In the forward John Piper writes, “Those who try to rescue the love of God by minimizing the wrath of God, undermine not only the love of God but also his demand that we love our enemies. It is breathtaking to hear on of them say, ‘If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies, and to refuse to repay evil with evil.’ Those are deadly words, which, if they held sway, would take enemy love out of the world. Why? Because Paul said that counting on the final wrath of God against his enemies is one of the crucial warrants for why we may not return evil for evil. It is precisely because we may trust the wisdom of God to apply his wrath justly that we must leave all vengeance to him and return good for evil.”
Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution is a magnificent defense and exegesis of the doctrine of penal substitution which Bible believing Christians, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and others have defended for years. The first section leads readers directly into the text in order to develop a solid doctrinal foundation upon which to build. Beginning with Exodus 12 the authors move through the text landing in Leviticus where the doctrine is clearly stated, persuading the reader of its necessity for life and godliness. As the pages turned I found myself in Isaiah, intrigued by a fresh reading of the passages regarding the suffering servant. In a large leap the authors turned to the New Testament and found the gospel accounts especially helpful. The pinnacle of Romans lies ahead and from the top one can see the doctrine clearly. On the way down the authors visit Galatians before fixing the doctrine firmly in the minds of the readers from the book of 1 Peter.
The following section develops the doctrine systematically, pointing out that their primary goal is to place penal substitution into a more understandable position. Their plan becomes evident following an explanation of their intent in this section. “First we shall carefully explain the doctrine of penal substitution itself, to show what shape it has. Then we shall put together the rest of the jigsaw, integrating some of the biggest and most fundamental themes of Christian theology. At each stage, we shall ask whether penal substitution fits into the picture, and whether any other understanding of the cross could successfully take it’s place….Is it really possible to construct a big picture of Christian theology at all?
[pullquote4]The emphasis in Romans 6:8 and Colossians 2:20 that we have ‘died with Christ’ comes together with the earlier affirmations in both letters that it was through ‘his blood’ (and not ours) that we have been justified and have peace with God.[/pullquote4]
The authors do an excellent job of piecing together the puzzle to show that this doctrine is based on biblical premises and not human assumptions. The next section explores the pastoral implications of penal substitution for the pastor. Examining the doctrine from the standpoint of Gods love and justice the authors break apart the arguments against the doctrine and draw out specific examples the pastor could benefit from. This section was helpful, though I’m not a pastor it was helpful to open up new categories in my mind of the justice and love of God. The authors also develop the doctrine through the notion of sin, noting that, “The Bible is so brutally honest about human nature that it is tempting to soften some of the hard edges in an attempt to salvage our self-esteem. This is all the more tempting in a society that has re-branded many sins as valid lifestyle choices.”
The next section was extremely helpful in developing the doctrine through the church fathers who championed penal substitution. From Justin Martyr we travel through time until we arrive at J.I. Packer, The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, and The Evangelical Alliance. It was good to know that the church has a long history of affirming the truth of this doctrine through the men who championed the faith in their respective generations. This section is by no means an exhaustive list, the authors simply tried to bring to the forefront of christian history the men who have written and preached on the doctrine. From the long list they could have chosen from they chose to exempt some names for the sake of space. The list of Christians who championed this doctrine could fill volumes, but the authors had another plan in mind when making this list. They wanted to choose those who wrote at different times in differing cultural circumstances to show that this doctrine would stand the test of time and culture.
Part two of this book is all about answering objections to the doctrine of penal substitution. They do well not to attack those who are bringing the accusations against their views. They present the cases clearly and point out those who have mentioned the arguments. They argue from the text the reasons for the biblical foundations of this doctrine. They dismantle the arguments one by one until there is nothing left standing except the pure doctrine of penal substitution. The list of arguments is long but the careful read is worth it as those who make it to the end of this book will be helped greatly but the powerful statement made throughout the book.
An end note is addressed to pastors and the unhelpful illustrations that have been made towards this doctrine. The authors hope that in writing this end not the illustrations will be put to rest in hopes that new ones will be used. They understand that one illustration will not explain the entire doctrine but will only be facets of the diamond that is penal substitution. We are left at the end with a high view of scripture and Christ on the cross in our place. We are left in awe that we are not found under god’s wrath but enjoy fellowship with him and will do so for eternity.
Pick up: Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution From Crossway Publishers today.