Posts Tagged ‘Reformed Theology’
This morning I was listening to some Reformed brothers speak in a panel discussion on the vicarious atonement of Christ. One of the brothers began to talk about what he called “the Pelagian view” and he placed Arminianism in here as well saying that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ died a vicarious atonement in the sinner’s place and thus Christ paid a definite atonement for the sins of the elect. Thus when Christ died, He paid the actual sin debt of the elect predestined by God before time began. He attacked what he called “the false teaching that the atonement makes mankind savable but doesn’t actually save anyone.” He said that such a view would be double jeopardy and would mean that Christ died for the sins of the world but people go to hell for the sins that Christ paid their price for.
Now there are many problems with this brother’s view. I would to first state that this brother is a brother who is passionate for evangelism, passionate to preach the gospel to the lost and I respect him for his zeal for the glory of God. That said, I believe he is in error regarding what it is that Arminians believe about the atonement of the Lord Jesus. Calvinist scholars Kim Riddlebarger and Edwin Palmer both wrote, “The death of Christ does not actually save sinners but merely renders people savable if they exercise their freedom to choose to follow Christ” and “Because the Arminian believes in an atonement that is unlimited in its extent, it is necessarily a vague, indefinite, poverty stricken atonement that does not actually save anyone” (Arminian Theology, p.222).
A couple of points here. First, we Arminians hold to an unlimited atonement because we see that in Scripture. Passages such as Luke 19:10; John 1:29; 3:16; 4:42; 12:32; Romans 5:18; 11:32; Galatians 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; Hebrews 2:9, 14-15; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; Revelation 22:17. We believe that, when read in their proper contexts, it is clear that Jesus shed His blood for all to be saved. Not to mention the universal passages regarding the call to salvation (which my Reformed brothers do accept by the way) such as in Isaiah 45:22 (the passage that led to Spurgeon’s conversion to Christ); 55:1-2 or the great commission itself in Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:31; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Certainly I would agree that God foreknows those who are His own and thus election is a biblical truth but I would add, as do my Reformed brethren, that we are commanded by God to preach the gospel to all and the Lord saves those who believe the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). We Arminians simply accept the biblical teaching of a universal aspect to the saving work of Christ. We don’t deny that Christ died for His sheep (John 10:14) or for Paul (Galatians 2:20) or for His Church (Ephesians 5:25-26) but we also assert that He gave His life for all so that all can come and be saved by grace through faith (Romans 10:13).
Secondly, even my Reformed brethren admit that we are saved by grace through faith. This is a Reformation teaching. We reformed Arminians stand gladly with our reformed Calvinist friends and preach that Jesus alone saves sinners by grace through faith apart from works (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Good works flow from our salvation (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12-13; James 2:14-26) but not in order to obtain salvation (Romans 4:5). Faith is contrasted with works in Romans 4 and it is clear that faith is not a work for salvation. Faith is the mere acceptance of the finished work of Christ for our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). No biblical Arminians would teach that Jesus saves us but we keep us. It is clear in Scripture that Jesus saves us and He keeps us by His own power and grace (John 10:27-30; Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 1:5) but we do stress that we are saved by faith and kept by faith (2 Corinthians 1:24; 11:2-4). None can be saved apart from faith. So when did my Reformed brothers get saved? Was it on the cross? If so, were they born sinless or are they born justified before God? What about eternity past? Were they eternally justified in the omniscient mind of God (Revelation 13:8)? I believe the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith (John 3:16; Acts 15:11; 16:30-34; 17:30-31; Romans 3:21-31; 4:24-5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9). So are we justified unto faith or by faith (Romans 5:1)?
Thirdly, there are passages that seem to teach that Christ died for those who deny His work. For instance, Romans 14:15 which says in the NASB, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” That seems very close to teaching that this brother could be offended by the eating of certain foods and turn away from the faith and be destroyed but Paul the Apostle says that Christ died for him.
Another passage to study is 2 Peter 2:1 where Peter the Apostle seems to teach that Christ died for false teachers. Both are interesting passages to debate.
I would close by saying that Arminians don’t believe that the atonement saves all. We simply believe that all can come and be saved the same way that our Reformed brethren preach in the open air, and that is to all, knowing that not all will be saved but those who come through the drawing of the Spirit (John 6:44) will become the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Peter 1:2). We deny that all are saved simply because Jesus died but we affirm with our Reformed brethren that only those who believe the gospel are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21). Those who reject the sacrifice of Christ are lost. They remain in their state of rebellion against God (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:3). Only those who believe the gospel can it be truly said that Jesus shed His blood for them (Romans 5:8-9).
Our duty is to preach the gospel to all and the Lord saves sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). We stand with our Reformed brethren and preach that Christ alone is our salvation and He alone saves (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
In the book, Whosoever Will, Dr. Kevin Kennedy writes an article on the extent of the atonement of Jesus Christ in the thinking of John Calvin. It is a fascinating chapter. The writer does a good job of demonstrating that there is much confusion over whether Calvin taught that the atonement was for only the elect (as Calvinists today teach) or whether he taught that Jesus died for all. He points out that one of his own Frenchmen not too many years after the Synod of Dort, Moise Amyraut, begin to raise questions about whether Calvin would agree with Calvinism that Dort had produced. Amyraut taught unconditional predestination but based upon a universal atonement – a position he claimed was true to Scripture and to John Calvin. Bear in mind that Calvin had been dead for 55 years when the Synod of Dort ruled against Arminianism in 1618-1619. By then much of what was being taught as Calvinism could not have been based on the teachings of John Calvin. Amyraut taught that Calvinism had gone beyond the writings of Calvin.
Other Calvinists have come along who likewise claim that Calvin did not teach a limited atonement. R.T. Kendall wrote a classic book, Calvin and English Calvinism in 1649 in which he argues that Calvin held to an unlimited atonement. Dr. Kennedy did his own dissertation on the subject of Calvin and the atonement and he also argued like Kendall that from the writings of Calvin, it would seem he taught an unlimited atonement.
How do Calvinists handle this? Kennedy points out that they often use logic to answer this. They point out that Calvin held to a view of God’s sovereignty that means He controls and is the cause of all things. Every minute detail of the universe is in direct control and cause from God. God sovereignly choose whom He would save by His sovereign power. Therefore, since Calvin held to this and since he taught that Jesus died as our substitute for sin and to bear the wrath of God, Calvin must have held to a limited atonement since this logically makes sense.
The problem is the writings of Calvin. Dr. Paul Helm, who defends Calvinism’s teaching on limited atonement, acknowledges that Calvin is not easy to nail down when it comes to the atonement. Again, Helm can only use logic as he writes, “Calvin, not being a universalist, could be said to be committed to definite atonement, even though he does not commit himself to definite atonement.”
Kennedy goes on to write that if Calvin did hold to a limited atonement then we should find in his writings him doing what Calvinists today do, building a case for limited atonement by first showing that the passages that seem to imply unlimited atonement (such as the Puritan John Owen’s infamous doing of John 3:16) are meant only for the elect and then secondly, we should find Calvin doing the frequent Calvinist exercise of taking the passages that speak of “the many” (Matthew 20:28) or “the sheep” (John 10:11) and putting them together to build a case that Jesus died only for “the many” and those are “His sheep” or “His people” (Matthew 1:21) or “the Church” (Acts 20:28) instead of the whole world. Instead, Calvin doesn’t do this at all. In fact, he seems to do what those of us who do hold to an unlimited atonement do and that is we look at the bulk of Scripture as teaching that 1) Jesus did die for His people, His sheep, His elect, His church, for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20) but 2) He also died for all that all may be saved through faith in Him (1 Timothy 4:10).
Time nor space does not permit me to list all the references that Kennedy goes through in this chapter directly from Calvin’s works to show that he not only presents a strong unlimited atonement viewpoint but that he even defends himself against those who would say otherwise. My point here is that just as Lutheranism doesn’t always reflect Martin Luther’s teachings and the Methodist Church today largely doesn’t represent John Wesley’s teachings, so I believe that Reformed theology doesn’t reflect clearly the teachings of John Calvin.
I encourage you to get the book and read Kennedy’s chapter. It is well worth your time.