Review: Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His Son, Haley Goranson Jacob (Foreword by N. T. Wright). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.

Summary: An in-depth exploration of the meaning of Romans 8:29b-30, arguing that conformity to the image of the His Son has to do with our participation in the Son’s rule over creation, which is our glorification.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:29-30, English Standard Version

Generations of believers have thrilled to the language of this passage in Romans 8 and its description of the glorious destiny of believers to be conformed to the image of Christ the Son. But what does that all mean? This was the question Haley Goranson Jacob asked, and the answers she found in commentators, when they did address the language of “conformed to the image of his Son” and “glorified,” was all over the map. That question became Jacob’s dissertation study, and subsequently this book.

Jacob contends that instead of some form of spiritual, moral, physical or sacrificial conformity or a reference to a shared radiance with Christ’s glory, this verse points to our participation in the exalted calling of Christ as the last Adam and glorious king to rule with him over the creation as his vicegerents. And she argues that this is what it means for us to be glorified–to share in the Son’s glorious rule over creation.

Jacob makes a careful case for her thesis. She begins by a study of the background of the use of cognates for “glory” in the Septuagint and Apocalyptic literature, applying semiotic theory, and concludes that while there are varied usages, the most common, whether applied to humans or God is not radiance or splendor, but rather on exalted status or honor. She turns to Romans, noting echoes of Genesis 1:26-27 and Psalm 8, in the glory of the Son, the lost glory of humanity’s dominion over creation, and its restoration through the work of Christ. To strengthen the link between Christ the Son and humanity, she looks at the language of participation in Paul’s writing and contends that it is participation in the vocation of Christ, both in suffering and in exaltation over all creation.

Having laid this groundwork, she turns to Romans 8:29b-30. First she looks at the language of Sonship, and the echoes of the promised Davidic King and the last Adam. He is the firstborn, the first raised from the dead of a large family who rules over the creation he has redeemed. Believers participate as adopted sons in this rule and share in his glory–are glorified. One of the distinctives in Jacob’s argument is that she argues for the truth of this in the present and that we already participate in the Son’s work of redeeming a groaning creation, that this is the purpose Paul speaks of in Romans 8:28, that we participate in the working for good of all things.

The prospective reader should be warned that this is scholarly work, the turning of a doctoral thesis into a book, and that there is extensive use of Greek, and some Hebrew in the text. Nevertheless, Jacob’s writing is clear and her argument is set forth step by step for the reader to follow. Her intent is not mere scholarship, but scholarship in service to the church and the edification of believers.

Jacob’s point is not to deny the reality of moral transformation in Christ but to set it in the context of a larger vocation–to participate with the family of the redeemed in the rule of Christ over all creation, both now and in the new heaven and earth. This work challenges us to lift our eyes from our own spiritual progress, to the exalted Son, and the work he calls us to join him in. This is a calling to become who we were created, and then redeemed to be–image bearers who with mercy and love, care for the very good creation. The implication of this understanding extends meaning to all of our work, and has implications for the groaning creation in environmental crisis. To realize that all this comes through the foresight and wisdom of the exalted Father ought swell our hearts with renewed love and deepened affection toward the Father, Son, and Spirit whom we worship with wonder at the incredibly rich life we’ve been called to share.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Defending Substitution

Defending SubstitutionDefending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul, Simon Gathercole. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.

Summary: Gathercole defends the oft-maligned doctrine of substitutionary atonement, responding to the criticisms and challenges raised and demonstrating from key biblical texts that it can be argued from scripture that “Christ died in our place.”

The idea of “substitution”, that Christ died in our place, for our sins has come in for criticism from many quarters. Some claim this amounts to “divine child abuse.” Others argue that substitution has not necessarily been the church’s understanding of how Christ’s death on the cross atoned for human sinfulness. In this brief “essay”, Simon Gathercole engages this criticism and gives a modest but important argument for the biblical foundations of the idea of substitution.

First of all he contends that substitution is important both for our theological grasp of the gospel, the message of Christ and also pastorally vital in providing Christians assurance of their pardon before and acceptance by God. He defines substitution as “Christ’s death in our place, instead of us.” and sets this apart from other views such as representation and satisfaction. He also defends this idea against various criticisms, particularly that this is immoral by arguing that this was fully an act of Jesus own will, out of love for us, and not forced upon him.

Then he engages three exegetical challenges to substitution. The first is that of Harmut Gese proposing the atonement occurring through “representative place taking.” The second is Morna Hooker’s idea of “interchange” in which Christ becomes what we are so that we become what he is. The third is J. Louis Martyn’s idea of apocalyptic deliverance from Sin. In addressing this latter, he also provides textual evidence that Christ died not only for Sin but for the sins of people. In engaging each of these theories he shows what is of value in our understanding of the work of Christ, what is problematic or actually suggestive of substitution, and at the same time approaches these in such a way that substitution need not exclude other insights into the nature of Christ’s death.

The latter part of the book is concerned with careful exegesis of two key texts, I Corinthians 15:3, and Romans 5:6-8. In the first, he argues for the substitutionary understanding of the idea that Christ died for us, and makes a compelling case that the scriptures according to which this is so include Isaiah 53, where the idea of the servant’s death for Israel is, on the basis of his word study, very clear. In his study of Romans 5:6-8, he takes a very different approach in arguing that the idea of one who would scarcely die for a good man has parallels in the literature of Paul’s day. He appeals to the tale of Alcestis, and also to Philonides, Epictetus, and Seneca for proposing similar “substitutionary” ideas.

In between these two chapters, he includes an excursus on the question of why, if Christ’s death is indeed substitutionary, do Christians still die. His argument considers various senses of “death” and argues that while we die, we do not perish. 

In concluding, he argues for the continuing importance of substitution and that this idea, along with representation, and liberation might be understood as part of Paul’s thought. Perhaps the most winsome aspect of the “defense” he makes is that it is an argument for the “inclusion” of substitution rather than for the “exclusion” of other ideas.

This is a short book, only 128 pages with bibliography and indices. The reason for this is that it is more or less a transcript of Gathercole’s Hayward Lectures at Arcadia University. This concise and readable account, while not covering with the depth some might want all the texts and theories of the atonement, serves as a theological resource for adult education in a variety of contexts, both lay and seminary, around this important Christian doctrine. Above all, it graciously argues why substitution matters, how it may be defended, and pastorally, how important these truths are to proper Christian confidence.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”