Theology Must Reads: Top 10 Books on the Atonement

These are in no particular order!


Top 10 book the death of death by John Owen
The Death of Death
by John Owen. The PDF can be found here

Apart from the Bible, this is my favorite book of all time. John Owen, the greatest of all Puritans, had already defended Limited Atonement in his first work, A Display of Arminianism. Here is an absolutely thorough treatment of the subject that to this day has not been sufficiently answered by the opposing side.
Elsewhere I summarized his 16 arguments for Limited Atonement found in Book 3.

Top 10 book George Smeaton Apostles doctrineThe Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement
by George Smeaton (original: 1870, Banner of Truth reprint: 1991).

This book offers an exposition of every NT passage outside of the Gospels that mentions the cross. His intent was an exegetical, biblical approach rather than a systematical-theological approach. A total of 72 passages are given thorough attention. His style is reminiscent of that of the Puritans with points and sub points, leaving no detail untouched. Although his desire was not to be polemic, he does refute many liberal ideas of his day.

This was Jerry Bridge’s favorite book (apart from the Bible), and that which inspired his and Bevington’s The Great Exchange.


Top 10 book packer dever in my place Condemned He Stood
In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement
by Packer and Dever (Crossway, 2008).

Three famous essays by J. I. Packer written at various points in his career all conveniently gathered into one book. Although Packer is the main focus of the book, the other contributions are good. Also included is a chapter by Mark Dever, “Nothing but the Blood,” originally published for Christianity Today. Dever is passionate about penal substitution, and also authored (alongside Michael Lawrence) It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement, a collection of sermons on key OT and NT texts regarding the atonement. Also included are two chapters of annotated bibliographies compiled by Ligon Duncan III. His chapters are what sparked my own study. I went out and bought over 30 from his lists.

Top 10 book Stott cross of ChristThe Cross of Christ by John Stott (Intervarsity Press, 1986).

Looked to by many as a classic, and I would agree. Right up there with Morris and Packer, Stott was one of the greatest defenders of Penal Substitution in his day. Conservative and robust.

Top 10 book Leon Morris Apostolic PreachingThe Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris (Eerdmans, 1955).

In my opinion, Leon Morris is the best Christian author on the cross of all time. This book’s approach to the atonement is that of a word study, comparable to that of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. This book covers the words redemption, covenant, blood, propitiation, reconciliation, and justification. The book is most famous for Morris’ treatment of propitiation wherein he shatters the false teaching of C. H. Dodd who tried to remove the idea of God’s wrath from the bible, and attempted to linguistically justify translating the words for propitiation as expiation instead.

William Robinson says, “We can scarcely commend too highly this able vindication of the Gospel for its scholarly work, and for its evangelical conclusions.” This book is one of the deeper ones you’ll find on the cross. For the layman, perhaps the popularized version below would be easier to pallet.

Top 10 book Leon Morris atonementThe Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris (Intervarsity Press, 1984).

A popularized version of Apostolic Preaching. Still intellectually satisfying, and worth buying even if you already own Apostolic Preaching.

Top 10 book Leon Morris cross new TestamentThe Cross in the New Testament by Leon Morris (Paternoster, 1965).

An exposition of every text in the New Testament that mentions the cross. Afterwards comes his 50+ page conclusion where he discusses 14 key points of agreement between the apostles concerning the gospel. Lots of footnotes, as well as a biblical-theological focus on what each NT author brings to the table.

Top 10 book pierced for our transgressionsPierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach (Crossway, 2007).

This book is the finest defense of Penal Substitution available. The first half of the book presents the case for Penal Substitution from key biblical texts, as well as how the doctrine fits together with other major Bible doctrines. Then comes practical implications, as well as a historic survey of the doctrine. The second half of the book is devoted to answering common objections to Penal Substitution. There they answer over 25 attacks that come from all different angles. Truly definitive and unsurmountable. It is Mark Dever’s favorite book on the atonement.

Top 10 book the glory of the AtonementThe Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical & Practical Perspectives eds. Charles E. Hill & Frank A. James III (Intervarsity Press, 2004).

Contributions from an array of scholars. Part One explores the atonement from a biblical perspective through detailed exegesis of key OT and NT passages. We’ve discussed one of those chapters elsewhere, D. A. Carson’s chapter on Romans 3:21-26. Part Two is a historical perspective, from Augustine to Postmodernism. Whole chapters are devoted to individual theologians, such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Bavinck, and Barth. And finally, we can’t study the cross without practical application, which takes up Part Three. This book is pretty detailed and contains lots of footnotes.

Top 10 book john Murray redemption accomplished and appliedRedemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray (Eerdmans, 1955).

A systematic theology of the cross. Broken down into the traditional four sections (which if I’m not mistaken, originated with Turretin): Its necessity, its nature, its perfection, and its extent. A good place to start your journey into understanding the cross, as well as a resource to constantly refer back to.

Top 10 book John Piper Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die The Passion of Jesus ChristFifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper (Crossway, 2006). Available for download here.

Piper is one of today’s finest preachers and conservative voices. This little book acts as a devotional, concisely covering 50 reasons Jesus came to die. This book is thoroughly doctrinally conservative, and chock full of Bible. My wife and I went through the book a chapter a day at dinner time. I have handed out several copies of this as gifts.

Honorable Mentions: The Atonement by A. A. Hodge. Perhaps the only reason this book isn’t in the above list is because I haven’t read all the way through it. He gives great detail to the judicial aspects of the cross. He also devotes many pages in defense of Limited Atonement. The strongest feature of the book, in my opinion, is that he offers the best solution for dividing up all of the various terms and motifs of the atonement. He groups them by whom the effects concern. Thus, (1) how does the atonement concern God? (propitiation and reconciliation), (2) how does it conern sin? (expiation), and (3) how does it concern the sinner? (redemption). To which I would add how it effects satan, where we would place the conquest ideas. Standing Firm by Roger Nicole. This collected works contains a few chapters on the atonement, written throughout his career. Alongside Morris’ Apostolic Preaching, Nicole is famous for sufficiently responding to Dodd’s false ideas about propitiation. Other chapters include his response to the false teaching of Vincent Taylor against Penal Substitution, and an excellent chapter on the Nature of the Atonement.

-Steve Rohn

What do you think?