Saturday, March 24, 2007

For Whom Did Christ Die?

by JM
I ran across a discussion between John Piper and Bruce Ware on the extent of the atonement. John Piper takes the classical reformed position, and Bruce Ware holds to a modified version which most would regard as a statement on four-point Calvinism. Check out the discussion.

My thoughts on this subject lean towards Ware's formulation. Here's a snippet.

There are traditionally two ways that 5 pointers argue for LA (limited atonement) against 4 pointers.

(1) The first is to show that anyone holding to T.U.I.P must also hold to L if they are logically consistent. That is, L is a logical necessity given the other points. This is a reasonable strategy. If someone were to show me that L is necessitated by T.U.I.P, given that I firmly hold to these other points due to their Scriptural basis, I am quite ready to concede L. In other words, a proponent of LA wouldn’t have to prove that LA is exegetically undeniable or probable, only that it follows from what I already believe to be exegetically undeniable.

(2)The second is to show that Scripture clearly teaches LA.

My position is that I haven’t come across someone yet who can show (1). If I’m right that a 5 pointer’s interpretation is one of at least two possible corollaries of TUIP, then we are forced to discuss what Scripture says. In which case, it is also my position that I haven’t come across someone who has yet demonstrated (2). For now, I’ll give you my thoughts on (1).

Is the “L” logically required?

I will now give my denial of (1). It seems to me that 5 pointers have taken on a tremendous challenge in affirming (1). In order for this affirmation to work, it isn’t enough for them to show that the “L” is probable or feasible, but undeniable. Conversely put, they must show that all other options are logically impossible. That’s a tough task to prove.

I now offer another possibility stemming of TUIP. I will first provide a some basic propositions, to be followed by a more readable presentation of the argument:

I. The basic propositions of my position:

A. In relation to a person, the atonement may be an “objective reality” and/or an “appropriated” reality. By “objective reality” I mean that the atonement made by Christ some 2000 years ago is something real. By “appropriated,” I mean that this objective reality has been applied to a subject.

B. What is the relation of A (A=atonement) to the elect:

1. The atonement is at one season an objective reality, but its not an appropriated reality.

2. When faith is given, the atonement is both an objective and appropriated reality.
C. What is the relation of A to the non-elect: If it is possible for A to be an objective reality but not an appropriated reality until the condition of faith is met, then it is possible for A to be an objective reality and never an appropriated reality for the non elect, due to the fact that the condition for making it an appropriated reality has not be met. Consequently, it is possible for atonement to be a reality in one sense and not in another for the non-elect.

II. Possible Objections to this view

A. To be saved is to be saved from something (e.g. God‘s wrath). The non-elect are not saved from God‘s wrath. Therefore, they’re not saved in any sense. The term “salvation” is absolutely irrelevant. Here's my response:

First of all, if a man attains a governmental position for a friend, and the friend doesn’t take possession it, this is not the same as saying that there was never a position to begin with. This friend has something that a bum on the street doesn’t. One might say that he has it in right, but not in possession. Or, if a man’s son is offered the estate whenever he would like, and yet the son never takes possession of it, this isn’t the same thing as say that there was never an estate available to this man, or that some stranger had the same relation to the father as his son does.

Secondly, this argument seems to assume that propitiation that isn’t appropriated is a non thing or unreal. For the objector, what makes propitiation a reality is that it will be applied. A propitiation that is never applied is nothing.
In this scheme, my question is this: how is the fact that it will be applied make it something real now? The fact that something is applied presumes that this thing exists prior to application. As such what is the atonement prior to its appropriation? What we know is that it is not a non-thing.
B. If Christ was punished for all the sins of person p, then it would never be right to punish person p, for this results in either the same sin be punished twice or someone innocent being punished, both of which are unjust. Put differently, if Christ bore Roger’s punishment and Roger went to hell and also bore his own punishment, we have two people being punished for sins that only one should be punished for. This is unfair. But God is fair. Therefore, whoever Christ died for will eventually be made right with God. My response is as follows:

I assert that this would be unfair if Roger were actually justified (i.e. was in an unpunishable state). A person who has been actually declared righteous, and then punished, would result in an unjust distribution of justice. If Roger isn’t justified, he is by definition someone whom God presently regards with righteous distain, presently deserving of God wrath. This means that if all of God’s wrath were to fall upon him that minute, God would be just. This is also true of someone who is elect and unjustified. They are justly deserving of God’s wrath.

If the LA argument were true, then justification would need to be immediate, not eventual: For eventual justification still leaves the unjustified elect as the object of God’s wrath, which would also bring the charge of God remaining angry at someone for whom Christ took God’s anger. Let’s say that Roger is an unjustified elect, proponents of LA would say that God would be unjust to pour out all of his wrath upon him at any given time. In what sense is he then not justified?

Proponents of LA might insist that Roger isn’t really an object of wrath. Rather, the wrath of God was stayed in anticipation of Christ’s death. As Paul speaks of in Romans,

Romans 3:25 This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;

Christ passed over the sins committed, meaning, God didn’t unleash his wrath against transgressors. As such, justification wouldn’t need to be immediate, seeing that God’s punishment wasn’t unleashed.

My response to this is that Paul’s point isn’t that God has never exhibited his wrath until the death of Christ, only that this exhibition has been tempered with forbearance. So for Roger, God’s full exhibition of his wrath towards him isn’t removed, but restrained. This implies that if God’s wrath were to fall in full measure upon Roger, it would fall justly. Further one may argue that death and depravity are God’s judgment upon our sin, showing that God‘s wrath is still experienced in some measure upon people who haven‘t experienced it in full measure.

If the argument for LA were adopted, then God would be unjust to allow us to suffer this punishment of death and depravity for any length of time, if Christ truly bore that death? In short, for the elect to bear two-seconds of God’s wrath in any form, is for the elect to experience injustice at the hands of God, for that’s two seconds of wrath that Christ underwent.

All this implies that God’s judgment against sin is a just judgment until Christ’s merit by his death are applied, not procured. Application of his merits is what determines whether God punishing an individual would be just or unjust, not the procurement of those merits. As such, it appears that Christ’s death isn’t something that seals the application, but puts Christ in a position to dispense as he sees fit. Like a man who sees the debt of another, works to accumulate money for that debt, and now is free to remit that debt or not. The fact that he has procured the amount to remit that debt, doesn’t mean upon procurement that the debt is remitted. He is now in a position to remit as he pleases. This seems to fit will with verses that indicate that it is when Christ presents his atonement to the Father for any individual, it is then that this individual his made right. Without this presentation, there is no justification.

Take the Old Testament sacrificial system as an example. A person my lay his hands upon the sacrificial animal, indicating a transference of guilt; cut the throat of that animal, enacting a transference of punishment. But until the priest offers it, this identification doesn’t obtain. Yet, this doesn’t fail to be a true sacrifice. So in one sense sacrifice has been made, but not applied. In the same way, Christ is a propitiation for all sins, yet in particular he is propitious towards us who believe (Romans 3:25).

Take 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 as another example. Paul says, “20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The “might” is not statement of what will happen, but would could happen. God made Christ to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
C Just as the effects of Adam’s sin were not immediate experienced, but eventually would be experienced, the same is true with Christ’s atonement. The effects are not always immediate, but they are eventual. The reason looks like this - A just God must punish Adam for his sin, though he didn‘t immediately. The reason punishment is eventual is that God’s character demands it. When Adam sinned, death would eventually follow. In the case of Christ’s atonement, since Christ truly paid the penalty for our sin, the restoration is eventual. Here's my response.
Though Adam did not experience the ultimate manifestation of judgment, yet surely he immediately experienced God’s wrath towards him: died spiritually, etc…. All of which means that Adam was actually alienated from God from the time he sinned. Proponents of this argument wouldn’t want to argue that Christ’s merits actually make me reconciled to God at conception. This parallel would work only if we maintain that as soon as the elect is conceived, she is declared righteous, and would experience the ultimate manifestation of that right standing in glorification far in the future. If the seeds of death were a reality at the time of Adam’s sin, then the seeds of righteousness have always been a reality for the elect.