December 4th, 2009
Phillips, Richard D. Precious Blood: The Atoning Work of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009. 240 pp. $16.99.
Precious Blood originated at the 2008 annual Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Therefore, it has a very Calvinistic, though thoroughly biblical, understanding of the atonement of Christ. The papers brought together into this book were plenary sessions at that conference. They focused on the church’s historical understanding of the atonement.
Divided into two parts, Phillips introduces the doctrine of the blood of Christ (the atonement) as found in the Bible and then offers a small history lesson on how this doctrine has been understood down through the centuries. In the first section, contributors like Joel Beeke, Philip Ryken, and R.C. Sproul (among others) offer biblical support for the necessity of a blood sacrifice, the ability of Christ’s blood alone as having any redeeming effect and then the atoning qualities that cleanse the sinner. The first section is concluded with Godfrey’s treatment of the offensiveness of the blood and Sproul’s chapter on the Preciousness of the blood of Christ. These six chapters are worth the price of the book as they will have you praising God for the gift of His Son for our sakes.
The second section is part history and part journey. Derek Thomas looks at the early church’s understanding of the atonement and what it meant to be baptized into the faith of Christ (most often, it meant death). We then catch a glimpse of Anselm’s views and the subsequent views found in the reformation. Joel Beeke offers an extremely helpful chapter on the Puritanical understanding of this doctrine and how it influenced their daily lives while Carl Trueman looks at the time following the reformation. Richard Phillips offers a chapter on the critics of Penal Substitutionary Atonement in today’s landscape–a very insightful chapter indeed.
The Christ-centeredness that naturally stems from a discussion about the Atonement is evident in the pages of Precious Blood. While the book is heavily Presbyterian, it will appeal to all denominations who want to better understand why Christ’s shed blood on the cross for our sins is a most important doctrine to be considered.
For those who are not Reformed (or Calvinistic) in their understanding of the extent of the Atonement, do not shy away from this book. The only time that is ever discussed is in the chapter on the Puritanical understanding of the Atonement. It is never argued for (other than to say that those who hold to Reformed soteriology (salvation) will agree with the Puritans) and is never “crammed down your throat.” This book needs to be read by all Christians as it offers a more complete understanding of what is at stake in one’s understanding of the work of Christ on the cross.