Packer leads off the opening chapter explaining how closely the doctrine of the atonement is tied to the Gospel. Next, he spends a great deal of time showing the difference between propitiation and expiation. Expiation refers to the removal or taking away of sin, while propitiation indicates that we are no longer under the wrath of God because our sins are forgiven. There is a good deal of connection between the Old Testament Day of Atonement and the death of Jesus on the cross as our Savior.
The second chapter, also written by Packer, is devoted to the subject of penal substitution. He explains that we, as sinners, needed a substitute to avert the wrath of a holy God. Our sin merits us eternity in hell, separated from Him. However, Jesus, who lived a sinless life, took our just punishment, and bore it on the cross in our place. Now we, who place our faith in Christ, gain the righteousness that Christ earned. Instead of God’s wrath, we now experience his favor and love.
In the fourth and final chapter, Packer centers on spotlighting a classic work by John Owen (a book our library contains), The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Owen defends the classic Calvinist view of limited atonement. His goal is to prove this view through thorough and careful exegesis of the relevant Scripture passages and to refute a few of the unbiblical, universalist views of many in his day. If you can understand the older style English and advanced vocabulary of Owen, I advocate his work to you.
The co-authors team up to conclude with a short epilogue. Their closing remarks leave the crucifixion of Christ and the atonement as the center of our faith.
As a bonus, Ligon Duncan gives a detailed list of reference materials, including books, sermons, and confessions that focus on the atonement. For convenience, he separates them into various categories based on reader degree of difficulty, historical chronology, and suggested order of reading. I do want to highlight one book in particular. Listed at number eight on his top ten books on the atonement is The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott, which our Theology Thursday group is currently reading. Each month, on the second Thursday of the month, our group meets at the church at 7pm to review the month’s chapter. Please join us and take some time out of your week to read one of these soundly Biblical books on the atonement!