Below you will find a book review of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her by my good friend Scott. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Although a Reformed Baptist, he has an impressive grasp on theological matters and articulating them into book reviews (I jest, I jest).
With what you’ll read below, Presbyterians would be blessed to have him. We could use more like him in “Knox”-ville.
“I’m a 4-point Calvinist.”
At coffee shops across the United States – but mostly the southwest region oft-titled the “Bible Belt” – there have been conversations raging amongst America’s evangelical youth. Like a virus, it has spread with an unparalleled fury, and – also like a virus – it has produced blood, tears, vomit. This conversational virus does not respect generational lines: it shows no mercy, slaying our nation’s elderly with a unwarranted amount of fear and insecurity, yet its victim is largely our young. Thankfully, our young soon awake from their delusions, are released from their cage of determinism, and joyfully proclaim the truths they once bludgeoned their opponents with. The curses of cage stage Calvinsim are to three generations, but for Calvinism properly understood, nuanced and enjoyed, the blessings are to a thousand.
Unfortunately, the word “Calvinism” produces in many weeping and gnashing of teeth on sight. Sadly, “Calvinistic tummy aches” are very much warranted, especially whenever the victim has been bludgeoned “in love” by a Cage Stager – the effects on the elderly are especially traumatic. And typically the character that causes the most grief in the Calvinistic manifesto hailed by the cabal of Cage Stagers – TULIP – is the middle agent: “L”, “Limited Atonement.” How can any sensible Christian believe such a medieval, exclusive doctrine? non-Calvinists will ask. Sadly, whenever such a doctrine is articulated without nuance, or rootedness in Scripture, mass hysteria follows. The very name, “Limited Atonement,” already places things in disastrous waters.
So whenever I heard about the publishing of From Heaven He Came And Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective I leapt at the possibility of having a nuanced, fully-orbed scholarly discussion of Definite Atonement (you’ll notice I didn’t say “Limited Atonement,” and for due reason!). This book is a gift to any Calvinist seeking to understand how best to articulate definite atonement. You can already guess what sorts of grounds are covered by the title alone, FHHCASH establishes historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral grounds for believing in the glorious doctrine of definite atonement.
Doing an in depth review of this book is outside the scope of a GR review, so I’ll just mention a few areas which helped convince me even more of why I am a 5-pointer who, like Doug Wilson, buys my grace from Costco in bulk.
*Definite Atonement grasps that Christ both accomplishes redemption AND applies that redemption through the giving of the Spirit.*
This is important because Christ’s work didn’t accomplish a possibility of salvation for His bride, but actually accomplished salvation, and for those whom he accomplished his work, he applies all of the benefits of that accompany His work. You can’t divorce Christ’s work, the directionality of His work, and the application of His work from each other. They are all intimately connected through our union with Christ.
*Definite Atonement sustains the ultimate triune purpose in salvation.*
The contributors point out that to hold any other form of the atonement, specifically Amyraldianism or Hypothetical Universalism, is to introduce a disharmony amongst the persons of the Trinity. If the Father’s purpose was to direction the atonement to be for the salvation of every individual without exception, and the Spirit only applies it to some, there is an inherent disunity amongst the Godhead, which is to depart from the orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Not only a form of Hypothetical Universalism confusing, it also has temptations toward a departure from orthodoxy.
*Definite Atonement understands that Christ mediates for His people, not for the whole world.*
The mediatorial office of Christ is intimately related to his atoning work. There were several chapters that emphasized this (Stephen Wellum’s chapter was especially good) but the ultimate point is that for those whom Christ died, he mediates for. Christ mediates for the Church, therefore Christ’s work is for His bride, the Church. There is other theological and exegetical evidence for this claim, but if you don’t believe me, you’ll have to read the book.
*Definite Atonement captures the truth that Christ’s work is for all without distinction, not all without exception.*
This proposition – all without distinction, no all without exception – was reiterated throughout the book, sometimes on the verge of ad nauseam, however it was helpful because it brings clarity to the various “problem texts” for definite atonement that speak about Christ dying for the world. The original author’s audience, a people obsessed with distinctions between Jews, Gentiles, Slaves, Women, would need to hear from Paul and others that Christ died for all without distinction (Gentile, woman, or slave) not every living, breathing person who has ever lived without exception. This is crucial.
Much, much more could be said about this definite atonement tour de force, but I’ll let it end here. My only criticism is that, at times, there was a tendency for some of the discussions to get very esoteric. I understand this is necessary, but it will surely divert many potential readers from reading. Then again, maybe something like this is necessary to teach a thing or two to our Cage Stage friends about what it means to nuance our conversations?
Most importantly, though, this book made me worship. I’ve maintained that Calvinism is good because it leads much glory to God and produces worship in His saints. If the reader can make his way through almost 700 pages of technical discussion, they will find that definite atonement, more than a doctrine to bludgeon with, is a doctrine that produces assurance, hope, and worship. Central to the TULIP with its unfortunate name, “Limited Atonement” is Calvinism’s awkward cousin, the dirty little secret. However, after spending some time swimming in the glories of definite atonement, it’s hard to walk away without thinking Definite Atonement, properly defined, is central to the gospel of God. I welcome you to do so and find out for yourself.