Book Review - The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology by Jeremy R. Treat
For those familiar with the Gospels, you know that Jesus' dominant message was proclaiming the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). For those familiar with the Apostle Paul, you know that his message "of first importance" was preaching the gospel - that Christ came in accordance with the Scriptures, died for our sins, and was raised to new life on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
Too often, these dominant messages have been considered in isolation from each other or pitted against one another. Thankfully, we now have another resource that helpfully brings these two themes together and - in so doing - enriches our understanding of both.
Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology. Zondervan, 2014. 305pp.
WHAT? (WHAT'S THE BOOK ABOUT?)
In the sixth sentence of his introduction, Dr. Jeremy Treat lets us in on what he wants this book to accomplish: "This book seeks to provide an answer to the following basic question: What is the biblical and theological relationship between the coming of the kingdom of God and the atoning death of Christ on the cross?" (25).
Treat then surveys the landscape of common approaches to these two themes (the kingdom of God and the atoning death of Christ) and shows that all too often these topics are examined in isolation from each other or pitted against each other. Treat advocates for a different approach: "[w]hat is needed is not only the assertion that atonement and kingdom belong together, but a biblically rooted and theologically formed articulation of how they relate" (33, bold emphasis added).
This, then, sets the trajectory for the rest of the book. Treat's first major section (chs 1-5) approaches the relationship between the kingdom and the cross through the lens of biblical theology. He helpfully surveys the storyline of the Old Testament (ch 1) and then narrows his focus on the book of Isaiah (ch 2), where he locates the famous "Suffering Servant" section (esp Isa 52:13-53:12) in a broader Isaianic context of kingship. His thesis in this chapter is that "the servant is the Davidic king who will bring about a new exodus and thereby establish God's kingdom by means of his sacrificial suffering" (69). Treat then moves into the New Testament where he begins with an overview of the Gospel of Mark showing how kingdom and cross are linked there. He then further demonstrates the linking between kingdom and cross by branching into two additional genres in ch. 4: New Testament letter (Colossians 1:13-20) and apocalyptic (Revelation 5:5-10). His conclusion up to this point? "[T]he kingdom of God on earth is established by the atoning death of Christ on the cross" (139). Or, with a bit more flourish: "From the bruised heel (Gen 3:15) to the reigning Lamb (Rev 22:1), the Bible is a redemptive story of a crucified Messiah who will establish God's kingdom on earth through his atoning death on the cross" (129).
Treat's second major section (chs 6-10) then moves to consider the relationship between kingdom and cross through the lens of systematic theology. In this section, Treat spends most of his energy on the issue of atonement. For Treat, Christ's atoning work is the "hinge" that opens up access to the kingdom. Rather than exclusively privileging one theory of atonement, Treat allows for a number of different theories of atonement to shed unique light on what Christ did for us on the cross. Nevertheless, Treat does zero in on two of the most dominant theories - Christus Victor and penal substitution - and argues for the following arrangement/ordering of these atonement theories: Christus Victor through penal substitution. Treat's conclusion is consistent with what he's been demonstrating throughout: "...the kingdom and the cross are held together by the Christ - Israel's Messiah - who brings God's reign on earth through his atoning death on the cross. The kingdom is the ultimate goal of the cross, and the cross is the means by which the kingdom comes" (247). Or, again, "[t]he thorns, which were a sign of the curse and defeat of Adam, are paradoxically transformed into a sign of the kingship and victory of Jesus. As Augustine said, the crown of thorns is a symbol that 'the kingdom which was not of this world overcame that proud world, not by the ferocity of fighting but by the humility of suffering'" (252).
Crucified King includes both a Table of Contents and a "Detailed Table of Contents." The abbreviated version is provided below:
WHY? (WHY DO - OR DON'T - YOU RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?)
I recommend this book simply because it deals so responsibly with two of the most important topics for understanding Jesus' life and God's Word: kingdom and atonement. Church leaders and Christian believers should have these topics on their radar screen, and Treat gives us a thorough introduction by which we can understand them better, and in a way that is deeply biblical and firmly evangelical.
WHO? (WHO SHOULD CONSIDER CHECKING THIS BOOK OUT?)
I would definitely place this book in the "intermediate" category of Christian theology (I'm pretty sure this book grew very closely out of Treat's doctoral dissertation at Wheaton). With that in mind, the people who I think would benefit most from this book would be Christian school teachers, pastors and other church leaders, and interested laypeople with some background in these topics.
This probably wouldn't be the introductory book I give to people who are just getting their feet wet in the areas of Christology, kingdom, and soteriology. (For those who want a more popular introduction by Treat into his thinking, he wrote an article for Christianity Today in October 2013 called "The Glory of the Cross" I'd encourage you to read. Click here to be taken to Christianity Today's website where you can search for the article.) However, If you're an interested beginner, don't let these comments discourage you from The Crucified King. Motivated readers will benefit from this book, and - to his credit - Treat does take some time in his introduction (pp. 40-49) to define key terms that will help lay a foundation for moving forward into the book.
HOW? (HOW SHOULD THE BOOK BE APPROACHED?)
Because this is more of an "intermediate" level book, I would encourage readers to take the time to read this book slowly, and reflect often on how Treat's thesis plays out in everyday life and ministry. (Maybe every book should be read this way!) Take the time to underline key thoughts, write in the margin, keep a mental summary of how Treat is developing things. In other words, put some work into thinking through and "owning" the thoughts in this book. This sort of effort will be richly rewarded.
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