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Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution Paperback – November 30, 2007
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About the Author
Steve Jeffery is a minister at Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Southgate, London. He has a MS and PhD in experimental physics from Oxford University.
Michael Ovey (1058–2017) was principal of Oak Hill Theological College for ten years. He received a PhD in Trinitarian theology from King’s College, London.
Andrew Sach is on the leadership team at St. Helen's Bishopsgate. He was previously a scientist before training at Oak Hill Theological College.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God; Don’t Waste Your Life; This Momentary Marriage; A Peculiar Glory; and Reading the Bible Supernaturally.
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Chapter one introduces the topic with a compelling historical bibliography of sorts, which assists the reader in developing an understanding of the nature of the fray about to be discussed. Many in evangelical world are either unaware or marginally aware (this reviewer prior to reading the book) of the degree to which Penal Substitution has been assaulted over the past two centuries. As such, the chapter provides a beginning to that understanding, and helps the reader to understand the motive behind the book.
Moving through section one, this reviewer was initially surprised to find no reference to the death of the first animals in Genesis 3 as a part of the biblical context for atonement, even as extensive reference was made to the levitical system in the pages which followed. Immediately it became clear that the authors were laboring amidst an abundance of compelling material, to keep this book from becoming a multi-volume theological treatise or an intimidating 500+ page work. This reviewer desired greater expansion and clarification of Old Testament Levitical law practice such as, the remembrance of the redemption of firstborn sons in Leviticus, and the sentencing of the scapegoat to a painful, and certain death. However, the summaries at the end of each sub-section prove to be a welcome opportunity to tighten each concept and understand why the authors have chosen to place them in the work. Possibly because it is a British work, the use of names such as Morna Hooker (p.63) seem to be weak inclusions apart from an understanding of where and when her quoted essay was influential. If this is a work for astute laity as well as scholars, greater context must be given to the influence of the detractors of penal substitution, especially if their works were published in the 1950’s or before. More contemporary examples of both detractors and advocates from the outset of the book would be helpful, even though some come up later in the book.
Another helpful aspect of the book, are the placement of strategic interrogatives. The authors place questions beginning with, “But why did…?” which constantly spurs critical thinking about the material, rather than an ongoing lecture format of writing.
For students of biblical languages, the transliteration of the Greek in some areas apart from a printing of the actual Greek words is less helpful. However, the treatment of the original languages was appreciated, and all references are amply footnoted to provide the necessary launch-points for further study.
The creation commentary is exceptional in detail and connection to an understanding of penal substitution. The reminder that “God did it” regarding the cursing of the earth post-fall is an excellent point, that sets the mind of the reader to grapple with God’s mind rather than beginning with one’s own reasoning of everything. While there seems to be a need for a more focused discussion on sovereignty in the midst of sin, perhaps this is intentional, given that it is discussed at greater length in section two.
One of the most significant portions of the book, following the creation account, is explained as a “recapitulation” where Jesus role as the second Adam of 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 is clarified. This is a section where scholars may roll their eyes as they believe the authors have stated the obvious, but laity will have the proverbial light-bulb illuminate over their heads as they may for the first time be able to link penal substitution as possible, given Christ’s sinless life.
By way of contrast, the writing style seems to shift from highly developed scholarly content, to interrogatives, to what seem to be occasional streams-of-consciousness. On page 135, this is illustrated in the proposed idea that God’s intention of man’s subduing of the earth might possibly have originally included the weather, given Jesus ability to calm the storm. Perhaps this is a tactic of engagement to keep the reader thinking and relating with the text, as there is no indication as to who among the three authors are responsible for writing the various sections.
The historical discussion, specifically the detail regarding the dialogue between Justin & Trypho and Augustine & Faustus is very helpful in drawing out the cultural implications of the curse described in Deuteronomy 25. This concept is not understood by much of evangelicalism and further extols the magnitude of the suffering of Christ in light of the powerful cultural stumbling block of crucifixion for the Jews. Western evangelicalism is all but totally ignorant of the magnitude of the unbelievable offense of the method of Jesus death. This discussion flows perfectly into that of guilt incurred vs. imputed, which is a critical judicial distinction that was skillfully brought out by the authors via Augustine. (p.179) Some of the historical referents (such as Gelasisus) seem forced in the brevity of the information provided, and some denominational, rather than parachurch examples of faithfulness would be more helpful. The authors do provide a helpful bio on Bunyan, as well as explain a quote, from Pilgrim’s Progress which both bolsters their position on penal substitution and will undoubtedly peak the interest of readers toward this classic allegory.
Section two begins with an explanation of the motive behind the format and is winsome in communicating the intent to resist a polemical style, yet firmly state the case and give answers. Unfortunately, what follows is an inconsistent presentation of the detractors and their arguments. Some are very well developed, while others are thin and leave the reader wondering if they are looking at a straw man. Again, perhaps this is a result of an attempt to deal with this subject in such an accessible sub-500 page book, and yet still attempt to cover so much ground. One of the most helpful aspects is the identification and needed biblical diffusion of the emotional charge (p.229) inherent to many of the humanistic arguments against penal substitution.
Chapter 10 could stand alone in the gravity of the material handled. The authors compassionately and carefully deal with a shallow view of Christ and his incarnation, and establish an inconceivable difference (and thus analogous breakdown) between God’s justice, human courts and the believer’s unity with Christ. (p.242) Thankfully, they develop a mini-systematic theology of sorts dealing with both universalism, and (ironically, in the form of a giant footnote) sovereignty in election.
Finally, the pastoral aspect of the authors comes through in several applicational points, and culminates with an appendix that seeks to deal with rightly illustrating the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. This section is especially helpful, in that it provides a systematic way to develop, and to evaluate illustrations which seeks to preserve the clarity of the doctrine.
Overall, Pierced for Our Transgressions, Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution comes highly recommended from this reader. It is a timely book that can be used both as a reference work and a biblical mentor regarding an oft forgotten and misunderstood doctrine.