Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Limited Atonement

I have often struggled with the teaching of limited atonement. I understood it in concept, but thought it was a purposeless doctrine. That was true until I read an article that was against the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement.

Substitutionary Atonement states that Jesus died in my place. When He was on the cross, He bore my sins. By dying, He took the punishment for my sin. He died in my place. He was my substitute, because the punishment He suffered should have been mine.

If Substitutionary Atonement is true, that means my sins were atoned for when Jesus died on the cross. He bore then 2,000 years ago. That leads us to two places. The first is the Armenian viewpoint, of unlimited atonement, which states that everyone has the potential for salvation, which means that Christ bore the sins of everyone at Calvary. While it sounds to good and pleasing to stay that Christ bore the sins of every person on the cross, it makes salvation a work. Let's elaborate.

If Christ bore the sins of everyone, and died as a substitute for everyone, then everyone is atoned for, yet not everyone is saved. What is left in the salvation process? Acceptance. That means that we earn salvation though accepting it. That is a gnostic teaching. Either the work is acceptance, understanding, belief or surrender, all those things are dependent upon me. I am therefore responsible for my own salvation, and I am not saved by grace through faith, but rather I am saved by knowledge though faith. I am saved by receiving the atonement. Is that scriptural, or is that humanism?

The alternative is Limited Atonement. It's the reality that God prepared some for salvation since before the foundation of the world, elected them, their sins were paid for on Calvary and they receive grace. We find this in Romans 9.

19 You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” 20 But who are you—anyone who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21 Or has the potter no right over His clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? 22 And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? 23 And [what if] He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory— 24 on us whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Romans 9:19-24 (HCSB)

So I assume some of you reading this point don't agree with me. After all, why would we be commanded to seek and knock, and what is the value of preaching? What about Romans 10:9 and 10:13?

But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How welcome are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things! 16 But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.
Romans 10:14-17 (HCSB)

Perhaps you are asking about those verses, about evangelism and what is the point if people are already redeemed. It's a tricky subject I'll admit. So let's go deeper, let's get woven.

In my theological offering of Woven Theology, I have stated that Gods unconditional call and election works in concert with God's foreknowledge, our response and responsibility. That means we are elected and called by God without any work or merit of our own. We know that we are chosen, we are saved and redeemed by grace. It's God who gives grace, we cannot and do no earn it, it's for the glory of God. We also know that our belief has an impact that we believe and we trust God and we are saved. So, we can't be saved without belief, we don't believe without Grace, we don't get grace unless we are chosen, we don't get chosen unless we believe. How?

I think the key comes for a verse in Joel.
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust ate,
the young locust, the destroying locust,
and the devouring locust—
My great army that I sent against you.

Joel 2:25 (HCSB)

There is a spiritual reality that sometimes things flow backwards, work in recompense. In Joel, Israel was disobedient, and they were punished. They repented and God re payed the punishment, and it became like the punishment never happened. God can work backwards, can buy back, pay back and restore things to how they were before.

Woven theology stays that you believe because God gives you the ability and the grace to believe, and you have the ability and grace from God because you believe. The reality is that you were called and predestined to believe if you are a believer, and God gave His son for you, and your sins are atoned for because of Grace. We share and we pray for others, because prayer, obedience and response are the mechanisms in which God operates as He predestines those from the foundation of the world. Overwhelmed? We are just getting warmed up.

1 comment:

  1. A most EXCELLENT post if ever there were one. I struggle with Limited Atonement too; but I see the works associated with "surrender" and "acceptence." I much prefer a theological model (if we need them) that is holistic rather than compartmentalized.