Archive for the ‘Doctrinal Issues’ category

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.`

“Was Anyone Saved at the Cross?” A Presentation on Limited Atonement by Dr. James White

April 12, 2009

For Good Friday the Reformed Baptist Fellowship published an article titled “Was Anyone Saved at the Cross?” by Dr. James White. I commend this article to readers of this blog as a thorough-going yet not overly long introduction to Limited atonement versus the Arminian doctrine of general or universal atonement.

J.I. Packer on Evangelism and the Extent of the Atonement

February 7, 2009

[The following post is a section from J.I. Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. I cannot overly stress enough how much I would like to recommend this little book to everyone reading this post. I highlight the following portion of the text due to its relevance to my last post.]


A very “Calvinistic” sermon from SBC President Johnny Hunt

October 16, 2008


In yesterday’s chapel service at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, preached a sermon on Psalm 119:33-40. Many readers will recognize that Johnny Hunt is the pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA, which is hosting the anti-Calvinist “John 3:16 Conference,” and so you may be surprised that I would describe Hunt’s sermon from yesterday as “Calvinistic.” But what do we mean when we use the term “Calvinism”? Most people identify the term with the traditional “five points” of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. But we miss the point if we fail to understand that these “five points” are pillars which uphold the doxological truth that salvation is by God’s sovereign grace: that if we are to be saved from the judgment our sins deserve, it must be due to God’s choice, not ours, granting us undeserved favor through the work of Christ. This doxological truth was clearly proclaimed as Hunt made application of Psalm 119:33-40, bringing this text into focus by comparing it with other texts throughout Scripture. If the reader pays special attention to what Hunt declares in the section just after the middle-point of the sermon, as he preaches Psalm 119:35- “Make me walk in path of Your commandments, for I delight in it,” I believe that you will find Hunt preaches the powerlessness of Man and the absolute necessity of God’s work if we are to please Him.

I commend this sermon [which can be heard HERE] to SBF readers, and ask anyone reading this to consider:
1. Does what Hunt proclaims in this sermon make any sense at all apart from a Calvinistic perspective?
2. Does anything Hunt proclaims in this sermon contradict the Calvinistic perspective?

So that comments may be focused on the questions above, I ask readers to refrain from commenting until you have taken the time to listen to the sermon.

Believer’s Baptism and the Campbellite Heresy

August 8, 2008

This summer, one of the books I have read while not in class was Believer’s Baptism, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright. This book is an excellent resource for a defense of biblical baptism against attacks from the best arguments offered by paedo-baptist sources, as found in works by John Calvin, John Murray, Pierre Marcel, Meredith Kline and in the book The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, edited by Gregg Strawbridge. Believer’s Baptism also contains some pastoral wisdom from Mark Dever in regards to the practice of baptism in the local church.

The usefulness of this book is severely compromised, however, by a single chapter. When I saw that there was a chapter in the book titled “Baptism in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement,” I fully expected this chapter to warn baptists not emphasize believers’ baptism to the point that in guarding against paedo-baptism, we would fall into the opposite error of Campbellitism. And I was happy at the prospect of reading such a chapter, because here in Louisville there is a large number of Campbell’s theological descendants, especially in the “Christian Church.” Rather than an apologetic defense against Campbellitism, the author of this chapter, A.B. Caneday, asserts that “if one perseveres in reading [Alexander Campbell's] works with care, one discovers that Campbell, particularly on baptism, has been unfairly treated to this day” (304) and furthermore:

American Evangelicalism’s exclusion of Christians and of churches from the Stone-Campbell tradition has injured both traditions. With this in view, the rapprochement of many within the Stone-Campbell tradition and of evangelicals… is worthy of commendation. (304)

But is Caneday correct? Should evangelicals (and, in this format, I would especially like to add, should Baptists) seek rapprochement with those in the Campbellite tradition [found in denominations such as the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ]? Should we not instead follow the example set by historic Baptist associations (299-300) and seek to distance ourselves from fellowship with the Campbellites, based on New Testament passages such as Galatians 1:6-9 and 2 John 10-11? (more…)

Ridding the Church of Divisions – 1 Corinthians 3:18-23

August 3, 2008

NOTE: The following article serves as the basis of a message on 1st Corinthians 3:18-23 that I delivered to the people of Shepherd’s Fellowship Baptist Church. I hope it blesses you as you read it, for it provides the biblical solution to the common problem of clustering ourselves around men and worldly philosophies rather than Christ.

In 1st Corinthians 3:18-23, Paul summarizes the argument he was making from 1:18-3:4 by giving us a preliminary conclusion regarding the root of this church’s problem: strife. He begins by first warning them against being deceived by the world’s wisdom; thus reminding them of the argument he made in 1:18-2:16a regarding their supposed wisdom that is in reality nothing more than utter foolishness to God (3:18-20). Second, Paul turns their boasting and factiousness on its head telling them that it is not the Corinthians that belong to Paul, Apollos, or Peter, but that these great leaders (and everything else) are good gifts that come from God for the entire church to enjoy. Paul wants them to understand that their spiritual leaders and all other things are given for the benefit of the Corinthians because they belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. And so for Paul, the solution to the problem is found in correct thinking; thinking that starts with the conviction that God has spoken in Scripture and that the Bible is the final authority in all matters. To gain, maintain, and promote unity in the church of Christ, we must know how to think, Whom we must stay focused on, what we must love, and to Whom we belong.

The Folly of Worldly Wisdom: How We Must Think – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20

Verse 18 – “Let no man deceive himself.” This is exactly what they had done through pursuing worldly wisdom, and should they continue on that course, it will lead to their destruction because God destroys those who destroy His Bride, the Church (vv. 16-17). Nevertheless, he beckons them back to God’s folly: “If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age” – These people thought they possessed the best of both worlds, the wisdom of the world found in Greek philosophy and the wisdom of God as expressed in the Gospel of Christ. And so, they thought they had created a most cherished and prized philosophy. They thought themselves as wise, having gathered all knowledge (8:2), and as being very spiritual (14:37) and so they reveal their problem: worldly spiritual pride. But Paul debunks all those notions when he forcefully says that a truly wise man “must become foolish, so that he may become wise.” He shows them that God turns the things of the world on its head: wisdom is foolishness; foolishness is wisdom; weakness is power; leaders are servants; God’s people are nobodies yet they possess “all things” (v. 22). And so, to be truly wise in God’s sight God’s people must ditch all attempts at finding security in this present evil age and instead must trust in God’s folly as displayed in the cross of Christ alone. How strange the wisdom of God is when compared to the wisdom of the world!

Verse 19 – And why must a truly wise man become foolish so that he may become wise? Because, or “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” The world’s manmade philosophies; all of which seek to find utopia and bliss apart from God are simply declared stupid in verse 19 by divine decree. And what evidence do we have that God considers the wisdom of the world absolute folly? Well “for it is written,” is a signal telling us again what His thoughts are about the futility of the wise by quoting a verse from Job 5:13 He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS’”. The imagery here is that of the Divine Hunter catching His prey by using the prey’s own craftiness or cunning against it. The irony is that the worldly wise think they are craftily avoiding the God with whom they have to do; but God will use that very craftiness against them to capture them for the kill.

Verse 20 emphasizes the complete uselessness and futility of the worldly wise – and again, THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.’” God not only will capture them by their own cunningness (v. 19) but also knows their mental machinations; that they will come to naught. After all, Paul’s point in writing this to the Corinthians is to show them that should they not take God’s view of these things; then they will show that they are fools waiting to be eventually captured and killed (2 Peter 2:12).

The Folly of Following Men: Whom and What We Must Fix Our Eyes Upon – 1 Corinthians 3:21-22

Verse 21a – “So then let no one boast in men. . .” – The “So then” indicates that after all that has been said about the power of God’s wisdom as displayed in the cross, about how servant leadership should display the power of the cross, and about God’s contempt for worldly wisdom, let no one go on and boast in men by saying “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos” or “I am of Cephas”. To base our confidence in the creature rather than the Creator eventually leads to futility, idolatry, and eternal ruin.

Verse 21b-22 gives the reason for not boasting in men, “For all things belong to you” with the “all things” being the “all things” mentioned in verse 22, “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you . . .”. Again, Paul turns the Corinthians’ thinking on its head. They said “I am of Paul” but God said “Paul is yours”. They said “I am of the world” but God said, “the world is yours”. And so, instead of them belonging to these great spiritual leaders; Paul is telling them that God has given these great teachers to them as a gift; and not only these teachers, but “the world or life or death or things present or things to come.” Not only are godly leaders ours, but everything else is ours as well. In Christ, all the five great terrifying and enslaving problems of human existence: the world, life, death, the present, and the future; all of them are turned on their heads, redeemed or awaiting complete redemption, and are thusly given to us as part of our spiritual redemption. All of these things are for our sake and ultimately for God’s glory (2 Cor. 4:15). O’ what amazing grace! Even though the world is still in the grip of the evil one (1 John 5:19), it will someday and forever completely belong to us and not to Satan. Even death, that great enemy of mankind has been overcome. Christ conquered death, and through Him we too have conquered it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-57). This explains why Paul could say with such great joy, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21). Whether he remained on earth for a while longer or went to be with the Lord, he had a win-win situation. For Christians, death can only make things better. To stay here and labor for Jesus may be “more necessary,” but “to depart and be with Christ . . . is far better” (Phil. 1:23-24). For God’s people, this present life is good, but death; that which ushers us into eternal life; that is far better, and since all things belong to us through faith in Christ and we belong to no one except God; then we can truly say that we are children of liberty, bound by no one, enslaved only to God Himself with our gaze transfixed upon Him only, and how glorious it is!

The Folly of Misunderstood Ownership – To Whom We Must Belong1 Corinthians 3:23

Verse 23 – “and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. – Since we belong to Jesus as His slaves, the “all things” that are ours don’t come to us willy-nilly. Nor do they come to us through our own power as if we had the power to become self-sufficient and independent from God. This type of selfish behavior only comes from those who think they know God but don’t. They are self-deceived, and as a result, they experience the illusion of misunderstood ownership. In other words, they belong to the devil, they do his desires, and are even held captive by him to do his will (John 8:44; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). The problem is that they don’t know who they are really spiritually owned by, and as a result, they comfort themselves with their false identity (“I’ve been baptized and I go to church three times weekly”) or their false works (“I help the poor by fixing meals for the old fogies down at the soup kitchen and I’ve never hurt anybody too badly”). Heed this warning: No autonomous, self-centered person will ever enter the Kingdom of God because idolatry is the most heinous sin in the eyes of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). And idolatry is the foundation for autonomy. However, those who truly belong to Christ indeed have “all things”; because it is only by virtue of being “in Him” by faith alone that we too become joint-heirs of Christ (Romans 8:17). This kind of gift can never come to the boastful, the proud, and the person that is haughty in spirit. Since “you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God”, then we know that we have “all things” through Him alone, apart from our works, lest any many should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is only through Christ that we have true spiritual unity and the solution for healing division in the church. When we take our eyes off Him division begins and when we put our eyes back on Him division ends.

Conclusion: The Take Home Message

True believers all belong to the same Lord. Because of this we should work hard to be together in mind, purpose, and action with each other. Anything that undermines our oneness with each other also undermines our oneness in Christ (cf. Phil. 2:1-4). We are so quick to ditch the Scriptures and look to the world’s methods for maintaining the unity of the Spirit; and when we do so we cannot for the life of us figure out why we still cannot avoid division in the church. Avoiding church division is all about understanding that we belong to Christ and that Christ belongs to God and because we belong to Him, we have no cause for boasting in “belonging” to any person, especially a spiritual leader. It’s because we all belong to Him that we all belong to each other and we are part of the “all things” given by Him to minister to each other. If we are tied together in such an eternal oneness with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thus with each other in them, how can people who are supposed to be unified be so divided? Well, the answer lies in the fact that we fail to understand the reality of our spiritual unity in the Triune God, the very One who owns us. And that failure to understand as we ought always comes as the direct result of our own personal sin. Nevertheless, with God as our slavemaster, with Christ’s cross are our great banner display for God’s wisdom, and with the Holy Spirit as our teacher, we trust God to honor the clear, consistent teaching of His word and grant spiritual unity where true unity must exist; only in the Bride, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

TDK: Does Reformed anthropology require (at least) one ferry to detonate?

July 29, 2008

Spoiler alert: This post mentions the resolution of a major plot point for The Dark Knight.

As the film The Dark Knight has earned over $300 million in the first two weekends, I assume that many reading this post have viewed the movie. The major villain of this film, the Joker, delights in placing people in moral dilemmas in which other characters have to make a less-than-ideal choice- a choice in which a person (or many people) will have to be killed. One such dilemma occurs as the Joker rigs two ferryboats full of passengers with a large amount of explosives and then strands the ferryboats in the middle of a waterway. The Joker announces to the passengers that if anyone attempts to leave the boats, they will explode. Also, the Joker says that he will detonate both boats at midnight. The Joker has also placed a detonator for the other boat on each ferry; the only way that either boat will survive is if, before midnight, the passengers on one of the boats chooses to detonate the other boat, killing all of the passengers on the other ferry. To make the moral experiment even more interesting, one of the ferryboats is filled with criminals who were being transported, while the other boat is filled with average citizens.

In the movie the dilemma is resolved as a prisoner on one boat convinces the warden to give him the detonator under the pretense that the prisoner will detonate the other ferry and allow the warden to say that he was attacked and the detonator was taken; the prisoner proceeds to throw the detonator into the water, thus taking away the possibility of killing the other passengers. In the other boat, the average citizens vote to detonate the ferry full of criminals, but then the crewman holding the detonator refuses to press the trigger; one of the other passengers volunteers to use the detonator, but cannot bring himself to do it.

In the event that someone reading this post who has not yet seen TDK ignored the spoiler warning, I will not reveal if the Joker detonates the ferryboats, but the point of the scene is that the people of the city- both average citizens and criminals- are fundamentally better than the Joker; that even under great duress, the people of the city will not choose to do something so blatantly wrong as taking dozens of other lives in order to preserve themselves.

The question I am promoting for discussion today is this: According to a Reformed worldview, humankind is radically corrupted by sin- given this view, is it at all plausible that people in real life could choose in a way similar to the characters in TDK if placed in a similar situation? In other words, “Does Reformed anthropology require (at least) one ferry to detonate?” Could a great number of people make a seemingly noble choice- a choice calling for self-sacrifice- or would such a choice be impossible in this sinful world?


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