David L. Allen
B&H Academic, 2016, 848pp.
The other day as I was preparing for this review, my daughter walked in, looked at the 848-page book next to me and asked, “What are you doing?” I told her I was preparing for the Extent of the Atonement book review and gave her a brief synopsis of the book. The next question she asked was an interesting one, “Why does it matter?” When it comes to Christ’s atoning work on the cross there is a simplicity to the truth that a child can see the love of God in Christ’s reconciling work, repent and believe. Yet, when we flip the coin, the atoning work of Christ and the depths of its riches, its extent and what it means, all the books in the world just touch the surface of the treasures of grace in the doctrine of the atonement. This is exactly what we discover in David L. Allen’s encyclopedic volume in The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review.
When compiling a work of this magnitude you must have some goals and Allen’s ultimate goal is “to demonstrate historically, and then biblically and theologically, why universal atonement (Christ satisfaction on the cross for the sins of all humanity) is a more excellent way” (pg. xviii). To accomplish his goal Allen provides for the reader a work of historical theology and at the same time wrestles with and draws out exegetical conclusions from the Biblical text.
In part one Allen takes the reader on a journey through the different eras of history starting with the early church and medieval eras and ending with our modern era. Allen carefully and honestly gathers information from all sides of the debate and clarifies the views of Christian thinkers using, when at all possible, primary sources. I found his section on John Calvin very helpful (pgs. 48-96).
In Part two he focuses on the extent of the atonement in the Baptist tradition. Allen compiles valuable sources from the English General and Particular Baptist, North American and Southern Baptists showing how people from the various Baptist traditions have contributed to the debate concerning the atonement, and how it has progressed throughout the years.
In Part three he provides the reader a critical review of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspective. In the last chapter of the book Allen answers my daughter’s question, why belief in unlimited atonement matters.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
The Extent of the Atonement is an encyclopedia of information and a beneficial resource for pastoral ministry, directly as a student and an educator. As pastors, we are still students. This book will broaden the understanding of the perspectives on the atonement historically, biblically and theologically of any theological student. As pastors, we are biblical and theological educators. As educators we can use this book, as I have already, as a reference work, the subject, name and scripture index at the end of the book are very helpful. No matter what side of the issue you are on—or if you remain undecided—The Extent of the Atonement is worth your time and effort.
Indirectly, this book is beneficial in the manner Allen handled a topic, which, if done the wrong way, can be divisive. While reading The Extent of the Atonement I was continually impressed with the way he approached the subject with precision and care, as a friend, not a foe. He models for us how to move a critical topic forward in a helpful manner, which I appreciated.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By