Sunday, January 30, 2011

Did Christ Die for the Whole World?

 Book Review | The Death Christ Died, Dr. Robert P. Lightner

Not too long ago I was given a book to read by a kind brother in the Lord who holds an Unlimited View of Christ's atonement.

Do you recognize that term, "Unlimited Atonement"? I didn't always know what this term meant, or its deep ramifications, and confess it took a lot of solid theology to untangle what I had been taught for many years in the school of "Unlimited Atonement". When the light of truth broke through, the cardinal pieces of God’s gracious redemptive history fit like an amazingly beautiful puzzle as the term "Unlimited Atonement" flickered its last rays of influence on my theological convictions, wholly replaced by the truth of God's sovereign grace in Particular Redemption.

What then is Unlimited Atonement? Basically, the term Unlimited Atonement argues that Christ died for the whole world and not only for His elect from all eternity (i.e. so, it's strangely argued, Christ also died to save those in eternal Hell). John 3:16 is a favorite passage sited for this position even though the Greek term "world", as in other Scriptural passages, simply refers to Jews AND Gentiles and was a common phrase used in NT times to denote this (i.e. that is, the word "world" does not always mean everyone in the world... more on this below).

In contrast to Unlimited Atonement is Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption which essentially states that Christ did not die for the entire world but rather died to save his people (the church) from their sins (i.e. that is, the elect from all eternity by way of sovereign free grace). Particular Redemption states that Christ's blood was effectual -- and not just a possibility (praise God it was sovereign, for I never would have chosen Him if His choice had not preceded mine). Furthermore, Particular Redemption brings to light the incredible truth that no people are lost in Hell for whom Christ's blood was shed for, if that were the case as Unlimited Atonement ultimately must accept, then Christ's blood was not effectual -- something that would go wholly contrary to the very nature of God and His attributes... more on this below.

With a basic understanding of Unlimited Atonement and Particular Redemption, let’s turn briefly to the book under review: The Death Christ Died by Dr. Robert P. Lightner.

First, I'd like to point out that, while I disagree with Dr. Lightner's position on Unlimited Atonement, I do not bring into question his loves to the Lord as he appears to have a deep desire to know Him and instruct others in His ways; this came out in the book and it was a blessing to get that sense out of what was otherwise a real grind to get through.

Second, I concede there are a few verses in Scripture, but only a very few taken in isolation and lacking context, that could possibly be used in favour of Unlimited Atonement. In contrast, when the mass of Scripture is compared to Scripture in a systematic manner, the overall weight for Particular Redemption emerges overwhelmingly -- and dramatically so -- by a significant margin.

Third, while Dr. Lightner seeks to develop a case for Unlimited Atonement and seeks to use Scripture to support his argument, it did not alter my view on Particular Redemption but rather served to reinforce and make me rejoice more fully in God’s amazing sovereign free grace.

Below are some specific book review observations and comments:
  • I felt one of Dr. Lightner's leading missteps, if I can humbly say, was his view that Christ must have died for all men because a "provision exists as a basis of condemnation" (pg.46). In many ways, he builds his entire case around this. Yet Scripture is plain that a basis of condemnation is not needed. Man is already condemned. Man is justly condemned because he is sinful from the womb (c.p. Psalm 51:5, Romans 3: 10-19, etc); in short, a just basis of condemnation already exists. Furthermore, God is not subservient or contingent to man's condition, actions or nature (Isaiah 46:10, Acts 2:23, etc). Oddly, the author believes in total inability (totally depravity), yet postures the need for God to provide a provision as a basis of condemnation when, elsewhere, he has well argued man's guilt and God's justice in condemning men to hell.
  • In the same sort of reasoning, and as a logical follow-on, Dr. Lightner believes that God loves everyone. He states, "The fact that God despises sin and will eternally punish sinners does not mean He does not love them" (pg.112) and earlier, "God's love for the entire world not only is the clear teaching of the New Testament (John 3:16) but is also the emphatic revelation of the Old Testament" (pg. 111). Yet, the Apostle Paul under the Holy Spirit deals with the very issue the author attempts to advance and states the opposite; namely, that God does not love everyone including all those in the OT; by way of example: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated “ (Romans 9:13). Clearly, God did not love everyone in the OT (note: the word “world” [meaning Jew AND Gentile in most cases] and it’s usage throughout Scripture is clear yet the author seems to lack a consistent and thorough hermeneutic on what becomes an all-important word to him).
  • God loves His elect, the Church, which is why he came to die in their place (Matthew 1: 21, John 10:25-30, Galatians 3:29, etc). This seems to follow common sense as well; after all, we know that love is immutable (i.e. love does not fail, does not change, does not [cannot] become what it is not, 1 Cor 13: 8) and we are certain that God does not love those who will be forever separated from Him in Hell for to assert such would be to deny God’s omnipotence and to redefine the attributes of love and of God. Instead, in God’s sovereign use of means, we can justly, obediently and honestly call all men everywhere with all fervency to repentance and know assuredly that all who come to Christ He will in no wise cast out (John 6:37) for, simply put, our choice of God is preceded by His eternal and fixed choice of us (the basis of the Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints). We can stand here on the authority of Scripture and, under the influencing power of the Holy Spirit, can go forward optimistically and with full confidence -- "across the street or around the world" -- preaching the Gospel in obedience to His Great Commission, leaving the actual results in the hands of the Author of salvation (Hebrews 12:2).
  • I see, therefore, no disconnect when holding to what I assuredly believe is theologically sound and wholly Biblical (i.e. Particular Redemption) with respect to calling men everywhere to repentance. Church history bears the same hallmarks. Indeed, countless missionaries, pastors and evangelists in ages past have gone throughout the earth believing with all optimism that God was/is graciously building his Church from age to age; that is, that it will happen, not possibly so. The powerful moving of the Spirit of God always works in direct concert with the foolishness of preaching His Word (1 Cor 1:21) as God sovereignly moves to gather in all, not possibly some, but ALL those from whom the Father has given the Son (John 6:37) and for whom the Son lived, died and rose again for.
 In conclusion, I reiterate what a Reformed Evangelical Pastor once stated so succinctly to me: "the death Christ died accomplished exactly (not possibly so) what God had eternally decreed it to do -- to save His people from their sins." In contrast, this book regrettably misses that emphatic Biblical truth because it holds to Unlimited Atonement rather than to a Particular Redemptive view of Christ's death as showcased in the pages of holy Scripture.

Another Pastor I heard once said: "Who are the called? All they who come. Who come? All who are called." Have you come to Christ for forgiveness of sin and new life? If not, come today. Fix your whole trust on Christ for the Lord Jesus says that "All that the Father giveth to me shall come to me and all who come to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." ~ Ephesians 1:3-7


Camille said...

What a rich doctrine this is! How precious that the LORD Jesus Christ did indeed die for, and will save, all HIS people and that none will be lost. Thank you for taking the time to really study these things through...we are blessed to have you lead our family.

Much Love,

Anonymous said...

Amen brother, the doctrines of grace only give God the glory as it should be... Our flesh would like to think we did some work like believing in Christ or accepting the gift.

Logic also denies the the whole world atonement... A person isn't going to plan a trip, buy tickets for 10,000 people to a certain destination and only get 200 people to come... God is smarter than that and sovereign to boot... God is the perfect economist, he wastes nothing.