Book Review – From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective

David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, ed. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 704 pp. $50.00.

fhAs the doctrines of grace (more commonly known as the “five points of Calvinism”) are being discovered, embraced, and cherished by scores of YRRs (or neo-Puritans, neo-Calvinists, neo-Dortians, or whatever your preferred designation/stripe), they are still generally disliked (and often misunderstood) by a majority of Christians. And perhaps all the other four doctrines combined don’t cause as much trouble as the middle petal – “limited atonement.” This no doubt has at least a little to do with the misleading designation, and as the subtext of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her implies and several of the contributors explicitly state, perhaps it’s time to call this flower (or at least the middle petal) by another name.

Long before its release this book was anticipated to become the definitive resource on definite atonement, and now, almost a year after its release, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is living up to the hype. Boasting a veritable who’s who of contributors (e.g. Haykin, Trueman, Motyer, Schreiner, MacLeod, Letham, Piper, etc.), this volume consists of 23 chapters in four parts addressing definite atonement from the historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.

By beginning with church history, we recognize that all contemporary reading of the Bible on the atonement is historically located. We are not hostages to past interpretations, nor do we need to pretend there is such a thing as tabula rasa (blank slate) exegesis. By carefully attending to Scripture, we seek to submit ourselves to what God has said. By moving from exegesis to theology, we claim that the diverse biblical parts demand the patient work of synthesis to portray the theological whole. By concluding with pastoral practice, we aim to show the implications of the Bible’s teaching for the church’s ministry and mission. So while the discipline of doctrinal thinking is never less than the ordering of all that the Bible has to say on a given subject, it is also much more.

(Gibson & Gibson, 38)

Even a cursory summary is not possible in a blog review for a book of this length, but the book has a fabulous website that contains brief summaries of each chapter. I’ll just hit a few personal highlights. Part I, “Definite Atonement in Church history, really presents a lot of stellar information that shatters misconceptions that we all might have concerning Calvin, Beza, and the Synod of Dort. Academically the most significant contribution might be Chapter 7, “Controversy on Universal Grace: A Historical Survey of Moïse Amyraut’s Brief Traitté de la Predestination” (Amar Djaballah). Amyraut’s BTP had never before been translated into English, neither had there been a detailed published presentation of Amyraut’s main thesis in English, which Djaballah’s  chapter provides. ‘

In Part II, “Definite Atonement in the Bible”, my favorite chapters were 12 and 13 by Jonathan Gibson (these are amongst my favorite chapters in the entire book).  Chapter 12 addresses the particularistic texts, universalistic texts, “perishing” texts (which concern Christ’s death for those who may finally perish) in Paul’s epistles. In Chapter 13 Gibson points out that while robust exegesis of these texts are surely important to discussions on the intent and scope of the atonement, employing these texts alone most often results in an impasse in the discussion. And so, in Chapter 13 Gibson proposes a new way forward – a biblico-systematic approach. “Isolated exegesis of individual texts…does not prove or disprove the doctrine of definite atonement in Paul—a larger soteriological framework must be respected” (332). See here for a stellar quote from the introduction to this chapter.

It’s hard for me to pick favorites in Part III because I love theology. But if my arm was twisted, I’d pick Chapter 19 by Wellum: The New Covenant Work of Christ: Priesthood, Atonement, and Intercession. Here Wellum skillfully presents the case that Christ’s High Priesthood necessarily entails a particular redemption by placing the discussion within the typological pattern of priesthood and placing the priesthood within the biblical covenants. I love that this book ends with a section on pastoral perspectives; while we know that orthodoxy should lead to orthopraxy and that theology should fuel doxology, it doesn’t always happen naturally/easily. This section reminds us that the definite atonement debate isn’t just an intellectual exercise, but instead this precious doctrine fuels missions and evangelism, bolsters our assurance, and causes us to truly exult in God’s glory and His grace.

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective needs to quickly become the go-to book on the issue of the extent of the atonement. Of course, as a collection of essays some are better than others and there’s some repetition (e.g. many of the texts Schreiner treats in his chapter are dealt with in others), but I doubt a better/more comprehensive treatment of definite atonement can be found in any other single volume. Whether one ascribes to definite atonement and would like to have a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of it or one rejects this doctrine but would like to become acquainted with the other side of the debate, this book needs to be engaged with. This is a moderately academic book and a beastly (though for me, delightful) 667 pages (not including back matter), so it’s not for the faint-of-heart. Those who would most enjoy this book are obviously Christians who love to read (big books) and have an academic bent in relation to biblical and theological studies. However, because this book is so significant and unique, I’d say that everyone (especially those who cherish the doctrine of definite atonement) should have it on their shelf, at least as a reference to consult.

While this book definitely has value as a reference because of the wide variety of topics covered, I do highly recommend reading it cover-to-cover and in order, even if one takes a long time to get through it. This is because the primary strength of this volume is the comprehensive nature in which definite atonement is dealt with from so many different angles. There’s a synergy (haha!!) at work here, with the strength of the entire volume being greater than the sum of its parts.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon


Book Review – Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship (Bruce Ellis Benson)

Bruce Ellis Benson. Liturgy As a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013. 160 pp. $19.99.

liturgyLiturgy as a Way of Life is part of “The Church and Postmodern Culture” series from Baker Academic under the editorship of James K. A. Smith. The aim of this series is to “bring together high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology to write for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church” (from series preface). I was drawn to this particular title because the arts have always been a huge part of my life – from playing classical piano and participating in choirs, plays, and musicals throughout my youth (all prior to my Christian conversion) to leading musical worship and participating in a performing arts ministry as a Christian. However, this book is not specifically aimed at people like me; it was written for everyone, not just artists in the usual/technical sense.

In Liturgy as a Way of Life, Wheaton philosophy professor Bruce Ellis Benson contends that we are God’s works of art and that God calls us all to be artists (though not necessarily in the technical sense). Using the concept of improvisation with jazz music as the model, Benson demonstrates that our very lives ought to be seen as art and that we ought to live liturgically.

Ultimately, my goal here is to explore the deep and interpenetrating relationship of life, art, and worship, though not with the intent of merely sketching some theory about their relationship. Instead, it is about working out a way of life that can be properly termed “liturgical.”

(Benson 17)


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Book Review – 1 Samuel For You (Tim Chester)

Tim Chester. 1 Samuel for You. The Good Book Company, 2014. 221 pp. $22.99.

1 SamThe God’s Word for You series from The Good Book Company has quickly become my favorite source of devotional reading. In addition to being used in conjunction with personal devotions, the books are designed to also be read straight through or used as an aid in preparing to teach. These books are not commentaries, but they are expositional and reveal much more about the background and meaning of the biblical texts than typical devotionals. They’re accessible to one unfamiliar with the Bible, but at the same time enjoyable as a devotional read for those more seasoned in Bible study and familiar with the particular texts.

The latest volume, 1 Samuel for You by Tim Chester, is the first I’ve read from the series on an Old Testament book. Because lay Christians tend to struggle with reading the Old Testament (whether just struggling to actually read it and/or struggling to interpret and apply it), I’m always on the lookout for helpful resources on Old Testament books. 1 Samuel for You hit the proverbial ball out of the park.

1 Samuel is more familiar to most Christians than many other books of the Old Testament; it’s here that we find many of  the beloved stories of David that are ingrained in our minds since childhood Sunday School. Yet often the actual point of the texts are missed as we stay on the surface and merely draw moralistic applications. Perhaps the greatest strength of 1 Samuel for You is that it draws out how the biblical texts and certain characters and events point toward Christ. One prime example of this concerns the very familiar story of David and Goliath. Chester shows how Goliath is presented as a snake and David defeats him with a head wound, harking back to the prophecy in Genesis 3:15.

[D]avid is the Christ – the prototype of and pointer to Jesus Christ…in Luke 3:21-22, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit as the king-designate. This is David and Goliath revisited. This is Israel in the wilderness revisited. This is Adam in the garden revisited. Jesus is the true son of David, the true son of Abraham and the true son of Adam (3:31, 34, 38).

(pp. 124-125)

So often when the stories of David are taught, we are immediately told to emulate David’s qualities while the typology is completely missed; but over and over again Chester helps us see that the ultimate point is “not that we are called to be like David. It’s good news that we have a David” (127). Of course we shouldn’t ignore practical application, and Chester doesn’t; this book is also richly devotional and immensely practical.

The combination of accessible Christ-centered exposition and devotional/practical application makes 1 Samuel for You an ideal devotional and guide to the book of 1 Samuel for laymen. Again, this is not a commentary so additional works should be sought by those pursuing more in-depth study.

Purchase: Amazon

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for the review copy!

A Biblico-Systematic Approach to Overcoming the Definite Atonement Impasse

I’m almost finished with From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Jonathan Gibson’s chapters (Part II, Definite Atonement in the Bible) were among my favorite. In the first of his two chapters (Chapter 12: For Whom Did Christ Die? Particularism and Universalism in the Pauline Epistles), Gibson argues that Paul’s atonement theology consists of at least four groups of biblical texts: particularistic texts, universalistic texts, “perishing” texts (which concern Christ’s death for those who may finally perish), and “doctrinal loci” texts (which concern doctrines that directly impinge upon the intent and nature of the atonement). Chapter 12 addresses the first three of these groups of texts. In Chapter 13 (The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ: Definite Atonement in Paul’s Theology of Salvation) Gibson points out that while robust exegesis of the particularistic, universalistic, and perishing texts are surely important to discussions on the intent and scope of the atonement, employing these texts alone most often results in an impasse in the discussion.

And so, in Chapter 13 Gibson proposes a new way forward – a biblico-systematic approach. I was immediately excited when I read those words – I love biblico-systematic takes. The below is from the introduction of chapter 13. The quote is perhaps longer than typical blog quotes, but it is very, very good.

Definite atonement, carefully and properly understood, is not a biblical doctrine per se, nor even a systematic doctrine per se; rather, definite atonement is a biblico-systematic doctrine. That is to say, the doctrine of definite atonement emerges from holding together various soteriological texts while at the same time synthesizing internally related doctrines, such as es­chatology, election, union with Christ, christology, Trinitarianism, doxology, covenant, ecclesiology, and sacramentology. Definite atonement is a theo­logical conclusion reached on the other side of comprehensive synthesis. When exegesis serves the domain of constructive theology—or put better, when there is a symbiotic relationship between exegesis and constructive theology—one may argue not only that Paul’s theology allows for a definite atonement but that it can point in no other direction. My approach under­stands Paul’s doctrine of the atonement through the lens of his soteriology, that is, through the wider framework of the saving work of God in Christ. As R. A. Morey has rightly commented, “The confusion surrounding this doctrine [of the extent of the atonement] often results from the failure to view it in the light of the whole plan of salvation.”

This is not to impose a “systematic” grid over the universalistic or “perishing” texts, one that “dominates” or “minimizes” the universalistic elements of Paul’s atonement theology while privileging the particularistic texts. An accurate and comprehensive formulation of Paul’s soteriology will include his universalistic and “perishing” texts as significant components in that lens. Nevertheless, these texts are but two of several constituents in Paul’s soteriological framework, and should be neither privileged nor preju­diced as they sit alongside particularistic texts and “doctrinal loci” texts, the latter of which concern various doctrines which directly impinge upon his atonement theology, such as eschatology, election, union with Christ, chris­tology, Trinitarianism, doxology, covenant, ecclesiology, and sacramentol­ogy. It is these latter loci that are often neglected, and the aim of this chapter is to let their voice be heard in the debate over the intent and nature of the atonement. Indeed, I would argue that the doctrinal loci texts may serve a mediating role in the textual quid pro quo: on the one hand, they keep us from bland and reductionistic interpretations of the particularistic texts; on the other hand, they restrain us from naïve and simplistic interpretations of the universalistic and “perishing” texts.


Purchase: Westminster | Amazon


Music Monday – Gabriel’s Oboe/How Great Thou Art

I love “Gabriel’s Oboe.” Pretty much any time I hear this piece used in any way (for example, the Gettys use it in their hymn “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God”) it takes my breath away. Enjoy this video by The Piano Guys – haunting music, stunning visuals of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. And worship.

Saturday Sillies

TIMS – A Revolutionary New One for One Campaign

So I debated about whether to post this video because “Saturday Sillies” are just supposed to give you a good, clean laugh…nothing more. While this video is funny and pokes fun at some laughable aspects of the Christian subculture, the subject matter is serious. So, have a good laugh…but afterwards maybe think about the ways in which we think we’re helping the developing world when in fact we’re spending “$600 on a blender” and possibly even harming the people we obliviously think we’re helping. One more thing before I get off the soapbox – check out When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself.

Book Log – July 2014

  1. China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom – Bruce Baugus, ed. This book is an excellent survey of presbyterianism in China – from its history (part 1) to the current landscape (part 2) to current challenges and opportunities (part 3) to how China’s reforming churches are appropriating the Reformed tradition to their context (part 4). Anyone who’s  Reformed(ish) and interested in what God is doing in China needs to read this book. Full review here.
  2. Reading Theologically (Foundations for Learning) – Eric Barreto, ed. First of a new series from Fortress Press, this volume is essential not just for the seminarian or Bible college student but also for the thinking lay Christian. Some of the positions espoused are more progressive and positions I disagree with so I would be hesitant to recommend this book to young believers,  but I have no reservations in recommending it to mature believers who have thought through key issues of life and faith. In fact, one of the points made in this book is the importance of reading from perspectives you disagree with. Full review here.
  3. The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology – Jeremy Treat. This book is a revised Ph.D. dissertation done under Vanhoozer at Wheaton. It demonstrates how the frequently torn-asunder motifs of atonement and the kingdom of God relate by way of bridging the unfortunate gap between biblical and systematic theology. This book is an important and delightful read for ST/BT lovers (especially those who enjoy seeing the two disciplines integrated) and those who lament the dichotomization of kingdom and atonement. Full review here.
  4. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds – Jen Wilkin. This book needs to be given to every new female believer – it’s an excellent introduction to how to read and study the Bible well. However, though this book is written at an introductory level, it would be a mistake to think that it’s only for young believers. Many long-time Christians do not know how to study the Bible, so really, this is a great book for any Christian struggling with this vital component of the Christian life and looking for help from a quick, easy read. Full review at Servants of Grace.
  5. The Historical Jesus: Five Views – James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, ed. Part of the Spectrum Multiview series from IVP Academic, this book is an excellent introduction to the scholarly quest of the historical Jesus. In the introduction the editors provide a survey of the four stages of the quest, highlighting the most significant scholars, publications, and ideas. They also provide an overview of the important issues and debates in the current phase (“third quest”) and introduce the contributors to this volume – Robert Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, James Dunn, and Darrell Bock. After every essay, each of the other contributors presents a brief response. Full review here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the above books for free from the publishers for review. I was not obligated to to write positive reviews, and the opinions I have expressed are honest.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review – The Historical Jesus: Five Views

James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, ed. The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. 312 pp. $26.00.

5 views HJ

At the end of the first quest of the historical Jesus in 1906, historical Jesus research was thought to be more or less dead. Yet today the field is as alive as ever as we find ourselves in the midst of what many are calling the third quest. Exciting work is being done by participants all along the spectrum from no belief that Jesus even existed to evangelical faith in Jesus Christ. This diversity of perspectives and voices can be confusing for the uninitiated.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views from IVP Academic’s Spectrum Multiview series is an excellent introduction to the field. In the 46-page introduction editors Beilby and Eddy survey the four stages of the scholarly quest for the historical Jesus, highlighting the most significant scholars, publications, and ideas. They also provide an overview of the important issues and debates in the current phase (“third quest”) and introduce the contributors to this volume – five noted scholars of the present phase. I have no quibbles with any of the contributors chosen, but I do find the absence of N. T. Wright surprising. Apart from the introduction, this book is structured such that after every essay, each of the other contributors presents a brief response.

Robert Price
Robert Price is the only contributor to this volume who does not believe Jesus was a real person. He first lays out his methodological presuppositions: principle of analogy, criterion of dissimilarity, ideal type, consensus is no criterion, and scholarly conclusions must always be open to revision. Price then presents an overview of the traditional Christ-myth theory (where he makes the claim that there are no secular sources that mention a miracle-working Jesus, dismissing the oft-cited section of Josephus as inauthentic), argues that “virtually the whole Gospel narrative is the product of haggadic midrash on the Old Testament” (67), that many facets of the Jesus story parallels ancient myths, and that alternative traditions regarding dates related to Jesus demonstrate an attempt to anchor a mythic Jesus in recent history (80-81). Crossan, Johnson, and Bock all address secular literary evidence for the life of Jesus; Johnson, Dunn, and Bock all take issue with Price’s use of the criterion of dissimilarity. All four of the other contributors dismantle Price’s arguments from ideal type/hero typology.

John Dominic Crossan
The purpose of Crossan’s essay is to outline how he sees “Jesus as a Galilean Jew within Judaism within the Roman empire as those two traditions confronted one another in the territories of Herod Antipas in the 20s of that first common-era century” (106-107). His first step is imagining as if Jesus had never existed – the context of the Roman empire and the Jewish interaction with it spans almost half the chapter. The second step is determining the earliest layer of Jesus tradition and whether it coheres with the matrix established in the first step. Here Crossan addresses John’s relation to eschatology and the paradigm shift to Jesus’s eschatology. For Crossan, “the first and most important discussion about the historical Jesus should be on his vision of collaborative eschatology” (131). Johnson shows how Crossan’s commitment to an anti-imperialist construal of Jesus resulted in methodological inconsistency. Dunn humorously protests Crossan’s critique of Meier as a “rich case of a pot calling a relatively polished kettle black” (146). Bock challenges his identification of the Common Sayings Tradition (common to Q and Gospel of Thomas) as the earliest identifiable large-scale stratum of Jesus sayings as well as his emphasis on Jesus’s concerns with Rome and sociopolitical agendas.

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Saturday Sillies

This made the rounds online rapidly amongst biblio-/theo- Geeks when Logos released it last week, but just in case anyone missed it – “Evangelical Greek.” I thought it was a real product until Dr. Campbell started talking about euangelion.

Book Review – The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology

Jeremy R. Treat. The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 320 pp. $26.99.

Crucified KingIn both the church and the academy, there has been an unfortunate separation of the kingdom and the cross. I’ve experienced church and parachurch settings where either kingdom or atonement was emphasized, to the near-exclusion of the other; and in both contexts I have an ache for what is missing. The same dichotomization characterizes theological tomes – works that treat the kingdom hardly ever mention the atonement, and works that deal with atonement hardly mention the kingdom of God. Both kingdom and atonement are significant motifs in Scripture, and focusing on either while discounting/ neglecting the other can have devastating impacts on both one’s theology and ministry/church life.

In The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Jeremy Treat provides an in-depth study of the biblical and theological relationship between the kingdom of God and the atoning death of Christ on the cross. “[T]he answer lies ultimately in Jesus, the crucified king, as properly understood within the story and logic of redemption” (25). Here “the story” of redemption is biblical theology and “the logic” of redemption is systematic theology. Because the cross-kingdom divide has much to do with the divide between biblical and systematic theology (with the former emphasizing the kingdom of God whilst largely neglecting the doctrine of atonement and the latter focusing on the doctrine of atonement whilst paying little attention to the theme of the kingdom of God), a holistic, integrative treatment of the themes of kingdom and atonement “will bridge this gap between biblical studies and systematic theology, incorporating insights from both disciplines for both doctrines” (27).

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