From Heaven He Came and Sought Her
From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective is a new compendium of essays on limited atonement. Rather than the vocabulary of limited atonement, this book has opted for the more generous terminology of definite atonement. David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson edited this fine volume. Published by Crossway, this is a weighty volume coming in at 700 plus pages. It is a sound defense of the Calvinistic doctrine of definite or particular atonement, assessing the discussion from many different vantage points – historical, biblical, theological and pastoral. We particularly have enjoyed the pastoral resource that this book includes. Authors range from Michael Haykin, David Hogg, and Thomas Schreiner to Stephen Wellum, Sinclair Ferguson, and John Piper. There is an equal distribution of Baptists and Presbyterians as well as from both sides of the Atlantic.
The title comes from the great hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” which includes these words: “From Heaven He came and sought her, to be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.” Setting the tone for the entire volume, the premise is further laid out in the very first chapter on theological methodology. “The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. The death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone.” Every other chapter, each in its unique manner, seeks to amplify and explain this premise.
From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is a very thorough treatment of this subject – one of the fullest that is available. It can be read through cover to cover or you can pick out the essays that direct your study best. One word is necessary here: this tome is not for the faint of heart. Light bedtime reading it is not. In some cases, you might need a dictionary nearby and, in other cases, you may need to read in absolute silence. There is a definite density in some chapters. Every section is well done, but they all assume more than a novice level of reading. We would recommend reading it when you are alert. Keep a notebook, pens, and highlighters at hand to make important notes. The more you work with this volume, the more useful it will become. Record your questions and come back to them later. You might find that some chapters bear reading and rereading to gain the most facility with the material, but we assure you that your time is being well spent.
We found second chapter on the patristics to be one of the most gripping. There is apparently deep and detailed support to be found for limited atonement among the church fathers. While that support is not always in direct citations, we need to see allusion and implication. Michael Haykin makes us keenly aware of that testimony. He uses the writings of John Gill as a kind of launching pad. Gill points us to where those sources are located and Haykin mines the depths of those riches. If you read nothing else, this chapter is worth the price of the book.
We mentioned the density of the reading. One of the most difficult sections for many readers will be “Definite Atonement in the Bible.” In this section, some of the authors presuppose a level of familiarity with Greek and Hebrew that all readers may not possess. We are familiar with the original languages, but the sections utilizing Hebrew were a bit dicey to say the least. With that said, if you make the effort it will pay off. Even the usage of original languages does not make the material unusable. It just required us to dig into our resources a little further. For us, it sparked a review of Hebrew syntax and vocabulary and that, in itself, is actually a very good thing.
Henri A.G. Blocher builds what amounts to a systematic theology of definite atonement. This is another chapter that you might want to keep on hand for reference time and time again. Historical and biblical theology are weighed together to support the doctrine. Many topics and terminologies are explained – everything from the sufficiency of the atonement to the so called “well-meant offer of the Gospel.” In about 40 pages, this author unpacks a great deal of biblical and theological information, providing a valuable starting point in a discovery of this doctrine.
In the final chapter, John Piper expounds upon the necessity of the definite atonement in our preaching. He sees that as a requirement to glorify God. Piper states “In conceiving a universe in which to display the glory of His grace, God did not choose ‘plan A.’ The death of Christ was not an afterthought or adjustment. For this the universe was planned. Everything leading to it, and everything flowing from it, is explained by it.” So in Piper’s explanation, to have anything other than a definite atonement would be for God to have a “plan B.” God had purposed things to be definite in terms of the atonement and that purposing has been before the foundation of creation itself. Therefore, this definite atonement must be presented in our preaching.
The book includes a number of finely assembled appendices: an extensive bibliography as well as index of biblical references, index of names, and an index of subjects. All considered, these additions make this an outstanding research volume to anyone who desires to study this topic for themselves. Naturally, with all these positives, there have to be some drawbacks. We have already talked about the level of reading, though this is not in actuality a negative; it is something that the reader needs to take into account. If you are looking for some light, fluffy reading, this is likely not the book for you. However, if you feel up to the task, this might actually be another strength to the volume. Also, there seems to be a fair bit of stress placed upon the “well-meant offer of the Gospel.” Depending on your view of Calvinism, that might be acceptable or it might be more problematic. We are not here issuing a judgment on that idea other than to draw your attention to its inclusion here. One may be able to be solidly reformed on both sides of that issue, but we felt it worth mentioning.
All in all, this is a valuable addition to scholarship on the definite atonement of Christ. It views the definite application of the atonement as the way in which God receives the greatest glory. No matter your vantage point, there is much here to digest. Historical, theological, biblical, and pastoral issues are carefully weighed by a very capable and scholarly group of theologians. We cannot recommend this work highly enough.
Comments are always welcome.