A few weeks back, I told you I was working my way through this book for lent. There I mentioned that Robert Peterson divides his study on the work of Christ into two sections:
As Peterson himself says, there is really only one work of Christ, but that work accomplishes our salvation through nine Events:
- Sinless Life
- Session (his rule)
- Second Coming
Because Events need explanation, the writers of Scripture use “images, motifs, and themes to explain what Jesus did for us” (274). Peterson spends the second part of his book looking at six Pictures of the work of Christ:
- Legal Substitute
- Second Adam
In everything, Peterson is aiming to show exactly how the work of Christ saves. He goes to great effort to explain from Scripture each Event or Picture, but he does so in order that the reader will understand how it contributes to our salvation. This review would be massive if I went into detail on each of these, so I’m just going to use the space here to explain how Peterson approaches explaining each Event or Picture.
Since it is often neglected or overlooked in Christian theology, let’s use Christ’s Ascension as an example for Peterson unpacks the Events. Each chapter more or less follows this basic outline (with verses appropriate to each Event of course):
- Old Testament background: Psalm 68, 110:1
- Background of the Ascension in the Gospels: John 6:61-62, 7:39, 16:4-7, 20:17
- The Event of the Ascension in Luke-Acts: Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11
- Teaching in Acts: Acts 2:32-36, 3:19-21, 5:30-31
- Teaching in the Pauline Epistles: Ephesians 4:7-8; 1 Timothy 3:16
- Teaching in the General Epistles: Hebrews 8:1-5a, 9:11-12, 23-24, 6:19-20; 1 Peter 3:22
In each section (OT Background, Teaching in Epistles, etc.) Peterson generally is conducting in-depth exegetical work. It is in-depth in the sense that it is thorough, not in the sense that you need to know Greek or Hebrew to make sense of it. Most of his quotations are from top of the line commentaries rather than theologians. This is one of the things I like about this book. While writing as a theologian, Peterson demonstrates that the best theological approach is to depend heavily on Scripture for explaining doctrine, rather than just repeating and expanding on what other theologians have already said.
At the end of chapter on the particular Event under examination, Peterson includes a section called “Connecting the Dots.” Here, he basically summarizes the core points from all his exegetical work in the chapter and explains how that particular event is a saving event in the work of Christ. While the chapters on Christ’s death and resurrection receive the most overall space in this part of the book, Peterson draws out more biblical teaching on the other events so that the reader is able to pull all nine Events into focus.
When it comes to the Pictures of the work of Christ, Peterson follows more or less the same pattern. One exception though is the first one, Reconciler, which Peterson doesn’t see a clear OT background for, and instead spends the bulk of the chapter detailing four passages from Paul: Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:11-19; Colossians 1:19-23. At the end though, his Connecting the Dots section gets expanded to include a more organized breakdown:
- Texts: Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:11-19; Colossians 1:19-23
- Sphere: The arena of personal relations
- Background: Debated
- Definition: “making peace”
- Need: fractured relations to be restored
- Initiator and Goal: God takes the initiative to restore our broken relationship
- Mediator: Christ
- Work: The mediator’s death and resurrection
Depending on the particular Picture in question, there may be more headings, but these more or less appear in each chapter. While it be may best to read the chapters on Events in the order presented in the book (which is chronological), when it comes to the Pictures, the chapters do not build on each other in a way that would necessitate going in order. In each case though, the reader is presented with what amounts to a biblical theology of each picture. Peterson starts with the earliest material on each Picture and then moves through the New Testament books leaving no stone unturned in an effort to gather all of the relevant biblical passages and thorough exposit them.
Once that material is gathered, Peterson does a masterful job collating the data in a simplified form. Some readers may benefit from simply reading the Connecting the Dots sections first to get the big ideas, and then going back and working through the chapter to see the argument Peterson puts together to get to that end conclusion. At the end of the Pictures section, Peterson offers a summarizing conclusion of the whole work, complete with handy diagrams and charts. This is followed as well as by a very useful appendix on the extent of the atonement. If you’re looking for some clarity in the in-house evangelical Reformed discussions on unlimited vs. limited atonement, this appendix is the place to turn.
While this is a big book size-wise, it is very readable and accessible. Though it may be intimidating at first, I could imagine that someone who hasn’t read hardly any theology books could pick this one up and semi-comfortably read parts of it. With a good reading stamina, reading the book cover to cover is not out of the question. It may not exactly be the kind of book you want to use instead of personal, daily devotions, but it is far from an academic theological textbook.
The flipside of this benefit to the books layout is that more advanced readers may feel that Peterson moves to slowly and repeats himself often. That, and they may be well aware of scholarly arguments that he doesn’t touch on. However, I don’t consider that a defect of the book, but merely something that reflects the intentions of the author in the audience he is primarily writing to.
In the end, I think this is a great book to grab a copy of, especially if you’re looking to dig deeper into what Scripture says about the work of Christ. It may not be a book that you sit and read cover to cover unless you’re already a heavy theological reader (meaning you read heavily). But, it is a great resource to cover the biblical teaching on the events of the work of Christ as well as the pictures of the work of Christ.
- Author: Robert A. Peterson
- Title: Salvation Accomplished By The Son: The Work of Christ
- Publisher: Crossway (November 3, 2011)
- Hardcover: 624pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader/Bible School (but may require Seminary stamina to read cover to cover)
- Audience Appeal: Prophets who want to understand the work of Christ
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Crossway)
Buy through Amazon to support Marturo!