Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: From heaven he came and sought her

Central to any understanding of Christianity is understanding the signficance of the historical crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Everything flows from this. So it makes sense for any Christian who can to meditate deeply on the meaning of the cross of Christ as much as possible. 

I've really valued taking time to slowly read through heavy weight books like John Stott's The Cross of Christ, Ovey, Sach & Jeffery's Pierced for our Transgressions, The Cross from a Distance by Peter Boltand excellent essay collections The Glory of the Atonement and In my place condemned he stood. More pop-level books like Cross Examined are great too.

Chapter titles suggest the focus: "We trust in the Saving Blood", "For the Glory of the Father and the Salvation of His People", "Because He Loved Your Forefathers", "For Whom did Christ die?" and "The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ." 

I worked with Jonny and David Gibson on the resource a decade ago so when I saw they had edited a new book on the cross I pinged them a message and blagged a free copy.

With that said let me tell you a bit about From heaven he came and sought her.

This book is 700 page compendium of essays including contributions by Blocher, Motyer (on the cross in Isaiah), Piper, Schreiner, Strange and the always engaging Carl Trueman among others. As a result some chapters stand out more than others and there is some repetition in the book as authors interact with key texts and historical moments.

The focus of this volume is 'Definite Atonement' which is the writers term for what might more often be called Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption. This is about the effectiveness of the cross for his people. The editors state that "the doctrine (of definite atonement) is a fitting and necessary corollary of penal substitutionary atonement." (p34). This is about "the shared intention and accomplishment of Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

The book claims to offer a Historical, Biblical, Theological and Pastoral perspectives. It's a rich offering on a subject that isn't without controversy. There are historical complexities, hard Biblical texts, wider theological issues and significant pastoral concerns around this subject. I'm glad to have a rigorous approach to hand - the questions are hard - concerning the love and character of God, the possibility of salvation for people and many other areas - but God's people today, and throughout history, do not run away from the hard questions. This book is evidence of that honest pursuit.

I loved the attention to the details of exegeting key texts combined with an unpacking of the historical theology. I found myself encouraged by the exegesis and challenged and enlightened by the historical background.

I stand repentant and enriched, having misunderstood and caricatured some aspects of the debate over this doctrine. Expect the authors of this book, in their rigour, to suggest, imply and demonstrate from the Bible and from historical theology that you're in error in the way you believer and speak about the cross. That might be uncomfortable but better to be called back to Christ more truly than to keep my distance and remain in happy error.

The material presented here deserves engagement whether you come at it leaning more towards a limited or unlimited perspective on the extent and efficacy of the atonement.

Chapter 12, by Jonny Gibson ends like this: "As Husband and Head, Christ died for his bride and body; as Cosmic Saviour, he died for the world; and as the Last Adam, he died for a new humanity. In this regard, Christ truly is the Saviour of the world - an inumerable number of people from every tribe and language and nation.

I'm blogging this at just over half way through the book, in chapter 13 which beautifully shows the centrality of our Union with Christ to understanding what's happening at the cross, showing how "the saving work of God in Christ is Trinitarian", and citing Sanders: "Christian salvation comes from the Trinity, happens through the Trinity, and brimngs us home to the Trinity."... "the eternal Trinity is the gospel Trinity."

I'm finding this book really stimulating for my understanding, belief in, and articulation of the cross... leading me to increased devotion to Christ.

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