Robert A. Peterson, professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Seminary, has written a well documented, Biblical and insightful book on the work of Christ. Famililar with the work of Peterson in his written work and in class, it is a pleasure to work through this book, that captures the essence of the biblical picture of Christ's work but also the significance of that work for the church. Peterson is certainly no stranger to the atonement, his work entitled Calvin and the Atonement was an excellent study depicting Calvin's pictures of the atonement. This new work, Salvation Accomplished by the Son sets out to put forth nine events and six pictures of the saving work of Christ.
To set the work in perspective, Peterson begins by making an apology to the readers for why they must read this book. This most signficant point here that bears repeating in his insistence that, "evangelicals' failure to teach that Jesus's death and resurrection save sinners" (14). Peterson goes on to mention even the scant attention give to the saving aspect of the resurrection in John Stott's great book The Cross of Christ. Peterson wants to shout from the rooftops that not only is Christ's death primary for saving sinners but so is Christ's resurrection. The empty tomb is as much part of the story as the Lord's cross. Why is this important? He goes to state, "If Jesus's resurrection had not occurred, the apostles' preaching would be a waster of time and effort. In addition, the faith of their hearers would be as big a waste. If Christ were still in the tomb, disastrous results would obtain for living and dead believers" (131). A dead savior would deliver no one from the power and dominion of sin. Therefore, it is in Christ's resurrection that we find the release of sinners into everlasting life. In other words, the resurrection saves.
In the chapter on Christ's intercession, Peterson closes the discussion of the biblical texts with some concluding remarks about the saving signficance of Christ's intercession. He says, "The Bible teaches that the intercession saves. First, it saves because it is the completion of Christ's priestly work. If he had not rise from the dead, then he would have been unable to appear in the presence of God in our behalf as intercessor, and if he had not appeared in the presence of God in our behalf, his priestly work would be incomplete" (248). The Old Testament idea of a priest was that he was the go between in the midst of God and the behalf. In other words, the priest mediated between God on behalf of the people in offering sacrifices. Christ intercedes for his people because of his being in the presence of God, seated at the right hand and hearing the prayers of his people. The intercession of Christ gives fruit to the endurance of the faithful and their works by hearing our prayers and calling us to holiness.
A couple of things that I thought were exteremly significant about this book. When you read this book, you are constantly reminded of the way in which both biblical and systematic theology can complement one another One, Peterson draws his readers sytematically through the teaching of Scripture in focusing on the saving events and pictures of Christ. In the midst of speculative theories on the atonement, Peterson draws us to the fountainhead of Scripture for the truth. Secondly, Peterson is careful to bring to bear the best of evangelical contemporary scholarship on the issues of Christ's saving work (through the use of commentaries, theological works, and monographs). Lastly, Peterson also includes an excerpt from his book Why I Am Not an Arminian devoted to a defense of limited or particular atonement. The benefit of these passages is to give the reader a biblical and theological basis of rationale for the position.
In providing a cogent argument for the idea of legal substitute concering the picture of Christ's saving work, Peterson echoes the sentiments of many who object to this way of seeing Christ's death (Joel Green and Mark Baker). I think it is great that Peterson quotes from their work about their tendency to shy away from substitution (362). I think Peterson provides a detailed account of why he believes in legal substitution. Yet, I do not think he offered answers to the theses that they provided (misunderstanding, shaped by Western culture, faitful to Scripture). To my eyes, he answered the first theses about the biblical basis of legal substitution. I'm not questioning the validity of the teaching of legal substitution, but as a young believer growing up in the church legal substitution and sacrifice were the only lenses I was given for seeing Christ's work on the cross. I also wonder why this is so prevalent in our culture. The only other minor criticism I have of the book is a lack of interaction with non-evangelical sources on these particular issues of Christ's saving work.
Overall, this work will set a high standard for evangelical work on the saving work of Christ. The value of this work is that it brings together the various events of Christ's saving work into coherence with one another. Often, we seem to harp on one picture of Christ's saving work without seeing the others. Peterson has seen fit to provide the reader with a biblical panorama of pictures of Christ's saving work that will both edify and strengthen one's faith. This book goes a long way in bringing the best of biblical and systematic theology as well.
Much thanks to Crossway books for the free copy of this book for review.