With a glorious subject and a stellar cast of authors, Atonement, edited by Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer promises to edify and enlighten all those who take time to read it with an open heart. Moreover, at 138 pages, it is a book that quickly exposes you to some of the best pastor-theologians of the last century (e.g., James Packer, James M. Boice, R. C. Sproul, John R. Gerstner, Sinclair Ferguson, John R. DeWitt, and Alistair Begg).
The book comprises eight chapters covering a multitude of topics on the atonement. Ranging from the necessity of the atonement to the homiletic power of the cross, each chapter supplies a classically Reformed position on the cross of Jesus Christ. Biblical exposition is the trademark of every author; and each subject is explained and applied with precision and persuasiveness.
Several highlights deserve special attention. First, J. I. Packer’s personal confession of his undervaluing the necessity of the cross reminds us that there is always room to grow in our appreciation for the atonement (9). Then, James Montgomery Boice gives a visual aid to help define propitiation in his chapter on the nature of the atonement. Using a triangular diagram with the Father, Jesus, and mankind on the corners, Boice explains how redemption corresponds to Christ’s purchase of mankind, justification relates to mankind’s exonerated standing before God the Father, and propitiation concerns Jesus atoning work before God on behalf of humanity (33–34). This conceptual explanation is helpful in explaining propitiation to a generation that has little familiarity or understanding of the term.
Chapters by R. C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, and James M. Boice (his second chapter) meditate on some of the chief metaphors and biblical depictions of Christ’s work on the cross. Ferguson’s in-depth examination of Isaiah 53 draws out Christ’s identification with humanity, his penal substitution for humanity, and his final exaltation over all humanity as he challenges readers to not simply consider the atonement as a theory: “It wasn’t a theory that died for us on the cross” (113). That is a good reminder for anyone who engages in theological polemics.
Finally, pastor Alistair Begg exhorts readers to preach the cross with conviction and commitment. True preachers must be unswerving in their commission to lead people to Calvary. Begg fills his chapter with historical examples (e.g., Tom Allen, Alexander Whyte, Charles Spurgeon) whose fruitful ministries illumined the cross. Like Ferguson, Begg calls “bookish” pastors to weep over the lost and rescue the perishing by preaching Christ and him crucified (136–37). May we all be so faithful!
In the book, there is little to critique. In a few places, the Reformed position is assumed rather than explicated (e.g., John Gerstner’s explanation and presentation of TULIP). His presentation takes for granted that the reader would agree with him, but that seems to be in keeping with the intended audience of the book. In the short space provided, a full apologetic can hardly be expected.
Overall, Atonement is an edifying book that is very accessible, even to a new Christian or someone who is not well-read on the subject. At times it even verges on conversational. Perhaps most helpful in the book is the way that it introduces 21st-century readers (read: Young Reformed) to some of the older neo-evangelicals (Boice, DeWitt, Gerstner, and even Packer). For someone familiar with only Chan, Driscoll, Chandler, or Dever, this could be a great introduction to these other classic figures.
Finally, Atonement would make a great individual or corporate meditation leading up to Easter. On that note, it would be great companion to anyone preaching through a series of messages on the meaning of the cross. In all these ways, because it exalts the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is a sure read for anyone who picks it up.