Monday, April 17, 2006

A short expositional look and the doctrine of limited atonement

I would like to continue to look at the doctrine of limited/definite atonement, and lest you accuse me of accepting a system rather than Scripture let me lead a short expositional look at the doctrine of limited/definite atonement from John chapter 10. At the outset I want to admit that my goal is not to “wax eloquent” on this passage. My intent is simply to put the Scripture before you, and let it speak for itself.

John 10:11 (ESV)
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

This is an obvious reference to the crucifixion. Here Christ foreshadows the sacrifice that would be paid on the cross. Notice who Christ says the shepherd will lay down his for, it is the sheep. So the obvious question that pertains to our subject is who are the sheep?

John 10:27 (ESV)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Here Christ answers are questions for us. The sheep are the ones who hear the voice of the shepherd, the shepherd knows the sheep, and the sheep follow the shepherd. These are the ones that the shepherd lays down his life for.

The obvious question that may be left in your mind is “what about the ‘all’ and ‘world’ passages in Scripture that seem to teach that Christ died for the sins of the world. This is a good question, because it comes from a desire to understand God’s word. I think that we can gain some insight into these passages with several thoughts. First is the use of hyperbolic language in Scripture. We should not have a hard time understanding hyperbole because we use it all the time (get it). Second, I think that we can be true to God’s word and interpret “world” and “all” to mean that the gospel is available to all people groups regardless of race. In other words, the gospel is available to the entire world not just the Jews. Again, lest you think that I am bowing to a system rather than Scripture look at John 10.

John 10:16 (ESV)
I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.

I know that this has not been the most in-depth look at this doctrine, but that was never my goal. My prayer is that no matter what view you take on this doctrine you do so because your conviction of Scripture forces you to do so.


Blogger Crrrrrrraig said...

Paul, I agree with you completely, but I do recognize that limited atonement is probably the most difficult of Calvin's five points. I particularly like your use of "definite" atonement for the doctrine, but unfortunately that doesn't fit into the word "tulip."

What it comes down to is God's sovereignty: Is He or is He not in control of His creation? If you get around the question by saying, "Oh, He doesn't force anything, but He knows what's going to happen," well, really, what's the difference? If He knows something's going to happen and doesn't stop it, then He's causing it to happen. Or does He simply set things in motion and then sit back to see what happens? All of scripture defies that notion, not the least being putting on flesh and taking the punishment of all sins throughout time. I'm sure there's a much brainier, high-theology way of putting all this. It does encourage us to develop a higher perception of God: He isn't some big, powerful, good human, He's God.

Definite atonement also puts the idea of "God loves the sinner but hates the sin" in jeopardy. God's word says He hates sinners (Ps. 5:5). Some people, sadly but clearly, are appointed to judgment. In judgment or mercy, God will be glorified. But, God loves His elect. "Judas said unto him (not Iscariot) 'Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself unto us, and not unto the world?' " (Jn. 14:22) Even before His death Jesus' followers understood that He would reveal Himself to only a few, and throughout this passage Christ makes clear it is based in love.

Part of the Arminian problem, I think, is pride in making a decision for Christ and then bringing other people to Christ. This also goes against scripture: "By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9) Even our faith in grace is a gift. But the whole idea of election shouldn't have an effect on evangelism, first of all because Jesus told us to preach the gospel. He also said make disciples, but nothing about making converts - that middle step is the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). As well, Paul says salvation is through hearing, and hearing by the word (Rom. 10:17). So we must be obedient. As well, no one must come before God and plead ignorance. Evangelism serves to convict those who reject the gospel.

18/4/06 1:28 PM  
Blogger Paul said...


Thanks for your contribution. You have some very good points. And yes I know that definite atonement does not fit tulip.

I think that you also hit on another area of reformed theology that is difficult to swallow, and that is the doctrine of reprobation. The real beginning point in all of these issues is how do you view man in realation to God? If man has the ability to accept God then these are non-issues. However, if man is radically depraved (sorry I forgot tulip) then he needs God to give him new-birth before he can be saved.

I would like to disagree with you on one point. I think that the doctrine of election should have an impact on our evangelism. I know what you mean, and you are right, it should not discourage us from evangelism. We should be encouraged by knowing that it is God who is in control of the salvation of those I am witnessing to and not me. This was one of the most liberating things to understand as I was hashing out these doctrines. The more I understood God's sovereignty the easier it has been for me to share my faith. I know that if my human words are lacking God can still use His word to save men.


19/4/06 7:48 AM  

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