2 Peter 3:9 ~"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
In my post on the Dunamis Word 2 'Is Reformed & Evangelical Theology Biblical? Pt. 2' recent discussion has focused on God's purpose and sovereignty as it pertains to the salvation of the individual. Simply put, the question is this:
Did God create some individuals to be saved while simultaneously creating others to be condemned eternally?
Within reform circles this is often referred to as Limited Atonement. This is said to be the L of TULIP. The acronym TULIP represents the 5 Points Of Calvinism outlined as follows:
Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)Unconditional ElectionLimited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)Irresistible GracePerseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
To be fair, not all individuals who hold to Reformed or Evangelical doctrine espouse a straight line or fundamental interpretation of this doctrine, but many do who are unashamed to declare it. This type of teaching seems to be more on Parr with a cumulative case type of argument building upon many different types of additional doctrines.
Popular Versions Of Limited Atonement
As noted in the previous article, the Reformed Blacks Of America address the issue of Limited Atonement by distinguishing the difference between the power and the extent of the atonement of Jesus' on the cross. Though the power of the Cross is sufficient for all, the effect of the Cross is only efficacious for those who God has deemed to be elect for salvation. Therefore Jesus didn't die for all, he only died for the elect. They sum it up in the following manner:
“Jesus died and rose for those whom the Father predestined. If God were to die for all, then all would be saved. The atonement is sufficient for all, but not efficacious for all. The atonement is accomplished and eternally secured for the elect through the cross of Christ. Christ did not die a hypothetical death for every single human being, but rather a real death for his people, his sheep whom he actually and really saves. Therefore, the atonement is not limited in power, but in extent.”
John Calvin himself seems to have taught that some are simply born to be lost. The following is a recitation of his teaching on the issue:
“…(God) does not create everyone in the same condition, but ordains eternal life for some and eternal damnation for others.” (Cited in Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, p. 396)
Biblical scholar and Pastor John McArthur implements a soft dogmatism on the issue. When asked does he believe in Limited Atonement he says the following:
"Yes. But don't go out and say "John MacArthur advocates 'Limited Atonement,' because I don't. And I will tell you why--because I don't like that term, because it is not Biblical. It is obvious when something is not explicitly stated in Scripture, and when you are dealing with the inscrutable nature of God and the mysteries of redemption, and the mysteries of the unfolding divine purpose, and the mind of God--there will always be grappling with these issues. Whatever it is that you believe about the inherent nature of the atonement, whatever it is that you believe about the limits of the atonement, whether they're there or not there--whatever it is that you believe about the actual efficaciousness of the death of Christ and to whom it is applied, whatever nuances of that discussion you particularly believe--in the end, the atonement will only have value to those who believe--whatever it is that you believe.
My point is, arguing about that really is pointless in a sense. I understand the debate and I certainly engage in it heartily, but in the end we make our best shot. It is like trying to define the Trinity, it is like trying to unscrew the unscrutable, it's like trying to figure out things that are beyond our capacity--whether you're talking about the security of the believer measured against the perseverance of the saints, or you're talking about volition and divine election, whether you are talking about any of those kinds of issues, you are always are going to be in the dilemma, and that is why theological debates like this have gone on always. In the end, however, we don't need to separate, we don't need to become divisive, we don't need to sort of break fellowship over what exactly is the inherent, innate character of the atonement, because in the end, the death of Jesus Christ is only efficacious for those who believe. And in the end, whatever was going on, on the cross, it has no application to those who don't believe--right? So, whatever you want to say about it's inherent limits or non-limits--in the end you come to the same place."
He goes on to say:
"But anytime you are crawling into the mind of infinite God and trying to sort out those matters, you have to stand with a bit of humility and a sort of a soft dogmatism, and I'm happy to softly dogmatic on this point, understanding as best I can what the Word of God has to say."
Biblical Scholar R.C. Sproul builds a case contingent upon total depravity (man's inability to choose God of his own desire), Unconditional Election (God choosing whom he will to be saved of his own good pleasure) and upon Irresistible Grace where although people resist God, those who are "chosen" or predestined to salvation are regenerated so that their desires are toward Jesus. He poignantly asks the question was the atoning work of Jesus in God's original design, only to make salvation possible or was it to make it sure for those who that are elect according to his will?
At either point and under most all Evangelical and reformed assertions, salvation is only given to one group of persons...ie: the "elect", only that group is entitled to salvation.
Historically Diverging Opinion
Limited Atonement, as John MacArthur outlines, seems to be a teaching that one has to read into the context of scripture however. An early teacher of doctrine, Clement Of Alexandria [Titus Flavius Clemens] (150-215 CE), did not read that the atonement was limited in any fashion or manner. He recorded his statements on the topic by saying the following:
“Therefore, all having been called, those who are willing to obey have been named “the called”. For there is no unrighteousness with God…To these, prophecy says, “If you are willing and hear me, you will eat the good of the land,” proving that choice or refusal depends upon ourselves.”
It is clear that Clement Of Alexandria held this to be a matter of "righteousness/unrighteousness" of God to accredit God with withholding salvation from mankind, or causing some to be lost out of hand. He further invokes Is. 1:19 in his understanding of the matter towards salvation and declares that the freewill of man is the ultimate tool used whereby mankind either accepts or rejects the salvation that God extends. His message is clear, only God saves, but salvation is extended and man is given a choice to either accept or reject it.
Now, at that some will say that man's acceptance is a work whereby he could boast. I would say that's an undue exaggeration and certainly not true. Extending one's hand to accept what's been given is in response to the work that has already been done, not an additional salvific work.
Dead In Sins
Often linked with the the doctrine of total depravity, man being "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephes. 2:1, Col. 2:13) does not mean that man has the inability to respond spiritually as some have claimed. If that is the case man could not get any worse or further into sin either. Yet the scripture is replete with examples where people have and will "waxed worse" in their sins (2 Tim. 3:13). The fact is that man can get worse in their sin indicates that man has an ability to respond to different and varying degrees of sin, but cannot save himself. Thus the impetus of the scripture is revealed; man is trapped in sin and can do nothing to rid himself of it no matter how spiritually aware he/she is or becomes. No matter how man tries to undo himself from sin, their efforts are futile.
Lost For The Purpose Of God?
In order to fully develop and appreciate an understanding for what God has actually done we must also look at some biblical occurrences and some circumstances that we see commonly.
Biblically speaking, we find many individuals who were evil, from what scripture accounts, went to hell, and fulfilled God's will by doing their evil deed.
- Balaam was not right in the eyes of the Lord. He was wicked and scripture does not account that he repented, yet God used him to bless Israel 3 times and not curse Israel. (Num. 24)
- The nations accounted in Judges 5 were left to "prove" Israel. they had no special place with God in fact god allowed them to be uprooted and destroyed in the end. Yet they served God's sovereign purpose
The question can be asked, were these people lost for God's purpose and plan? Was the plan of God for these to live, sin, and die because they weren't elect? Were they merely expendable pieces in the the puzzle of life?
Is There Another Way To Reconcile This?
I believe there are a number of ways to reconcile this scripturally. The proper understanding of this whole issue could be summed up in a completely different approach, with the following realizations:
1- We live in a sin cursed existence where sin, by its very nature takes the innocent as a casualty. This is an unavoidable consequence of sin and evil in this world but yet there has been a provision made by God from the beginning. Revelation 13:8~"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
2- God knows the choice of all individuals but does not fatalistically predetermine that choice. Unlike the open futures view, God already knows by his sovereignty what choice will be made but does not create a choice that is inescapable. Psalms 1:6 ~For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish , Job 23:10 ~ "But he knoweth the way that I take: [when] he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
3- The Spirit of God is in the word dealing with the hearts of men in every situation. This means that no matter how the god of this world (the devil) manipulates situations to discourage and slay the people of God, God yet uses even what the devil does and institutes according to his purpose and will. Similar to how God uses governments and nations to accomplish his will of both justice, judgement and punishment. In other words God is the God of all flesh, not just the righteous. Therefore none escapes his presence and or purpose even in their sin and evil. Psalms 139:8 ~"If I ascend up into heaven, thou [art] there: if I make my BED in hell, behold, thou [art there]."
4- Those mentioned biblically had a choice set before them and an opportunity to choose or to continue in their path. All individuals have that chance to move on the right path or to turn away from the path that God prescribes. Deuteronomy 30:19 ~"I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, [that] I have SET BEFORE YOU life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:" Jeremiah 21:8 ~ "And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I SET BEFORE YOU the way of life, and the way of death."
In all there is much to talk about and much to consider regarding this subject. I believe my opinion is clear, God has not willed, any person (not just them deemed to be "elect") to be lost. The blood of Jesus means much more than that. Similarly, his 'will" for salvation is a dispositional will wherein God is ultimately pleased that ALL humankind come to repentance. Even the most vile person God is pleased IF and when they come to repentance for at that point they cease from being vile.
John 7:37 ~ "In the last day, that great [day] of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink."