Anthony J. Carter is lead pastor of East Point Church in East Point, Georgia and a member of the council of the Gospel Coalition. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary.
Author Anthony Carter makes clear by the title of this book what he wishes to accomplish through his writing. He desires to bring us into a greater appreciation of what the blood of Christ does for us. He also recognizes that Christian talk about the blessings of Christ’s blood being shed in his death can be a confusing and maybe even troubling topic for those unfamiliar with the Christian faith. By unpacking the different images of how the blood of Christ saves us, Carter hopes to diffuse such obstacles for those unaware of meaning and the hope of “Our Bloody Religion,” which serves as the title of the first chapter.
Carter devotes each of the next twelve chapters to explaining how the blood of Christ contributes and relates to the various ways our salvation and the benefits of our salvation are described in the Scriptures. The chapters are short, concisely written, and easy to digest in one sitting. The content of a number of those chapters deserves comment.
In chapter two, “Purchased by the Blood,” Carter relates the purchasing power of Christ’s blood to the purchasing power of the American dollar. Whereas the American dollar has lost purchasing power over the last generation, the blood of Christ always has the same power to purchase us from sin and death. Carter points to the practical blessing of Christ’s purchase of us: when trials and crosses press against us, our consolation comes from knowing that we belong to Christ (21-22).
In chapter three, “Propitiation by the Blood,” Carter offers a helpful explanation of an important but seldom used word in Christian circles: propitiation is “a wrath-removing sacrifice.” Carter wisely addresses why God rightly has wrath over our sin. He succinctly describes the relationship of Christ’s saving work and our faith. “The blood of Christ is our propitiation- the wrath-removing sacrifice. Faith is the means by which we receive that sacrifice as our righteousness” (27-28). He also does a fine job of addressing the very practical concern of people wondering why God is angry at them and why he allows bad things to happen to them. Carter explains that God disciplines his children in love but never in anger. “If God has poured out His wrath against sin on Christ on the cross, He cannot also pour it out on us. Again, this is why we can come to God without fear of condemnation” (30).
In chapter four, “Justified by His Blood,” Carter summarizes the doctrine of justification in terms in which heirs of the Lutheran Reformation will rejoice: “Justification is God’s declaration that sinners are in a right and acceptable relationship with Him based solely on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the benefits of which are received by faith alone….Justification does not come to good people, or even to righteous people, but to those who are at odds with God” (35).
In chapter six, “Brought Near by the Blood,” Carter highlights how the blood of Christ transformed us from enemies of God into friends of God. And, in a particularly valuable application of this truth, he says, “In Christ, the ethnic and racial identities that separate and often become the source of animosity and even enmity lose their power to divide. The blood of Christ overcomes them. Therefore, Christians must remember that there is only one family of God. We not only fly the same flag and fight under the same banner, but we share the same blood. That blood has brought us near-to God and each other. Racial and ethnic bloodlines are not omnipotent. The blood of Christ is” (58).
Carter does a great job communicating the metanarrative of the Scriptures in the various salvation motifs which he explores. For example, in chapter seven, “Peace by the Blood,” Carter talks about the perfect world of peace God created which was shattered by the strife of sin, but which was subsequently restored by the shedding of Christ’s blood. He goes back to Eden to show where peace was created, where peace was lost, and where a Savior of peace was promised (65).
In chapter nine, “Sanctified by the Blood,” Carter speaks clearly about how our sanctified status in the eyes of God through the merit of Christ translates into lives of sanctified living. He doesn’t speak about our sanctification in the narrow sense as a potentiality. He speaks of it as something which will naturally and joyously flow from the Christian who knows Christ’s forgiveness (82-84).
Carter demonstrates a strong understanding of the difference between justification and sanctification and the practical comfort which we have from making such a distinction: “There are times in our lives when we do not feel the ongoing, progressive nature of our sanctification. We may even get the sense that rather than progressing, we are regressing due to our perpetual struggle with indwelling sin. It is during such times that the gospel reminds us that our sanctification does not happen because we are willing to shed our blood but because Christ was willing to shed His. It is not our blood and sacrifice that has pleased the Father; it is the blood of His beloved Son” (84-85).
In the final chapter of the book, “His Blood Avails for You,” Carter reminds us why we can be sure our justification is an accomplished fact by virtue of the blood of Christ. “How do we know the blood of Jesus was enough? How do we know that the sacrifice offered for us was sufficient and accepted by God? We know because God did not let Christ be conquered by death (Rom. 4:25). His once-for-all sacrifice had to rise to prove that there was no need for another. In the resurrection, God declared that the blood of Christ availed. The resurrection announced that God was pleased, and the blood of Christ was sufficient” (118).
One of the prominent features of this book is the frequent citation of hymn verses. Each chapter begins with a hymn verse which corresponds to the topic of that chapter. Other hymn verses are frequently cited throughout the course of the chapter to reinforce key points. While many of the hymns cited come from the Calvinist tradition and may not be widely recognized by Lutherans, some rang familiar to Lutheran ears. All the hymn verses featured proclaimed faithfully the saving work of Christ through his blood. Carter’s appreciation for strong gospel-centered hymnody is a welcome feature of his writing. Commenting on many references to hymns, he writes, “Singing is indispensable to the church and the Christian life. As someone has rightly said, ‘We sing what we believe, and we believe what we sing.’ Faith songs serve the church by delivering mind-renewing, heart-encouraging, and emotion-stirring theology” (121).
While readers of this review will appreciate and rejoice in Carter’s strong expressions of biblical truth, there are some notable places where we will object to his doctrinal positions. These objectionable doctrinal positions fall in line with the Calvinist Reformed tradition from which Carter comes. For example, in his commentary on the Lord’s Supper and how it connects us to the blood of Christ, Carter flatly denies the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Additionally, there are a number of statements made which seem to limit God’s atonement to believers. Carter writes, “If you are a Christian today, you have been redeemed-purchased, delivered, and rescued” (43). Perhaps the most troubling section of the whole book comes as Carter discusses the doctrine of election. He never states it in an outright way, but it seems apparent that Carter is a believer in double predestination. In an attempt to square up double predestination as a doctrine reflecting God’s love, Carter says this: “To love all the same without discrimination or distinction is to not love at all” (92). This is a classic example of how human reason’s attempt to rationalize all of God’s teaching ends up in statements denying God’s true nature and his unconditional love.
In spite of these areas of doctrinal weakness, Carter still provides us with a book that is a beneficial read. He offers an accessible, easy to digest summary of a Christ-centered gospel that has many beautiful facets. Pastors will benefit as Carter reminds us of the various ways the Scriptures proclaim how Christ accomplished our salvation through his blood. Preachers will discover helpful illustrations and analogies for use in the pulpit and the classroom. Above all, Blood Work will fix the eyes of readers upon the only One who assures us of our heavenly home.