“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name”
The doctrine of substitutionary atonement continues to undergo criticism and redefinition. Many are buying into a watered down interpretation of this doctrine, while others simply ignore this valuable doctrine and emphasise “user-friendly” doctrines. Is this even an important issue? Does there need to be entire books discussing the issue of the atonement? It is the argument of the authors of The Great Exchange that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is the centre of the gospel. Therefore, it is of paramount importance. This book was written back in 2007, but it continues to be an important and valuable book on this topic.
This book is co-authored by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington. They make it clear that “this book is first and foremost about the gospel” which is defined as, “the good news that Jesus Christ is the sinless sin bearer of all who are united to Him by faith” (p. 14). The authors’ set out to make this definition clear by unpacking what they call the key verse of their book: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The means in which this task is accomplished is by surveying the doctrine of the atonement from Acts to Revelation. This approach is patterned after the second of two volumes by nineteenth century author George Smeaton. His second volume was titled, ‘The Apostles Doctrine of the Atonement’.
Before considering the biblical texts (between Acts and Revelation), the authors’ begin by discussing the unique qualifications of the apostles (chapter 1). This chapter is very helpful and strategic, as it reminds the readers that these men (the apostles) spoke with the authority of God and should be listened to (p. 29). Their writings were inspired by God and should be trusted and considered inerrant (p. 33). Chapter 2 is a helpful summary of the Apostles doctrine of the atonement. Chapters 3 and 4 conclude part 1 of the book by going back to the Old Testament. The reader sees how the sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadow the atonement (ch. 3), and how the prophets announce with expectation the atonement (ch. 4).
Moving on to part 2 (the larger portion of the book), the authors’ begin their survey from Acts to Revelation. This particular approach is very helpful to the reader as it exposes you in a repetitive manner to all that the apostles taught and said regarding the atonement. It becomes evident that the doctrine of the atonement was key to many of the New Testament books.
What also becomes abundantly clear in these chapters is that God is Holy and man is sinful. Therefore, in harmony with His nature God must unleash His judgment on mankind. But by God’s grace, the Lord Jesus Christ takes the place as a substitute for His people. By merit of His perfect life and perfect death (pp. 107-111), Christ took the place of those who would believe by receiving the just judgment of God for their sin. In this act, the sin of His people is exchanged for His righteousness. So by means of faith alone in Christ, God declares the sinner righteous. His righteous standing has nothing to do with self-achievement or merit, rather it is righteousness from outside of him – it is from Christ. The atonement of Jesus Christ was not a mere example of love and sentimentality; rather it reveals the wrath of God towards man and sin. It “is an active initiative” (p. 270). In addition to this, the grace and love of God are evident as God provides a way man can be right with Him.
A helpful practical truth taught in this book is serving God on the basis of gratitude rather than legalism or guilt. The authors’ stated, “His blood sets us free from guilt, and we are now free for gratitude-centred service that truly seeks to praise and magnify his glorious grace” (p. 215). The blood atonement of Christ serves as an amazing incentive for holiness.
I agree with Alistair Begg when he says, “The next time I am asked for my top-ten reading list, this will be included” (back cover). Though this book deals with a deep theological subject, I appreciate the effort the authors’ have made in making this topic simple in a clear, bold and passionate way. I believe that this book is exceptional and I trust that it will be a means of driving many people to the cross of Jesus Christ. So for those who want to learn more about the cross of Christ, or would like to earnestly contend for this doctrine, please take the time to read this book!