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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 33 years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, This Momentary Marriage, Bloodlines, and Does God Desire All to Be Saved?
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Well, what is the problem between man and God? Surely the answer is sin.
So the question of the atonement becomes, "How does the cross of Christ take away the sin problem?" But PST locate the central problem between man and God as God's wrath. Listen to this quotation by John Piper, "For if God did not punish his Son in my place, I am not saved from my greatest peril, the wrath of God." Penal Substitution then sets out to show how Jesus takes care of God's wrath for me.
But I am left thinking, "Great, the effect of my sin was taken away! But what about the cause of the conflict? What about my sin? When does Jesus get rid of that?" My understanding is that Jesus lived without sin, died, and rose again, so that by the Holy Spirit I can live and die and rise again in Him. So when I die, my sin is destroyed along with my flesh. This is why I still have to die even though Jesus died for me.
So that is how sin is taken care of, it seems to me. But PST adds a further obstacle, based on a theory of Retribution Justice, which is: for every sin there must be an equal and opposite punishment delivered. So every time we sin, God keeps track of a punishment we deserve for that sin. But if God wants to forgive us for sin then he wont deliver the punishment, but he will store it somewhere (in a cup, a cup of wrath). This cup of wrath must be drunk by someone if God is to be just. The taker of the cup does not have to be the guilty party, but someone who advocates for the guilty party. So Jesus steps up on our behalf and on the cross, drinks the cup of God's wrath. PST phrases it as: Jesus paid the debt, or penalty, for my sin.
This brings up a whole host of concerns for me. One is, "debt" and "penalty" come from opposite sides of a relationship. Debt is something I owe. Penalty is something God owes me. The Bible makes it clear that punishment is something God owes me: the wages of sin is death. And I will face this punishment when I die. Jesus does not take it away. Now, the debt I owe is to love the Lord my God with all my heart soul mind and strength. Jesus has paid this for me, and applies it to me in the Holy Spirit. My second main concern is the idea that God must punish for the sake of punishing to maintain justice. If Jesus has forgiven me and made me righteous in Him and my sin was destroyed with my flesh, then what is the purpose for delivering punishment? It seems that a better interpretation of the cup Jesus drank is that it is the sin of all mankind against God, stored up to be poured out on Jesus on the cross, to which Jesus responded, "Father, forgive them."
But if the PST advocates are right and Jesus died to take away the consequences of my sin, then I would really desire a book that tells me how Jesus takes away my sin.
These authors set out to confront the relatively recent and influential criticism of the penal substitutionary aspect of Jesus Christ's atoning work; the classic view that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, with God imputing (or, ascribing) the guilt of our sins to Christ, and he, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserved. This doctrine has recently come under some criticism in a more influential and widespread way, and these authors set out to interact with the basic criticisms by establishing the reality of penal substitution from Scripture, then from Church history, and finally they engage with the typical arguments against affirming this doctrine head on.
Their first "line of attack" against the criticism of penal substitutionary atonement is to go straight to the Bible and ask the basic question, "Is it in there?" The succinctly and frankly write, "If God himself affirms penal substitution, if it is part of the explanation that he himself has given for why he sent his Son into the world, then we dare not maintain otherwise," (p. 33). They then proceed to look at various passages of Scripture: Exodus 12 and the Passover event; Leviticus 16 and the meaning of atonement within the sacrificial system; the concept as seen in the prophets, particularly Isaiah. What is amazing is even before they reach the New Testament passages, the authors have very adequately connected the concept of penal substitution to the bible and have drawn the connecting lines to Jesus Christ. They continue on, and go to the Gospels' witness, particularly that of Mark and John, and also to the letters of Paul and Peter. Their conclusion is that the Bible - not just one or two obscure references, but a significant thread throughout the Bible - points to the fact that God has expressed that salvation is through substitution, and this is seen ultimately in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who gave His life "as a ransom for many," (Mark 10:45).
This biblical framework is quickly followed by the building up of a theological framework, which the authors ascribe the doctrine of penal substitution a significant role, calling it the "centre of the [theological] jigsaw to complete a magnificent picture," (p. 148). Without this concept of salvation through penal substitution, there are many facets of the Bible that become improbable if not impossible to understand; such as the Holiness and graciousness of God, for one example.
They then proceed to answer the criticism that the doctrine of penal substitution is a misguided doctrine that has been steering the historic church astray at least since the time of the Reformation. To answer this charge, Jeffrey, Sachs and Ovey present 23 distinct historical theologians and organization that have upheld the doctrine of penal substitution. Their historic pedigree ranges from Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Athanasius (300-373 AD), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), John Calvin (1509-1564) and J.I. Packer (born 1926). Needless to say, they quite convincingly lay aside the misconception that the doctrine of penal substitution is a novel and misguided concept.
After they have built the case for penal substitution from the Bible, theology, pastoral/practical implications and also historical theology, the authors then begin to engage the specific points of debate. The address how the doctrine of penal substitution addresses and answers the criticisms regarding the Bible, the culture, violence, justice, our knowledge and right understanding of God, as well as our right understanding of the Christian life. I find this section of the book to be of immense value as a resource to draw from while in pastoral ministry. It is full of helpful and illuminating connections and points of response to some very common questions regarding faith and belief in Jesus Christ.
Some of you may be saying, "So what? Everything about this topic and book is only good for theology; what could it possibly mean for me in everyday life?" I actually had that same thought before reading this book. After reading it, I have found that this book is incredibly practical and applicable to my life, as well as anyone else's. One simple, but very penetrating sentence, that encapsulates the essence of this book, and what the doctrine of penal substitution upholds in its essence is this reality:
"The Lord Jesus Christ did not come into the world to meet with his friends. He came to die for his enemies." p. 152.
Pierced for Our Transgressions has helped me to see once again, the glory, wonder and sheer gracious love that is seen in Christ's death on the cross on my behalf. This cuts away at my pride, superiority and desire for that which would replace my longing for God and His honor. By seeing myself as at one time God's enemy, I can rejoice and bask in the finished and atoning work of Jesus Christ, who lived and died in my place, and welcomes me into the family of God.
This book is once again, well worth having on the bookshelf. Clear, compelling and comprehensive; I can't think of a better resource to draw upon when considering the glory of penal substitution and its impact on our lives and ministries.