Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Limited Atonement - Part 1 - Guest Blogger: Jessica Stem

Last summer I met a student at an event I was teaching at, named Jessica Stem, who had just graduated high school.  As we were talking Scripture and theology she revealed that for her Senior Thesis she wrote a defense of the doctrine of limited atonement.  I asked her to email it to me, which she did, and I have to say that I was blown away by her well articulated defense and well done research.  I am going to post her paper, per her approval, in its entirety over the next couple of days.  Read and be blessed!

-- jason

Deciding on the limited atonement for my thesis topic was pretty easy for me.  Ever since I heard about it in Coach Allen’s Theology class junior year, I was hooked.  My classmates tried to warn me that I was picking a very tough topic, but I did not care.  I didn’t have a peace about doing any other topic that I thought of.  I am very passionate about my views of the atonement because through all of my research, my faith has been tremendously strengthened as a result of figuring out what I believe apart from what my parents believe and what others have told me.

Even though my sotieriological views are different from my parents, it has been very satisfying to know that I believe what I believe because I have searched scripture for myself.  Every time that I discus this theological issue with my dad, no matter how heated the discussion gets, he always tells me that he still loves me and will always support me; for that I would like to thank him.

I would also like to recognize one of his good friends, Steve Elkins.  Steve has written several pieces on the atonement that I used to help solidify my refutation.  

In addition I would like to thank many different authors for the material they produced that greatly helped me in my research: Luis Berkhof, Dennis Bratcher, John M. Frame, Herman Hanko, Homer C. Hoeksema, Gise J. Van Baren, Michael Horton, John Owen, John Piper, Michelle Powell-Smith, Duane Edward Spencer, Thomas R. Thompson, Bob Thune, and James B. Torrance.  

Furthermore, I owe a big thank you to Mr. Richard Ohendalski for taking time to read my thesis paper and for giving me ideas that have made it better and more complete.
I must also recognize and thank Mrs. Chris Pritchard and my mom for proof reading this paper many times.

I would like to thank Alpha Omega Academy and Clint Allen for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share what I have learned.  Specifically, to Coach Allen, thank you first of all, for introducing me to the limited atonement and second, for taking so much time to talk to me about this topic.  Also, thank you for the plethora of resources that you have provided for me to use.

Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank my Savior AND Lord, Jesus Christ, for providing me with so great a salvation.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, died on the cross to atone for the sin that separates man from God.  This is no question for one who is truly a Christian.  The question that is asked by Christians, however, is what was the intent of God in sending His Son to die for sin?  Did God send His Son to make it certain for all men to be saved?  Did God send His Son to make it possible for all men to be saved? Or did God send His Son to make it certain for His chosen to be saved?  These questions deal with the theological implication of the extent of His atoning grace that was seen on the cross more than 2,000 years ago.
Theology concerning the extent of the atonement is by no means a matter of new business.  This discussion traces all the way back to 300 A.D. with St. Augustine’s full understanding of predestination.  Predestination is a Christian doctrine according to which a the eternal destiny of a person, whether it be salvation or damnation, is determined by God alone prior to, and apart from, any worth or merit on the part of that person.  The regeneration of interest in this theology revived in the late medieval period with John Calvin, along with other Protestant theologians during his time ("Theology: Predestination").

John Calvin began preaching in Paris as a young Protestant and later fled persecution to his final destination of Geneva in 1536.  Here, he took a job at the Evangelical Church of Geneva as pastor and continued his theological studies, including the doctrine of the atonement, which would later become Calvinism (Powell-Smith).  After Calvin’s death many great men in history picked up where he left off, such as Dutch theologian Franciscus Gomarus and John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian church.  Later eminent theologians included English Baptist John Bunyan, American preacher Jonathan Edwards and John Owen (“Calvinism”).

Calvinism is known by, but not limited to the acrostic TULIP, the five points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  These five points were formed in a direct response to the five articles of the Arminian Remonstrance, an outline of the view of Arminianism (Hanko).  These five articles deal with: free will or human ability, conditional election, universal redemption or general atonement, resistible grace, and falling from grace ("Comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism").  The Arminian Remonstrance was written to try to refute the theology of Calvinism that was so quickly sweeping the continent of Europe during the 17th century.  It was found contrary to Scripture and declared heretical by the Synod of Dort, a counsel that was formed to review the Remonstrance (Spencer, 13-14).  However, this did not stop the doctrine from spreading and greatly affecting the church under the movement begun by John and Charles Wesley, influential Arminian advocates (Bratcher).

Specifically, the issue of the atonement, the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, accomplished through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, is still a very controversial issue within the body of Christ.  There are three main views concerning the doctrine of the atonement.  The least convincing of the three is Universalism, which says that Christ died on the cross for everyone, therefore everyone is saved.  This is biblically unsupported and easily nullified by the existence of hell.  The next view of the atonement comes from the third article of the Remonstrance, which says that Christ came to atone for the whole world’s sin and it is each individual’s choice to either accept or reject Christ.  Contrary to this is the third and final view of limited atonement, the “L” in Calvinism’s TULIP.  This theological view says that Christ died on the cross for those who God chose beforehand and only the predestined are saved.
The love of God is one of the first aspects of the atonement to be considered.  However a person views the atonement, whether general or definite, is how that person views God’s love towards them and all other Christians.  If someone holds to the view of a definite atonement, they have a different understanding of the love that the Father has for them compared to the love that He has for the unsaved.  Here is an analogy to help distinguish between these different types of love.  

Think about the way a father loves his children.  Now, think about the way that the same father also loves his best friend’s children.  Is the love of the father for his own children any different from the love he has for his best friend’s children?  Yes!  In the same way God loves His children.  He loves His children, the elect, in a different way than He does the rest of His creation because the elect are in the Son.  When the atonement is seen as general, the love of God for His children is watered down to the same love He has for those who are not His children, diminishing the idea of covenant love.

With this view of a special love of God, a concern that arises often from those who are skeptical about a particular atonement is the question of evangelism; what is the point of evangelizing if the elect have already been chosen?  Does the view of the atonement diminish the free gift of the gospel?  Is it wrong to tell everyone that God loves them?  Bob Thune says, “not at all!”  He points out that many avid evangelists in the Christian history were Reformed theologians that held to a view of definite atonement.  For example, John Calvin led a movement that planted churches all over France.  Jonathan Edwards moved from a successful urban church to the wild frontier to share the gospel with American Indians.  Charles Spurgeon preached some of the most powerful evangelistic sermons in the English language. 

(stay tuned for part 2 in a couple of days)

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