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This review first appeared on TGC Reviews, a resource website of The Gospel Coalition.

The cross is drifting from the center of our churches. The sermon is increasingly subjective and focused on self-improvement. The thought that “Christ suffered as a substitute, that God would desire such a thing, or that God is wrathful at all” is under attack. This not only describe churches, pastors and scholars outside Evangelicalism, but those even within our ranks. Opposed to the historic understanding of the atonement, they will agree that the cross stunningly displays God’s love, but “it is emphatically not his active judgment of sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ”. It seems, then, there is no better reason to have a book equipping pastors to display God’s glory to the nations through expositional preaching, dealing with the subject of substitutionary atonement. If God’s wrath against our sin and Christ’s bearing that wrath for us on the cross as our substitute is “the foundation and heart of our life together as a church”, we should see this theme clearly and deeply woven throughout the narrative of the entire Bible. It Is Well reveals the thread of penal substitutionary atonement not only to be biblical truth, but also as the foundation of redemptive history.

Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and president of 9Marks, and Michael Lawrence, associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, present 14 excellent expositions on crucial biblical texts that show Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sinners as a central theme of both the Old and New Testaments. Though there are “many images that the New Testament uses to talk about what Jesus accomplished on the cross,” says Dever, all the activity of the Old Testament “is pointing ahead to Christ as the ultimate atoning sacrifice.”

It Is Well begins in the Old Testament with Exodus 12 and the Passover, including expositions on Leviticus 16: “The Day Of Atonement” and Isaiah 52:13-53:12: “Crushed For Our Iniquities”. Eleven sermons from the New Testament follow: Mark 10:45: “Ransom For Many”; Mark 15:33-34: “Forsaken”; John 3:14-18: “To Save The World”; John 11:47-52: “Better That One Man Die”; Romans 3:21-26: “Propitiation”; Romans 4:25: “Delivered Over To Death For Our Sins”; Romans 5:8-10: “Justified By His Blood”; Romans 8:1-4: “Condemned Sin”; Galatians 3:10-13: “Becoming A Curse For Us”; 1 Peter 2:21-25: “Bore Our Sins In His Body On The Tree”; and 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ Died For Sins”. Many familiar with the current atonement debate will notice that these texts are the same passages taken up by both sides of the foray. Dever and Lawrence desire their sermons on these important texts to be “a supplement, a meditation, a path through the Bible to trace one of the deepest truths in God’s Word.”

This book is packed with solid exegesis and pastorally wise questions and applications. It Is Well excellently demonstrates what the finished product of the hard work of wrestling with the text looks like. Both men manifest for the reader right handling of the word of truth. They also exhibit the characteristics of good shepherds. They know their sheep and this knowledge impacts their study of the text. This leads to expositions that are not ethereal, but earthy with substantive questions and real applications. From “What happens when you have no substitute?” and “So what does this leave us to do (in regards to salvation)?” to “How could a holy God correctly love sinful men?” and “Did Jesus die for you?”, Dever and Lawrence use the questions that arise from the text to continually point back to the person and work of Christ thousands of years ago and to show how atonement applies to our lives in our time.

A worthy addition to the 9Marks series, It Is Well provides a practical resource demonstrating the importance and necessity of the exposition of the biblical text in the church and her pulpits. Far from being a mere collection of sermons, this work helps Christians realize the offense of sin before God and the greatness of Christ Jesus as Savior in both the Old and New Testament. Do not be put off that these chapters were first sermons for they do not read like manuscripts. Christ comes alive in both Testaments and the reader will find they are worshiping while reading! Dever and Lawrence show that not only is substitutionary atonement as old as the Passover, but Jesus himself taught it when telling about his mission and how God will redeem a people for His name and glory. It Is Well is a clarion call from the pages of Scripture for the church to go back to the heart of Christ’s work on the cross.

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This review first appeared on TGC Reviews, a resource website of The Gospel Coalition.

Michael Lawrence. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church: A Guide For Ministry. Crossway Books, 2010. 240 pages.

Seeking to produce a theological vision for ministry today, Michael Lawrence addresses the need for biblical theology in the life of the church. “Our theology determines the shape and character of our ministry,” he says. Though this book is about theology, it is really about pastoral ministry. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church puts the essential tool of biblical theology back in the pastor’s tool belt.

Biblical Theology divides into three sections: The Tools That Are Needed; The Stories To Be Told; and Putting It Together For The Church. Section One: The Tools That Are Needed, explores the exegetical, biblical theology, and systematic theology tools that are needed to “construct a theology that tells the whole story of the Bible.” Beginning with the grammatical-historical method of exegesis, chapter one teaches you how to use this method in the different literary genres of the Bible. The heart of this section forges the tools of biblical theology to “give your whole Bible back to you” and helps pastors and theologians escape the pitfalls of moralism, legalism and hobbyhorses by staying faithful to the story of the Bible. To do this, Lawrence offers six tools of biblical theology: covenants, epochs, canon, prophecy, typology and continuity. Covenants, epochs, and canon form the details of the story, while prophecy, typology and continuity put the details together so it can be read as a single story about Christ and the gospel. Lawrence applies these tools to build a practical theology that opens the entire canon of Scriptures for preaching and daily ministry. He closes Section One by demonstrating how to move from exegesis to biblical theology to systematic theology—“the attempt to summarize in an orderly and comprehensive manner what the whole Bible has to say about any given topic.” According to Lawrence, the tools of systematic theology, namely biblical knowledge, personal knowledge and situational knowledge, allow sound application of the whole biblical story to our context. He effectively argues that the church needs both biblical and systematic theology because though biblical theology seeks to understand the whole story of the Bible, systematic theology uses that foundation to connect the biblical story with our own.

Section Two: The Stories To Be Told, applies Section One by taking five major storylines of the Bible—creation, fall, love, sacrifice and promise—to tell it’s whole story, from Genesis to Revelation, from the vantage point of that particular theme. Each chapter in this section uses the exegetical, biblical and systematic tools to show “the many ways in which our story is already incorporated into and interpreted by the biblical story” and how the Bible gives “an all-encompassing worldview that challenges the idolatrous worldviews of our age.”

In the final section, Section Three: Putting It Together For The Church, Lawrence takes Chapter eleven to focus on the main use of biblical theology in the church, namely preaching and teaching, and demonstrates how to begin with the a biblical text and do biblical theology. Through four text studies, Lawrence demonstrates how to get from a particular text to the major biblical storyline running through that text. Further he demonstrates how that specific text connects to the rest of the Bible so it can be applied soundly and faithfully to our lives. Chapter twelve skillfully agrues that biblical theology is not just useful for preaching and teaching, but for every ministry in the local church. Lawrence skillfully applies biblical theology to the four case studies of counseling, missions, caring for the poor and church/state relations.

Lawrence’s pastoral heart and wisdom fills every page. He exhibits a tremendous command of the Scriptures and a pastoral ministry characterized by the conviction that God’s Word, and not our words, actually changes and shapes people’s lives. By opening up the entire Bible to use in ministry by doing biblical theology, Lawrence helps pastors give their congregations a profoundly deep theology that impacts every aspect of their lives. Moreover, Lawrence reveals the beautiful tapestry of the Bible by teaching and imploring pastors to teach or preach on any text through the lens of “the ultimate revelation of Jesus Christ, his saving work, and his promised kingdom.”

Though “theology” may invoke thoughts of conflict or ivory towers, Lawrence proves that biblical theology is “really useful theology” and that the better theologian you are, the better pastor you will be. As a pastor, Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church has been one of the most helpful books I have ever read. It stirred my affections for the God of the Bible and His Word and helped me better understand the whole counsel of God and how it applies to all of life and ministry. Of all the books that will vie for your attention this year, do not let this one get pushed to the periphery. Get this book, read it, and find help for teaching biblical theology to your fellow staff, elders, and other church leaders. Even if you are not a pastor or lay leader, it will help you teach, train, counsel, and exhort other Christians. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church truly is a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Word-centered guide for ministry.