Archive for the ‘Doctrinal Issues’ category

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: “Reconciliation”

June 11, 2009

In Death by Love Mark Driscoll writes, “…Jesus died for all people in general so that they obtain some general benefits, and for the elect Christians in particular so that they would enjoy additional specific benefits regarding salvation.” Considered on its own, there is nothing objectionable about this quote, and “5-point Calvinists” have made similar statements. (For example, Charles Spurgeon has been quoted as saying, “We believe that by His atoning sacrifice, Christ bought some good things for all men and all good things for some men.”) What makes Driscoll’s view objectionable, however, is the content of what “general benefits” he understands to be purchased for “all people” through the death of Christ. (more…)

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: An Unaddressed Question

June 10, 2009

In Death by Love Mark Driscoll writes, “Christ died for the purpose of providing payment for the penalty of all sin of all people” (173).

If the penalty of the non-elect has been paid, then why do they suffer eternal wrath? This crucial question is not mentioned, much less answered, by Driscoll.

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: Calvin Quotes

June 9, 2009

When a theologian presents a doctrinal view that few, if any, Christians in the history of the church have held, then this may raise questions as to whether such a view can be correct. If the doctrinal view in question is one that is important to the Christian faith, doesn’t it seem that many other Bible students would have come to this same view in the past? In Death by Love Mark Driscoll seeks historical support for his position by claiming John Calvin as a major theologian who held to the Un/limited view of the atonement.

It must be noted that Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement is a highly controversial matter in the subject of Church History. (The classic works that examine Calvin’s relation to the doctrine of Limited atonement are R.T. Kendall’s Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649- arguing that Calvin held to universal redemption- and Paul Helm’s Calvin & the Calvinists- arguing that Calvin held to particular redemption, or Limited atonement.)

Driscoll focuses on Calvin’s comments concerning a handful of verses, such as Galatians 5:12 and Colossians 1:14. In response to Driscoll’s presentation I would like to note two things: (more…)

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Proof-Texts

June 9, 2009

Aside from assuming Arminian definitions for the terms “world” and “all” in a number of Bible passages, Driscoll [in Death by Love] presents two verses in particular as requiring an “Un/limited” view of the atonement. These verses are 1 Timothy 4:10 and 2 Peter 2:1.

But do either of these verses teach the “Un/limited” view of the atonement? (more…)

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Chart

May 23, 2009

On page 168 of Death by Love Driscoll presents a chart comparing different views of the atonement. The chart includes information on “Christian” Universalism, Contemporary Pelagianism, Unlimited Atonement, Limited Atonement, and Unlimited Limited Atonement. (Driscoll identifies the first two categories just mentioned as heresies.) For each of the views just mentioned the chart identifies four aspects: “View of Sin,” “Who Jesus Died For,” “How Atonement Is Applied,” “Heaven & Hell.”

In this post, I am most concerned with the differences Driscoll indicates between the “Limited Atonement” and “Unlimited Limited Atonement” categories.

In regards to the categories just mentioned, Driscoll’s chart indicates that their “View of Sin” is identical: both those who hold to “Limited Atonement” and those who take the “Unlimited Limited Atonement” position believe that “We are born sinners guilty in Adam.”

Likewise, Driscoll’s chart indicates that those who hold to “Limited Atonement” and those who take the “Unlimited Limited Atonement” position give identical teaching in regards to “Heaven & Hell” [as it relates to election]: “God does not need to save anyone from hell, but chooses to save some.”

The “Limited Atonement” and “Unlimited Limited Atonement” views differ, according to this chart, in their teaching about “Who Jesus Died For” and “How Atonement Is Applied.” “Limited Atonement” teaches that “Jesus died to achieve full payment for the elect,” whereas “Unlimited Limited Atonement” teaches that “Jesus died to provide payment for all, but only in a saving way for the elect.” “Limited Atonement” teaches that “God designed the atonement precisely for the elect,” whereas “Unlimited Limited Atonement” teaches that, “While God desires the salvation of all, he applies the payment to the elect, those whom he chose for salvation.” The substantial differences between these views (as presented in this chart) lie in the “Unlimited Limited” assertions that “Jesus died to provide payment for all” and “God desires the salvation of all.”

I will concede that one of these differences is a legitimate point of debate, while arguing that the other does not truly represent a difference between these views. (more…)

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: Why Did Jesus Die?

May 21, 2009

Why did Jesus die? Finding the answer to this question is necessarily connected to finding the answer to the main question in the present discussion, i.e., For whom did Christ die?

Driscoll answers the question, Why did Jesus die? with the following statements:
“because Jesus died for sin, we can put to death our sin and live new lives patterned after his” (166)
“Jesus died so that we could live new lives” (167)

Writing to his son, Driscoll notes: “because Jesus died for the sins he has committed and those committed against him, your grandpa has been able to put to death the sins that have plagued men in our family for generations” (166)

In each of the above statements, Driscoll presents the death of Christ as forming the basis for things that we do; Jesus died so that we could put sin(s) to death and live new lives patterned after His. It is true that Driscoll asserts that we can only do these things “by the power of God the Holy Spirit” (166); but, according to this view, the power of the Holy Spirit may or may not be present in the lives of those for whom Jesus died. This view disconnects the benefits of the Cross from the purpose of the Cross. An individual may, according to this view, rightly say, “Jesus died for me,” yet that individual may not ever receive the Holy Spirit, put sin to death, or live a new life in Christ.

The New Testament, and particularly those passages that focus on the atonement, draw a more certain connection between the work of Jesus on the Cross and the effects on that this work has in the lives of those for whom the work was accomplished.

Jesus said: “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28)
In regards to the “many” for who Jesus shed His blood, remission of sins is actually accomplished; by His own blood He “obtained eternal redemption” for His people (Heb 9:12); by His blood He purchased people for God (Rev 5:9).

In response to such passages, those taking Driscoll’s view will respond, ‘Yes, but His blood may have additionally been shed for those who do not have their sins remitted,’ etc. This type of response fails to take into account the certain efficacy of the New Covenant sacrifice in distinction from the Old Covenant system. Under the Old Covenant, sacrifices were made for people, yet the individuals for whom these sacrifices were made may or may not receive the spiritual benefit signified in these sacrifices. A person under the Old Covenant may have their sins symbolically atoned for by the death of a lamb, but that individual may never actually receive the remission of sins; this is the faultiness of the Old Covenant mentioned in Hebrews 8:7. Hebrews 8-10 explains that the New Covenant accomplishes the covenant keeping of those with whom it was made [Samuel E. Waldron and Richard C. Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2004), 54].

This passage also speaks of Jesus as the Great High Priest whose blood is poured out in sacrifice in order that He might enter the heavenly holy of holies for the purpose of making intercession for his people. Of this aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice, James White notes: “When we keep in mind the fact that, due to the nature of His work as High Priest, Christ intercedes for all of those for whom He died and only for those for whom He died, the intention and scope of His work becomes quite clear” [Dave Hunt and James White, Debating Calvinism (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2004), 174].

If the quote from James White above is shown to be correct by a careful reading of passages such as Hebrews 8-10, then the un/limited atonement position is impossible. And if, as explored above, Jesus’ blood was shed to create the possibility that those for whom it was shed will put sin to death and live new lives, then Jesus’ sacrifice is no different from the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. If, instead, Jesus’ blood was shed to accomplish the remission of sins and to secure new life for those for whom it was shed, then this purpose contradicts the un/limited atonement position.

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: Introduction

May 18, 2009

Mark Driscoll’s book Death by Love is commendable for many reasons. In this regard, I would like to direct readers’ attention to Tim Challies’ review of Death by Love found HERE. The only other positive point I would like to emphasize in addition to Challies’ review is that I appreciate how Driscoll demonstrates the necessary connection between theology and Christian experience; for example, many within evangelicalism today would tend to say we should not bother defending a doctrine such as “propitiation,” whereas Driscoll shows that this doctrine is not only necessary for our salvation, but also for our comfort from horrors of life in this sin-sick world: horrors such as child abuse (readers must see the chapter in Death by Love in which Driscoll expertly makes the connection just mentioned).

In mentioning a couple of concerns he has with this book, Challies writes:

Many readers will object to what Driscoll teaches in Chapter 8, “My Daddy is a Pastor.” This chapter is written to Gideon Driscoll, Mark’s youngest son. Here he encourages his son not to take faith for granted but does so in the context of a doctrine known as “unlimited limited atonement.” This is guaranteed to alienate most of his audience since so few people hold to it (Bruce Ware being one notable exception). While I’ll grant that Driscoll does a good job in explaining the doctrine (or doing so as well as it can be explained), it was not convincing.

Though it may be true that at this time “few people hold to” “unlimited limited atonement” (elsewhere referred to as “un/limited atonement”), I do think that it is important to for those who hold to “Limited atonement” to respond to Driscoll’s teaching on this subject. For this “un/limited atonement” position is not only being taught by Mark Driscoll, who is wildly influential in some circles, but (as Challies mentions) Bruce Ware- who is a popular professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the current president of the Evangelical Theological Society- holds this view as well. Unless we who hold to a traditional Reformed understanding of the extent of the atonement begin to formulate carefully thought out, biblical responses to “un/limited atonement,” many more will likely follow Driscoll and Ware into this error.

In the following posts, I will attempt to respond to some of the issues raised by “un/limited atonement” as presented in Chapter 8 of Death by Love.`


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