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!

 

 

 


Penal Substition and God’s Love

June 5, 2008

“Furthermore, if the true measure of love is how low it stoops to help, and how much in its humility it is ready to do and bear, then it may fairly be claimed that the penal substitutionary model of atonement embodies a richer witness to divine love than any other model of atonement, for it sees the Son at his Father’s will going lower than any other view ventures to suggest. That death on the cross was a criminal’s death, physically as painful as, if not more painful than, any mode of judicial execution that the world has seen; and that Jesus endured it in full consciousness of being innocent before God and man, and ye of being despised and rejected, whether in malicious conceit or in sheer fecklessness, by persons he had loved and tried to save–this is ground common to all views and tells us already that the love of Jesus, which took him to the cross, brought him appallingly low. But the penal substitution model adds to all this a further dimension of truly unimaginable distress, compared with which everything mentioned so far pales into insignificance. This is the dimension indicated by Denney–‘that in that dark house He had to realise to the full the divine reaction against sin in the race.’ Owen stated this formally, abstractly, and non-psychologically. Christ, he said , satisfied God’s justice ‘for all the sins of those for whom he made satisfaction, by undergoing that same punishment which, by reason of the obligation that was upon them, they were bound to undergo. When I say the same I mean essentially the same in weight and pressure, though not in all accidents of duration and the like.’ Jonathan Edwards expressed the thought with tender and noble empathy:

God dealt with him as if he had been exceedingly angry with him, and as though he ad been the object of his dreadful wrath. This made all the sufferings of Christ the more terrible to him, because they were from the hand of his Father, who he infinitely loved, and whose infinite love he had had eternal experience of. Besides, it was an effect of God’s wrath that he forsook Christ. This caused Christ to cry out… ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ This was infinitely terrible to Christ, Christ’s knowledge of the glory of the Father, and his love to the Father, and the sense and experience he had had of the worth of his Father’s love to him, made the withholding the pleasant ideas and manifestations of his Father’s love as terrible to him, as the sense and knowledge of God’s excellency, no love to him, nor any experience of the infinite sweetness of his love.

And the legendary ‘Rabbi’ Duncan concentrated it all into a single unforgettable sentence, in a famous outburst to one of his classes: ‘D’ye know what Calvary was? what? what? what?’ Then, with tears on his face–‘It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.’ It is precisely this love that, in the last analysis, penal substitution is all about, and that explains its power in the lives of those who acknowledge it.”

J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution” in J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), pp. 94-96.