of Christ as discussed by the early church fathers is so important. Much of what we consider orthodox Christology was developed in the early church. The early church fathers had to deal with heresy as they attempted to understand issues like the divine and human natures in Christ, and other theological issues. The title of the book presents the reason why this is important. The true biblical nature of Christ is the basis for our salvation. Without a true picture of Christ, how can one truly be saved? Nichols addresses the importance of studying the fathers on these issues when he writes:

 

The early church fathers wrestled with the same problems presented by The Da Vinci Code phenomenon and its fanciful speculations about Jesus. They wrestled with the same problems presented by Islam and its adamant denial of the deity of Christ. And they wrestled with the same problems presented by the scholars working in the Jesus Seminar or in Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Judas who quickly dismiss the four canonical Gospels as God’s true revelation to humanity. In the days of the early church, the names of the opponents were difference from those faced by us today, but the underlying issues bear a striking resemblance. When the church fathers responded with the orthodox view off Christ, they did the church of all ages a great service (p. 14).

 

So, Nichols looks at the early church debates over the person and work of Christ. These were not trivial debates but were at the heart of our very relationship with God and our salvation. While looking at a number of church fathers he addresses the importance of the debates over Christ at the Councils of Nicea and Chaledon and the work of the great Athanasius and Leo. He looks at the theology of the opponents of the orthodox picture of Christ presented in the creeds that developed at the councils, the historical context that these debates occurred, and the major orthodox players who helped to shape what we consider the true picture of Christ today as evangelicals.

 

The biggest strength of the volume is that Nichols, as a historian, realizes that we cannot simply focus on secondary sources or that even Nichols own analysis is sufficient to understanding these issues. One must look to the original sources. To that end, Nichols offers the original writings of those on both sides of the debates. So you will read the works of Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Tertullian, but you will also read from the Gnostic texts and Arius. It is important to look at both sides to see how ultimately, the church came to the expression of Christology that we consider orthodox today as expressed in the Nicean and Chalecedonian creeds. No one can truly understand the issues unless they look at the writings of the times. This helps but those debates in historical context and helps us to see the importance for us today.

 

These issues are not just old ones. We are facing the same issues today under new names. Therefore it is important to read the works of the early church fathers who dealt with these issues before. These issues are not tangential to the Christian life. They are at the core! Without an orthodox view of the person and work of Christ our salvation rests on no foundation. Only the God-man Jesus Christ, fully divine, and fully human, has the power to forgive sin and restore fellowship with the Father. Therefore, Nichol’s book is a clarion call to all believers in this day to know in whom they have believed, and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which they have committed unto Him against that day. Our very salvation rests upon the person and work of Christ. May we shake off our theological and historical confusion and look to the Scriptures and the work of those who have gone before us as we seek to live our life for the one that came to save us, Christ Jesus our Lord. This book is highly recommended to that end for everyone who names the name of Christ.


Book Review: Beyond Amazing Grace

September 4, 2008

 

Beyond Amazing Grace: Timeless pastoral wisdom from the letters, hymns and sermons of John Newton. Compiled and edited by J. Todd Murray. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2007, 282 pp., $17.99, paperback.

 

 

In historical study, it is always highly recommended that students turn to primary source material instead of relying solely on secondary material. Reading things in the author’s own words is incredibly important when attempting to understand their thinking. Therefore J. Todd Murray (Worship and Music Pastor, The Bible Church of Little Rock) has done the church an every helpful service by collecting and editing some of the works of the famous John Newton. The Evangelical leader in the 18th century is still as an important figure today as he was then. The man who brought us the hymn, Amazing Grace, and mentor to the great abolitionist William Wilberforce, has much to teach us as he served as a pastor for so many years. This collection of his “pastoral wisdom” then from his letters, hymns, and sermons is incredibly important today.

 

The book is divided into five main sections, each focusing on a different area. Part 1 is “So great salvation” where Murray compiles material devoted to Newton’s own conversion, the love of God, sovereign grace, and the assurance of salvation. Part 2 is “Growing in holiness” and focuses on progressive sanctification, battling remaining sin, and God’s purposes in trials. Part 3 is “Spiritual disciplines” and here Newton expounds on reading and meditation, prayer, personal worship, family worship, evangelism, and knowing the will of God. Part 4 is “Pastoral ministry” and is where Newton focuses on the pastor and his work and nuggets of wisdom from the great pastor to those in the ministry. Finally, Part 5 is “Hope beyond the grave” where Murray compiles information on the loss of a loved one and Newton’s last days.

 

The strength of this book is Murray’s careful attention to editing and compilation. While many could simply turn to the multi-volume set of Newton’s works or various editions of his letters or the Olney Hymnal, it is a great service to have these fine selections of Newton’s works compiled here in a thematic order. To study out Newton’s thoughts on areas like prayer or the work of the ministry is something that every believer will be blessed. Murray’s notes too are very helpful as he allows some of his personal feelings about Newton’s writings to come out and help to personalize our own reading of this Evangelical leader. Finally, this book could easily be used as a personal devotional as Murray includes suggested Scripture readings for each section. Each section is not overly long which makes it perfect for some careful meditation as readers learn from this godly man.

 

We live in an era of historical anemia. More Christians know about modern day celebrities than they do of heroes of the past. My prayer is that more people will turn to books like Beyond Amazing Grace and learn and grow from those who went before us. May Newton become accessible and life changing for a whole new generation!

 

 


Book Review: Engaging with the Holy Spirit by Graham A. Cole

July 8, 2008

 

It has been said that the last century was the century of the Holy Spirit. This of course comes in the context of the rise of Pentecostalism and charismatic theology which puts a greater emphasis on the third member of the Triune God, than other theological traditions. Many have spent considerable amounts of time studying this area of pneumatology out over the last number of years. I spent my own time in seminary doing this as I was assigned the topic of Holy Spirit Baptism in a pneumatology seminar.

Yet, through all this study there is still incredible confusion over the Holy Spirit. Questions about about the deity and personality of the Spirit of God, His work in the past, His work in the present, and His work in the future. How are we as believers to relate to the Holy Spirit? Thankfully Graham A. Cole, in a simple but profound book has helped us to better aquaint ourselves with the Holy Spirit.

Cole is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL. He is an anglican minister and formerly served as principal of Ridley College, University of Melbourne. He is the author of a more indepth look at the Spirit in his volume, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Crossway). His new book, Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers (Crossway) helps to answer the questions that people in the pew have about the mysterious Spiritus Sanctum.

Cole answers a number of questions about the Spirit in his book. He writes,

The questions are both crucial and real. People ask them. In fact, one of them in particular, blasphemy against the Spirit, has been discussed from the earliest centuries of Christianity. And our answers ought to affect the practice of the Christian life, whether individual or corporate. As the wise say, theology without application is abortion (p. 17).

Cole then begins to ask and answer 6 key questions regarding the Holy Spirit. These are 1) What is Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, 2) How May We Resist the Holy Spirit? 3) Ought We to Pray to the Holy Spirit?, 4) How Do We Quench the Holy Spirit?, 5) How Do we Grieve the Holy Spirit?, and 6) How Does the Holy Spirit Fill Us? Looking at these questions I know I personally have sought out answers to them. Cole is right, people are asking these questions. Where are the answers? Cole has given us a great place to start.

Now, I do not agree with every one of Cole’s conclusions. For instance, in contrast to Cole, I believe blasphemy against the Spirit could only occur during the time of Jesus earthly ministry and had to do with the Jewish leaders rejection of Christ. Now, Cole’s position is strong though for a possibility of blasphemy today, but rightly notes that it can only be committed by a non-believer (p. 33). They keep the believer walking in a godly state though similar to the warning passages in Hebrews.

Resisting the Spirit has to do with resisting the Word of God which the Spirit has inspired and its faithful interpretation and application (p. 49). He concludes we may pray to the Spirit becaues God is Triune but we must be careful because there is no Scriptural warrant for it (p. 66). Quenching the Spirit today involves ignoring the preached or read Word of God that stirs our consciences or to oppose ministries that show us our failure to line up with the revealed will of God (p. 81). We grieve the Spirit when there is moral disparity between what we say as God’s people and what we do (p. 97). Finally, being filled with the Holy Spirit has to do with congregational life instead of personal sanctification. In the congregation gratitude, reverence, proper speech, song, and submission, are involved with being filled. (p. 113).

I am in sympathy with much of what Cole writes. It is sane, sober, and lacking the typical approach to understanding much of the Holy Spirit’s work. Even where I disagree, I appreciate and respect Cole’s study of the Word. He makes it clear and understandable. And of course, he does not leave it simply in the intellectual realm, but shows how the work of the Spirit is where the rubber meets the road in how Christians are to live. I would challenge all of us to read and reflect on this and on the person and work of the Spirit this year. Our lives and churches will be transformed. Cole serves as an able guide in our journey to better understand the third member of the Triune God. Every Christian should read this book.