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Question and Answer

Christ's Atonement


I would like to learn more about the different theories regarding the nature of Christ's atonement. I would like to learn to refute the arguments that a Campbellite friend of mine makes regarding Christ's death as merely an example rather than as propitiation. Could you recommend either articles and essays, or even a good systematic theology book that would not overwhelm a layman? I am well-read, but I do recognize the limits of my capabilities.


For articles and essays appearing in magazines and journals, I am afraid I cannot be of much help to you. But the librarians of any of the best Reformed seminaries might help you. Also, I am no expert on Campbellite theology. But I can heartily recommend the following which I think will be of help to you in the situation you describe:

(1). Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Soteriology. I won't give page numbers as I think this work is available in more than one edition (mine is quite old). In Chapter IX Hodge surveys and responds to various historic "Theories of the Atonement" (moral theory, governmental theory, mystical theory, etc.). In the preceding chapters he sets forth the "Mediatorial Work of Christ" (IV), His "Priestly Office" (VI), and the "Satisfaction of Christ" (VII), and he answers the question "For Whom Did Christ Die" (VIII).

(2). Benjamin B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ (I have the 1950 Presbyterian & Reformed edition). Part Two is devoted to "The Work of Christ as Redeemer." There he reviews and evaluates "The Chief Theories of the Atonement" (X) and "Modern Theories of the Atonement" (XI), as well as setting forth a positive exposition of the biblical teaching on our Lord's atoning work in "Redeemer and Redemption" (IX), "Christ Our Sacrifice" (XII), and two further chapters).

(3). Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (published by Eerdmans in one volume, obviously more concise than Hodge) has a full section on "Divergent Theories of the Atonement", and provides a thorough setting forth of the biblical doctrine.

(4). John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. I don't know of any finer exposition of the Bible's teaching on the atoning work of Christ. Murray's method is a careful exposition of the texts of Scripture, building a positive understanding point by point in a systematic way that is thoroughly drawn from the Scriptures (rather than imposed upon them). The first half of the book, just 70 pages in my edition (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1955, but it is available in other editions) covers Christ's atoning work; and the balance, the application of that work to sinners.

None of these works would require you to have a knowledge of the biblical languages. If, as you say, you are well-read and well motivated, you will not be overwhelmed by them, though you will have to work at them. The last time I checked, Hodge's and Berkhof's systematic theologies were available through Christian Book Distributors; the CBD catalogue I have does not seem to include Warfield's Person and Work of Christ (inexplicable!), nor do I see a listing for Murray's book, which I am sure has been reprinted by Banner of Truth. All four works, however, are important, and any Orthodox Presbyterian pastor or Westminster Seminary grad should have them all.

Please feel free to come back with follow-up questions.

The Lord bless your efforts to help your Campbellite friend.

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