Thursday 17 April 2014

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, editors David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson

This book is a landmark contribution to settle the issues surrounding particular redemption. Ever since the Arminian and Synod of Dort firestorm of debate concerning the extent and intent of the atonement of Christ Jesus, discussion has rumbled on. And rightly so in many respects, because every new generation needs to understand the truths of Scripture for themselves.

A foreword by J. I. Packer sets the “ball rolling” and twenty three chapters and 703 pages follow (including indices). It is fitting that Packer writes the foreword because he also wrote the contemporary foreword for the seventeenth century classic on the same subject by John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”. This new book is written to engage in all the debates that have ensued since Owen’s thesis was let loose on the theological world several centuries ago.

The editors have involved erudite reformed scholars and the list of contributors is indeed impressive. Men such as Carl Trueman, J. Alec Motyer, Sinclair Ferguson and John Piper. Motyer’s chapter is perhaps my favorite and it is a comprehensive exposition of the Servant Song in Isaiah 52-53 entitled “Stricken for the Transgression of my People”; he anchors definite atonement in the biblical text in a way that is refreshing.

There are some common threads throughout this book, one which is arranged around four loci: Definite Atonement in Church History; Definite Atonement in the Bible; Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective; and Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice. The common approach includes a preference for the term definite atonement instead of limited atonement or particular redemption. Additionally, most contributors are writing as academic theologians, and their style maybe such, that it may be too dense for many to have the time or background knowledge to comprehend. There is a strong polemic in each chapter and most contributors appear to knock down a specific opponent to definite atonement.

From my perspective, it is written with clarity, acumen, and boldness. For example, Piper exposes the flawed understanding of the atonement that is propounded by Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church, Seattle. It never ceases to amaze me that British evangelicals can be captivated by popular speakers such as Driscoll, even when his theology carries such unreformed and unorthodox strands.

I am persuaded that this book will stand the test of time and buttress the church to stand firm on the historic truths concerning the atonement. After reading these many pages, I sought refuge in the distilled sentences of the Westminster Confession concerning this subject: “To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same ... revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation ... 8:8”.

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