The Christian publishing industry is an odd beast. While thousands of people choke on heresy in books like Love Wins and The Shack, other books go practically unnoticed. The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul is one of those books that has gone largely undetected and has managed to avoid any kind of large-scale attention.
I first read The Truth of the Cross when it was released in 2007. This week, I am re-reading Sproul’s excellent work in order to prepare for a sermon. If you have neglected this book, you’re missing out – big time!
Dr. Sproul surveys the basics of the atonement in this little book. He begins by discussing the necessity of an atonement. Crucial to a an understanding of the atonement is a proper conception of the character of God and the nature of sin. Sproul points to the apostle Paul in particular, whose “central point of importance was the cross … it was on the cross, through the cross, and by the cross that our Savior performed His work of redemption and gather His people for eternity.”
Sproul carefully urges readers to embrace a biblical understanding of God’s justice. He rightly contends that many people overlook the justice of God – an attribute the makes the atonement necessary: “God is loving, but a major part of what He loves is His own perfect character, with a major aspect being the importance of maintaining justice and righteousness. Though God pardons sinners and makes great provision for expressing His mercy, He will never negotiate His justice. If we fail to understand that, the cross of Christ will be utterly meaningless to us.” Having established the need for an atonement, rooted in the justice of God, the author proceeds to develop the remaining crucial components in Christ’s redemptive work.
Sproul skillfully guides readers on a journey, discussing the key features of the atonement. Most important, however is the discussion that concerns substitution. Sproul clearly articulates the importance of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ: “In the substitution that took place at the cross, we see the glorious grace of God – the very heartbeat of the Christian faith.” Additionally, he distinguishes expiation and propitiation, noting the importance of each.
Dr. Sproul also includes an important discussion on the extent of the atonement. The “L” in the tulip acrostic is carefully explained in a historical and biblical context. As most Reformed theologians, Sproul makes a distinction between the sufficiency and efficacy of the atonement. Certainly, Christ’s redemptive work is sufficient for every person who has ever lived. But it is effectual for the elect of God.
The Truth of the Cross offers readers a basic look at the redemptive work that Christ accomplished. Sproul does not intend to offer the last word – which is what makes this little book so effective. Readers interested in delving deeper are encouraged to pick up John Owen’s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.