Andrew Purves. Exploring Christology and Atonement: Conversations with John McLeod Campbell, H.R. MacKintosh and T.F. Torrance. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. See here to purchase the book.
Andrew Purves teaches Historical Theology at Pittsburgh Theological
Seminary. I wanted to read this book because my pastor at the
Presbyterian Church that I attended in upstate New York and his wife
heard Purves speak, and they were really impressed. After reading this
book, I was impressed, too.
In Exploring Christology and Atonement, Purves explores the
views of the atonement that were held by three Scottish theologians:
John McLeod Campbell, H.R. MacKintosh, and T.F. Torrance. All three of
these theologians were critical of the penal substitution model of the
atonement, the idea that Jesus Christ through his death on the cross
paid the death penalty that sinners deserve for their sins, dying in
their place, appeasing God’s wrath, and bringing them forgiveness (or at
least the option of forgiveness).
As I read Purves’ chapters about these thinkers, they did not seem to
me to dismiss penal substitution thoroughly, for they did believe that
Jesus Christ endured God’s judgment or absorbed God’s wrath on the
cross. They were, however, opposed to limiting the atonement to that,
as if the atonement were primarily a legal transaction. They were also
critical of some of the baggage that has been associated with penal
substitution, such as the idea that Jesus needed to die on the cross for
God to love us or to reconcile himself to us. According to more than
one of these thinkers, God does not need to be reconciled to us, for God
loves us already; rather, we need to be reconciled to God.
Concepts that are explored in Purves’ book include the following: the
relationship between the Father and the Son; union with Christ (which
includes Christ’s attitudes towards sin on the cross); Christ’s
repentance on behalf of sinners; how Christ’s incarnation binds God to
God’s creation; the cross being an example of Christ’s faithfulness and
righteousness, which believers can assume; how refusing to forgive
others is rejecting God’s forgiveness and placing oneself outside of it;
how Christ’s life on earth, not only his death, played a role in
forgiveness and atonement; and how Israel plays a vicarious role in
saving the nations in that, through her unbelief, God can save the
Gentiles (Romans 9-11).
Some parts of this book were a worshipful experience in that they
allowed me to appreciate the atonement as I have long understood it, as a
Protestant (i.e., penal substitution, yet with an acknowledgment of
other aspects). Other parts of the book opened my mind to new
dimensions. While all of the book was good, it really came alive to me
when Purves was discussing John McLeod Campbell’s criticism of many
Christians for treating the Gospel as law, whereas Campbell supported
greater assurance of God’s love and salvation for the believer.
My favorite passage in the book was on page 248, as Purves quotes
H.R. MacKintosh: “They discover that to be Christians is not to repeat a
creed, or to narrow life into a groove; but to have a strong, patient
divine Leader, whom they can trust perfectly and love supremely, who is
always drawing out in them their true nature and making them resolve to
be true to it through the future…who imparts the forgiveness of sins and
gives power to live in fellowship with God. Apart from this, his call
would only mean a new despair. But his strength is made perfect in
This is a deep, scholarly, and edifying book.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Intervarsity Press, in exchange for an honest review.
Searching hearts and minds
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