Limited Atonement

Limited Atonement

Limited atonement was definitely the hardest one for me to accept, so if you’re having trouble with it, know that I can sympathize with your thoughts. The thing about the doctrines of grace is that each point depends on the others in order to really have any meat. You’ll notice in my posts that I will touch on a couple other points of Calvinism each time I write (though I definitely try my best to focus on one point) because they are so closely tied.

Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor, was actually the one who mainly put forth the idea of limited atonement. Some claim that he distorted Calvin’s views, but it’s more likely that he made them more explicit. One day, I may do a series of posts on the reformers in the same vein as the ones I’m doing on the early church fathers, and if I do, Beza will definitely be on that list, but for now, I will leave a few resources on Beza below, if you are curious.

Links: https://bit.ly/2GHDPh6https://bit.ly/2F9lwB7

What is it?

Why did Jesus die? Or rather, who did he die for? These questions are at the heart of the debates surrounding limited atonement. 

Limited atonement is the doctrine that states that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient for all of mankind, but effectual for the elect (this also ties into irresistible grace for tomorrow). Many prefer not to use the term limited atonement (or any of the other labels that are parts of TULIP) because they find it to be a bit misleading. RC Sproul tends to lean towards using definite atonement. No matter what you call it, all Christians have to come to grips with the idea that not all people will be saved, if we are to be biblically faithful.

But what about the whole world?

“Almost everyone limits the atonement in one way or another,” J. A. Medders writes in Humble Calvinism. “Unless you’re a universalist, who thinks that Christ’s death saves everyone regardless of their response to the gospel, you limit or define the atonement’s effects. All orthodox Christians limit the atonement as being effective for those who have placed faith in Christ’s death in their place. The Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement limits the scope of the atonement while expressing its effectiveness. Jesus’ death redeemed his people, specifically.”

But John 3:16 says that God so loved the whole world, how could he limit (or define) the atonement to only apply to certain people? When we look at scripture, we need to survey the whole counsel of God. and you’re right, hypothetical person, God does love the world enough to send Jesus to save it. The call is sufficient for all, even if not effectual for all. One of the first things we need to look at is the way “the world” is used in scripture and in the book of John, specifically. If you take the time to read through the book of John one day, you’ll notice that John speaks of the world in a figurative way. Typically, when the world is used, it’s used to mean that it applies not to Jews, but also to Gentiles. It is not talking about every individual person in the world. An example of this is John 1 speaking of Jesus being in the world. When we read that, we don’t think that Jesus’ human body is physically at every spot in the world.  

An Old Testament example of the Bible consistently referring to “the world” in this way is when writers speak of “all of Israel” doing something. We typically don’t read that as every man, woman, and child in the whole country individually doing something, many times we read it figuratively. 

In John 10:14-15, Jesus lays out the case that he is for his sheep saying:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay my life down for the sheep.

2 Timothy 2:10 is probably the most explicit in stating this:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Another aspect of objections to limited atonement/definite redemption is whether or not Jesus’ death atoned for all sin or did his death make atonement possible for any sinner. The general Arminian argument is that there are no (or little) limits to who Jesus’ sacrifice is for because Jesus made a way for man to become right with God. I think many don’t mean it in such a way to indicate that this somehow makes the responsibility of the person to make themselves right with God, but it effectively does end up that way and that is the actual argument of the Remonstrants. The Calvinist would argue that the atonement was for the sins of the elect because if there was a person that Jesus died for that was not elect, that would mean that his death did not accomplish what Jesus set out to do (Luke 19:10, “the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost,” if he did not save, then the work is not finished).

The question really comes down to (in my eyes) did Jesus atone or did he make atonement attainable?

Scriptural Support for Limited Atonement:

  • John 1:13, 6:37-39, 10:1-30, 17:2
  • Mark 13:20
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-8, 27-29
  • Revelation 13:8, 17:8
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • 2 Timothy 1:9-10
  • Romans 9

John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:

  • Book 2, chapter 15-16
  • Book 3, chapter 21, sec 5-7
  • Book 3, chapter 23, sec 1

More Resources to Learn:

Unconditional Election

Unconditional Election

I wanted to say this in yesterday’s preface, but it felt like my little preface was too long, so I figured part of it could wait a day. The acrostic TULIP is used to describe the doctrines of grace, but John Calvin was French and did most of his ministry in Geneva, Switzerland, so he did not speak or write in English. Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination used the acrostic TULIP for the doctrines of grace in 1932 and was originally thought to be the first use of it, but it seems that in 1913, William Vail’s The New Outlook recalls TULIP being used in a lecture by Rev. Cleland Boyd McAfee in 1905. While it is unlikely to have gone back too much further in Christian history, it’s clearly a tool that is American in origin.

Parts of the doctrines of grace themselves even predate John Calvin. Some of the concepts can be found in some of the writings of Irenaeus and later, St. Augustine of Hippo. The codified concepts are largely found in Calvin’s systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the points themselves were developed as a response to the Remonstrants in the Netherlands and their 5 points of Arminianism. The 5 points of Arminianism were put on trial at the Synod of Dort in Dordrecht, Netherlands and the decision that was made is known as the Canons of Dort, which is one document that’s part of the Three Forms of Unity (the Dutch Reformed confessional documents).

What is it?

Unconditional election is the doctrine that states that God chose us from before the foundations of the world for no other reasoning than God’s own glory. We did not do anything to earn this. God did not look down the corridors of time and choose those that he knew would independently choose him if given the chance (this would be conditional election). God chose the elect sola gratia, by grace alone.

But what about free choice?

So today’s topic and tomorrow’s topic are both pretty difficult for people to accept, generally, and I think it’s partly due to the fact that they both touch on the topic of reprobation, which is super uncomfortable for most people because we don’t like telling people that they’re going to hell. To say God chose some is to say that God did not choose others and it is even more objectionable to hear that those he chose were chosen for seemingly no reason, since they did not merit being chosen.

How could God send people to hell? When Ray Comfort speaks of his book Hitler, God, and the Bible; he says that he went into his research in his subconscious thinking “how could God create a hell?” but after seeing the horrors of the Holocaust, he “came out of that thinking, ‘how could God not create hell? There must be punishment for evil.’ If God is just and good and holy, there must be retribution, or God is wicked and evil because any judge that turns a blind eye to such wickedness and says, ‘I don’t care’ is evil by nature.”

Link: https://bit.ly/2SymYQp 

Why does God pick people against their will? If he didn’t, no one would be saved. Because we are all born in original sin, totally depraved, with hearts naturally bent towards sin and against God, God in his grace and mercy has to be the one that wakes our hearts up because we otherwise wouldn’t choose that. This gets a little into what’s called the order of salvation, if you remember from my post on Lordship Salvation. I am going to put a little resource on the ordo salutis below so you can check back to that, I’ve found it super helpful.

Link: https://bit.ly/apmordosalutis 

Now, this is not to say that God is lining humanity up and picking some people off to go to heaven and others to hell at his every casual whim and this is something I will be getting into a bit more tomorrow, so bear with me if this is something you struggle with. 

Ultimately, I see the doctrine of election as a gracious doctrine because it means that I don’t have to earn a right standing with God by praying a prayer and “meaning it enough.” It takes the focus off of myself and puts it back on God and his sovereignty. That he is sovereign to the point of not just predicting the future, but ordaining the future to the point of orchestrating a divine intervention in my heart. If Christianity is true (which I believe it is), I don’t want free will. I want God to override what I think I want and give me what is best for me, himself forever.

Scriptural Support for Unconditional Election:

  • John 1:13, 6:37-39, 10:1-30, 17:2
  • Mark 13:20
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-8, 27-29
  • Revelation 13:8, 17:8
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • 2 Timothy 1:9-10
  • Romans 9

 

John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:

  • Book 3, chapter 21, sec 5-7
  • Book 3, chapter 23, sec 1

 

More Resources to Learn:

Total Depravity

Total Depravity

I want to start this out with a recommendation. I’m sure many have heard of something called the cage stage. This is something many people go through after coming to a new ideological realization. Whether that’s becoming a new believer, recently adopting the doctrines of grace, or changing a political stance that was once long held. Shortly after that new view “clicks” in your head, there’s this desire to very zealously share it with everyone you know so that they can see this new truth, too! I remember when I first became reformed and it felt like this invigorating energy. I excitedly consumed as much theological content as I possibly could because I wanted to know everything. I’m still like that, too, but I am very glad that I was at a church that was very anti Calvinism when I became reformed because by the time I got to my first PCA, I was much much calmer after feeling very restricted in what I could say.

But normally, people embrace the doctrines of grace and then it’s full speed ahead. Everyone around you is now a heretic if they don’t agree with you and there’s this constant barrage of questions, “is this okay? What about that teacher? How do I know if this is a sin because the people I go to church say it is, but I’m not sure I trust them anymore.”

I know most here already hold to the doctrines of grace and I hope this week encourages you. If you come to adopt the doctrines of grace through this group or these posts, I want to say loud and clear that people who don’t believe the doctrines of grace, but do hold to other core doctrines of the faith as outlined in the creeds are saved. We have a great big cloud of witnesses that do not agree with us on everything and that is totally okay. You are not “converting to Calvinism,” you are not “coming to the reformed faith.” Reformed theology is part of Christianity and while it is an important doctrine that touches every aspect of our faith, it is not our faith.

All of this to say, I recently listened to a book on Audible by J. A. Medders called Humble Calvinism. This is a book that should be mandatory reading for all Calvinists, especially new Calvinists. It is a very encouraging overview of the doctrines of grace and shows how, in light of these truths, Calvinists should be the most humble of all Christians. I’ve got it linked below in case you’d like to listen on Audible, it is definitely worth the time.

Link: https://adbl.co/3cZ6gDg 

What is it?

Total depravity is both a difficult and easy pill to swallow. If you’ve ever been for a drive and have had someone cut you off, it’s easy to see the selfishness and corruption of man in that moment. In a way, it’s always easy to see that when you’re looking at someone else. But let’s look at scripture for a moment. In Psalm 51, King David was repenting of the sin of sleeping with Bathsheeba and killing Uriah, lying about it, and basically breaking almost every commandment. In that broken state, he says to the Lord, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And this was a man who is known to be a man after God’s own heart. 

So, to give a more clear definition (rather than an illustration), total depravity is the doctrine that people who are dead in their sins are totally unable to make themselves alive in Christ. In other words, we cannot save ourselves. In the words of RC Sproul, “we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.”

Pastor Jeff Godwin of Northside PCA in Melbourne, FL explained it in Northside’s new members class using the illustration of someone falling face down into a pool and drowning. If you’re face down, you can’t see, and you don’t know which way is up, you can’t get out of the water and to safety. But take heart, God himself is able to pull you out of the darkness and bring you to life. He takes our hearts of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh in an act that’s called regeneration.

But what about free will?

The Arminian Counterpoint is the doctrine of human free will. This is the belief that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can still freely choose God. Since the time of Jacobus Arminius, there has come a variety of beliefs that are accepted within Arminian circles, even further than that, the options are not just Calvinism and Arminianism, but there is a plethora of soteriological beliefs that I may discuss in the group later on, if there is enough interest.

On the other half of Pastor Jeff’s illustration, he explains free will as God reaching out to grab you in the water and you grab his arm back.

Reformed Christians don’t believe this because of the scriptural support, but also beckoning back to Saturday’s piece on Sola Gratia. If our salvation is because we are able to reach out to God while still dead, that means that we’re also able to maintain our salvation by continuing to hold on to God. Whereas, in reformed theology, we emphasize God’s sovereignty over all aspects of existence. This means that God is sufficient to start and complete a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). Does this mean we are without responsibility for our actions in life? No, but it does mean that the sins we do commit can be forgiven upon repentance and that God is still working in us so that we are truly saved by grace.

 

Scriptural Support for Total Depravity:

  • Romans 5:1, 9:7, 12, 16; 6:23; 14:23
  • John 6:44, 33
  • Ephesians 2:1-6
  • 1 Corinthians 15:22
  • Jeremiah 17:9

John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:

  • Book 2, Ch 1, pg 8-9
  • Book 2, Ch 3, pg 6-7

More Resources to Learn

What is Covenant Theology?

What is Covenant Theology?

What is Covenant Theology?

Most of the content on this topic will be coming from J. Ligon Duncan’s Covenant Theology lectures from Reformed Theological Seminary. They are completely free on iTunesU and also on RTS’ website and will be linked. A lot of what Dr. Duncan covered in his lectures comes from O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants, which I will also link below. These works are very thorough and are excellent assets for if you want to learn more, you can just consider this a primer on covenant theology. I will warn that Robertson’s book is very intellectual and I am not sure that I would recommend it to someone who is newer to reformed theology because it might be too much in the beginning while you’re trying to learn other stuff. That said, preparing for these posts has given me the opportunity to listen to Dr. Duncan’s lectures for the second time and I think that if you are newer to reformed theology, I would probably stick to the first section for the beginning and then move on to the more advanced content when you feel more comfortable.

Links: https://amzn.to/2GFSJV5, https://bit.ly/3hz5ON7, https://bit.ly/33HvAL8 

This will be covered from a paedobaptist perspective. This means that we (and most of historic reformed Christianity) practice infant baptism. We will cover the differences between credobaptist covenant theology and paedobaptist covenant theology. If you are in a reformed church and have questions, remember that you can and should also ask your pastor for their thoughts, as well. Theology Gals can be great for online fellowship and learning, but it’s no replacement for the church and you should always read things you see online alongside scripture so you can discern the truth.

What is it?

Dr. Ligon Duncan defined covenant theology as the gospel set in the context of God’s eternal plan of communion with his people and an outworking in the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. It is both a hermeneutic and a blending of biblical theology and systematic theology. It is also the Bible’s way of explaining several important themes:

  1. The atonement
  2. Assurance
  3. The sacraments
  4. The way of setting forth and explaining the continuity of redemptive history
  5. The dynamic of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in living the Christian life (law and gospel)

Covenant theology is an important paradigm to use as we read scripture because it helps us see the Old Testament as a Christian book. Dr. JI Packer said in the intro to The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (written by Herman Witsius in 1990), “the gospel of God is not properly understood until it is viewed within a covenantal frame.” 

Link: https://bit.ly/2SyR0na 

Biblical Theology & Systematic Theology

Biblical theology reads forward through scripture and understands how God operates chronologically across time. Systematic theology looks at the entire Bible to see what it says about a given topic. Systematic theology also takes what the Bible says on one topic and relates it to other topics.

The way this works together is covenant theology involves:

  • Exegesis
  • Taking a biblical theological survey over how a topic is treated throughout the entire Bible
  • Taking a look at historical theology and how the church has historically treated the text
  • Summarizing a topic
  • Relating it to other scripture
  • And bringing it all together

History and Definition of Covenants:

Many people think that covenant theology developed as a response to dispensationalism, but it actually predates dispensationalism by almost 300 years. While it was codified by Ulrich Zwingli during the reformation, Irenaeus outlined covenant theology in a very similar way to the way Robertson does and used the concept of the covenant to argue against Gnosticism in book 4 of Against Heresies. O. Palmer Robertson’s definition of a covenant is almost identical to how Irenaeus describes it, “a bond in blood sovereignly administered.”

Link: https://bit.ly/3iMVt06

Monergism’s website explains covenant theology as:

“Covenant Theology organizes biblical revelation around three unified but distinct covenants: the Covenant of Redemption, between the persons of the Trinity in eternity past, in which the Father promises to give a people to the Son as his inheritance, and the Son undertakes to redeem them; the Covenant of Works, which God enjoined upon Adam in the Garden, solemnly promising him eternal life if he passed the probationary test in the Garden of Eden (also, many covenant theologians see the covenant given on Mount Sinai as being in some sense a republication of the Covenant of Works); and finally, the Covenant of Grace, which God first entered into with Adam immediately after the Fall, when he promised to send a Seed of the woman, who would defeat the tempting serpent (Gen. 3:15). In the Covenant of Grace, God promises a champion to fulfill the broken Covenant of Works as a federal representative of his people, and so to earn its blessings on their behalf. All the later covenants of the bible, such as those which God confirmed to Noah, Abraham, David, and the New Covenant which promises to fulfill these prior covenants in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are all organically connected, essentially being different administrations of the one eternal Covenant of Grace, which build upon each other and are all brought to completion in the New Covenant which Christ inaugurated with his shed blood.”

Link: https://bit.ly/34JKVdk

This is also a very helpful series in understanding covenant theology and baptism. 

Heidelcast Series: I Will Be A God To You And To Your Children

Theology Gals Episodes on Covenant Theology:

Covenant Theology with R. Scott Clark

Covenant Theology and the Church with R. Scott Clark

Evaluation of the Differences between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology with Rob McKenzie

By: Theology Gals Contributor

The Chalcedonian Creed 

The Chalcedonian Creed 

The Chalcedonian Creed 

This creed is really important to help with understanding the error of Eternal Subordination of the Son. It is pronounced Cal-seh-don, not Chal-seh-don. 

History of the Creed:

The Chalcedonian Creed was adopted at the council of Chalcedon, which met to fight against Monophysitism (the belief that Jesus only had one nature)  in 451. Monophysitism became a theological issue because Eutyches, a presbyter/Bishop that was present at the council of Ephesus and who fought against Nestorianism (the belief that Jesus had two distinct natures that were joined by one will). Unfortunately, his passion against Nestorianism went so far that he went to the other extreme and taught that Jesus had one will and one divine nature.

There’s a few subsets within Monophysitism that have different nuances within the beliefs that I won’t be able to fully break down here, but I may try to revisit them later. There is a Trinitarian Glossary (http://bit.ly/tgtrinitygloss) with a brief overview of most of them. I do want to point out a couple of phrases in the Chalcedonian Creed that address specific heresies:

  • “Co-essential” is directed at Arianism
  • “Co-essential with us” is directed at Apollinarianism
  • “Two natures” refutes Eutychianism
  • “Without division, without separation” refutes Nestorianism

That said, it is important to recognize that Jesus had both a divine nature and a human nature and that each nature had its own will. I will also be discussing this a bit more in tomorrow’s post on the Athanasian Creed, but the CARM link below thoroughly outlines where we can support Jesus having both a human and divine nature through scripture.

Controversies Regarding the Creed:

The Chalcedonian Creed was not as readily accepted as the other creeds I’ve talked about. The Coptic Church dissented on the decision because they held more closely to a oneness view. The Oriental Orthodox Church also did not agree because they didn’t see the creed as being against Nestorianism enough. Churches that rejected the Chalcedonian creed formally separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well. This schism resulted in a mass persecution of Coptic Christians by Eastern Orthodox Christians. This was sadly the first time in Christian history where Christians persecuted other Christians. 

Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:l

The creed is affirmed currently by Anglican churches and Dutch Reformed churches, but not as widely proliferated as other creeds. I think it’s largely put on the back burner in favor of the Athanasian Creed, which we will be discussing tomorrow.

Resources to Learn More:

 

Nicene Creed

Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed

Creed comes from a Latin word, credo, which means “I believe,” so creeds are a statement of belief, particularly about Christianity. These are things that the church has historically taught through the entirety of its existence to distinguish what makes Christianity different from other religions.

History of the Creed:

The Nicene Creed is the most thoroughly documented creed that I am addressing. It was originally adopted by the Council of Nicea (the first ecumenical council) in 325 AD to resolve the Arian controversy, which denied the divinity of Jesus. I’ll be addressing Arianism and other trinitarian heresies in December.

The creed was modified at the second ecumenical council (the council of Constantinople) in 381 to include the section on the Holy Spirit and affirm his divinity, in addition to Jesus’. The third ecumenical council (the council of Ephesus) affirmed the 325 version of the creed as a defense against Nestorianism in 431. The earliest written copy we have is from the council of Chalcedon in 451.

It is currently the only authoritative ecumenical statement accepted by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Persian church, and most of Protestantism, including the Anglican communion. 

Controversies Regarding the Creed:

The third ecumenical council affirmed the 325 version of the creed and explicitly banned the creation of any other creed or changing the Nicene creed. This ended up setting the stage for the Filioque controversy. Filioque is a Latin word meaning “from the Son.” That phrase was not originally in the 325 creed and was added in the 6th century by some Latin speaking churches in Spain. 

The Eastern Orthodox Church does not say that clause because they argue that it violates Canon VII from the council of Ephesus banning changing the creed. The Filioque was formally adopted by Roman Catholicism in 1014, but this caused such a great conflict within Eastern Orthodoxy that the churches severed ties in 1054, known as the Great Schism. While there were other factors contributing to the Great Schism, it seems that the filioque is such a big component that it still proves as an obstacle to reunification efforts. 

Reformed Liturgical Use and Confessional References:

The creed is mostly said before the Lord’s Supper and is also said as a confession of faith on major Sundays in the church calendar.

Resources to Learn More: