This volume, written in response to the controversy sparked over the doctrine of penal substitution by books from Steve Chalke and others, is my favourite read from 2007. Carolyn bought it for me as a Christmas present, and although it is a late entry, this is the finest book I have read throughout the past year (and among my top 5 reads ever). It is a remarkable text which has a number of strengths.
Firstly it is polemical without being unnecessarily divisive. Jeffrey, Ovey, and Sach handle one of the most hotly contested issues within evangelicalism in the present day, but with a degree of grace and even-handedness which is not easily or often achieved in such works. They argue passionately and fervently for the doctrine of penal substitution, and are not afraid of exposing the arguments of those who oppose it as error and blasphemy - but they do so in a way which is neither sensational nor abrasive. Where a substitutionary view of the atonement is problematic or complex they admit that it is so, and then seek to work out those complexities within a well reasoned framework.
Secondly, it is deeply theological but at the same warmly devotional. The first half of this book is occupied with making the biblical, theological, and pastoral case for penal substitution. The material in this section is so devotionally rich that it is easy to forget that you are reading a book dealing with controversial issues. The authors state on the cover of the book that their aim is to rediscover the glory of penal substitution, and this is fully realised in what they write. Last Lord's Day as I worshipped the Saviour at Communion, many of the phrases, themes and assertions of this book flooded my mind and enriched my remembrance of what Christ endured for me.
Thirdly, it is contemporary but retains a rich sense of history. Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach are bang up to date in their exegesis and in their illustrations, but write from the perspective of being deeply engaged with the statements of great Christians from the past on this theme. They trace the historical pedigree of the doctrine which is impressive, but throughout the work are allusions to the works of Augustine, Calvin and Turretin, along with Morris, Stott and Packer. There is no sense of historical arrogance in their tone, but rather they seek to take their place within the framework of historical evangelicalism.
Fourthly, it works as a readable text and as a reference work. I opted to read the book cover to cover, but one might just as helpfully use it as a 'look up' guide to the issues surrounding penal substitution. This is particularly true of the objection and response format of the second section in the book. Here the authors outline the main problems which are highlighted with the doctrine, and then answer them fully. Their responses are theologically informed and philosophically nuanced, and do not assume that responses to other issues in the book have been previously read.
Fifthly, the authors are authoritative but open. The book has its own website (here) where they engage with responses to Pierced for Our Transgressions, and handle criticisms from N.T. Wright and others. They do not wish merely to fire a shot across the bows of those with whom they differ, but rather wish readers to get on board with them, probe what they teach, and compare teaching on this issue from all angles. This lends the work a sense of reliability and credibility not often encountered in texts of this kind.
I could say more about this work, but will resist that temptation. I heartily recommend it to anyone concerned to be informed about an issue which is blasphemously threatening the heart of the gospel we believe in and preach. Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach have done the Body of Christ a tremendous service in providing her with this book - it is a sterling apologetic, a rich devotional resource, and a theological treatise easily accessible to all. May God use it for the defence of His gospel and the glory of His name for many generations to come.
You can purchase a copy at an excellent price within the UK here.