Was the death of Christ a failure?

Dr. Vines has apparently had at least some exposure to Calvinistic exegesis of the proof-texts used for Unlimited atonement mentioned in my previous post and he has chosen to disregard these explanations in favor of his own tradition, as demonstrated in the following quote:

“There’s no way you can monkey with the text and play exegetical games and get around the fact that the Bible teaches when Jesus died on the Cross, He died for the sins of the whole world.”


Having rejected the doctrine of Limited atonement, the only reasonable soteriological positions open to Dr. Vines are either universalism, on the one hand, or the belief that Christ’s death was in some sense a failure, on the other. As a true Christian- though one I believe to be in grave error in regards to the doctrine under consideration- Dr. Vines is not a universalist and he does not wish to blatantly dishonor the death of our Lord, as demonstrated in the following quote:

“Well, if he died for the sins of the whole world and not everybody’s saved, doesn’t that make the death of Christ a failure? Not at all.”

Attempting to resolve this dilemma, Dr. Vines gave the illustration of a man who paid for a huge group to eat at a restaurant, yet out of pride or ingratitude some within the group paid for their own meal in addition to the payment made by the host. He then presses the conclusion that though payment was really made for the whole group, the rejection of that payment did not indicate failure on the part of the host. Though this illustration may seem persuasive at first, when one really begins to think about it, it quickly breaks down. If the guests insisted that the owner of the restaurant accept their own payment for their meals and the owner did so, then in fairness he should return the money the host paid for those meals to the host himself. Two payments cannot be made for the same meal- if neither of the payments are returned then one, in effect, becomes a donation to the restaurant over and above the price required for the meal. If the host wishes to pay for the meal of the entire group and some within the group insist on paying for their own meal and, furthermore, the owner of the restaurant is fair, returning the price to the host, then the host would, indeed, fail to see his desire to pay for everyone’s meal fulfilled.

In Dr. Vines’ illustration examined above, we also see evidence that he has a sub-biblical understanding of the power of God in salvation. In short, Dr. Vines does not seem to recognize the infinite gulf between the power of God and human power. This was seen in another part of his speech in which Dr. Vines likened the foreknowledge of God to human memory. The assertion was made that just as our knowledge of past events does not effect how these events occured, God’s knowledge of future events does not necessarily effect the outcome of these events. This assertion is in complete disregard for the biblical view of God’s action in every aspect of history indicated by verses such as Proverbs 16:33, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord, and Ephesians 1:11, In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (emphasis added). Likewise, in his illustration of the host paying for the meal of the large group, Dr. Vines does not seem to appreciate the biblical teaching that those for whom Christ has made atonement will desire to accept His payment- not due to their own decision based upon greater moral sensitivity or superior intelligence- but because God will change their heart (Ezekiel 36:26), they will be made new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17), having been born again (John 3:3), not by the will of man, but by God (John 1:13). For Dr. Vines’ illustration to be more biblical, the host would not only have to pay for the group he has chosen, but he would have to create a new heart within the members of that group so that they would desire to please him.

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9 Comments on “Was the death of Christ a failure?”

  1. scripturesearcher Says:

    Knowing (understanding) TRUTH is one thing;
    acting upon TRUTH is another.

    Dear Jerry and a host of others in the SBC
    know much more than they are willing to
    act upon ……

  2. Bob Devine Says:

    Perhaps one of you dear brothers can clarify something, here, for me.
    As I read the various Scriptures, it seems that there is a clear distinction between ‘paying the price of all sin’ (the only way in which I se that Christ could have demonstrated his omnipotence in regards to sin) and ‘ransoming all sinners’. Is this a correct distinction? If not, please clarify.
    In Vines’ example, I would, within my understanding of the ‘distinction’, have suggested that a man bought the restaurant-all the food was his to do with as he pleased-but only invited those he chose to eat (without charge) as his guests.
    I look forwward to your comments. Again, thanks.

  3. Josh Says:

    Thats because nine out of ten baptists–apparently–have placed their trust in human decision.

    Josh

  4. M Burke Says:

    Bob,

    When one approaches the question of atonement Scripturally, one must consider things prior to the discussion of the extent of atonement itself.
    What was God’s intention?

    Was it God’s intention to have Christ purchase each and every man from the Father’s wrath?

    When one looks at the concept of atonement provided in the Old Testament one sees that the atonement provided in the yearly sacrifice was for the people of Israel. Atonement was not made for the Egyptians, the Assyrians, or the Amalekites… Likewise, when God speaks of atonement in Scripture He specifically states that He will “atone for His land and His people”. Therefore the intention of God displayed throughout the OT and specifically in the prophecies relating to Christ’s coming point to a specific atonement for a specific people. (Zech 9:16, Jer 31:7, Deu 32:43) Never is a general atonement made for those outside of the covenant people of God.

    With that in mind, looking at the death of Christ on the cross and what it accomplished one must again consider the intent of God. We’ve already seen that in the OT God declares that His future intent is to “save His people” and “atone for the sins of His people”. Thus Christ’s purpose on earth, as declared prophetically in the OT is to fulfill that promise. We find these specific promises fulfilled in such verses as…

    Rev 5:9 And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

    Act 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

    So God’s intention in Christ’s accomplished atonement on the cross is found herein. He’s purchased a specific people from the wrath of God. We know that even in the OT (Zech 2:11) Gentiles would be considered part of the people of God, thus, as Rev 5:9 states, Christ has purchased people from every tribe etc.

    You write that “Christ paying the price of all sin” is “the only way in which I se that Christ could have demonstrated his omnipotence in regards to sin”, I’m not sure what you mean by this. This seems like a subjective need on your part, I don’t see Scripture detailing this as a necessity in His atoning work. Rather the work’s intent was to save a specific people from their sins and the wrath of God justly due them by being the atoning sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world yet knowing that “world” must be identified Scripturally.

    Christ will eventually judge the world and thus demonstrate omnipotence over all the universe, including sin. The fact that Christ can, through his death overcome sins for any is proof enough of His omnipotence. Contextually speaking, I do not believe there is a verse that can, without a doubt, suggest that Christ was a ransom for each and every sin, and each and every sinner without distinction. Rather, as Scripture states, He gave His life a ransom for many, that is a “great multitude”.

    Finally, Christ’s work on the cross is ALWAYS connected to His intercessory work. Those for whom He died, He lives to intercede for as it is written, “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

    The problem I see with your restaurant analogy, while I recognize that it is just an analogy, is that it doesn’t fit the Biblical picture. Christ isn’t purchasing food for people, but purchasing the people themselves from a legal requirement. Thus one could say He is the savior of the world, the only savior, the savior of all men etc because there is no other savior.

    Isa 45:21 “Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me.”

    Micah


  5. MBurke,

    Thanks for your comment. It is a big help. I’d been thinking about Bob’s question, but hadn’t yet had time to respond.

    -Andrew

  6. Bob Devine Says:

    MBurke,

    Thanks very much. I see the error of my understanding. I was under an impression that if only SOME of the sinners were bought, then Christ was not omnipotent but rather only partially victorious. His death was not, then, a failure, but also not completely successful AS FAR AS DEFEATING SIN AND THE GRAVE. Again, many thanks. I’ll go read Phil Johnson’s tome once more. Best to all of you.

  7. michelle Says:

    The answer I am trying to find in all of this is with Christ dying for the “elect,” why did he create people outside of the elect? I have 3
    small children and to possibly think that they may or may not be
    part of the “elect” is heart breaking. Why do some get it and others
    do not?

  8. Andrew Says:

    Re: “The answer I am trying to find in all of this is with Christ dying for the “elect,” why did he create people outside of the elect? I have 3 small children and to possibly think that they may or may not be part of the “elect” is heart breaking. Why do some get it and others do not?”

    Michelle,
    Though my wife and I do not yet have any children, we do have some family members who are not Christians, so I can, to a large degree, sympathize with your concern.
    You write, “I have 3 small children and to possibly think that they may or may not be part of the “elect” is heart breaking.”
    Obviously, the thought is not heartbreaking that our loved ones may be part of the elect, but only that they may not be part of the elect bride of Christ.
    The concern is that our family members may not be predestined for Heaven, and thus be sent to Hell for their sins.
    When thinking about God’s activity in eternal matters, it is often helpful to first think about how He works in the temporal world we encounter daily. This is one reason why Jesus in His parables gave concrete examples from the culture around Him in order to illustrate truths of the eternal kingdom of God. When we think about God’s sovereignty in ordering the eternal destiny of His creatures, we can begin by thinking about His sovereignty in ordering our destiny in this life. Particularly, I would like to point out that the Bible is clear in its teaching that God is in control of when people die.
    Job declared that, “[Man’s] days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,” (Job 14:5).
    And King David wrote, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Ps. 139:16)
    As Christians, many of us have heard of instances when a person was on the verge of death due to accident or disease– the doctors said that the end was eminent– but God heard the prayers of His church and spared the person’s life, bringing healing.
    On the other hand, most of us have heard stories of young people leading healthy lives who were suddenly taken in death due to an accident, an aneurysm, an undiagnosed heart defect, etc.
    Now we would all like our loved ones to lead long, healthy lives, but, though we may certainly grieve when family members die, we do not blaspheme God if He chooses not to answer our prayers on their behalf. Neither does our knowledge that our days are numbered by God cause us to cease caring for one another. You certainly would not stop feeding your children just because you recognize that you are not absolutely sure whether God will soon take them from you.
    The Bible is clear that God is sovereign not only over temporal life, but also over eternal life. Speaking of the early spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles, the Bible tells us, “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48b). The terms “elect” and “predestined” are not inventions of theologians, but are words found in the text of Scripture. But, just as your knowledge that God has numbered the earthly days of your children does not prevent you from caring for them physically, your knowledge that God has ordered the eternal destiny of your children should not prevent you from caring for them spiritually through ministering the Word to them and through prayer. For God has chosen to use means to provide for our lives both physically and spiritually. In other words, if you starve your children physically, then you can expect that they will weaken and eventually die. God may choose to do a miraculous work in preserving them, but we do not base our actions on what God may do in order to live contrary to His commands. On the other hand, if you give your children a good diet physically, then you can expect them to grow, to be healthy, and to live long lives. Again, God may choose to take them in death, but this is not normally the case. In a similar way, if we fail to minister the Gospel to our children, then we can expect that they will remain in spiritual death; meanwhile, if you are faithful to speak God’s Word to them, then you have a great deal of hope that God will eventually grant them spiritual life in Christ. Though there may be exceptions to these principles, we do not consume our lives fretting with the exceptions. If we fail to recognize God’s sovereignty in salvation, however, then if our children do no seem responsive to the Gospel, we will truly be in despair. For if God is dependent in any way upon their own ‘free-will’ in order to save them, then what can we pray that will be of any effect? The one who believes in ‘free-will’ for salvation cannot pray, “God open the heart of my child to receive Your Gospel,” for God would be restricted from meddling in the child’s heart, lest the child’s “freedom” be reduced. Once we come to fully realize the depth of sin in human hearts– even in the hearts of small children– we see that our only hope for the salvation of our loved ones is not that they would somehow, of their own free will, decide to hate the sin that brings them such pleasure and choose to follow God, who they care nothing about; but, rather, that God would sovereignly change their heart to love Him and forsake their sin.

    Hope this helps.

    In Christ,
    –Andrew

  9. Robert Brummett Says:

    The obvious problem everybody is having is accepting that God is soverign and that His thoughts are not our thoughts. Remember God is the potter and we are the clay coming from the same lump of clay. The only justice that matters is God’s justice. You have to start at the beginning. Adam made a choice and sinned against God and sin was passed down to all man. This sin was not just the ability to do wrong but rather was the inability to ever do right. Since the time of Adam man has been in a totally depraved state capable of every evil thought and deed. We all deserve hell and God would be just in sending us all everyone ever born there. But by the grace of God He chose an elect group unconditionally. God reached down unto this elect and opened their hearts with an irristible grace. God did it all. Nevertheless the sin debt must be paid with the atoning blood of the savior. Therefore Jesus suffered, died, and rose again for the elect. And what God elects God keeps. And the heart that God opens He will pour in the desire to serve and worship Him. This is the perserverance of the saints.

    Accept it you did nothing and God did it all
    Robert


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