It is hard to deny that a proper understanding of the atonement is at the heart of the gospel. Christians can disagree over whether to baptize infants, over whether congregations should vote, or over end times, but as J.I. Packer notes, since one’s belief about the atonement is bound up with one’s belief about the very character of God, a faulty understanding can be indicative of a major problem. In our day, massive distortions exist on the significance of Christ’s death. Some are bold enough to call it “divine child abuse,” since they deny that God’s righteous indignation toward sin implies retribution for wrongdoing (either to be experienced by Christ, or by us forever). Others merely sideline the centrality of Christ’s dying work by emphasizing the idea of Jesus as teacher, an example/model of a godly man. Still others celebrate the cross as a victory over demonic forces on behalf of his people (Col. 2:15), or as a manifestation of God’s deep love toward us (II Co. 5:14-15).
Of course, Jesus was a teacher and a good example. His death was a victory over spiritual forces of evil and a manifestation of God’s intense love for humanity. But Jesus’ death, primarily, was a sin-atoning sacrifice, the payment of our debt to bring us to God. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (I Peter 3:18)
It is hard to improve upon P.P. Bliss (1838-1876):
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with his blood
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
This new book by Packer and Dever is a response to the subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on the doctrine of penal substitution. Why penal? Because Jesus paid a legal penalty. Why substitution? Because He endured it on our behalf. Jesus experienced the condemnation and rejection that we deserved. This book can bless many different kinds of people. A creative exposition, it serves as devotional reflection on the heart of the Christian message. It can also serve to challenge a legalistic friend who sees Jesus mainly as a good teacher. I highly recommend it.
Read the Foreword, Preface, and Introduction.