Saturday, November 30, 2013

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson

Definite atonement, that Jesus died for the elect, has long been a controversial aspect of Reformed theology. The question is, as Louis Berkhof asked it, Did the Father send Christ to make atonement for the purpose of saving only the elect or all men? (46)

The editors have compiled these articles so we readers can explore the historical foundations of the doctrine, how it is developed from Scripture, and how it is to be preached. “The argument set forth in this book,” they write, “is that, before time, the triune God planned salvation, such that the Father chose a people for himself from among fallen humankind, a choice that would involve the sending of his Son to purchase them and the sending of his Spirit to regenerate them. In the mind of God, the choice logically preceded the accomplishment and the application of Christ's redemptive work...” (46)

The editors review the critiques of the doctrine in their Introduction. The subsequent articles, by various authors, address them. This includes controversies and nuances of the doctrine in church history, its presence or absence in the Bible, the theological implications of the doctrine, and its pastoral consequences. Each essay is a self contained argument so readers can turn to the ones of specific interest. The indexes at the end of the book make it very easy to see what the various authors have said on a particular Scripture or about a certain author.

This is an extensive look at the doctrine. It seemed to me the various authors addressed every Scripture related to the discussion and answered every critique others have presented. As with the doctrine of the Trinity, this doctrine is not clearly stated in Scripture. It is a theological conclusion reached by holding together various soteriological texts while at the same time synthesizing various doctrines. (332) Confusion surrounding the doctrine is cleared up when it is viewed in light of the entire plan of salvation.

I was impressed with the aim to show that definite atonement is to God's glory. This was clearly related by John Piper in his article on preaching. He reminds us “that the central task of Christian ministry is the magnifying of the glory of God.” Preaching definite atonement, he argues, is a significant part of the glory of God's grace displayed through the work of his Son.

Reformed Christians will find great satisfaction in this extensive defense and clarification of a doctrine that often confuses them. Those opposed to the doctrine may not be convinced of its truth after reading this book, but they should certainly read it to understand the problems that come with not believing it. I was particularly struck with the problem regarding universal atonement and universal accessibility. That issue alone should jar people believing in universal atonement to reconsider their stand.

David Gibson is minister of Trinity Church in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Jonathan Gibson is currently working on a PhD in Hebrew Studies at Cambridge University.

Crossway Books, 704 pages. Visit the publisher's product page to learn more about the book, the editors, see the table of contents, and read an excerpt.

I received a complimentary egalley from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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