Review: The Crucified King

A review of Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 2014.

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The Crucified King is a great book. It explores the relationship between the atonement and the kingdom of God. In evangelicalism today these themes are often kept asunder, creating contrasting approaches to mission, or they notionally held together without much sense of genuine integration. As it happens I am thinking of writing something on this topic, albeit at a more popular level.

Treat argues that the Old Testament background to the ministry of Christ presents a pattern of “victory through sacrifice”. This is mirrored in the New Testament emphasis on the kingdom established by the cross. Turning from biblical to systematic theology, Treat shows how the theme of Christus Victor (Christ defeating Satan through the cross) makes sense through penal substitution (Christ bearing the penalty of his people’s sin). Christ disarms Satan’s power to accuse.

Tom Wright addresses this divide in his book, How God Became King. Wright blames the early creeds. But Treat provides ample evidence from the Fathers to show that they held kingdom and cross together. Instead he argues it is modern problem. It is not always helped, he suggests, by the emphasis in Reformed theology on the two states of Christ (his humiliation and exaltation) and the three offices of Christ (Prophet, Priest and King). In Calvin these categories were overlapping, But, where they are kept apart, it becomes hard to integrate cross and kingdom. I think Treat’s perspective is a helpful corrective (though I’m not persuaded it accounts for the separation of kingdom and cross in popular evangelical missiology).

The Crucified King is a remarkable tour de force of biblical and historical scholarship, all presented in an accessible form. Quite apart from its content, it is a model of good theology. But its content does matter. This is an important contribution to an important issue. I would have liked to see Treat spelling out the implications because this issue does shape contrasting approaches to mission and discipleship. I would also have liked a greater emphasis on how the atonement enables God’s people to experience the coming of his kingdom as good news. But perhaps this leaves something for me to say!

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