Friday, April 21, 2006

Celebrating a Milestone: The Contest

The very next post will be the 200th post on The Silent Holocron. It's hard to believe! I'd like to have a very good celebratory post, but since all of my blog thoughts are centered around limited atonement right now, I thought I'd ask you guys, my gentle readers, to decide on a celebratory topic. Here's what I want you to do: leave a comment with a topic idea and a brief description of the topic in no more than 5 to 10 sentences (or a full paragraph). This topic should be in one of these categories: theology, church history, biblical studies (including languages), Christian counseling (i.e. marriage and family issues), practical ministry, and current issues in Christian thought and ministry (i.e. Emerging Church, ecumenism, etc.). On my end, I will spend a full week researching the topic and writing the post, and full credit will be given to the one submitting the winning topic as the originator of the topic. The winner will get props from me for a week at minimum, and I'm thinking of having a "blog prize" of a free copy of Thomas Brooks' The Secret Key To Heaven, or maybe Robert Letham's The Holy Trinity. I'll update this part of the post as I get settled on a prize. Well, what are you waiting for? You get to tell the Deaf Jedi what to write about! Get to commenting! UPDATE April 27th: Well, I have decided it is over. Alex Forrest suggests I write whatever I write entirely in Greek, but I think that would take me much longer than a week to figure out! Josh Hearne has the best suggestion thus far, and Shane and I have decided we will do another "co-blog" after the wedding on his suggestion. So that leaves it to Hearne and one other suggestion from a friend that was given in person. That suggestion being that I write a theology of baseball. My heart has been duly touched, and this suggestion will win the day. So I have decided the milestone 200th post will be entitled "Towards a Theology of Baseball." I have also decided that I will do Hearne's suggestion almost immediately following, so look for that one after I return from the Kentucky Baptist Conference of the Deaf after Derby Weekend. Most if not all of my papers should be done by that time, so I can give the Greek the attention it deserves. This is timely, because I have taken part in the Together For The Gospel Band of Bloggers and I am itching to post on it!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Putting Death to Death

A meditation on the title The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. What exactly does John Owen's title mean? The dying of Death? Death has been killed? I've been thinking about this concept ever since I wrote my paper for theology 2. Let's start by defining Death (the second usage in the title, big "D"). I think we can agree that Death refers to rebellion against God that leads to eternal condemnation. This means, Scripturally, all rebellion against God leads to eternal condemnation. Obviously, since Death entered through Adam and Eve's rebellion, Death refers to the consequences of rebellion, and that rebellion should be thought of synonymously (i.e. "it's gonna be the death of me"). So the death of Death means the final destruction of that rebellion. How is Death destroyed? The title here says by the death of Christ. We find this to be eminently true in the book of Revelation, when Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire; that is, into eternal destruction. This means that all rebellion against God has been effectively ended and destroyed with the death of Jesus. All rebellion for the elect and non-elect alike has effectively ceased, making us very clearly without excuse for continuing to rebel despite God's command for all people everywhere to repent. What does this mean for the elect? It means their rebellion has been atoned for. Christ draws them out of what He has destroyed by the power of His death. They have effectively been made alive from eternity. What does this mean for the non-elect? I am increasingly coming to think that this means Christ's death effectively puts them to death. It does not pay for their sins. Rather, it destroys them utterly. From eternity, Christ has cast them into the lake of fire. Christ's death exacts the just sentence they deserve. They are already condemned because of their sin nature, and in Christ they are delivered unto destruction. This is a revolutionary concept in my thought over the past two weeks. It is also quite troubling in some respects because I'm not too sure it is coherent or even a biblically supportable concept. I will post more on this as I reflect more and search the Scriptures.

A Quick Update

A quick update before bed. Yes, bed--I just got off work at UPS. Shane Morgan has weighed in with Limited Atonement and will be weighing in some more over the next few days. In case you forgot, he has been "co-blogging" the doctrines of grace with me. He's been quite possibly the best partner I could have had as I have begun investigating these doctrines. You can find the two posts he has so far here and here. I really like the first one because he's "invented" another term that we've started throwing around in our conversation! Speaking of invented terms, here's what we've coined so far, and to our knowledge they are original to us: Hermeneutical gymnastics - Shane. This one is our favorite. Theological curmudgeons - Me. This one is becoming another favorite. Death credits - Shane. This one is pretty hilarious and makes a striking point in one of his posts on limited atonement. ...I've got to catch up... When the week is over I will try do to some more incidental posting on the atonement as well as get started with an examination of the 5 Marks of a True Christian. Til then, enjoy the stormy weather. I always find rain soothing and an encouragement to meditate!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Celebrate Jesus!

Awake! Awake, O Christian! The long dark night is past! The Daystar has arisen, the dawn is nearing fast! Rejoice! Rejoice, O Christian! Lift up your souls and sing Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King! Alive! Alive! Jesus is Alive! He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate! He is risen! And He lives forevermore! Come on and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord! Life is worth the living just because He lives!

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Brief Exposition of John 3:16

As a rider to my series on Limited Atonement (see sidebar for links), I thought it might be a good idea to examine John 3:16 in light of the recent (silly) debate in the blogosphere as to whether this passage supports limited or unlimited atonement. Let us see the verse as it stands in the ESV:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Now, let's examine the Greek right quick. Since I'm not too sure how to mess with a Greek font in Blogger, I'll transliterate, so pull out your Greek New Testaments: "Houtos gar egapesen ho theos ton kosmon, hoste ton huion ton monogene edoken, hina pas ho pisteuon eis auton me apoletai all' eche zoen aionion." What the Greek comes out to is this: "For in this manner God loved the world, that he gave the only begotten son, so that all (or "the entirety of") those who put their faith in him (or "the believing ones,") are not lost, but they have life eternal." Okay, firstly we have the phrase everyone knows, God loved the world. It is modified by "for in this manner." So we know that God loved the world, BUT God loved the world in a certain way. How did God love the world? He gave the only begotten Son. There's no possessive "his" in the Greek text, but I think it's pretty clear we're talking about "his" son. So we know that the particular way that God loved the world was that He sent the only begotten Son. What was the reason for giving the only begotten Son? To give eternal life to all who put their faith in the only begotten Son. That's pretty explicit - Jesus is the only way to have eternal life. So what John 3:16 teaches is simple. God loved the world in such a way that He sent His only begotten Son for the purpose of giving eternal life to the entire group of people who put their faith in the only begotten Son. It doesn't say Jesus died only for those people. It doesn't say Jesus died for people who do not put their faith in Him. It simply says eternal life is given only to those who believe. I want to draw our attention to the first part of the verse. "For God loved the world." World in Greek denotes the entirety of mankind in this context, so there is no doubt here that God loves all of mankind. To say otherwise is unbiblical. However, the verse teaches that God's love is manifested in a certain way, and that is through Jesus. This makes it explicitly clear that only those who believe in Jesus are actually able to experience God's love for all mankind. So, when Arthur Pink says "God does not love everybody," I believe him to be speaking in this sense, simply that God does not manifest His love to every human in the way that is specifically stated in John 3:16. So while God's love is universal, the experience of that love is not universal. It is reserved only for a select few. Why is that so hard for some people to grasp? Each of you have a love for the entirety of brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of you have a love for each one of your family members. But not every single one of them experience your love in the same way that you direct it towards particular flesh and spiritual relatives. Think about that a moment. If someone says, "I love you," but you do not have an intimate connection with them; doesn't that, while making you feel good, not really penetrate to your heart? Aren't you more inclined to experience the love of someone to whom you are intimately connected? For those of you who've followed the debate between Fide-O and the IMonk, I'm coming out and saying IMonk is wrong. God doesn't love everybody, IMonk. Get used to it. Now, I do not think this view supports limited atonement. I think it supports, rather, election. Election says only the chosen have that intimate connection that God's irresistible grace gives. Only when one has been given that intimate relationship can love be experienced. My view says that God's love is extended to all, but experienced only by the elect. This brings up the universal and particular aspects of the atonement, which I am increasingly coming to wonder if this is what the debate is really about. has some good articles by John Piper that explores these aspects. Well, I continue to study the atonement, and I welcome any insights you may have, gentle readers, that will deepen my understanding of these issues!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Limited Atonement, Final

Welcome back! I'm feeling good since I just took a test and feel I did well, so tonight I will attempt to finish our series on Limited Atonement. Tonight we will deal with the implications, my view, and conclude the doctrine.


Now, there are several implications that limited atonement brings, but none more profound than this:
Limited atonement must drive the believer into weeping, grief, sorrow, and prayer for the lost.
Just in case you think you didn't read that right, I'll say it again: Limited atonement must drive the believer into weeping, grief, sorrow, and prayer for the lost. Think about this for a moment. In fact, let's use a very extreme, though inaccurate, example to drive home my point. If you had an entire school full of children, and armed terrorists came in and told you that because their comrade died, they were only going to allow specific children to live, and that those children were predetermined by them, would you not be driven to grief for the children who would die? Not to say God is an armed terrorist, but hopefully you see the point. Limited atonement teaches that because of Christ's death, only certain people chosen by God from before the foundation of the world are going to be allowed into heaven, and that by virtue of the death of Christ securing their entry. Couple this with the indisputable fact that none of us here on earth know who those people are. This means that every lost person is consigned to hell. Even your unsaved children. Limited atonement absolutely MUST give us a heart for the lost. Which leads to the second implication:
Limited atonement must drive the believer to evangelize.
If limited atonement gives us a heart for lost people, the obvious corollary is that we must get off our behinds and start witnessing to the lost! We must preach the gospel. We must witness to our family and friends. We must witness to our neighbors and even people we don't know from Adam. Think about this for another moment. If there are a limited number that Jesus has purchased with His blood, and we have no idea who they are, that means failure to evangelize has dire, dire, dire consequences. Do we want to be responsible for disobedience of the Great Commission? Don't you realize that our witness is the means by which the elect are saved? As it is said in Romans 10:13-17 --
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (emphasis added)
So now we can understand clearly that none of the elect will be saved unless we witness to them in some way.

My View

At the current time, I am not a "full" believer in limited atonement. I am not, as yet, fully convinced that Christ only died for the elect. But I am fully convinced (and have been for quite some time) that the application of the atonement is to the elect only. It is my view that there is a distinction to be made between the extent of the atonement and the application of the atonement. I think it is fallacious to say that "if Christ died for all men, then all men will be saved." This argument, in my mind, is a disservice to God's sovereignty. If God really is sovereign, then He can do whatever the heck He wants, whether we think it's logical or not. Some may say "it makes God unjust to withhold the benefit from those Christ died for, therefore Christ could only have died for the elect." That's malarkey and does the exact thing proponents of unlimited atonement are accused of, namely limiting God's sovereignty. It says God couldn't have done it that way, when yes, He could have. I think it is also fallacious to say "all" means "the elect" in some cases. This is because many of the "all" or "us all" passages were written specifically to believers, and as such we cannot (as I stated in Part 2) infer the general from the specific in these passages. Proponents of limited atonement would be better served to use the distinctively general passages I listed in Part 2. I won't get into the whole "meaning of 'world'" debate because I'm coming to think it's a silly and wrongheaded debate. Suffice it to say that I find the Greek for "world" to refer to mankind in general in the places debated, with modification brought about by either the specific nature of the passages or due to being interpreted in light of general passages. I could and probably should go a little deeper, but that would require a post of its own. I can summarize my view of limited atonement as follows: The atonement of Christ is sufficient to pay for the sins of the entire world. However, the atonement is effective only for those elect chosen by God from before the foundations of the world. This is a position that has been much attacked by those holding the "full" view of limited atonement. I've been told that my view is the "majority Calvinist" position as well. Whether this is true or not I do not know, as I am still studying limited atonement as my personal project. I will say that, as I have no desire to become a "theological curmudgeon," I am very open to the possibility that I am wrong on this issue. It is not a hill on which I will die. But I am certain that any change will be because the Holy Spirit has so convinced me of its truthfulness. If limited atonement, in its "fuller" sense, is true, then the Spirit has just not yet seen fit to convince me.


I have defined limited atonement as the amends for the sin of specific humans made by the redemptive life and death of Jesus that brings about reconciliation between God and those specific humans. There is ample biblical support for this argument. The support is convincing for many, and indeed is all but convincing for me, myself. But I feel that there is other biblical evidence to warrant a limitation in application rather than extent. So yes, I believe in a "limited" atonement, just not the fuller understanding. But nevertheless, limited atonement should never be characterized as "sapping evangelism from our churches." What a stupid, ignorant, and curmudgeonly thing to believe! Limited atonement, in its fullest form, is one of the greatest spurs to evangelism the Christian can have. Only so many have been redeemed, and we must get out there and get them! Pray that God will give you a heart for the lost, for only so many will be redeemed, no matter which form of limitation you ascribe to!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

5 Marks of a True Christian

Timmy Brister has put up an excellent post asking readers to give the 5 marks of a Christian. He is asking for 5 words specifically, 5 attributes. You can find the post here. Now, while I think that it is good to list 5 attributes, I think it can be better encapsulated in 5 statements. Obviously, we're required to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, and that's more than 5, and each of them are equally important in my mind. So with that said, here is what I believe are the 5 Marks of a True Christian.
  1. A testimony of repentance and faith in Christ and of sanctification since.
  2. Fear of the Lord - a deep and abiding awe, reverence, and dread of God (and Christ)
  3. Love for the Lord - which includes in my mind a love of the Word
  4. Love of neighbors - brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the lost
  5. Missional attitude - concerned to fulfill the Great Commission in whatever setting one is in
Is this not a strong list? This list, in my mind, encapsulates every Christian attribute (i.e. fruit of the Spirit) and responsibility (i.e. going to church, witnessing, etc.) there is. When limited atonement is finished, I am going to devote a short series to each of these points. This is too important. This may even become a sermon series.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Limited Atonement, Part 3

Okay, a quick recap. limited atonement has been defined as the amends for the sin of specific humans made by the redemptive life and death of Jesus that brings about reconciliation between God and those specific humans. I have also given biblical support for this doctrine. Now let us turn towards a historical background for this doctrine.

Historical Background

At this time, there is dearth of information regarding limited atonement up until the Reformation. I am hoping this deficiency is due to a lack of availability of materials on my part. I would like to put out an open request for anyone who may know of pre-Reformation sources for this doctrine to either email me or note any such sources in the comments section. However, John Owen, in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (p. 310-312), gives a short listing of early sources for limited atonement, which I will reproduce in part here. Any emphasis in these first five has been added by me. 1. The confession of the church of Smyrna: in it's letter to the churches of Pontus concerning the martyrdom of Polycarp, they wrote, "Neither can we ever forsake Christ, him who suffered for the salvation of the world of them that are saved, nor worship any other." 2. Ignatius, in his epistle to Philadelphia, wrote, "...for whom, instead of a dowry, he poured out his own blood, that he might redeem her." Owen comments by saying, "Surely Jesus Christ gives not a dowry for any but his own spouse." 3. Cyprian in his epistle to Demetrian writes, "This grace hath Christ communicated, subduing death in the trophy or his cross, redeeming believers with the price of his blood." 4. Ambrose, writing about 370, states that If thou believe not, Christ did not descend for thee, he did not suffer for thee." 5. Prosper around 440 says that "He is not crucified with Christ who is not a member of the body of Christ. When, therefore, our Savior is said to be crucified for the redemption of the whole world, because of his true assumption of the human nature, yet may he be said to be crucified only for them unto whom his death was profitable. Diverse from these is their lot who are reckoned amongst them of whom it is said, 'The world knew him not.'" And again from Prosper: "The death of Christ is not to be so laid out for human-kind, that they also should belong unto his redemption who were not to be regenerated." Owen also quotes Augustine, which ostensibly gives the origin for the Roman Catholic view that there is no salvation outside of the Church: "He often calleth the church itself by the name of the world; as in that, 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;' and that, 'The Son of man came not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.' And John in his epistle saith, 'We have an Advocate, and he is the propitiation for [our sins, and not four ours only, but also for] the sins of the whole world.' The whole world, therefore, is the church, and the world hateth the church. The world, then, hateth the world; that which is at enmity, the reconciled; the condemned, the saved; the poluted, the cleansed world. And that world which God in Christ reconcileth to himself, and which is saved by Christ, is chosen out of the opposite, condemned, defiled world." Owen comments that more could be said from Augustine, but that Augustine's "judgment in these things is known to all." Hmm. I gotta break out my Augustine stuff. But it seems clear that Augustine, and by extension Roman Catholics, believe in a limited atonement to the effect that only those saved (for the RCC read: baptized and confirmed) in the (Roman Catholic) Church are those for whom Christ died. I invite anyone with a better knowledge than my superficial one on that issue to comment. There is also the testimony of Theodorette of of Cyrus, who lived in 393 to 466. He wrote this about Hebrews 9:27-28. He said: “It should be noted, of course, that Christ bore the sins of many, not all, and not all came to faith. So He removed the sins of the believers only.” Jerome, who lived from 347-420, a contemporary of Augustine, wrote about Matthew 20:28: “He does not say that He gave His life for all but for many, that is, for all those who would believe.” In any event, the doctrine of limited atonement was not really developed (to my woefully incomplete knowledge) until the Reformation; and as such I must plead ignorance and point the reader towards more learned men who may know better than I do. Let us now briefly examine a statement from John Calvin that I think establishes that he believed and taught this doctrine: "The first thing to be explained is how Christ is present with unbelievers, to be the spiritual food of their souls, and in short the life and salvation of the world. As he [i.e. Hesshusius] adheres so doggedly to the words, I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins? [Calvin: Theological Treatises trans. J. K. S. Reid (1954) p. 285]" It was not until the Synod of Dort that Calvin's view was formalized in response to the Remonstrants (Arminians), who held the view of unlimited atonement, that is, the view that Christ died savingly for all and that the benefit was imputed only upon the choice of the individual. As such we see in the Canons of Dort, Second Head, Article 8:
For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever (emphasis added).
The details of this article have been debated within Calvinist theology since, but none whom hold limited atonement reject that the atonement is limited only to the elect. The Puritans, in general, were staunch Calvinists and produced a large body of work regarding the atonement which is likely unparallelled today. Skipping ahead from the Puritans, Charles Spurgeon had this to say about limited atonement:
Many divines say that Christ did something when he died that enabled God to be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly. What that something is they do not tell us. They believe in an atonement made for everybody; but then, their atonement is just this. They believe that Judas was atoned for just as much as Peter; they believe that the damned in hell were as much an object of Jesus Christ’s satisfaction as the saved in heaven; and though they do not say it in proper words, yet they must mean it, for it is a fair inference, that in the case of multitudes, Christ died in vain, for he died for them all, they say; and yet so ineffectual was his dying for them, that though he died for them they are damned afterwards. Now, such an atonement I despise — I reject it. I may be called a Calvinist for preaching a limited atonement; but I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than an universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it. Why, my brethren, if we were only so far atoned for by the death of Christ that any one of us might afterwards save himself, Christ’s atonement were not worth a farthing, for there is no man of us can save himself — no not under the gospel; for if I am to be saved by faith, if that faith is to be my own act, unassisted by the Holy Spirit, I am as unable to save myself by faith as to save myself by good works. And after all, though men call this a limited atonement, it is as effectual as their own fallacious and rotten redemptions can pretend to be. But do you know the limit of it? Christ hath bought a “multitude that no man can number.” The limit of it is just this: He hath died for sinners; whoever in this congregation inwardly and sorrowfully knows himself to be a sinner, Christ died for him; whoever seeks Christ, shall know Christ died for him; for our sense of need of Christ, and our seeking after Christ, are infallible proofs that Christ died for us. [Spurgeon, C. H. -- The Death of Christ: Spurgeon's Sermons: Volume 4: #173]
Thanks to the crazy guys at Fide-O for this quote. It has been argued by some that once Spurgeon leaves the scene, Calvinism enters its decline with the rise of Methodism and the influence of Arminianism on the churches of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, the late 20th and early 21st centuries (in which we obviously live, for those aren't following me clearly) we are seeing a resurgence of Calvinist beliefs, notably within the Southern Baptist Convention and conservative Presbyterian churches. Only time will tell if this is a new Reformation or if it is yet another theological fad. Well, since this is a bit long, I will hold off on implications, my view, and a conclusion until tomorrow, as it's late and it's time to go to work at UPS. Feel free to leave any additional information, thoughts, corrections, etc. in the comments section. Come back tomorrow!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Limited Atonement, Part 2

Okay, I have defined limited atonement as the amends for the sin of specific humans made by the redemptive life and death of Jesus that brings about reconciliation between God and those specific humans. Now, I'm going to change up the order of presentation a bit in this post and start with the biblical support.

Biblical Support

I'm going to take a moment to clarify what I am going to do with this section. It is my view that many of the passages used to support limited atonement (i.e. passages that state things like "us all") cannot in good conscience be used here because they are written specifically to Christians and as such we cannot infer a universal where Scripture is silent. Instead I want to use such passages that directly speak to a universal principle, in the hope of honoring this doctrine and doing it justice. Also, I am passing over these verses because they are interpreted in light of the universal principle passages, instead of at face value. Some of you will argue (and perhaps rightly so) that I am failing to "consider the whole counsel of Scripture" when presenting biblical support here. To that I ask if it is faithful to authorial intent, which in those cases were directed towards believers, to infer principles about those whom were not addressed. Hmm, that would be great fodder for another post. *note to self* Anyway, the strongest passage of Scripture dealing with this doctrine, in my estimation, can be found in John chapter 10. As we see in verses 11-15:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
I think this passage is very clear in regards to limited atonement. First of all, Jesus himself explicitly says He dies for the sheep. It is obvious from the context of the entire chapter that the "sheep" spoken of here are the elect, those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world for eternal life. Second of all, we know for certain that "sheep" here refers to the elect because of the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. So it seems that Jesus is explicitly claiming to give up his life solely for the elect. From this passage I think we can rightly point towards Ephesians 5:25, which states, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her....(emphasis added)" This passage very clearly points specifically towards the elect body of believers as those for whom Christ died. Other passages that are sound in their support include: John 6:37 & 39 - implies that only the elect are in union with Christ. By extension, this means that only the elect share in Christ's death. Very powerful, for only those whom have been given to Christ by the Father are delivered by Christ. John 11:49-52 - Caiaphas the high priest prophesied that Jesus died not only politically for the nation of Israel, but spiritually to gather together the children of God who are scattered abroad. This is a very specific statement that says Jesus died specifically for the children of God, the elect. John 17:9-12 - supports John 6 above in that Christ again states that none of those given to him perish. All whom the Father has given to Christ (the elect) are delivered by Christ's death. Revelation 5:9-10 - very clearly states that Jesus died for a specific group of people that are taken out of every tribe and language and people and nation in the world. There are also other verses that support this doctrine in the way that I have attempted to show it here, but I think this is a good sampling. It is a very convincing sampling on its own, I would hope. This is why I wanted to set aside verses such as the "us all" passages which were written specifically to believers, because those verses are interpreted in light of verses such as the ones I have listed above, as I stated in the beginning. I hope that the result of doing things this way is that we have come to an understanding of why those passages are interpreted the way they are. Also, I want to interject that none of these passages can be understood without first understanding the doctrine of election. No one who holds limited atonement can do so without holding unconditional election (for my posts on this doctrine, click here: Part 1 and here: Part 2). Now, I think here is a good place for us to pause and digest. Tricia wants to go to a nice dinner and to see Ice Age 2, so I will return after laughing at the squirrel.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Doctrines of Grace: Limited Atonement, Part 1

Finally. At long last. We have arrived at Limited Atonement. Buckle up! Introduction I want to begin by firstly making clear that this post and the post to follow is not an attack upon limited atonement nor its supporters, nor is it the reverse concerning unlimited atonement. As the stated purpose of this series is to present the doctrines of grace clearly and accurately as possible, to the best of my understanding, that is exactly what I am attempting to do in this treatment. Limited atonement is quite possibly the most controversial of the five points of the TULIP. Some would say unconditional election is the most controversial (though I think to argue about election is barking up the wrong tree), whereas the limited atonement position is just deluded. I say people who would naively and stubbornly argue against any point from any perspective, Arminian or Calvinistic are nothing more than theological curmudgeons. Let us make any assent or dissent from a perspective that is studied and informed, as I am attempting to do so here. The proper point of dissent for one must be the limited atonement position, as each point treated thus far is clearly and convincingly articulated by the witness of Scripture, as is each point that will be treated subsequently. Limited atonement, in my estimation, is the hub of the Calvinist wheel. One's position on the atonement is a more accurate estimator of whether one is fully Reformed; each of the other four points of the flower can and have been staunchly held by non-Calvinists. Now, with these introductory remarks concluded, let us turn to a definition. Definition We might wonder why we need to define these words. Don't we all know what limited means? Don't we all know what atonement means? I would hope so. But in the interest of clarity and certainty, let us define these words. gives several definitions of limited that I think are crucial to our subject matter. The verb means: 1) To confine or restrict within a boundary or bounds; 2) To fix definitely; to specify. The adjective, which I think is the one we want here, means: 1) Confined or restricted within certain limits; 2) small in range or scope; 3) having a specific function or scope. So limited in our context means something that is definitively fixed within a specified boundary and having a specific function or scope. Something that has been fenced in, so to speak, for a specific purpose. Now, atonement is defined as: 1) Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; 2) compensation for a wrong. It goes further to define atonement religiously as reconciliation or an instance of reconciliation between God and humans, epsecially as brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus. So atonement in our context means the amends made for our wronging of God that brings about reconciliation between humans and God by virtue of the redemptive life and death of Jesus. Let me try to put these two definitions together to make an uber-definition. Limited Atonement refers to amends for the sin of humans made by the redemptive life and death of Jesus that brings about reconciliation between God and humans. Further, these amends have been definitively fixed within a specified boundary and scope, for a specific purpose. Yes, I agree with you--this definition sounds very clunky and cramped. But it is exactly what is meant by limited atonement; namely the atonement has a specific purpose and scope to it. (There, that was simpler.) Now, before anyone decides to get riled up, notice that there is nothing in my definition that says anything about what that purpose and scope is. That comes later. We have to flesh out exactly what this definition tells us from the witness of Scripture. An Alternate Definition However, in the interest of accurately describing this doctrine, I need to say a few words about an alternate label for this doctrine. Many Calvinists prefer, instead of "limited atonement," the term particular redemption, feeling it to more accurately present what is meant by this doctrine., in the context we are using it here, defines particular with 1) of, belonging to, or associated with a specific person, group, thing, or category; not general or universal; 2) Logic. Encompassing some but not all of the members of a class or group. So, then, to define it using particular, we find that limited atonement refers to amends for the sin of specific humans made by the redemptive life and death of Jesus that brings about reconciliation between God and those specific humans. Yes, I think that is much better, clearer, and more accurate. And with that, I think this is a good place to stop. Tomorrow we will examine the biblical support for this position and the historical background of this doctrine.

On Sheep and Goats

Shane and I were talking tonight after work about limited atonement, and in the course of our discussion the topic of sheep came up. Obviously, we were talking about the verse in John where Jesus says he lays his life down for the sheep. We started talking about the verses where there are sheep not of Jesus' fold, and as we looked at the text together, Shane brought up the sheep and goats metaphor. Suddenly I was struck with how appropriate a picture of salvation and election that metaphor is. I was also struck at how utterly useless it renders human effort. Think about this for a minute. What is the default position for humanity? Every human being is a goat at the moment of their conception. That means destined for eternal punishment. Now, if this is true, think about what works-salvation and other forms of salvation attempt to do. Any other form of salvation that is not wholly God's work is attempting to do the impossible. That's right, the impossible. Now, there are certain of you who read this blog who are about ready to string me up as a heretic. But hold on just a second and read the next sentence:

Can a goat become a sheep all by itself?

Well? Can it? You see, this is the insight that put a massive grin on my face and a few "Amens" come out of my mouth. It is impossible for a goat to become a sheep. It is absolutely, positively not possible to save yourself. And as such, it is just as impossible for a goat to choose to become a sheep. No matter what this foolish, deluded goat does, it will still be a goat. Just like a man who undergoes a sex change is still a man. Remember what I have just said, it is impossible for a goat to choose to become a sheep. Why? Because a goat is happy just the way he is, for starters. He does not desire to become a sheep. He does not desire to act like a sheep. He does not want to be a sheep. In order for this foolish goat to become a sheep, the impossible must happen. He must be transformed. Only when the goat is transformed into a sheep does he want to be and act like a sheep. Only then will he desire to follow the shepherd. Only then can he actually follow the shepherd. And it has nothing to do with any action on the part of the goat. And that, my friends, is exactly what God does in salvation; he transforms us and gives us the desire and ability to follow him by faith. But what about election? Remember, Jesus spoke of separating sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). While this passage is more accurately about the final judgment, I think it is obvious that the passage shows not every goat will be transformed. When one takes into account the discussion above, it is obvious from this passage that God deliberately chooses to transform some goats while passing over others. There are many other verses of Scripture that support this position. "But waitaminit," you object, "doesn't the Bible say that God doesn't want anyone to perish, but for all to be saved?" Of course it does, and of course God does. But what does Jesus say in John 10:22-30?
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (emphasis added)
Look at that emphasis. The reason people do not believe is because they do not belong to Jesus' flock. Why is that? Because they have not been transformed into sheep. This is so simple and profoundly humbling. I deserved eternal punishment from the moment I was conceived because I was a goat. But God, in his eternal and unfathomable mercy, chose to transform me into one of his sheep. What a comfort to know that out of all the goats in the world, God chose me. And to think I had nothing to do with it!

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Holocron Wedding

This past weekend my sister Angie got married. Mah-hah-harried. And, being the award-winning Big Brother that I am, I preached the wedding. An April Fool's Day wedding that wasn't a joke! It was a small, intimate, family and close friends only wedding, and it was a lot of fun. To celebrate the beginning of Spring Break here at SBTS, I thought I'd share some pics with y'all. Our Favorite Goofy One. This here is my bride-to-be, Tricia, in a goofy rehearsal moment. You mean this was an April Fool's joke?!? Me and Angie sharing a lighthearted moment before the ceremony. Brother and Sister. Let's do it, girl! Me officiating the ceremony. The Family. I've prayed for a picture like this for 12 years, ever since my parents divorced. If only it represented the reality. Well, I'll just keep praying! This one will get an 8x10 in my living room for sure. Mom and Dad with their new son-in-law. Of course, these pics don't begin to tell the story of that weekend. There's the part where champagne was spilled on my suit, leading to no end of "you're cut off" and "aren't you a preacher?" jokes; my cousin Andrew (who was the official photographer--these pics were all done by him) giving what will become an infamous although inadvertent "linebacker" remark; there's the glorious rehearsal dinner; and many others that likely will never be told here. But God was greatly glorified this weekend; His name was worthily praised!