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