J.I. Packer sums up the end goal of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her perfectly, which he has done for many books, when he says, “The heart of Reformed Christianity is its Trinitarian Christocentrism, expressed inwardly in evangelistic and pastoral proclamation attuned to human need, according to Christ’s Great Commission, and Godwardly in the worshipful offering, both corporately and individually of responsive praise, prayer, thanksgiving, and song.”
In the preface to this massive tome of biblical scholarship, David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson set the reader on the right track when beginning to deal with the topic of definite atonement.“This book is offered with the prayer that it will paint a compelling picture of the beauty and power of definite atonement, and so revitalize confidence in this profoundly biblical understanding of the cross of Christ. Definite atonement is beautiful because it tells the story of the Warrior-Son who comes to earth to slay his enemy and rescue his Father’s people.” As if that wasn’t good enough to begin this volume, the writers go on to urge the readers that the pages to follow are, “An invitation to explore the historical foundations of the doctrine and to think afresh about the vitality of its exegetical, theological, and pastoral expressions. Perhaps it is fair to ask for as much charity on the part of the reader as each writer has offered.”
As we dive in, it becomes clear that from the first page of chapter 1, that we have a clear definition of the doctrine we are working with, where we have come in the discussion (at least a surface view of it), and where we are going with the doctrine of definite atonement. David and Jonathan are careful to point out that this doctrine is not an island in itself but depends on other biblical doctrines in order to paint a full picture. Standing alongside other doctrines as adoption, penal substitution, and the other stems of the TULIP acronym, this doctrine can not stand on its own but can only be seen in its beauty when paired with all the aspects of an orthodox Reformed construction.
After mapping the doctrine of definite atonement, we travel back in time to the early church and begin our ascent up the mountain of Church history. We begin easily enough in the arena of the Ancient Church then move onto the Medieval Church. After taking a brisk rest in Geneva with Calvin we depart with Beza and the “Development of Definite Atonement in the Reformed Tradition”. From Beza we find down the road the Synod of Dort, which is a fascinatng stop, and move beyond there to Moises Amyraut’s theological “Controversy on Universal Grace”. After the relatively easy stops thus far we come to a bumpy road not often traveled, John Owen. I don’t often pretend to understand anything that comes from Owen’s pen but I am very glad that this volume has recruited Carl Trueman to navigate the terrain. Trueman offers us an overview of Owen’s treatise, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. After Trueman opens up for us a theological goldmine we find that Owen, who is mentioned at various points in later chapters, becomes more clearer as the pages continue to turn.
As I entered the next section, “Definite Atonement in Biblical Theology”, I could immediately feel my brain start to shut down and try to find its way into a dark corner. When you don’t know any Greek and come to a section which deals primarily with the Greek text, it tends to intimidate you and throw you into utter confusion when you’re not formally trained. I didn’t find that issue to be overly problematic in this volume. Yes the authors do delve into the Greek text but they did so in such a way as to invite the reader into a deeper understanding of that text. They opened each section with a goal for the reader to keep in mind and throughout the chapter continued to meet that expectation. The ending summaries for each chapter were very well worded and brought the confusing and archaic Greek text into a clearly stated conclusion, even if I’m still not sure how they reached that conclusion.
It was during the next section that I began to piece together the previous sections of the book. When I reached “Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective” I felt as if they were speaking my language. Some of the topics dealt with in this section helped me to anchor the doctrine of definite atonement on some really solid ground. The authors spoke to the issues of The Divine Decree (15), The Double Payment Argument (18), and wrapped up the section working towards a Systematic expression of definite atonement (20). The authors opened up the theological vault of history and drew upon some heavy hitting names which were right in my ballpark, names like Robert Dabney and Herman Bavinck.
From there we move on to “Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice” I think this volume reaches a crescendo with the three essays they chose to draw this volume to a close. Daniel Strange, Sinclair Ferguson, and John Piper all invite the readers to practical applications of this very important doctrine. I found in these last three chapters the very essence of the mission of every bible believer, “To display the fullness of his glory”. That’s exactly what the Godward scholarship in this volume leads to.
After reading this volume and marking up its pages with my pen, I think I may have to visit it several more times in order to drink deep of it’s immense knowledge. Reading this book took me a long time because I was constantly referring to my Bible wanting to make sure I was following the biblical text as closely as the writers were. This volume is invaluable to the church today. If you are ready to have your theological world rocked by the fullness of God’s glory, then this volume is definitely one that you must have in your library. I understand most people will hate this volume because of what it represents but in a time where the church needs a firm theological foundation, I think it’s to our doom that we pass over this volume and live our lives as though we could do without. It’s only fitting to end this review off on a quote from Piper which sums up the message quite clearly. “We have seen that the apex of God’s glory is the splendor of his grace as it reaches its climax in the glory of the cross. And the glory of the cross is the fullness of its definite achievement. Therefore, we diminish the glory of the cross and the glory of grace and the glory of God when we diminish definite atonement. But when it is preached and embraced in its biblical fullness, the glory of the work of Christ, the glory of the freedom and power of grace, and the glory of the being of God himself are wonderfully magnified.”
Gibson, D., & Gibson, J. (Eds.). (2013). From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (p. 704). Wheaton: Crossway.