Editors: David and Jonathan Gibson
Reading Level: Moderate
Most of you reading this review have within the last month celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas. Times of the year when most Americans pull out all the stops--parties, gifts, shopping, food, and more food. To write this review I read through just over half the book and chose chapters from each section. After finishing upwards of four hundreds pages, I feel glutted on theology. The theological tryptophan is setting in and I’m lying back on the couch, hands on the stomach, eyes closed, and enjoying theological fulfillment.
I remember when I was first searching Scripture for the truth about reformed theology. I found a handful of good books on the atonement, but very few that comprehensively addressed the topic. Some were good here or there. Another in another spot. None brought it all together. That’s one strength of From Heaven. It consolidates what could take hours and hours of gathering the best books, articles, and journals on the topic of the definite atonement and brings the best of the best into one decisive page turner. This is a Thanksgiving feast of theological truth.
I loved the tone of the book. It doesn’t overvalue definite atonement, but it also doesn’t undervalue it. For instance, I’ve heard more than once, “Oh that’s a highly disputed doctrine so I don’t want to spend my time studying it. If thousands of years of church history hasn’t solved it, will making my mind up really matter?” The contributors of this volume give a resounding yes. In the introduction, the editors state it plainly,
Definite atonement says something essential about Christ’s death, but it does not everything there is to say. There are many aspects of the atonement which need to be affirmed alongside its definite intent and nature: the sufficiency of Christ’s death for all; the free and indiscriminate proclamation of the gospel to all; God’s love for the non-elect and his salvific stance towards a fallen world; the atonement’s implications for the entire cosmos and not simply the church. Definite atonement does not exhaust the meaning of the cross. 34
So as you can see although definite atonement doesn’t say everything about the crosswork of Jesus Christ, it does say something important that mustn’t be neglected. All truth no matter how small is God’s truth and should be eagerly pursued.
The book lays out into four sections: (1) Definite Atonement in Church History, (2) Definite Atonement in the Bible, (3) Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective, and (4) Definite Atonement in Pastoral Practice. If you’re a convinced five pointer than reading the book in that order is fine and well. For those who are searching Scripture and doing their do diligence, I would start with “in Theological Perspective,” move back to “in the Bible,” then go to “in Pastoral Practice,” and end “in Church History.” I think it might be easy to get lost in the church history section to begin with and never get to the meat of the theological arguments. Here’s the reasoning behind my suggested reading order: setting definite atonement within the broader conversations of major Christian doctrines like the trinity, penal substitionary atonement, and Jesus’s intercession will help the exegetical arguments in the second section pop. Also, the pastoral concerns in my conversations are usually a major concern for those who find themselves leaning in the direction of definite atonement. They want to know how this is helpful for the ordinary Christian. The Pastoral Practice section does just that. The chapters on assurance and preaching really dovetail nicely with the full work of the book.
Even if you ended up disagreeing with the conclusion once you’ve completed From Heaven, you’ll appreciate exegetical toil in the soil of Scripture. There’s also a carefulness through out to not go to far while also saying just enough. You’ll see this especially in the historical sections where the authors state regularly that they aren’t arguing that so and so held to definite atonement, but that their doctrine doesn’t rule it out and, in fact, may fit nicely within the exegetical ground where definite atonement thrives. I also enjoyed something that was speckled across the canvas of the book and explicitly discussed in chapter thirteen “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ: Definite Atonement in Paul’s Theology of Salvation.” In this chapter Jonathan Gibson spends time showing the organic connection between definite atonement and our union with Jesus. He concludes a brilliant theological web spinning exposition on this topic by saying,
In sum: Paul’s soteriology is set on an eschatological canvas in which he presents four distinct-but-inseparable moments of God’s saving work in Christ. Union with Christ distinguishes and connects these four moments together, and guarantees the efficacy of Christ’s atoning work. As with the moment of redemption, so in union with Christ there is distinction in unity and unity in distinction. 356
These are the kinds of big picture arguments that work so well in From Heaven and leave me more dedicated than every to the doctrine of definite atonement. And it’s for all these reasons that you will want to purchase and store a copy of this on your bookshelf.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”