What do I think about Donald Macleod’s book on the atonement? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he desired to know nothing else save Christ and Him crucified. Why? What makes the crucifixion of Christ so central? What is it about those six hours on a Friday afternoon that forever rocked the world?
Donald MacLeod’s work is all about this event and what all it entails as he goes through the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament writings. This is an in-depth look at the doctrine of the atonement. After going through it, you should never think about the doctrine the same way and a reading of this got me to realize I need to think about the atonement more seriously.
So let’s cover the positives. First off, the first couple of chapters are just gripping as we go through a brief look at the life of Christ but described in terms of what the events must have been like for the Christ and how He was rejected by the world and His friends and the weight of bearing the sin of the world on the cross.
In fact, I’d say this was my favorite part of the book and if you purchase it (As IVP sent me a review copy and I greatly thank them for that) then this part will easily be worth the whole price of the book. I do not consider myself an emotional person and empathy is not a strong suit of mine, but I still found myself gripped by what I was reading.
Second positive, Macleod goes into great detail on theological terms used in Scripture like Propitiation and redemption and terms we might not think too much about. A section I thought would last a few pages turned out to go through a whole chapter.
Third, Macleod gives an apologetic presentation as well answering questions at the end such as if there was another way. He looks at rival theories that seek to explain the death of the Christ without it being a substitution and blood atonement. He also throughout the book answers charges of cosmic child abuse and other such claims.
Finally, Macleod ends the book rightly where he should, with a look at what this means for the Great Commission. He shows us that by the work of Christ, the devil has been defeated and we are free to go into the world and fulfill the Great Commission.
Now let’s talk about ways I thought the book could have been improved. On a minor point, Macleod is quite sure that Jesus was buried honorably. This is a point that I would contest. This is only a minor one, but it did stand out to me.
Second, Macleod raises some questions about divine impassibility, the idea that God does not have emotions. I found this troubling throughout as the ramifications of God being emotional are problematic as I think it ends up being a deity that is changing and progressing and in fact, dependent on His creation. A few times Macleod points to how it must have been for the Father to see His Son on the cross and at suffering in the heart of God. The theory of the atonement does not depend on God suffering and I found such ideas raising questions that I do not think are adequately answered if impassibility is denied.
Third, I would have liked to have seen more on justification. There was not a whole chapter on it and that would have been a welcome inclusion. Especially I would have liked to have seen how Macleod’s view of the atonement would interact with the New Perspective on Paul. Could we see some interaction with Wright and Dunn and others?
The good thing is that none of these negatives ultimately distract from the book as a whole. You can still walk away with a good theory of the atonement and understand that these are points you can disagree on. The argument as a whole still stands as none of these points are central.
In conclusion, I do recommend the work as one if you want to understand the atonement more thoroughly as Macleod has gone highly in-depth and we owe him a debt of gratitude.