Christ Crucified —Understanding the Atonement
255 pages, £10.87
Star rating: Four stars
There are few more wonderful subjects to study than the atonement and anyone who reads this book is in for a treat.
The plan of the work is essentially simple. Donald Macleod begins with three chapters tracing the gospel accounts of Christ’s passion, giving a textual orientation sometimes missing in theological studies of the atonement. There are some gems of exposition here that would enrich much gospel preaching.
He then takes seven chapters to cover the great themes of the accomplishment of the cross: substitution, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, satisfaction, redemption and victory. Another chapter deals with the inadequacy of alternatives: the moral influence theory, the rectoral or governmental theory, the vicarious repentance theory and the ‘vicarious humanity’ theory of T.F. and J.B. Torrance.
In the course of writing Macleod, who always expresses himself with enviable lucidity, deals with the aberrant views of those who allege that traditional presentations portray the cross as ‘cosmic child abuse’. He insists that Christ’s substitution is penal.
Particular/definite redemption is expounded, reminding us that this is more to do with the nature than the extent of the atonement.
In dealing with expiation Macleod interestingly warns of the danger of over-reaction against the liberal rejection of propitiation, arguing that where the object of Christ’s work is sin, then expiation is a better translation for the hilaskesthai word group than propitiation (hence he prefers it at Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10) and he prefers, with Calvin, the translation ‘mercy seat’ in Rom. 3:25 (for hilasterion). However he is adamant that propitiation is implied and that where sin is expiated, God is propitiated, so the essential emphasis on assuaging God’s wrath is not missed.
With John Murray, Macleod insists that Christ’s obedience is the axis of his redeeming work.
This is not a work that breaks a lot of new ground, though typically Macleod can often be provocative and makes you look at things with a fresh eye. However as a comprehensive treatment of the Reformed theology of the cross, it should be read by ministers and students alike, and anyone else who wants a good biblical and theological feast.