Review: Blood Work

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Anthony Carter’s book, Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation, is a simple and straightforward exposition of the principal passages of the New Testament that mention the blood of Christ in connection to the believer’s salvation. The 13 chapters are short, clearly written and chock full of Scriptural supports for the themes he covers. While the title and the principal passages focused on might seem to suggest a narrowly focused study, in reality the book is a wide ranging survey of key doctrines of salvation. As such, the book would serve as an good primer for new believers who would like to understand the gospel better.

I was surprised at how many passages in the New Testament treat the death of Christ by appealing to the image of the shed blood of the cross. Carter points out that the word “blood” is used 3 times as much as the word “cross” and 5 times as much as the word “death” in the New Testament. Clearly it is a powerful term employed to speak of the work of Christ – the blood work if you will. These passages connect the shedding of Christ’s blood to themes such as purchase, propitiation, justification, redemption, drawing near, peace, cleansed consciences, sanctification, ransom, and freedom. Of course these represent the main chapters of Carter’s book. Carter writes from a solidly Reformed perspective as you would expect from the Reformation Trust (i.e. the publishing arm of R. C. Sproul’s ministry). Subsequently, from my perspective, Carter’s soteriology is dead on and sorely needed in a day when the gospel has been watered down so much.

I loved how Carter interspersed stanzas from new and classic hymns in the text of the book that all contained refrains about the blood of Christ. You often hear about the “blood hymns” especially if you grew up in a Baptist church, but I never paid attention to how many hymns and songs of the Church use this imagery to convey the truths of the gospel. The book has an appendix listing 18 such classics.

The only disappointment I had with this book was that I was expecting more depth to the discussion of Christ’s blood. The book is really geared more as a primer than an in depth discussion of any one topic. I think Carter missed an opportunity to investigate more thorough going reasons for the blood imagery that is obviously so present and important in the New Testament (and of course the whole tenure of Scripture). For example, why is Christ’s blood mentioned more than “cross” or “death” when describing Christ’s atoning sacrifice? Clearly it is a stand in for these more straightforward descriptions, but why “blood”? That never seemed to be teased out. At the very least the spilling of Christ’s blood speaks of the violence of his death and that seems significant. Jesus’ death was not the result of an accident, or natural causes or some other fatal demise. Rather His blood was violently extracted from his body and that seems to speak of the horrific nature of what he accomplished. Furthermore, it was a death specifically as a result of severe punishment not only from the human perspective, but more importantly from the divine. To think Christ served as a substitute for believers due to the violent penalty they deserved is a sobering reality that needs teasing out in a book about Christ’s blood. I was hoping to see more of that here.

I recently viewed the latest film in the series known as Dispatches from the Front, entitled, “The Rising of His Power” (Episode 6). These films are documentaries chronicling gospel work currently being done around the world. They are worth every minute of your viewing time. The latest episode tracks missionaries in Bangladesh. In a very powerful and graphic scene, the film makers capture a yearly ritual in which Muslims in the city of Dhaka sacrifice multitudes of cows in the middle of the city by pinning them down and then slitting their throats. You can’t help but cringe as the blood spurts out and the cows are thrown into a violent death struggle as their captors try to keep them pinned down. In the aftermath of this ritual atonement, which ironically is only for the righteous not sinners, blood flows everywhere down the already dirty streets making it hard to avoid stepping in the coagulating mess. The narrator is saddened by the amazing picture of Christ’s death this could allude to and yet so many Muslims miss the connection, believing that Christ was never crucified. Yet if they began to understand and embrace the true blood work of Jesus who is far more than a prophet, they would be freed from the fear-ridden and hopeless lie that Islam so relentless promotes to its adherents.

That sort of real life picture makes the blood of Christ so much more powerful and precious. I am glad Carter picked up on the implications of this amazing truth, but I wish he would have driven it home with more poignant illustrations and deeper probing of the powerful word “blood.”

I receive a copy of this book from the publisher as compensation for my review.

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