Pierced for Our Transgressions:Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach is a book that seeks to defend the doctrine of penal substitutionary from contemporary challenges. This is a much needed book, and I’m glad it was finally published here in the States. Our British brothers got a head start on us since the authors are Brits. This book is necessary because challenges old and new have moved out of academia and into more mainstream & popular books by church leaders. This is not a book for the “choir”, it goes beyond stating what it is, but defends this doctrine from specific challenges and attacks. It is, therefore, a polemical work.
So far I have read about 200 of the approximately 340 pages. It has two things going for it immediately. First, it is well footnoted (yes, not end notes which drive me crazy). You can quickly see the original reference or any other comments they make that may be pertinent. Second, there is a good index of biblical references to make this helpful when you are doing research on a topic or text.
I’ll assess the material I have read. Their introduction summarizes why they felt the great need to write this book, and what they hope to accomplish. They trace some of the history of academic challenges to this doctrine in the last 100 years or so. They mention those conservative scholars like Leon Morris and Roger Nicole whose responses to those challenges have largely been ignored, most likely because their critiques of those challenges are so devastating. Now that these challenges are taking popular form, a popular response is necessary. This book attempts to be accessible to non-scholars. I’m not sure if it succeeds in that regard, since I’m more intellectually inclined anyway. It was accessible to me, but some lay leaders may still be intimidated.
The second chapter, Searching the Scriptures: the Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution, is a scaled down version of Leon Morris’ classic books on the topic. In around 70 pages they identify and explain some of the key texts in both the Old and New Testaments that teach the idea of penal (punishment) substitution. This is the idea that a substitute is punished in our place. In the Old Testament you have the sacrifices, whose death took the place of the worshippers. In the prophets you see the prophecy of the Suffering Servant whose sufferings would be representative, substituting his life for theirs, to take away the wrath of God.
As they go, they note some popular (mis)interpretations given by opponents of penal substitution and explain why those views don’t fit the context and/or grammer. So, they aren’t just saying what they think but why they think it.
Chapter 3, Assembling the Pieces: the Theological Framework for Penal Substitution, seeks to put this doctrine into the bigger picture of Christian theology. Even here they have to deal with some objections, such as can we actually know anything. Though we (as finite creatures) cannot have comprehensive knowledge of anything, especially our infinite Creator, we can have real knowledge- particularly what he reveals to us in Scripture. They address the objection that this somehow creates division in the Trinity. Their section on “false faith” is quite helpful. They discuss the consequences for sin, as revealed in Scripture, and how this doctrine addresses those consequences in such a way that we can then have fellowship with God despite the fact that we are sinners worthy of condemnation. The affirm the reality that the atonement includes the notion that Jesus has conquered His enemies and ours, but refute the reduction of Aulen expressed in Christus Victor (which rejects the penal substitutionary aspects of the atonement).
The fourth chapter, Exploring the Implications: the Pastoral Importance of Penal Substitution, briefly explores the pastoral importance of this doctrine. It is not just an academic or intellectual discussion but one that has great pastoral implications. For instance, it clearly reveals the love of God for sinners in a way that nothing else in Scripture can (as the Apostle John says a few times in his first letter). It also connects with God’s truthfulness (and therefore his faithfulness), and God’s justice.
The last chapter I read (so far), Surveying the Heritage: the Historical Pedigree of Penal Substitution is a refutation of one challenge to the doctrine. You can often read people on-line repeating the charge that penal substitution is an “invention” of the Reformation. This chapter briefly provides some church leaders from the Church Fathers to the present that affirm penal substitution. They provide key quotes and references. They briefly expose that this charge has no real merit to it. I was shocked that they didn’t include Anselm. I’ve seen some people say that Anselm held to a view of substitutionary atonement that did not include satisfaction for our sins. I found that view point specious and found lots of affirmation of penal substitution in Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?). That was a stunning, disappointing oversight in light of the challenges of Chalke and MacLaren. Perhaps this oversight will be corrected in a later chapter.
I also questioned their assertion that Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was “originally intended as a doctrinal supplement to his commentaries”. It was originally written well before his commentaries to explain that what Protestant theology taught and its continuity with historic orthodoxy. He dedicated it to the King of France who vigorously opposed the Reformation in his homeland. This is not a big deal, but makes me wonder if they misrepresent anything else I might not have more knowledge about. This doesn’t discredit the book, but it was disappointing and confusing to find this odd assertion.
So far a very worthwhile addition to the debate over the atonement.