Friday, April 18, 2008

Recommendation: Pierced for Our Transgressions

Jeffery, Steve, Michael Ovey & Andrew Sach. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. Forward by John Piper. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. Trade Paperback, 373 pages. $25.00.

reviewed by Doug Smith (This review originally appeared at SharperIron.)

(Review copies courtesy of Crossway Books.)

PiercedPurchase: Crossway | WTS | CBD | Amazon | Moody (Kingsport, TN)

ISBNs: 1433501082 / 9781433501081

Special Features: Bibliography (pp. 337-351), Index of Names, and Index of Biblical References

Table of Contents

Excerpts (includes ten pages of Endorsements, Forward by John Piper, Acknowledgments, and Chapter 1: Introduction)

Subjects: Theology, Soteriology, Atonement

Steve Jeffery is a pastor at Holy Trinity, Lyonsdown, in North London. He has a M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental physics from Oxford University. He is married to Nicole, and they have three children: Ben, Becki and Abi.

Mike Ovey is principal-elect and lecturer in Doctrine and Apologetics at Oak Hill Theological College. He has a Ph.D. in Trinitarian Theology from King’s College, London. He is married to Heather, and they have three children: Charlie, Harry and Anastasia.

Andrew Sach studied theology at Oak Hill Theological College and is now on the staff of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, in central London. He has a Ph.D. from York University.

The word controversy does not usually suggest pleasant thoughts. We often associate division, harsh words, and even confusion with the concept of controversy. But controversy can have its benefits. Some serious controversies in church history have actually been great blessings to the church. They sharpened fuzzy thinking on the deity of Christ and on the Trinity. These controversies resulted in clarity, making clear the distinction between false teaching and sound doctrine. The controversy over the Bible doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary death has brought to light such works as Pierced for Our Transgressions: Recovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. This book is a blessing because it not only brings clarity to the controversy but also edifies in its tone (as opposed to being harsh as some would expect in a polemical work), evangelistically useful, and theologically sound.

Description

Two sections compose Pierced. Part one makes the case for the doctrine, and part two answers its critics. The chapters are complemented by a short but substantive foreword by John Piper and an appendix for preachers with cautions about illustrating the doctrine.

Part One

The authors make their case after setting forth the need for it. They recognize that foundational doctrines have always been attacked, but assert that “[t]he more disturbing thing is that some of the more recent critics of penal substitution regard themselves as evangelicals, and claim to be committed to the authority of Scripture” (p. 25). They wisely lay a good, positive foundation for the doctrine before proceeding to overturn critics’ objections.

The book takes a four-pronged approach in arguing the case “that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin” (p. 21). The biblical foundations, theological framework, pastoral importance, and historical pedigree of penal substitution are presented in a helpful survey. In chapter 2, the authors zoom in on key passages to examine the doctrine as found in Exodus 12, Leviticus 16, Isaiah 52:13-53:12; the books of Mark, John, and Romans; and Galatians 3:10-13. Chapter 3 explores the place of penal substitution within the big picture of the Bible and finds it central to our understanding of doctrines, such as creation, the fall, sin, the Trinity, and redemption. Chapter 4 details the relationship the doctrine has with pastoral concerns, such as assurance of God’s love, confidence in His truthfulness, passion for God’s justice, and realism about our sin. Chapter 5 embarks on a jet tour through church history, showing that the doctrine has been embraced and articulated not only by the biblical authors but also from the second century to the present; in other words, it is not a new teaching.

Part Two

Chapter 6 introduces the debate over penal substitution, arguing that it is important to engage and thoughtfully answer critics’ objections. The authors proceed to directly answer a cadre of objections, many of which are quite serious. The objections Pierced answers include the following: that penal substitution is not taught in the Bible or, if so, that it is not a significant part of it (chapter 7); that it is a product of our culture or that it is irrelevant to it (chapter 8 ); that it encourages violence, that it can be characterized by terminology like “cosmic child abuse,” and that it contradicts Jesus’s message of peace and love (chapter 9); that it is unjust, that it undermines true divine forgiveness, and that it implies universal salvation (chapter 10); that it is contrary to the character of God (chapter 11); and that it cripples true Christian living (chapter 12).

Evaluation

A 373-page book on doctrine does not sound appealing to many in an age of sound bites and light devotional reading. But this book is thoroughly doctrinal, interesting, and devotional. It has much potential to be useful for the church. In addition, it could be a good book to give to someone who has no acquaintance with the gospel or a poor understanding of it.

The authors are aware of recent scholarship on this doctrine, including Leon Morris (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross), John Murray (Redemption Accomplished and Applied), and John R.W. Stott (The Cross of Christ). But the fresh onslaught against the doctrine certainly merits a fresh treatment in our day, and in Pierced we find a clear articulation of biblical doctrine that refutes false teaching. Allegations such as those of “cosmic child abuse” by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann in The Lost Message of Jesus must be answered, and they are answered in Pierced.

And lest we think that these false teachings are not in our own circles, let us remember that the doctrine of penal substitution is contrary to our sinful nature, and we should therefore never take the doctrine for granted. Some fundamentalists have looked to Charles G. Finney as a hero of the Christian faith, but his denial of penal substitution would actually be just cause to warn others about him.

Pierced is scholarly yet readable and useful for the average church member as well as the trained pastor or scholar. It is edifying and would also make a good textbook. The table of contents is helpfully organized with subtopics for each chapter, making the material easy to outline. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 could easily be adapted for teaching in a context like Sunday school. Preachers might consider preaching a series on the cross by expounding texts like those covered in chapter 2. A seminary professor teaching on this doctrine would profit from mining the riches of the entire book (which includes a good bibliography and extensive footnotes).

Before the publicizing of this book, I had never heard of the authors. I had a minor concern that the writing would be stilted with three authors sharing the responsibilities (and no clear distinction of who wrote what), but their labors blended well into a clear and flowing read. The book is marked by good illustrations, making a large work easier to digest. For example, they view the doctrine in relation to the rest of Scripture as a key piece in the puzzle, apart from which the pieces do not connect.

The book also gives a good warning about illustrations in its appendix. Some inadvertently teach the following by using ill-thought illustrations of penal substitution: denial of the active, consenting involvement of the Father and the Son; conflict between God’s law and God’s will; that God is unjust to avert our punishment; a conflict between God’s wrath and God’s will; a conflict between God’s attributes; that God did not foreordain Christ’s work; and that no one actually benefits from Christ’s saving work. One of the most serious offenders is the illustration of the railroad switchman who opts to sacrifice his son who has wandered onto a clear main track rather than the multitude on the train who would perish by crashing into parked freight cars if the switch were thrown to save the son. While realizing that no analogy will correspond to every point in reality (they cite Isaiah’s comparison of Christ to a sheep that is silent before its shearers, but understand that Isaiah is making one point and not saying Christ is like a sheep in every respect), we must take care to not accidentally teach false doctrine by the illustrations we choose to employ. Good illustrations illuminate truth and make clear the point(s) of comparison.

The vigor and thoroughness of the authors’ defense of particular redemption may disturb some readers (pp. 268-278). The writers believe that the doctrine of penal substitution and the teaching of the Bible itself clearly imply that Christ died for a specific group of individuals to actually secure their redemption. They may convince those who have struggled with such a teaching to finally see it in the Bible. But those convinced otherwise can still profit much from this book while being reminded that every theory limits the atonement in some way (by extent or design) except for universalism.

Pierced takes us back to a fundamental doctrine, proving it from the Scriptures and showing its implications. Penal substitutionary atonement is at the heart of the gospel. The cross is the centerpiece of the Bible and human history, and a better understanding should help us live a life worthy of the gospel and point sinners to the Savior.

The book’s website provides primary documents from church history and writings related to the present controversy over penal substitution.

Conclusion

Pierced makes a thorough, airtight case for the glorious doctrine of penal substitution and convincingly answers the critics. The book gives us a better understanding of the teaching and how to share it, should motivate us to faithful evangelism and preaching, and should result in worship of the Lamb who was slain and redeemed us by His blood.

The authors model Titus 1:9, where Paul says that an elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (ESV). They give us a good example of how controversy can result in clarity. I heartily and unreservedly recommend Pierced for Our Transgressions.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Recommendation: The Big Picture Story Bible

David Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004). Illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker.

reviewed by Doug Smith

Many of us have read children’s Bible stories that focus on individual stories in the Bible in a disconnected and disjointed way. However, not all such resources approach the Bible in that way! Having just read The Big Picture Story Bible to our family over the last several weeks (thanks to being a winner in a contest Tony Kummer hosted), I can heartily recommend it to you as one that helps you see the forest of the Bible, not just individual trees. Comprised of 26 chapters (11 cover the Old Testament, 15 cover the New), the 456 pages of this hardcover book go by fast. One can easily read one or two chapters in a brief time of family devotions. Although the book is written simply, it is substantive and edifying for adults as well as children.

The chief strength of the book is that it is a mini-biblical theology. Graeme Goldsworthy (Gospel and Kingdom; According to Plan) has contended that the Bible is all about the Kingdom of God, which he defines as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. David Helm acknowledges Goldsworthy’s influence and does an excellent job showing the unfolding of this theme throughout the Bible. It is exciting to see the story unfold. You learn that neither David nor Solomon is God’s perfect King, and continually wait for Him until you are presented with Jesus Christ, who is the centerpiece of Scripture and fulfills all the promises about the Kingdom of God. The book makes the Gospel and its implications plain (something that many story Bibles overlook!). It helps us see God's sovereignty and holiness, our sin, and the Savior who suffered in the place of those who believe in Him, that He might make them into God's people, in God's place, under God's rule.

Because of the “big picture” perspective, many favorite Bible stories are overlooked. You won’t find anything about King Saul or the feeding of the 5,000. But The Big Picture Story Bible is not meant to be exhaustive – it is meant to be an overview. As a resource that helps us see “the forest,” it must be selective, especially if it is to be of a suitable length to fulfill its purpose. The bird’s eye view of the book gives readers/listeners a good foundation to see the individual stories within the context of the whole Bible. It’s a great place for children to start and was quite profitable for this adult to read as well!

The only caution I would give about the book regards the illustrations. My children (all under 4) love the colorful cartoonish pictures. But some potential readers may have a problem with any pictures of Jesus and whether this violates the second commandment. I’m not necessarily convinced that this is always true (I believe it can be), and it is certainly not an issue to dismiss lightly. So, if this is a matter of conviction for you, be advised that there are pictorial representations of Jesus in the book.

The Big Picture Story Bible is a great resource to have for your child’s bookshelf as well as for family devotions. It would also be great for young children in a Sunday school, pre-school or Christian school context. Its short chapters make it easy to finish in a month. Its substance makes it easy to want to read it again and again. I hope to read it at least two or three times a year to my family to make sure we don’t miss the forest for the trees when learning the small units of the Bible. It reminds us that the whole Bible is about God's Kingdom, being His people, in His place, under His rule, which is only possible through what our Lord Jesus Christ has done by His perfect life, death, and resurrection for all who trust Him.

Learn more and check it out:

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How to Complain to God: a Meditation on Psalms 42 and 43

by Doug Smith This article originally appeared on SharperIron.

Have you ever seen a grievance form or policy? Many institutions offer a means through which a dissatisfied individual may file a complaint in a proper manner. Most places have enough sense to know that everything they do and everyone they osborne_complaint.gifhire will not consistently meet the highest standards of perfection at all times. Therefore, they offer a means to complain properly because there is a right way and a wrong way to complain.

God created the world for His glory. The original creation was perfectly ordered and supplied, and no one could have filed a legitimate grievance in it. But when sin entered the world, things changed. In a fallen world, much is not right. When Adam and Eve rebelled, they altered the relationships of humans to God and to one another. The earth itself was cursed, death became a reality, and work became difficult and futile. The woman began to know sorrow in childbirth; the man began to know sorrow in work. God knows we live in a world that is now imperfect. He understands that we face difficulties. He realizes that we will have complaints, but we have a right way and a wrong way to complain.

Many think Psalms 42 and 43 are one unit. They certainly share the common refrain (notice vv. 5 and 11 in Psalm 42 and v. 5 in Psalm 43).

Psalm 42 (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6 and my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

10 As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Psalm 43 (ESV)

1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!

2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

3 Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!

4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

The inscription of Psalm 42 presents itself as a Maskil of the sons of Korah. The ancestor of these sons led a number of men to complain from a heart of jealousy and vain ambition. They were swallowed up by the earth in judgment (see Num. 16). God clearly showed us that their kind of grumbling and griping was not the right way to complain.

The book of Psalms demonstrates to us the right way to complain. We often think of Psalms as a book of praise (which it certainly is), but laments and grievances to the Lord make up more than 60 of the 150 psalms. We are not sure who wrote Psalms 42 and 43 (some speculate David when running from Absalom or perhaps earlier in his life when running from King Saul). Nevertheless, these psalms present a lament that demonstrates how we should complain to God. Thankfully, the sons of Korah learned the lesson that we should make our complaints with honesty, trust, and hope.

An Honest Complaint

The psalmist bares his soul. He is not fabricating a complaint, but describes his desperate situation as he pours out his soul (42:4). He has an intense need for God, like the body needs water—he thirsts for Him like the deer for the flowing streams (42:1-2). He weeps at his enemies’ taunts (42:3), which wound him (42:10). He is separated from God’s people and misses corporate worship (42:4). He feels overwhelmed, rejected, and forgotten (42:7, 9; 43:2). He is cast down and troubled (42:5, 11; 43:5).

Have you ever felt as the psalmist did? God made us for Himself and in such a way that, in addition to private worship, we need to worship with others.

We need to be honest with God. Would the psalmist’s words describe you if you were in a similar situation? If you are a believer in Christ, are you part of a local church? If you are, do you thank God for it? Do you faithfully attend church and encourage your fellow believers? Perhaps you are thankful and blessed in regularly being with the people of God, but you can cry out on behalf of those persecuted for the cause of Christ, for the sick, for shut-ins, and for casualties of church closings and apostasies—those who lament the same kind of situation the psalmist faced.

Are you facing persecution or injustice? Do you feel God has rejected and forsaken you? Then tell Him so. Pour out your complaint to Him with honesty.

A Trusting Complaint

In addition to honesty, a proper complaint is characterized by trust. The very fact that the psalmist is praying is a good sign. He addresses God (42:1, 6, 9; 43:1-4), recognizes his need of God (42:1-2, 6), and prays when others say, “Where is your God?” (42:3, 10). He remembers God in a faraway land (42:4, 6) and demonstrates his faith in Him by speaking of His steadfast love and the song and prayer that are with him (42:8). He prays for vindication and deliverance, trusting God for these things (43:1). He calls for God to send out His light and truth and to guide him to His dwelling place (43:3).

The psalmist’s descriptions of God also give evidence of his trust. He calls Him his rock (42:9). He takes refuge in God (43:2), calls Him his help and his God (42:11), and finds his joy of joys in God (43:5).

Do you feel the same way about God? Is He the One you trust in? Do you pray to Him and believe He can do for you what you need? Can you complain to Him in a way that indicates you are trusting Him, or does your grievance amount to an unbelieving gripe?

A Hopeful Complaint

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God ” (Ps. 43:5; cf. Ps. 42:5, 11). Along with honesty and trust, the psalmist also displays hope in his complaint. He speaks to himself with the reminder to hope in God. He has an expectation of renewed praise, that he would yet praise God again. He believes God will deliver him. He has hope that God will lead him to His dwelling place and that he will go and praise God on the harp.

The psalmist clearly looks toward a brighter future from a dark place. Can you say the same thing? When you are hurting, do you remember the hope you have in God? Is your hope in Him or in your circumstances and earthly comfort?

Christ and Our Complaints

The psalmist wasn’t the only one to have this threefold aspect to his complaint. Ultimately, Jesus Christ exemplified this method.

Just before His passion, Jesus told the Father with bare honesty that He dreaded the hour to come (Matt. 26:36-42, 46; 27:45-46). He asked the Father to let the cup pass from Him, but prayed that, nevertheless, the Father’s will be done (Matt. 26:39ff.). God’s waves and billows truly went over our Lord Jesus as the Father punished Christ for our sins. Jesus not only felt forsaken but also was forsaken so those who trust Him would not have the same experience. Matthew 27:45-46 records that He cried out the words of Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Christ trusted the Father. He may well have had the whole of Psalm 22 in mind, knowing that He would be giving thanks to God after complaining (Ps. 22:22-31). He certainly had a song in the night, singing a hymn with His disciples on His way to be crucified after the supper with them. He showed trust in God by committing His spirit to Him in death (cf. Ps. 31:5).

Our hope is in this Man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3-4). We find no hope elsewhere. Though we are certain to have tribulation, the risen Christ has overcome the world, and that fact should encourage us (John 16:33). We can have the confidence of Romans 8:37-39—that we are more than conquerers through Him who loved us and that nothing (including all the sorrows and disappointments and persecution we may face) can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Conclusion

We see in Psalms 42 and 43 and in our Lord Jesus Christ that we have a proper way to complain to God. So what do you do when you are depressed and disappointed? Do you pray? Are you honest with God? Do you complain from a heart of faith? Do you, as the psalmist did, remind yourself of the hope you have in God?

Get familiar with the Psalms. Pray the Psalms. Look at what the Psalms teach us about our faithful God, about ourselves, and about our trials. They show us how to approach God and talk to ourselves in troubled times. Examine yourself in light of the Psalms. Preach the gospel to yourself and rejoice that one day God will wipe away every tear in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:4). But as long as we are in a fallen world, let us be sure that our complaints are the right kind: those that are honest, trusting, and hopeful.