Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Limited Atonement

The following was found in the comments section (#12) of the Grace To You blog. The commenter quoted James White, one of my favorite teachers:

Some object to the doctrine of limited atonement on very pragmatic grounds. "The doctrine destroys evangelism, because you cannot tell people that Christ died for them, because you don't know!" Yet, we ask, is there an advantage in presenting to men an atonement that is theoretical, a Savior whose work is incomplete, and a gospel that is but a possibility? What kind of proclamation will God honor with His Spirit: one that is tailored to seek "success," or one that is bound to the truth of the Word of God? When the Apostles preached the Gospel, they did not say, "Christ died for all men everywhere, and it is up to you to make His work effective." They taught that Christ died for sinners, and that it was the duty of every man to repent and believe. They knew that only God's grace could bring about repentance and faith in the human heart. And far from that being a *hindrance* to their evangelistic work, it was the power behind it! They proclaimed a *powerful* Savior, whose work is all sufficient, and who saves men totally and completely! They knew that God was about bringing men to Himself, and, since He is the sovereign of the universe, there is no power on earth that will stay His hand! Now there is a solid basis for evangelism! And what could be more of a comfort to the heart that is racked with guilt than to know that Christ has died for sinners, and that His work is not just theoretical, but is real?

I just wanted to make a few comments. I listened to Dr. White's podcast for probably a year a half before the questions he asked began to gain some ground. The answers were uncomfortable.

Was the atonement I believed in merely theoretical? I had to admit, yes. Theoretically, every man had access to salvation through Christ. I believed that God wooed all people through prevenient grace. But a Savior who actually saves? No. That wasn't there.

Last year there was a major shift in my thinking - a shift almost as big as my conversion 14 years previous. God got much bigger, powerful, and glorious than before. In the summer and fall of 2010 these truths were intellectual, head knowledge. But God never allows things to remain theoretical forever, and when my Dad died in early March this year, it initially sent me reeling. Overnight I went from everything making sense to nothing making sense. I blamed God and lashed out at Him.

The rubber met the road and my new Reformed ideas met the reality of life (and death!). By God's grace, they survived, and I came out the other side with a deeper understanding of who God is, what He is doing in the world, and how the doctrines of grace really do make sense in the real world.

Fifteen years ago God took a God-hater and changed her into a God-lover - a work of grace in my heart that I could never accomplish myself. But I imbibed and believed in the God fed to me - a God who provides a theoretical atonement for all (see, I didn't lose the plot from where the note started!). Last year, God did another work of grace. He took a girl that looked at Calvinism and said, "I could never believe in a God like that!" and turned her into a lover of the very doctrines she used to despise.

Man-Centered, or God-Centered? (orginal note here

After Dad's death I asked a lot of the usual questions that people ask when a loved one dies. But gradually, when I asked the wrong questions, God would turn me around and help me ask right questions so I could get right answers. I began to realize that the gospel I had believed in was very man-centered, and it still permeated my thinking. What if I was going about this all wrong and it was really all about God? What would my theology look like and how would my questions change if God were at the center?

Questions of heaven and hell would find their answer and ground in God - His holiness, love, justice, mercy, and wrath. Sin would no longer be finite because it would be committed against an infinite God - an infinite God who humbled Himself to become one of us, and die in our place! Oh, how my theology would change if I were God-centered!

That is my struggle now - to not forget the lessons God taught me, to stay focused on Him and not man. We are creatures, not the Creator. He has a perfect right to do with us as He sees fit. And can not a God who died a torturous death on a cross for rebellious sinners be trusted? Isn't this a God I can worship and believe in? Isn't this a God who truly is glorious?

And so I can believe. Reformed theology made sense last year in my head; now it makes sense in my heart as well.

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