14 July 2010

The Truth of the Cross (book review)

I'm always on the lookout for a certain type of book- a book that explains the gospel (or critical parts of it) that isn't overly scholarly, isn't too simplified, and most of all, is short enough that someone who wasn't planning to read a book like that would choose to read it upon request.

R. C. Sproul's name comes up automatically in such a search, as he has empirically shown over 40-plus years that he has a gift of making difficult and controversial topics simple and understandable.  The effect of his ministry on my own life is hard to measure, as his books and audio/video sermons and conference messages have increased both my understanding of and love for the gospel, the bible in general, and evangelism as a whole.

When I saw this book become available, I quickly requested a PDF copy from Ligonier.org for review.  (FCC note:  the publisher provided me with a free copy of the book for review purposes; no other benefit or payment was or is forthcoming).  I wanted to know if this book fit the bill as a book I could hand to folks who don't have a good understanding of need for the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross (whether new believers or old ones who really haven't heard much gospel preached in their lives).

It does.

The book is short (167 pages), has a lot of good stuff in it, and is accessable by the new believer.  Anyone with a high-school education can understand it, as the more complex theological arguments are, typical of Dr. Sproul, made accessible in terms and word-pictures that are easy to understand.  There are nine chapters plus a chapter at the end called, 'Questions and Answers'.  I have learned over time that the Q&A sessions at the Ligonier (and other) conferences can be some of the best teaching times, so the Q&A chapter in the book is particularly helpful.  And, Dr. Sproul is really at his best when dialoging one-on-one with students.

In chapter one, 'The Necessity of an Atonement' Dr. Sproul moves the reader's view of the cross from a religious symbol to a necessary response to the seriousness of sin (that we usually underemphasize).  He describes the three basic views of historic Christian theology (Pelagianism, Semi-pelagianism, and Augustinianism) and how the mindset found in each pre-determines one's view of the cross. 

In chapter two, 'The Just God' Sproul talks about the holiness of God and how it would be unjust (and therefore un-God-like) for God to ignore sin rather than deal with it.

Chapter three talks about our place (nature) in the debate about sin, and Dr. Sproul uses his idea of Cosmic Treason that he has developed previously to describe the seriousness of sin before God.

Chapters four and five describe Christ as a ransom and a substitute (respectively).  Here the importance of substitutionary atonement is developed.

Chapter six is on the humanity of Christ, and the importance to us of his perfect, sinless obedience to God. Without this, his substitution wouldn't mean much to us.

Chapter seven, 'The Suffering Servant' is a development of the old testament view of the messiah. It ties together the two testaments and serves to show the plan of God from the beginning was a salvation by faith alone.

Chapter eight is on the crucifixion itself.  Importantly, Sproul points out the curse of God, not the pain of the cross itself, should be the focus of the passion event.  Many people were crucified in this era, but only one suffered the full wrath of God at the same time.

Chapter nine is on the limited nature of the atonement (how the atonement applies to the elect).  Sproul does an excellent job of communicating that the atonement wasn't a potential atonement actuated by the sinner, but an actual atonement initiated by the savior.

In summary, I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an overview of the cross and its meaning to the Christian and not wanting a highly technical, seminary-intended-audience coverage of the subject.  I've never given a bad review to an R. C. Sproul-authored book, and this one is no exception.  I've bought several to hand to folks who are interested. I'll probably make an outline of it for a series of Sunday School lessons for my adult SS class; it is small enough and inexpensive enough to be purchased as 'notes' for such a study. You won't be disappointed in this book.

Five stars.


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