Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Matthew 23:37

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

This has often been a verse used to argue against a Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement and reprobation. Jesus here seems to be saying that he wanted to gather these men to themselves though they, through their own disobedience, rejected his offer.
Unfortunately, this argument has been weakened by Dave Hunt and the like. Arminians have often misquoted this verse saying, "how often I would have gathered you together". This would change the meaning of the verse so that Jesus is telling those whom he is speaking to that he wanted to gather them together.
However, despite this verse being often misquoted, I still think it can be used to argue for a universal saving will in God. Jesus is here talking to the leaders of Jerusalem rather than Jerusalem itself. He is saying that he wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem together, but their corrupt leaders would not allow him.
James White and others have argued that because Jesus is talking to the leaders rather than the people of Jerusalem themselves, this verse cannot be used to support a universal saving will in God. I, however, disagree. The fact still remains that Christ wept because these people were not saved, and longed for them to be saved. The fact that he is talking to their leaders rather than the people themselves makes no difference.
There is a clear instance in this verse of Christ stating that he longed to save those who were not saved, and even wept at their lack of salvation. Though God has from eternity elected specific men unto salvation, he has a will to truly offer salvation to all.

Practical implications of limited atonement

I at one time believed in the Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. This doctrine states that Christ died solely for his elect. Christ offers the gospel to all yet did not actually die for all. I have struggled through this doctrine for many years now. Despite the fact that this doctrine is exegetically unfounded, it has many negative practical implications.

First of all, with this doctrine one can never be sure if Christ actually died for him. I, for example, have doubted my election at times. How do I know if I am elect? And if I am not elect then Christ did not die for me! Ultimately then, the doctrine pushes me into looking at the eternal decree of God for my assurance. How can I tell if I am among the elect? The answer usually given is that I know by my faith. However, there is true and false faith, and I must test myself to see whether or not my faith is real faith. According to a reformed exegesis of Hebrews chapter 6, a false faith can still cause one to repent, taste the heavenly gift and share in the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, I must look at the quality of my works and see if they are Spirit wrought. My assurance is in my inner transformation, not in the gospel. There is simply no way around it; I ultimately never know if Christ actually died for me except for the amount and quality of my good works. I know that when I look inward, as when reading Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections, I see my sin and simply doubt my faith.

A Calvinist will object that they believe in a "free offer of the gospel" because they are not hyper Calvinists. Thus, I can trust in this universal offer. However, I must ask: Is this really a universal offer? How can God offer something he has not actually paid for? Can he really tell me I can accept the death of Christ while it in fact has never been paid for me?

The other hard issue to deal with is in Evangelism. As a Calvinist I could not freely offer the death of Christ to unbelievers. I would make my way around it by saying "believe on Christ's death because he has died for believers". While this is true I could never look at an unbeliever and say "trust in Christ's work accomplished on your behalf!" If I were to see my brother in despair I cannot look them in the eyes and say "do not despair! His righteousness is yours! He has fulfilled the law and its curse on your behalf!" However, as an adherent of the Book of Concord I can proclaim to all men "believe upon Christ who has paid the penalty for your sin!"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

1 John 2:2 and limited atonement

1 John 2:2 is one of the foundational texts which speaks against a Calvinistic understanding of the atonement. "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." The reformed position is that Christ's death was only for the elect, with the possible exception of common grace being bought through the cross.

So how does the Calvinist respond to a text like this? It is not as though reformed commentators have ignored this verse, but they attempt to fit it into their theology. First they ask, "what does world mean?" One discovers that "world" can have multiple meanings. We do this today even. For example we talk about "the world, the flesh and the devil." We also talk about the world as all ethnicities. We could speak of the world as the planet earth itself. In the same way, the Biblical writers used kosmos in several different ways.

I do agree with reformed commentators in this. Words certainly can have multiple meanings. However, we must look at the context of the passage, how the author uses this word himself, and take the most obvious meaning of the text unless there is substantial evidence to interpret it differently from the plain meaning. So what could the author here mean when he says that Christ died for the sins of the whole world? Reformed will take this text, as well as several others and state that "the whole world" refers to people of all nations, though only the elect of all nations, rather than simply Jews. They go to a similar instance in John's gospel. In John 3:16, Jesus is talking to a Jew explaining that salvation is for the whole world, not simply for the Jews. Regardless of whether or not I agree with this interpretation of John 3:16, it is an understandable interpretation in context. However, John 2:2 is a different text, spoken to a different audience and does not have the same meaning.
Yes, Jesus when speaking to ethnocentric Jews talked about the universality of salvation its' primary implication is that salvation is for all nations (though this certainly does not preclude the possibility that this universality refers to every individual in these nations as there is no implication in the context that he only means the elect of these nations).

However, there is no reason to believe that 1 John is written to ethnocentric Jews. This epistle is among the last to be written in the New Testament. At the end of the first century, surely the problem of Jew-Gentile relations had been dealt with. After all, the council of Jerusalem was 40 years before this and Paul's epistles had been widely circulated for some time now. Thus, one is hard pressed to find this meaning in the text. The only other meaning of the text must be that he died for all men. The other meanings of kosmos would make no sense in this passage. John is certainly not saying that he died for the sins of the earth or the soil.

In this same chapter, John uses the word kosmos several times. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 1:15-17) John uses the term "world" in this epistle to refer to sinful humanity and the corruption of the present age. Thus, what John seems to be saying in the beginning of this epistle is "Christ died not only for our sins (the sins of believers) but also for the sins of the world (unbelieving mankind)." Who is the "our" being spoken of here? This is a catholic epistle, not written to specifically Jewish believers or even one specific church, thus the "our" must refer to Christians in general. Therefor, the "world" is someone other than the "us" being referred to. Thus, if the "us" is the church, the "world" must be those outside of the church.

If one is to take the most obvious meaning of this text, he must admit that Christ died for every man. We must not force our preconceived theological views upon God's word. Let God speak for himself.