In my own ministry I am currently enjoying preaching expositionally through the Gospel of John. And though we as a church are only in chapter 4 of this beloved book, I realize that the time is coming when we will be addressing the work of Christ on the Cross. In light of that reality I have included in my 2015 reading list a newer book on the doctrine of the Atonement. By God’s grace however, I have also recently stumbled upon some old notes pertaining to a book I read during my time in seminary. Therefore, in the spirit of being the book-review guy for PS 23, I present to you the following review of Pierced for our Transgressions authored by the team of Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach.
In this work the authors present the doctrine of Penal Substitionery Atonement in light of the biblical evidence by providing both an introduction to the unaware and a defense of the doctrine to the naysayers. At first glance these men might seem tragically inadequate to address this issue when one considers their backgrounds encompass experimental physics, law, and the mechanisms of the human body relating to hearing. However, a closer investigation reveals these men have all pursued extensive higher education in the area of theology with Ovey receiving a Ph.D. in Trinitarian Theology from King’s College London. Furthermore, each of these men is a churchman serving either as a pastoral staff member or Sr. Pastor of a local church as is the case of Sach and Jeffery respectively. And in the case of Ovey, he has put his higher education to use training others in the faith as a professor and principal of a theological college in the United Kingdom. It is light of these latter qualifications that these men are shown to be qualified to speak to this issue through the writing and subsequent publishing of this tome.
In order to make their case for Penal Substitionery Atonement the authors have chosen to divide their work into two parts with each one addressing a particular aspect of the debate concerning this subject. The greater portion of the book (approx. 184 pp.) is dedicated to part one which contains five chapters under the general heading of “Making the Case,” while part two offers eight chapters (approx. 149 pp.) to address critics of the doctrine.
In the first section of the book subjects supporting Penal Substitionery Atonement are presented in chapter length treatments detailing why this doctrine ought to be accepted. Chapter 1 serves as a simple introduction to the topic quickly transitioning to Chapter 2 which builds the foundation of biblical support for this doctrine by examining key passages of Scripture which demonstrate that this is not an idea foreign to God’s Word. In the third chapter the authors set this doctrine within its context among other doctrines of evangelical Christianity demonstrating that it is likewise not foreign to traditional understandings of what the Bible communicates. In chapter 4 the subject of how this doctrine should be applied pastorally as a means of comfort and source of joy within the lives of Believers. Finally, the authors demonstrate that their position is not a novelty of “modern” scholarship and interpretation but rather is the historical view of the church throughout its history by introducing the reader to several key men who have addressed the issue either explicitly or implicitly in their writings.
Section two of the book though containing more chapters is actually the shorter of the two sections by some 35 pages. In this section the authors turn their attention to the task of answering the questions or accusations of critics of this doctrine. Chapter 6 serves as the introductory address of this half of this book, setting the stage for the information which will follow. In this section chapters are dedicated to Penal Substitution and …. Which include the areas of the Bible, culture, violence, justice, human understanding of God, and the Christian life. Finally, in the thirteenth chapter the authors address the two styles of presenting the opposing arguments which seem to confound defenders of this position.
In general I found this to be a very helpful book addressing an important and possibly difficult to understand topic. I agree with the writers that this doctrine is an integral aspect of the Gospel message for if Jesus did not die as our substitute upon the cross then for what purpose did He have to die? It was this question which caused me to greatly appreciate the entirety of chapter 2 as an average Christian. The process the authors took of keying in on specific passages of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments was beneficial to me and I believe will be to others in demonstrating that this concept saturates the pages of Scripture. Likewise, it seems evident from this chapter that most opponents to this doctrine do not share in certain interpretive presuppositions with us. Primarily, it would seem that the authors (and I) hold to a more literal hermeneutic which trusts that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, sufficient Word of God. On the other hand it seems that the opponents of Penal Substitionery Atonement may pay lip-service to this view of God’s Word, they functionally disagree by pointing to social, cultural, and parallel influences upon the writer which would skew the concept as presented and therefore make it susceptible to refutation.
Likewise, I found the fourth chapter very helpful. I found encouragement in the fact that this doctrine can be practically applied to the needs of the people I have been called to shepherd in the local church. This doctrine and its explication to the Christian in the counseling room should serve to bring much comfort in the assurance of God’s choosing, saving and preserving of them. This is of course in contrast to alternate theories of Christ’s death such as He died as an example of humility and obedience alone (for that is wrapped up in His death but not the thrust of the action) or as an “unwilling” participant in the whole event.it is for this reason I believe I might utilize this chapter to address those who are anxious concerning their salvation, most especially if good fruit is evident.
Finally, I found all of the second part of the book helpful as particular oppositions to this understanding of the Atonement are addressed. If I were to recommend this book to someone who had questions about this subject I would likely have them read the second half and then follow up with one-to-one meetings to discuss what had been read.
If I were to express any disagreement with the book it would not be one of content but of organization. As helpful as the chapter on church history is, I felt as if it could have been a bit shorter as it seems the primary target audience is pastors, professors, and others who are likely to have some background in this area. However, this section should not be excluded from the argument just perhaps included as an appendix and not such a large chapter.
In all this is a book I found to be very helpful to my own instruction and understanding of this issue. For this reason it will be a book I reference as need requires to address questions concerning the subject of the Atonement. Furthermore, it is a book I am comfortable recommending to others who either have questions or interests in this key doctrine of the Christian faith.