Supplanting God’s Word with a Post-modern Mindset- Where “The Battle for the Bible” Exists Today

November 29, 2008

Check out these words recent from ex-Emergent Village National Coordinator Tony Jones as he speaks about the formation of his views on how Christians should handle homosexuality:

With that in mind, I always responded, “I’m holding that issue in abeyance. I haven’t made up my mind yet, and I’m in no hurry to. Homosexuality,” I would say, “[is] one issue that I don’t want to get wrong.”

And yet, all the time I could feel myself drifting toward acceptance that gay persons are fully human persons and should be afforded all of the cultural and ecclesial benefits that I am. (“Aha!” my critics will laugh derisively, “I knew he and his ilk were on a continuous leftward slide!”)

In any case, I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.

Wow! Now, I don’t necessarily want to engage his particular claim at this time (that is on the way over the next couple of weeks), but I want you guys to look at the language he uses. Jones claims that “Homosexuality . . . [is] one issue that I don’t want to get wrong” and then what is the authority for his eventual stance? “I could feel myself drifting . . .” After several paragraphs of intimating his life experiences with members of the GLBTQ community and mocking the conservative position on this issue, Jones finally puts his foot down based on how he is “drifiting”!

This, posted originally on November 19, is the state of things right now. More and more people in the Christian world, particularly among Jones’ own version of “Emergent Christianity” are determining God’s will by considering their own desires, seeking to do things in their own way in their own day (see my review of The Blue Parakeet). This is a problem. In fact, as JD Greear claims in a February 2006 article for SBC Life, this is “the battle for the Bible” recast in the 21st century.

In his article, “Is ‘The Battle for the Bible’ Really Over?,” JD Greear states that

[T]he statement that “the battle for the Bible is over” is dangerously wrong on two accounts. First, anyone who thinks the question of inerrancy is “settled” is simply not keeping up with trends developing among evangelicalism. Voices calling for “balance” in this issue, by which they mean we must learn to balance the truth in our Bibles with the errors, are as loud as ever. . . . But perhaps even more significantly, to say that “the battle for the Bible has been won” overlooks the fact that the preaching of the Bible seems less fashionable than ever – especially among younger evangelicals.

I could not agree with this assessment more. The decrying of inerrancy and gospel-preaching from the emergent streams is deafening. Looking at the major books out this year by those involved, The New Christians (Tony Jones), The Great Emergence (Phyllis Tickle), and The Blue Parakeet (Scot McKnight). In each of these books traditional evangelicalism and the practice of sola scriptura are ransacked as being vestiges of a by-gone era, an era which is either inevitably dying (as argued by Tickle) or which is crusted over and in need of new blood (from Tony Jones). They just take it as a for-gone conclusion that the Bible is fallible (see my discussion earlier for why McKnight tacitly denies inerrancy) and that Scripture is only part (and maybe not even a big part) of discerning God’s will for our lives. If “the battle for the Bible” is won, then somebody apparently did not tell these people who won it.

That’s why the battle for the Bible, as I have said before (standing in the shoulders of giants, of course) is every generations battle. Today’s generation, my generation, has to stand up and reclaim inerrancy and the authority of Scripture from this renegade sect of Christianity which would have us deny Christ’s own declaration (that we are not of the world, John 15.18-19) for a bad exegesis on Paul (to become all things to all people, 1 Corinthians 9.19-23). We must not fall asleep on this, we must watch and pray that Jesus’ message will not be betrayed!


Returning to the Wall Metaphor- John Owen and the Cause of Backsliding

November 28, 2008

Just to let you know, there is nothing that intrigues me more in this world than humanity’s struggle with depravity, both among believers and non-believers. That said, this week I am reading Indwelling Sin by John Owen, a treatise concerning the continuing presence of the law of sin in the flesh of believers, centered around the text of Romans 7.21 (“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand“). As with the other books in the collection Overcoming Sin & Temptation (which are On the Mortification of Sin in Believers and Of Temptation), Indwelling Sin really hits home when I begin to think of what is being said and how I see that in my own daily actions.

Now, as you may recall, earlier this week I discussed Proverbs 25.28 and how this illustrates for us a view of self-control which we can think of using the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Well, as I was reading through Indwelling Sin I found a quote which I think is most appropriate to go along with this. John Owen says:

I am persuaded there are few that apostatize from a profession of any continuance, such as our days abound with, but their door of entrance into the folly of backsliding was either some great and notorious sin that bloodied their consciences, tainted their affections, and intercepted all delight of having anything more to do with God; or else it was a course of neglect in private duties, arising from a weariness of contending against that powerful aversation [i.e. aversion of sin to righteousness] which they found in themselves unto them.

Okay, so this quote may not seem so clearly what I mean for it to be at first glance, but taking a moment to dissect it we can see what Owen is saying.  Basically, what is he is getting at is that believers who have backslid didn’t just up and choose to do so one day, but instead they got that way either by committing some horrendous sin which weighs down their conscience with guilt or they grew tired of living the Christian life and gradually slipped back into their old self.

Now, if you look closely, you can see the wall metaphor appear again.  The ones who committed the terrific sin are the ones who hastily built up their wall without defensing it, and one day the armies of sin and deceit came in and tore everything down; while the ones who wearied are the ones who tried to fight and fight against the enemy without ever building for their self a place of refuge and rest, eventually wearing down and being overcome.

However you choose to look at it, I do not believe that Owen’s point is one we can afford to miss: Everything may appear to be going well in your Christian walk, but unless you exercise diligence in fighting off the enemy and persistence in growing to be like Christ you are always at risk of finding yourself one day wholly lost and outside the fellowship of our Lord.


Reflecting on Our Responses- A Thought for Thanksgiving 2008

November 27, 2008

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -1 Thessalonians 5.16-18

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” -Colossians 3.17

With today being the celebration of the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I was faced with the decision of just posting as normal or of doing a cliched theme post about giving thanks and what that means and blah blah blah. But after careful consideration, I have decided that the boring old theme post might be much needed at this point.

To begin with, as a nation, particularly as Christians in this nation, there does not seem to be a lot to be thankful for at this time. The economy stinks and most of us are probably not too thrilled about the person elected to lead us through it and whatever else may come over the next four years. And while many of us are turning to passages like Romans 13.1 to comfort us that God places people in authority in accord with his will, I doubt that too many of us have gone beyond that into what God says about thanksgiving.

As 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 above says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Are we doing this? We may all know this, but are we actually doing this? If it is as the last line says, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” then we must set our minds to it so that our will will be conformed to his.

Rejoice always? Yes. As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. . . . For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (1.3-5, 8-10)

If this apostle, who had been shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned, and who knows what else, was capable of giving thanks to God and rejoicing in his circumstances, knowing God was at work in it, then we should be capable of rejoicing in whatever financial or political hardships may come, since the same God who was at work in Paul’s day is still at work, unchanged, in ours.

Pray without ceasing? Yes. Throughout Scripture we are told to pray for just about everything, and here we are told to be doing that without halt. Particularly in times of hardship and trial, the unceasing prayer life allows us access to the Father, that he might speak into our hearts giving us peace and comfort, either by revealing his will for it in us or just by comforting us with his sovereignty. We all too quickly neglect prayer, thinking that what goes on is in need of something much bigger than some fancy words spoken in solitude. Yet, as we are made aware by James, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5.16b). So is it with us, that our prayer may have the power, if not to change the situation to our liking, to at least change our heart to the liking of God and granting us patience towards his holy design.

Give thanks in all circumstances? Yes. I think I am the worst at this. I complain so much. Of course, I dress it up and say that I am critiquing things, or providing constructive criticism, which I believe I am a lot of the time, but on occasion that “critique” is just a complaint. I am complaining because something is uncomfortable or difficult for me and so instead of rejoicing about it, praying over it, and giving thanks to God, I simply whine about it until my wife no longer has the patience to listen to me any more. I do this, which is in clear contradiction to all that I am supposed to be about.

Colossians 3.17 throws down the gauntlet by saying, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever I do, whatever I say, if something comes out that is not wrought with thanksgiving then I am not in line with God’s will for me in that situation. Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that “being thankful” and “being permissive” or “being liberal” are synonymous; I think we can be thankful even through biting words. However, if our words or actions display ill-will or discontent with what we have or who we speak against then our misgiving is not against the object of our attention but instead it is against God, as if we are saying “Why’d you let it be like this in the first place?”; and questioning God’s intent is not a position I want to take.

So, with another Thanksgiving Day coming and going, another set of football games and a myriad of casseroles, I want to do the cliche thing and call us back to a right spirit of thankfulness to the Lord. As I have told my wife, sometimes things are cliche because they are just so right, and I believe that is the case with this. It is God’s will for us to be constantly rejoicing, constantly praying, and constantly giving thanks to him, in all circumstances, and there is no time better than Thanksgiving to start doing this.


A Demonstration in Contradiction- What the John 3.16 Conference Says about Itself

November 26, 2008

As you all know by now, this blog has been firmly entrenched in the lead-in, execution, and aftermath of the John 3.16 Conference earlier this month at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. I am not in the business of beating a dead horse, but because I couldn’t resist I thought I might share with all of you a quote that I found online earlier today.

The quote comes from the non-Calvinist friendly Baptist Press and is part of their article in review of the John 3.16 Conference. Speaking about the point of the conference, here is what conference organizer Jerry Vines had to say:

“I want to help our people understand the issue,” Jerry Vines said in a phone interview prior to the conference. “I don’t expect to change a whole lot of minds; my primary interest is to bring balance to the issue.”

Balance? The point of the John 3.16 Conference was to bring balance? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that majority of the SBC was running around spouting a belief in Calvinistic principles while the non-Calvinists sat back trembling in fear. Besides, what could be more balanced than a bunch of like minded people gathering together to present their views unopposed while systematically misrepresenting their opponents position left and right?

I’m sure Dr. Vines would defend his statement by saying that it is balance against the (evil) Calvinist conferences such as Together for the Gospel, Ligonier, and Desiring God. However, this is blantantly false, as one, I can testify as someone who went to the DG conference this past year and heard not a word spoken that was propagandizing for Calvinism, and two, there are plenty of Calvinist unfriendly conferences in the SBC already, in particular the Pastors Conference at FBC Jacksonville.

Honestly, and this is a point I have tried to hammer time and again and again and again: the pinnacle of balance was the 2007 Building Bridges conference, and the cherry on top of this was the sermon on unity and understanding delivered by (non-Calvinist) Dr. Danny Akin. Thus, instead of providing balance, what the John 3.16 Conference did was to represent a step back into ignorance and avoidance of the fact that both Calvinism and non-Calvinism have a legitimate claim to acceptance within SBC life.

This is the type of attitude (arrogance? ignorance?) which is going to lead to the split of the SBC. Anyone who was able to go to the John 3.16 Conference and see that as a move towards balance has already decided in their mind that they can’t be in communion with a 5-point Baptist Calvinist, and that my friends, is a crying shame.

Here is a link to the full article if you are interested.


I Know Why the Caged Bird is in Lock-Down- An Editorial on “The Blue Parakeet”

November 25, 2008

I bought Scot McKnight’s new book The Blue Parakeet partially aware of what it said and fully expecting not to like it. Then, as I began reading it, I decided to give it a chance, and for the first 93 pages of the book I was mostly with the author. But, starting with Chapter 7, entitled “God Speaks, We Listen: What is Our Relationship to the God Who Speaks to Us in the Bible?,” things began (quickly) going south. In the end I found myself reaffirmed in my initial gut instinct and with my wife asking me to read something I would agree with next so I would not be so angry around the house.

So, what did McKnight say that struck me so badly? Well, to begin with, know that The Blue Parakeet is basically a book on hermeneutics. It is about reading the Bible as a Story composed of a collection of 66 wiki-stories, all carrying one or more of the six themes identified by the author. The whole “blue parakeet” thing is explained by McKinght in one of the chapters and is used to refer to passages that are “oddities in the Bible that we prefer to cage and silence rather than to permit into our sacred mental gardens” (p.208). Never mind the fact that McKnight begins just using the phrase “blue parakeet” willy-nilly for just about anything as the book progresses, even this basic explanation entails that McKnight is coloring his view of biblical interpretation with a selection of passages that he feels have been given short-shrift by “the Great Tradition” (as he mostly derogatorily refers to church history).

So, for the first 93 pages McKnight explains his system, a system which sounds a good deal like the system I adhere to (that being Biblical Theology) and all seems good. Then in chapter 7 things get subjective. McKnight starts arguing that we must “listen to God so we can love him more deeply and love others more completely” (p.96). Now, the ideas of listening and of loving aren’t so bad, but the question is, if all we are doing is listening to God then how is this biblical interpretation? Instead, what really gets advocated is what McKnight states in chapter 8 on page 112: “If you are doing good works, you are reading the Bible aright.” Therefore, the standard of correct Bible interpretation isn’t the Bible but it is our own subjective view of if what we are doing is loving and good.

(Note: Oddly enough, the next statement McKnight makes is, “If you are not doing good works, you are not reading the Bible aright.” This is logically equivalent to the statement, “If you are reading the Bible aright, you are (or will be) doing good works,” which I would agree with, that a right reading of the Bible leads us to doing good works which are based in what we read, but this is a point McKnight never turns to.)

Continuing from here, McKnight begins attacking what he views as “blue parakeet passages,” with an extended look at a special “blue parakeet” case, the topic of women in church ministries. I will not address his view in particular (though boy I would like to!) but I will remark that I think in this argument McKnight unveils a pattern of disingenuous statements that undercut all his denials of promoting theological liberalism. First, instead of facing the main issue head-on, that being the issue of whether women may serve in the pastorate, McKnight instead chooses to conflate all of the opinions into one, presenting the conservative, “traditional” thought as being that women should never lead anyone or try to learn anything. This is utterly ridiculous, and though it may be the position of some, it is nowhere near the position advocated by the proponents of complemetarianism, which is the main system in opposition to McKnight’s “mutuality” or egalitarian approach.  Secondly, instead of resting on the Bible for what it says, McKnight chooses to assume what he is arguing for into places where he admits the writing is ambiguous (see pages 180 and 181). If that is not theological liberalism at work then I don’t know what is.

The biggest problem for me, however, in all of this book, can be summed up by an argument that McKnight uses in entering upon the women in ministry section. In arguing that the culture of the biblical period was wholly slanted by a view of women as inferior to men, McKnight makes the bold statement that:

“We must say something not often admitted by Bible-reading, God-loving Christians: He who writes the story controls the glory.” (p.156)

What!?! Now, on various pages throughout the book, McKnight claims to hold the evangelical view of the inerrancy of Scripture, but if that is the case then how could he ever believe what he has just said? In this sentence McKnight is claiming that passages which can be read as being derogatory or unappreciative of women are this way in some part because they were written by misogynists. Thus, the “inerrant,” “God-breathed” word that McKnight claims to believe in is apparently not so God-breathed as to accurately reflect God’s view of women! But, if that’s the case, just how much of it can we claim is actually from God in the first place? Liberalism, I have seen thee and thy name is The Blue Parakeet.

In conclusion, I think the best summary of Scot McKnight’s hermeneutic as presented in The Blue Parakeet is this: Do what you want as long as it seems loving and good in your context and try to make sure that it remains consistent with Scripture, at least as you read it. Think I’m being too harsh? Once more, in McKnight’s own writing:

“Adaptability of message and lifestyle is a theme written into the fabric of the ongoing development of the Bible itself. . . . All genuine biblical faith takes the gospel message and ‘incarnates’ it in a context. . . . Living out the Bible means living out the Bible in our day in our way by discerning together how God would have us live” [emphasis mine] (pp.142-143).

Interpreting the Bible with man as the center and not Christ, what McKnight is advocating by doing it “in our day in our ways,” is nothing more than humanism, and is only going to lead us to reading ourselves, and not Christ, as the central purpose of God’s creation. This is the same thinking that got Adam kicked out of the Garden and I don’t think it will get us much farther!


Building the Walls of Self-Control- A Prayer on Proverbs 25.28

November 24, 2008

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” -Proverbs 25.28

Without self-control I am left at the whim of the advances of the enemy.  The lion which roams, seeking to devour (1 Peter 5.8), will have free access to the streets and homes of my mind and body.

To gain self-control one must be like Nehemiah coming to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  It begins with a strong commitment to God, not allowing compromise (Nehemiah 1.4-11).  It requires both a hand at work in the building and a hand devoted to wielding the sword (Nehemiah 4.15-23).  If all we have is the sword then we may tarry the invaders for a while, but eventually we will tire and they’ll overwhelm us.  If all we have is the trowel to build then we will try to work too quickly, constructing a hastily-made wall which will not hold up to the attacks it’s sure to encounter (Matthew 7.24-26).

God, without self-control I am no better than the lost man I once was.  My heart is enlightened to you, and for moments I may shine in obedience, but in due time I find my way back to living like the world around me (1 Peter 4.3).

Lord, give me victory over the flesh, rein-in my worldly desires (James 1.14-15), that I don’t bring shame to your glorious grace by persisting in evils which I know you have saved me out of (Romans 5.8).

Father, restrain me like a child.  Keep me from making the decisions which cause you pain (Romans 8.14-15).

By no means should I continue in sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6.1-2).  Let my walls always be in repair (Nehemiah 2.17).  Let me work on them unceasingly, with sword and with trowel, with diligence and with eyes set on you (Colossians 3.2).

Amen.


Friends in the Blogosphere- Some Sites to Check Out

November 23, 2008

Over the past couple of weeks I have found many interesting bloggers out there on the interweb, some of whom have posted links to my site for one reason or another.  So, to show my appreciation for their links and to give the rest of you a glimpse at some of the people that I read when I’m clicking around on my computer, here is a short list of blogs you should check out:

Greg Alford, Southern Grits & Sovereign Grace

Jonathan Ignacio, The Crimson Window

Jonathon Woodyard, Ignite UK Pastors’ Blog

johnMark, Sweet Tea & Theology

Keith Walters, Mission Dei

Kevin Howard, NeedNotFret.com BLOG

Theophilogue

Enjoy!


For No One in Particular?- What Atonement Reveals about Itself (Part 2)

November 21, 2008

Last time we made two points in regards to the actual execution of atonement as revealed in Scripture. First, we showed that it is not enough to generally propitiate God’s wrath, but for true propitiation to take place that propitiation must occur on the level of individuals. Second, we argued from Leviticus 16 that the Old Testament institution of atonement, practiced in the Day of Atonement, had its broadest application in providing atonement for the people of Israel, not for the whole world.

We will pick this up today in Hebrews 9 and 10 in which I will argue that we would be wrong to construe the extent of the atonement any broader than it was originally given in Leviticus. The objection has/will be made by some in interpreting Hebrews 9 and 10 that, since the new covenant is open to both Greek and Jew, then so also is the atonement provided being provided for “both Greek and Jew” (i.e. everyone) as well. However this is an argument being made without actually consulting the text of these chapters. If we were to do so we would find things slightly different.

To find the audience for Hebrews 9 and 10 and thus to find the people for whom Christ is “securing an eternal redemption,” the place to look is chapter 9 verse 15. This verse says that

Therefore [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Now, I believe there are three ways to read this, and none of them is advantageous towards a traditional Unlimited Atonement position. One way of reading it is that Christ is the mediator of a new covenant unto salvation for those who are called, in which case this would logically be to the exclusion of those who are not called, with Christ not being a mediator for them, and therefore not offering the atoning sacrifice on their behalf.

A second way is that Christ is the mediator for all so that those who are called may receive the atonement offered for them, and not those who are not called, in which case the offer of the atonement is not made to everyone, since this call is the same call which in Romans 8.30 leads to justification and we are not trying to argue for universalism. But if the offer of atonement is not made to everyone, then even if Christ atoned for everyone the atonement is still limited to an extent which goes beyond that argued by traditional Unlimited Atonement.

Of course the third, and what I believe is the correct way to understand this, is by recognizing that “those who are called” now stand in the place of Israel from the original process in Leviticus 16. I would argue this by connecting “those who are called” with Romans 8.28 (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”) and 1 Peter 2.9-10 (“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”), both pitting “the called” as being God’s chosen people, a role that has long been reserved for Israel (cf. Exodus 19.5-6, Deuteronomy 7.6). Therefore, since originally the atonement was made for God’s people (the assembly of Israel) and not the whole world, so now also the atonement has been made for God’s people (the called out elect) and not the whole world.

Going further, I think that we can view Hebrews 9.15 in light of Hebrews 10.15-17 and further establish our claim. Hebrews 10.15-17 says

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 9.15 says that Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, a covenant which Hebrews 10.16 says “put[s God's] laws on [the] hearts” of those under it, and “writes them on their minds.”  God then adds that for those under the covenant he “will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (v.17).  Thus, the expiation of the burden of sins is granted to those who are under the covenant, who are converted in the sense of verse 16.  But, the ones who are converted in view of Hebrews 9.15 are “those who are called,” and therefore, Christ could only possibly be said to be mediating for those who are called, which once more limits the atonement to God’s people, the called out elect.

In conclusion, I believe that we have been able to argue from Leviticus 16 and 17 and Hebrews 9 and 10 that the atonement is Scripturally portrayed as limited simply by appealing to its execution and without having to turn to the disputed and often times messy extent verses.  Please interact with this and raise objections as necessary and I will do my best to respond to them.


For No One in Particular?- What Atonement Reveals about Itself (Part 1)

November 20, 2008

I think the greatest flaw in understanding how general or particular the atoning work of Christ is is that we focus on verses which may or may not be trapped in context and we consider too highly what we would want instead of what God has done. Therefore, I think to properly understand the atonement we must first properly understand what the atonement is.

I stated in yesterday’s post that “Atonement for a Christian is the act by which sins are forgiven and reconciliation is made with God. It contains two parts: propitiation, the act of satisfying God’s wrath; and expiation, the act of removing the burden of guilt from the sinner.” Going through the Bible there are two big places to look for an actual discussion of the act of atoning for sin: Leviticus 16 and 17 and Hebrews 9 and 10.

However, before looking into those chapters I think it is important that we more fully encounter why atonement is necessary for salvation. We stated that atonement provides propitiation of God, but what do we really mean by this? What I think a lot of people mean, particularly those on the unlimited atonement (UA) side of the debate, is that God has some general cloud of anger and wrath which must be satisfied and Christ, in his death, does this. Yet, to think of God’s wrath as just ambiguous anger towards this thing called ‘sin’ is not severe enough. Ezekiel 18.20 says

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

God is not just angry at sin, God is angry at you because of your sin. Thus, God need not just be generally propitiated, he needs to be propitiated individually for each sinner. This individualization of responsibility is further established by 2 Kings 14.6 and Jeremiah 31.30.

So, we see that it is not sufficient for God to just have some cloud of wrath towards sin propitiated, there must be more. Irregardless of the extent of the atonement, for Christ to provide atonement for any person he must provide it for that person individually since God has a specific portion of wrath resting individually against them. This understanding is key to the argument that I will put forth.

With a proper perspective of where God’s wrath lies we are now prepared to look into the main passages on the actual execution of the atonement. Following the thought that the New Testament is the realization of the Old Testament, and the fact that understanding Hebrews 9 and 10 necessitates an understanding of Leviticus 16 and 17, we will start in the OT passage. What we see when we get here is a step-by-step outline to the Day of Atonement, or more importantly, to the actual doing of the atonement ritual. Within that what we see are occasional explanations about who and what the various sacrifices and rituals affect. Of particular interest is the broadest application of the sacrifices, namely, Who in the end is the atonement being provided for?

Recall that at this point in history there are two distinct types of people (at least biblically): Israelites and Gentiles. Now, what does Leviticus 16 say about who is atoned for? Verse 17 says “No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until [the high priest] comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel.” All the assembly of Israel. Not all people, but all the assembly of Israel. Similarly, verse 21 says, “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel . . .” And verse 24, “And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people.” And verse 33, “He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.” And verse 34, “And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins. . . .” Therefore, I believe it is overwhelmingly clear that the atonement, as originally established in the OT, was never intended as a sacrifice for the whole world, but only for God’s people, Israel.

But what difference does that make in the New Testament, since we all know that salvation is available to the Gentiles at this point? Well, the first thing I would have to say to that is that it is important to have a right understanding of who truly comprises “Israel” throughout redemptive history before getting sidetracked here (I’m sure I’ll argue this sometime, but not right now). However, even without that, I think Hebrews 9 and 10 gives us enough information that we can get to the right place anyways, which will be where we pick things up tomorrow.


For No One in Particular?- Arguing the Extent of the Atonement

November 19, 2008

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” -1 John 4.10

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” -1 John 2.2

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” -Romans 3.23-25

For any of you familiar with the debate over the extent of the atonement you will be all too familiar with the constant back and forth about whether ‘all’ means ‘all’ and if ‘the world’ means ‘the whole world’ or ‘not just the Jews.’ However, the more and more I look at it, the less fruitful I find this line of argument. At the end of the day, it always seems that our view on the extent of the atonement informs our interpretation of these words and not the other way around like it should be.

That said, I don’t believe this is a lost cause (at least for arguments sake). Instead, I believe that we need to take a different approach to the atonement if we are ever to come to a solid conclusion about what the Word of God teaches. The way I propose doing this is by examining the nature of the atonement and what it means to you and I as sinners and see if this gives us a better insight into how limited or unlimited atonement may be.

So, what is “the atonement”? Atonement for a Christian is the act by which sins are forgiven and reconciliation is made with God. It contains two parts: propitiation, the act of satisfying God’s wrath; and expiation, the act of removing the burden of guilt from the sinner. Thus, it is through the atonement that justification and reconciliation, or in short salvation, can occur.

Then, what are we told of the need for atonement? As Romans 3.23 says above, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All people have sinned and, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6.23), we all have fallen short of or been separated from God. Thus, if anybody is to be justified then atonement is necessary, and without atonement we are condemned to the ultimate result of our sin, that being eternal torment and separation from the love of God (Psalm 5.4-6, Revelation 20.11-15).

What is needed to make atonement? Leviticus 17.11 sets for the OT believers that “it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” and this work of atonement was symbolized through the sacrifice of bulls and goats (Leviticus 16). Yet, Hebrews 10.4 tells us that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Therefore, it is not by animals, but by the perfect blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ that atonement is made (Hebrews 9.11-15).

Now that we have laid the groundwork, we get to where the real question lies. If Christ made atonement through his death, then who did he make atonement for and how is it that that atonement is applied? There are three main competing views here. Either Christ made atonement for all and the atonement is applied to all (which is universalism), or Christ made atonement for all and the atonement is applied to those who accept it (which is unlimited atonement), or Christ made atonement for some and the atonement is applied to those some (which is limited atonement). We must automatically deny universalism as unscriptural, and therefore the real debate is between limited and unlimited atonement.

It is at this point that I want to move outside the box, which I will try to begin tomorrow.