God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham A. Cole is not the book you might expect. The main purpose of the book is not to introduce the various theories of atonement and evaluate them in order to determine which theory best explains what happened on the cross. Rather, Cole’s main purpose is to explore how God the peacemaker brings shalom to man and creation through atonement. Cole observes, “Atonement brings shalom by defeating the enemies of peace, overcoming the barriers both to reconciliation and to the restoration of creation” (229). In the process Cole does discuss the various theories of atonement (the death and vindication of the faithful Son), but also develops the overarching story of God’s plan of salvation. In so doing, he rightly places Christ at the center of the story. He thus presents a strong argument for the absolute necessity of atonement for man because of our sin, and rightly puts the emphasis on the fact that this atonement was brought by God alone who is the peacemaker.
Cole begins with God, who is holy and righteousness, to show that divine action flows from God’s character. He is love, holy, and light. The cross is where the character of God was revealed (Ch. 1). He then discusses the problems and effects of sin upon creation, including man (Ch. 2 and 3). As a result of sin, God’s creation became tainted and man is desperately in need of reconciliation with God. But God, who is compassionate, gave the foundational promise (the protoevangelium) that the offspring of Adam would crush the head of the serpent. And as He promised, He provided His faithful Son, Jesus, to atone for our sin (Ch. 4, 5, and 6). Through this atonement, God brought peace over man and creation. Man is now able to be reconciled with God and consequently with one other and creation (Ch. 7). In the next chapter, Cole shifts the focus from the benefits that Christians receive as a result of atonement (e.g., forgiveness of sins) to the responsibilities that come to beings who are caught up in Gods atonement project (Ch 8). In the final chapter, he concludes that the grand purpose of all of this is to bring glory to God who is worthy of all praise and glory (Ch. 8).
I appreciated this book very much. Perhaps what I most appreciated was Cole’s comprehensiveness and faithfulness to Scripture. His treatment of the reconciliation and restoration of creation (not only the human soul) in light of atonement is evidence of such thoroughness. As noted above, his main purpose is to show how God as the peacemaker brought peace to the world through atonement, rather than simply discussing various theories of the atonement. When one seeks to understand atonement, it is important to consider the background story, namely, God’s salvation project. Without such background knowledge, our understanding of atonement can fall short and we are unable to comprehend what God has truly revealed on the cross.
Similarly, I appreciated the fact that Cole did not stop at the cross, but continued on to the return of Christ. This again shows his holistic approach to Scripture. In my opinion, chapter eight is the treasure of the book. Here he speaks to contemporary Christians and explores the responsibilities that we have as God’s agents in His atonement project. In other words, Cole’s book is not simply a book that discusses theories, but also contains practical insights for his readers. Cole states regarding the Christian life and our responsibilities,
“It is an other-person-centered life that expresses itself in self-donation on behalf of others rather than the selfish pursuit of one’s own interests. This is a life prepared to suffer for Christ’s sake and to take its part in spiritual warfare. It is a sacrificial life lived in response to the mercies of God expressed in the gospel. Importantly, it is not a life lived solo. It is lived as part of a great company of salt and light that pursues mercy-showing and shalom-making as agents of peace, and that tells the story both in evangelism and in witness of God’s great reconciling project and Jesus who stands at the heart of it” (217).
This is a well-put statement of how we should live a life that was bought by the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ ministry did not end at the cross. Rather, His ministry continues through us. We must carry on the cross as agents of peace to advance the reconciliation and restoration of God’s creation.
One area I would like to see Dr. Cole explore further is the section on union with Christ. I agree with him that Paul’s language indicates an organic rather than simply a moral sense. It would be interesting to see how he could further develop this fascinating topic in light of atonement.
— Reviewed by Naomi Noguchi Reese. Naomi is pursuing a PhD in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She has also reviewed The Great Theologians and Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal.
* Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book.