Why Read The Dead Guys?

Reformers

We live in a day in which there is a new, hip, cool, contemporary Christian book or a book about the Church hitting the shelves every minute (potential exaggeration). To a degree, many of the writers think they have the next best plan for how to transform the Church, how to reach more millennials, how to make the Church more relevant for society, or some other novel idea that has apparently never been thought of before. Modern Christian literature is inundated with material to make you a better you, feel better about you, boost your self-esteem, and everything in between. Again, all seemingly new ideas being promoted to keep up with the postmodern culture and how one feels about themselves.

Early on in my Christian life, I was this guy. I was the new wave of Christianity that kicked against the traditions of old, thinking that I was more spiritual than this person or that person because I raised my hands in worship, moved around a little more, wore shorts and a t-shirt to church as a non-conformist, and read Relevant magazine (before it was as irrelevant as it is today). I was a rebel Christian that refused to be kept in a box, and anything that happened before I was born again in 2005 was old and outdated. It was my charge to find a new way of doing church because the old way and the old guys were not getting it right.

As I started my trek into revamping the 2000 year old tradition, I began to realize something about the new wave of Christianity that was emerging. Much, not all, of the culturally relevant Christians had little depth to what they were promoting. I began to see little depth in biblical knowledge, theological understanding, or doctrine being handled from the pulpits. I began to read book by people that Relevant magazine promoted, only to find out many of the books I read were by Universalists promoting a gospel contrary to that of the Bible.

As a young Christian, the Lord began to open my mind and my heart to people such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and R.C. Sproul. My first memorable encounter with John Piper was my Freshman year of college at a conference our college group had attended. I had never heard anyone expound the Scripture in such an authoritative, yet grace-filled, manner as John Piper. I immediately went to the bookstore of the conference and bought his books Desiring God ( purchase Desiring God) and God is the Gospel (purchase God Is The Gospel). These two books began to open my eyes to the deep things of God in a way that none of the cutting edge books I was picking up on the shelf at Books-A-Million were. Tony Merida then became the Pastor at the church I was attending and I began to hear the Word of God expounded week in and week out in a manner very similar to Piper. I started studying Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (purchase Systematic Theology) with Tony and a group of other  guys, being exposed to good theology that would shape my thinking, even up to today.

In this process of learning, one thing remained the same for guys like Piper, Grudem, and Sproul. They heavily referenced and relied upon dead guys for their theological insight. They were quoting and reading guys like Edwards, Luther, Calvin, Baxter, and Augustine. They were alluding to things said by guys dating back to second and third century Churches and the theological ideologies that had shaped them. Are you telling me that I, in the 2000s, could learn something about Church and God from guys that existed many years before my time?

King Solomon wrote, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9, ESV). Solomon is not a moron. Solomon had great wisdom and with this quote, he is on to something. The Church has been around since the first century, and who was I, or am I, to think that the writings of men God has used mightily 1500, 1000, 500, or 50 years ago are not relevant to my spiritual growth or the furtherance of the twenty-first-century church that I am serving? We should read the dead men because the dead men have something to say. Not only that, but these guys communicate on a level that , sadly, most American Pastors and Theologians are incapable of communicating upon today. We live in an anti-intellectual church age, and the state of theology behind most American pulpits is disheartening. It would serve every Pastor, thinker, Sunday School Teacher, and Church member well to grab Calvin’s Institutes (purchase The Institutes), Augustine’s Confessions (purchase Confessions), Edwards Religious Affections (purchase Religious Affections), or anyone mixed with that group, so that we can be better equipped to battle the schemes of the Devil, especially when it comes to doctrinal formations of the Church.

Now hear this, I am not saying that anyone writing books today are off base, I can name thousands of modern books that are gifts to the Church and gifts to God’s people. Yet, do not think that a book has to be written within the last 20 years in order to be relevant for the Church. I am also not saying that we need to divert back to all the old traditions and never make any changes within the Church in order to reach people or try new things. I think the Church is losing the battle in a lot of areas because it refuses to change. My point is nothing less than one of encouraging everyone to read guys who have been dead for many years and thank our great God for their theological contributions for the furtherance of the Gospel and of the Church.

Give Thanks For The Church

church

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you Christ Jesus.” – 1 Cor. 1:4

“I’m not going to that place, it is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.” “I can have church right here in my own home.” “Me and God have our own thing going on, I do not have to go to a church to get that.”

These, among many others, are common objections to gathering with God’s people and being a part of a church. The underlying premises for such protests might be the result of numerous occurrences. It might be that someone was abused by the church, a Pastor abused his authority at some point, God’s people were harsh towards an individual and acted in an ungodly manner, or immorality was accepted within the  church and God’s people ignore God’s commands in Scripture. All of these incidents are potentials within the church that easily lead people out the door, all of which grieve the heart of God.

However, it does not have to be this way. Think about the church to which Paul is writing in 1 Corinthians. To a degree, all of the incidents just mentioned that would lead someone out the door of the church were happening in Corinth. Yet, Paul begins the letter with declaring his love and thanksgiving for the church. Here is a church that has issues. The church at Corinth had some serious moral issues, ecclesiological issues, they were dabbling in charismania, and the people had an issue with regularly coming together as the body of Christ. Paul is aware of all of these things and yet offers great thanksgiving to God for the church.

Why? He does this because he understands the importance of the local gathering. Forsaking church, casting aside membership and regularly gathering with God’s people for the Christian is in direct violation of the commands of Scripture; it is sin. For the person looking for the perfect church before they commit, they are leaving in lala land. What Paul understands about the Corinthians church is the lack of perfection, the occupancy of imperfect people, but knows the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows that despite our imperfections and the church’s imperfections this side of heaven, the grace of God extends to the church as they pursue holiness, practice repentance, and keep Scripture as their centerpiece.

The church may not always have it together this side of heaven, but a church that holds high the authority and supremacy of Scripture, making it their manual for instruction, that is the church that will “succeed.” Please understand, we are not talking worldly success. We are not talking big numbers, huge budgets, and monumental buildings. We are talking success gauged by health, commitment, and faithfulness.

I am thankful for the church because it provides nourishment for my soul. I am thankful for the church because the people of God at my local congregation are gracious, merciful, and caring. I am thankful for the local church because it encourages me to pursue holiness, fight sin, and hold high Scripture. I am thankful for the local church because it provides a safe place for my family in which I know they will be taught the word of God in every area. I am thankful for the local church because it provides me with a place to use my spiritual gifts that God has given me for the edification of His people. I am thankful for the local church because it is the God-ordained gathering of the Saints that equips me with what I need to fight through the week and battle sin. Without the local church, the Christian cannot and will not fend off sin and the evil one. So, I echo with Paul, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you Christ Jesus.”

What Are You Learning?

Learning

I refer to myself as a person always learning. I like to learn. I spent many years in the classroom caring little about learning, but several years ago that all changed for me. I’m not exactly sure what happened  that flipped the learning switch, but some how I ended up in the PhD department at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing further education. In addition to formal education, I enjoy knowledge about a vast array of topics. I watch documentaries, read biographies, and feel that if I am not learning something I am wasting time (which is not always the case).

While I enjoy learning on both a formal and personal level, one classroom that I have been in recently, and always find myself in, is the classroom of God. Life is full of eventful, unexpected happenings. Some of which are good, others less than desirable. However, one cannot escape the spontaneity of life’s events.

With that being said, I have found myself in situations and circumstances over the last year or two, and beyond that, to which I am powerless, perplexed, or left with more questions than answers. Personally, times have come, gone, and will come again to which I tend to scratch my head and wonder who/what/when/where/and why this is happening. But what I have come to the conclusion of in all of life’s situations is the reality that God has something for me to learn.

So in all of life, I have started asking the question: “God, what are you trying to teach me?” When I look at different circumstances and situations in life through the lens of this question, it begins to provide an outlook to which I see purpose in all things. Scripture does not give any indication that the God of the Universe sets things in to motion, steps back, and is not actively involved with His creation every again. However, Scripture affirms that God is active within Creation, He is speaking through His Word, and He is working by way of His Holy Spirit. So the question remains: “What is He trying to teach me?”

I have found myself asking this question quite often over the last several months. With this in mind, God is teaching me so much about Himself, His character, His provision, and HIs faithfulness. He has brought me to the point in my life to which I am utterly powerless, and have nothing more to do than to trust in His provision over my life. Both in the good and in the bad, I know that God is working things together in my life for my good and for His glory (Romans 8). While this is the Scriptural truth, it is a tough pill to swallow when some of those workings may involve instances within life that are less than desirable.

Thus, I will leave everyone with the question: “What is God trying to teach you?” Consider something you may be going through, something that is good, something less than good, something leaving you with uncertainty, a job change, a financial crisis, a family issue, and ask yourself the question. I can assure you that in all of life God is trying to teach those who seek Him about who He is, His love for His people, and the glory that He rightfully deserves from all of Creation.

Ungodly Infiltration

infiltration

For several months in 2017 I preached through the book of First Timothy and will preach the book of Jude over the next two Sundays. Jude and Paul deal with similar subjects in their address to the letter’s readers, namely the infiltration of false teachers within the church. Upon a review of the New Testament Epistles, one might quickly draw the conclusion that the early church had its fair share of issues, one dominating theme being that of unbiblical teaching. For the Church of Ephesus as well as the recipients of the letter of Jude, the reality that a false gospel was being promoted within the walls of the primary place in which good doctrine should be upheld was both alarming and appalling.

The same might be said about the current state of the American Church. The Church has been polluted by false doctrine, misguided information, liberal theology, and emotionally therapeutic false teaching for quite some time, running more rampant than ever in the very place good theology and doctrine should flow freely. The very place in which Scripture should be held to the highest authority has unconsciously (or consciously) rejected the Word of God as the standard by which the entirety of the Christian life and the Church should be measured, trading it for man’s fleeting and finite opinions.

Why? Why is this the case too often within our Churches today? I think Jude alludes to the answer in verse 3 of his letter. A good portion of American Churches and a good portion of American Christians have stopped contending for the faith. Jude writes in an appeal that believers “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (ESV). To a degree, the Church has stopped contending for the faith. It may be out of ignorance, cultural relevance, fear, or comfort, but the Gospel has been lost somewhere in the mix. Because of this, immorality reigns within God’s Church, Scriptural exhortation and correction is viewed as suggestion instead of fact, and individuality is held high above discipleship.

Consider for a moment that this issue affecting the American Church of the twentieth and twenty-first century is not a construction of the times, but is a carry over from what began at the start of the Church. Why? Primarily because the Church is composed of sinners that often give way to their own flesh rather than to the Spirit. While this is true, this cannot be an excuse to allow the condition of the Church to continue. The Church must return to the Word, acknowledging the sinful inclinations of all people, even those who have been redeemed. The Church must pursue holiness, holding high the Word of God, living out their faith in fellowship with other believers in the local Church, practicing repentance on a daily basis. God’s Church should reflect God’s Word. When this does not take place, repentance is necessary and reconciliation must happen.

Semper Reformanda

reformation-image

Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) is a phrase often used when describing what took place within the Protestant Reformation. In many circles, it has merely been shortened to Semper Reformanda, as the abbreviated phrase encapsulates a large portion of what many men, used by God, sought to accomplish by His grace through the Protestant Reformation.

Tomorrow is Halloween, but better than that, it is the 500th anniversary of the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. 500 years ago, a monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany that spawned the second most influential Christian movement since the spread of the first church in the book of Acts (my personal opinion).

However, what is necessary to keep in mind is the motivation behind Luther’s leading. He did not seek to overthrow or abolish the Catholic Church. Luther was a good Catholic. He was trained in the ways of the church. A teacher of the church. A servant of the Church. But, by God’s grace, God began to reveal the truths of His Word to Luther that led Him to question many of the practices of the Catholic Church of the past, and of today. The Church did not practice salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Church did not sit under the authority of Scripture, but sat as the authority over Scripture. The Church promoted the gospel + works = salvation. Luther saw the error being promoted by the Church and the oppressive nature of the false gospel they were selling. Yet, Luther desired to see the Church reformed, not begin a movement that might label him an enemy of the Church.

Through men such as John Hus, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, John Calvin, and pastors of today, the Church is always reforming (semper reformanda). God’s Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edge sword, and the Word is always purifying, sanctifying, and edifying the Church of God. What Luther began 500 years ago tomorrow is just as much alive today as it was then. Most of our churches, on most of our blocks, need some serious reform. When I say “reform,” I am not speaking in a  “reformed theology” sense (although every church needs some good Reformed Theology), but I am speaking in a return to the authority of God’s Word sense. Too many churches have moved away from the Word of God. We have gotten soft with the culture and allowed rampant immorality to infiltrate the Church. We have allowed man’s ideas and opinions about certain things dictate what is believed and taught, practically tossing out God’s Word, or at least on controversial issues. If the Church in America survives the times we are living and survives the future, it will be a the result of a return to the Word of God. God will continue to bless His Church as they are faithful to Him. God will be faithful to us, but will the Church be faithful to Him?

This is a great question to ask yourself. If you are reading this blog, you may not be a Pastor, you may not be an Elder, a Deacon, or Sunday School Teacher, but you might be a Church Member. It is going to be all of the above leading the way to see God’s Word always reforming the Church. As the family of God, the body has many members (1 Cor. 12), and it will take all of the members of the body to carry out the will of God on earth. Do not let what Luther and the other Reformers started go to waste. Can you imagine what our lives would be like as Protestants if Martin Luther had not been bold enough to stand on the Word of God, even in the face of serious punishment and even death? Praise God for the Protestant Reformation and let us be a people that are Semper Reformanda!

I recommend Roland Bainton’s biography of Luther. Purchase Here: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon Classics Series)

He Doesn’t Owe Us Anything

No one owes you .png

We are an entitled people. Rooted in our sinful flesh, we walk this earth as if everyone owes us something. We often get caught up in thinking that we deserve this, or we deserve that, only to be bent out of shape when we do not receive what we think we ought to receive. Often this is the type of mind we have toward God. We have the tendency to take advantage of our salvation, thinking deep down that we were entitled to have it. We tend to think that God should do this for us, or He should do that for us, because we believe ourselves to be greater than we actually are. I think that a little humility would serve us all well, especially myself, as my prideful flesh creeps up in my entitled thinking.

Philosopher René Descarte wrote, “Instead of thinking he [God] has withheld from me or deprived me of those things that he has not given me, I ought to thank God, who never owed me anything, for what he has bestowed upon me” (Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, p.40). If we do not protect ourselves, and protect our hearts, we will fall into the temptation to think like the first portion of Descartes’s statement. We might think, “if God loved me, he would allow me a job to make more money,” or “why is God withholding from me what he is seemingly giving to the neighbors?” If we allow are sinful flesh to rise up within us, we will begin to look around at everyone through the eyes that God is withholding what we think He needs to be giving us.

However, as Descartes asserts, God never owed us anything. If God owed us anything, it was eternal damnation for being His enemies. Scripture speaks to the reality that all of us are born dead in our trespasses and sins, totally depraved, enemies of God, that deserve nothing but wrath. In fact, Paul goes so far in Ephesians to indicate that we are naturally children of wrath. With this being the case, it would appear that naturally God owes us wrath. Thus, if we let ourselves creep into the thinking that God owes us something, let’s automatically move toward the reality that He owes us wrath.

He does not owe us life, yet He allows us to breathe. He does not owe us shelter, but He provides the means for us to have it. He does not owe us food, yet He blesses us with a job to provide. He does not owe us health, yet He gives that to many of us. Most importantly, He does not owe us salvation, yet He sacrificed His own Son to bestow salvation upon His people. God owes you and I nothing, but being full of grace and mercy, He has given us everything in Christ.

Do not think that God will withhold anything from you. God will never withhold from you what He knows is good for you. He will not withhold something good for His people. While this is entirely true, what God knows to be good for us might not line up with what we think is good for us. You may think that a new Mercedes is going to be good for you, but God may disagree. God knows what is good for you and He is going to give you what is good and perfect. James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect giftis from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” 

God knows what you need, and He is going to give you what you need. He owes you nothing, but has given you much more than you have ever needed in Christ Jesus. Whether you make another dollar the rest of your life, or have another day of health, be encouraged that the Father loved you so much that He sent the Son to be a sacrifice for your sin, which is beyond anything in this world could offer.

Purchase Descartes work here: Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett Classics)

Silence and Solitude

Are You Afraid of the Dark

When I was a kid, Nickelodeon used to have a show entitled “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” These episodes can actually be accessed via Amazon Prime and I would be lying to say that I haven’t watched some of them recently. As I have watched some of the episodes into my adult life, I cannot believe that I used to watch that show as a kid. That show is terrifying. I remember watching the show as a kid and can vividly remember some of the episodes that left me with fear, even to this day. I can say the phrase “I am cold” in a high pitched, child’s voice, and it still sends chills down my spine thinking about that episode (ask my little bro, as kids we used to bring fear into his life with that one phrase).

While this show has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post, I do want to pose a similar set of questions: Are you afraid of silence? Are you afraid of solitude? We live in a  loud, noisy, busy society. Everyone always has access to you because you have a phone attached to your hip. The days when you had to call someone on a land line and if they weren’t home you had no way to get in touch with them are over. It’s almost hard to remember because it has been so long, but consider the fact that my Mom would leave and go to the grocery store when I was a kid and we had no way to contact her unless we called the grocery store!! Was she even at the grocery store?!

Because of social media, television, cell phones, the internet, the radio, spotify, Facebook and the million other things that are going on in all of our lives, we rarely have anytime for silence and solitude. Part of the reason for this is because we live in fear of silence and solitude. Culture has conditioned us to always want to know what is going on. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have engrained within us that we are missing something if we do not know what all of our friends ate for dinner, or when they went shopping, or who broke up with who. Because of this, our minds cannot handle a day “cut off from the world.”

But why would anyone want to be quiet and be by themselves. Maybe because it is good for your soul? Maybe because it will enable spiritual growth and conform you more into the image of Christ? Maybe slowing down and being quiet before the Lord and stilling our minds is actually something that can enable us to hear from God? When you talk to someone, it is difficult for you to hear them when you are constantly talking. Maybe silence and solitude is exactly what we Christians need.

Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life (purchase here Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life) has a chapter on Silence and Solitude that has really challenged me. I have been teaching through the book on Wednesday nights in our Adult Bible study and I do not live a life that regularly practices the Spiritual Discipline of silence and solitude. While I do not regularly practice this, Whitney makes  a strong case that this should be a regular part of all of our lives. He gives many different biblical reasons for why we should be still before the Lord in seeking Him, seeking HIs Will, and desiring to hear from Him. But more importantly than this, He begins with the life of Christ. Jesus’s life was characterized by times He would seclude Himself for times of silence and solitude. He understood the value of escaping the craziness of society at times and being still before the Father.

As I have been challenged within the pages of the book, I challenge you as well. Do not just be silent and have a time of solitude just to do it, it must have a purpose. If you practice this without a spiritual purpose, then you are just sitting in silence and accomplishing nothing. The purpose might be to hear from God, it might be to pray, it might just be to listen. But take some time throughout the day to still your heart before the Lord. Take some time to seclude yourself from your cell phone, or from something else that may be hindering you from stilling your mind before God and be silent before the Lord. I am going to try to improve this practice in my own life as I see a biblical mandate as well as a benefit in cutting off my brain for a time. It will be tough, but I’m going to give it a try! Deep down, I think I am afraid of silence!!! But we all have to face our fears.

“God Presented Him as a Propitiation”

raiders of the lost ark

I recently reviewed a book entitled The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives (purchase the book here: The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological & Practical Perspectives)

The topic under review is the atonement and the nature of the work of Christ in the sacrifice he made on the cross. For Carson, it was a substitutionary death in which Christ stood in the place of His people and absorbed the wrath of God on their behalf. A hinge point within the chapter surrounds verse 25 of the text involving the Greek term hilasterion, which can be either translated as “expiation – the cleansing or wiping away of sins” or “propitiation – the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath.” The reasoning behind a careful word study and the proper translation within the context is the reality that one’s understanding of the atonement can be shaped by inserting either of these two words and can be turned one of the two ways.

Carson understands the gravity of this one term, as we all should, and points the readers attention to the term hilasterion within the Septuagint (LXX). He links the term with the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in which he writes, “the cover of the ark of the covenant over which Yahweh appeared not eh Day of Atonement and on which sacrificial blood was poured” (129).One other occurrence within the New Testament exists in the book of Hebrews in which it clearly refers to the mercy seat. In addition to this reference, the LXX references this term twenty-seven times, twenty-one of which are directly related to the mercy seat. Carson asserts, “It follows, then, that Paul is presenting Jesus as the ultimate ‘mercy seat,’ the ultimate place of atonement, and, derivatively, the ultimate sacrifice” (129).

So what does this mean? This means that God has satisfied His wrath with the ultimate sacrifice of blood through His Son Jesus Christ. This means that God is both the subject and object of propitiation as Christ’s blood has satisfied the the Old Testament sacrificial system and he has absorbed the wrath of the Father on our behalf. This means that the New Covenant of Christ’s blood has appeased God’s wrath and turned it aside from His people for all of eternity. This means that those who repent of their sin and are saved by grace through faith will not have to absorb that wrath as it has been absorbed by Christ.

Carson adds gasoline to the flame of penal substitutionary atonement by inserting the nature of hilasterion as it is viewed through the lens of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the atonement narrative. Understanding its placement in the whole of Scripture and the history behind the mercy seat adds a new dimension to the writings of Paul within this passage. One cannot merely dismiss the validity of Carson’s argument based upon the consistency of the term used throughout the LXX possessing an overwhelming commonality in translation. By making this connecting point, the authors point to the Old Covenant and the system revolving around animal sacrifice has been fulfilled through human sacrifice by the initiation and propitiation of God the Father through God the Son Jesus Christ. This idea offers strong biblical and historical support for the nature of penal substitutionary atonement.

Book Review: Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution

Gathercole Defending Substitution graphic

Gathercole, Simon. Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. 128 pages. Paperback, $15.20.

To Purchase, Click Below:

Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)

Simon Gathercole serves as Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge, as well as the Directory of Studies in Theology at Fitzwilliam College. In addition to his positions at the listed institutions, he is frequently called upon as a guest lecturer and speaker in numerous academic settings. Gathercole possesses degrees in Classics and Theology from Cambridge. To further his theological studies, Gathercole also studied at the University of Tübingen and the Jewish Theological Seminary. His areas of expertise revolve around Pauline studies and Christology. He has authored a variety of books and essays including The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary and The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.[1]

For Simon Gathercole, the substitutionary atonement of Christ is of the utmost importance. Understanding the importance of the topic provides insight to the reader concerning the background from which the author writes. While context is key, Gathercole also places great emphasis upon defining terms. Before venturing into the bulk of his defense for substitutionary atonement, the author thought it necessary to briefly outline an extensive definition. The substitutionary standpoint the author advocates is simply defined, “that when Christ died bearing our sins or guilt or punishment, he did so in our place and instead of us” (17). Another important note of information contained within the introduction is the author’s decision to draw a distinction, yet togetherness, between substitution, penalty, representation, propitiation, and satisfaction. Closing the introduction, Gathercole offers a brief synopsis of the common arguments against substitutionary atonement from some well-known thinkers and philosophers. While not extensive, this offers insight into some predominant thoughts against the doctrine as the author prepares to make his defense.

Apart from the introduction and conclusion, the work consists of three sections: Exegetical Challenges to Substitution, “Christ Died for Our Sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3), and The Vicarious Death of Christ and Classical Parallels (Rom. 5:6-8). Addressing exegetical challenges to the viewpoint that Gathercole is proposing, he inspects three differing concepts that have been offered throughout the years. The approach he takes is helpful as he gives a summary of the position, followed by a evaluation of the perspective and an assessment of the issues. A primary aspect of the chapter involves what Gathercole refers to as “The Omission or Downplaying of ‘Sins’” (47). For the writer, the three perspectives he presents in regard to the atonement are guilty of “downplaying sins, that is, individual transgressions” (47). As Gathercole notes, the deficient views presented “neglect a crucial factor in Paul’s conception of the atonement, that is, that Paul sees Christ’s death as dealing with sins plural. Sins – individual infractions of the divine will – are frequently mentioned in Paul, and yet one finds them frequently marginalized in scholarship” (48). Gathercole employs a detailed chart mapping out the singular instances to sin in contrast to the plural instances within the writings of Paul. The plural use opposed to the singular use of “sins” holds tremendous importance for Gathercole. He suggests “to explicate the atonement overridingly in terms of victory over Sin as a power is one-sided” (50). He notes that Paul refers to the human plight in terms of sins, transgressions, and trespasses, and so it is no surprise to see reference to Christ’s death as dealing with these – even summarizing his gospel this way” (50).

In the next section of the work, the author’s purpose is to draw the reader’s attention to a Scriptural defense of substitution. Gathercole dominates the section by addressing First Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and reads it in light of the influence of Isaiah 53. Commenting upon the comparison of the two passages, Gathercole adds, “there is virtually a scholarly consensus now that Paul’s letters were influenced by Isaiah 53 in their depictions of Jesus’s atoning death” (64). Adding another chart to the work, Gathercole inserts another to examine the Greek word order of First Corinthains 15 and Isaiah 53. With the idea of “sins” being a driving force of his theological disposition, the author quickly explains the construction of hamartia, the word Paul interjects for “sins,” is used six times in the Greek translation of Isaiah 53. Noting that the Old Testament model, for which Isaiah would have been familiar, carries the connotation that “sins” lead to death. Building upon this idea, Gathercole begins to diverge into substitutionary atonement as seen in Isaiah 53 and supported by First Corinthians 15. In doing so, the author views the Old Testament understanding of a vicarious death, concluding “in the premonitions of Isaiah 53, there is precedent for the miraculous salvation of others taking place through God’s bringing the consequences of the sins of others onto an innocent individual. In this way, Christ dies both in consequence of the transgressions of others and in order to deal with those infractions of the divine will” (79).

The final portion of the work looks historically into the language that Paul uses in Romans 5 in regard to Christ dying on behalf of others. As Gathercole seeks to uncover, the language is not unique in nature, but is seemingly common within ancient Greek non-Christian literature. Upon review of differing English translations of Romans 5:6-8, Gathercole includes that the death of Christ Paul is alluding to “is death for another individual that is involved – dying for a (singular) righteous or good person” (90). With this being the case, Gathercole asserts a variety of Greek stories that use the same language to address a vicarious death. He points out views that involve love for one another and friendship; all leading to the idea of a person dying for another and what might constitute such an action. One may question Gathercole’s methods in seeking non-biblical Greek literature in order to enforce Paul’s writing in Romans. For Gathercole, the idea is not merely to draw comparisons to the ancient Greek literature, but to point out differences. In his conclusion drawn from the examination of the Greek writings and the writings of Paul, he notes, “in the case of Christ, however, his death does not conform to any existing philosophical norm. In Romans 5, Christ’s death creates a friendship where there had been enmity” (106). Within the Greek literature, one must have had an existing love and affection before justifying death for another individual. Whereas with Christ, he stood in the place of his enemies in order to make them friends.

Simon Gathercole has constructed a work that is rich theologically, biblically, and historically. His working propositions on substitutionary atonement are well written and defended, proving his work to be indicative of his convictions and ability to discern the Bible. From a biblical position, Gathercole’s focus is primarily upon the works of Paul in First Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, compared with the language of Isaiah 53 and the historical perspective of vicarious death through extra-biblical Greek literature. A major biblical insight regarding the language of Corinthians and Isaiah revolves around the idea of Jesus dying for “sins” (plural). Instituting a language chart of the Greek translation of Isaiah 53 and First Corinthians 15:3, the author enforces the point he is attempting to make in his defense of substitution. For Gathercole, to omit the notion that Christ died for “sin” and not “sins” removes a crucial aspect of the atonement. If atonement by way of substitution is the biblical model, it is imperative that a right understanding of “individual infractions” against a Holy God be rightly understood. The author offers helpful insight into the history of Israel, Isaiah’s understanding of atonement, and the similarities of Paul’s language as influenced by Isaiah’s in his understanding of substitutionary atonement.

A major strength of the book is its brevity and precision. While a theologian might compile volumes on the topic of the atonement, Gathercole has successfully pieced together a shorter, precise exploration of the substitution persepctive. Another great strength in addition to its brevity and precision involves its readability. While Gathercole has proven himself to be a distinguished theologian and professor, one of his purposes within the work is the building up of the church. An academician by trade, Gathercole still exhibits his love for the church and its building up through theological education. With this being the case, the book can serve both as a theological resource within academic circles, but also a source a practitioner might enjoy. If one were to point out a weakness of the book, one might be difficult to identify. However, for the sake of critique one weakness might be the lack of address of other primary theories of atonement. With the debate being so broad, multiple theories do exist. While Gathercole addresses three in the opening section of the work, the ones noted may not be universally known. In seeking to defend substitutionary atonement against other leading positions, he may have addressed the moral influence theory or the ransom theory, as these hold “more weight” within theological circles.

Given the nature and content of the work that Simon Gathercole has put forth in the realm of substitutionary atonement, it is one that cannot be looked over. As he asserts within the opening of the work, the atonement debate has been going on for quite some time and has had shifts in the theological understanding of the atonement within recent decades. Gathercole’s book Defending Substitution is a necessary resource for anyone desiring to expand his or her knowledge of the topic. In addition, it is written from an evangelical point of view, which allows it to be ready devotionally where other theological works may fall short. The Christian can read Gathercole’s work and become enamored by the glory of God and the magnitude of what took place on the cross of Christ. It is the recommendation of this review that Gathercole’s work be considered anytime a person is seeking further information and understanding in regard to the atonement of Christ.

[1] University of Cambridge, “Dr. Simon Gathercole,” accessed September 14, 2017, http://divinity.cam.ac.uk.