Saturday, May 06, 2006

They're Creeping In! Pt. 3

We are continuing our series of responses to this article from BaptistFire. The first two posts can be read here and here. Hopefully today we’ll be able to cover more ground than a sentence (woohoo!). Again, I’ll provide the immediate context:

Crept in Unawares …
Calvinists want to take over your Southern Baptist church
a BaptistFire special report
(Updated: Sept. 26, 2005)

What Calvinists Believe

Calvinists do not believe that God loves everyone (contrary to John 3:16). They do not believe that God wants to save everyone (contrary to 1 Tim. 2:4). Most do not believe that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. (contrary to 1 John 2:2). Not only are these doctrines contrary to the Bible they are contrary to what the vast majority of Southern Baptists believe.

I noted in my first response that the entire purpose of this section of the article is to cast Calvinism in the negative light. Each one of these statements is made in the negative (”Calvinists do not believe…”). This anonymous contributor doesn’t want to tell us what Calvinists do believe. All he (or she) wants to tell us is what they supposedly don’t believe and then contrast that with a favorite prooftext. We’ve already looked at the first two assertions coupled with the Scripture citations of 1 Tim 2:4 and John 3:16. Today we’ll look at the next point:

Most do not believe that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. (contrary to 1 John 2:2).

If by this it is meant that consistent Reformed theologians deny that Christ’s atonement has universal extent, lacking efficacious intent, then this is correct. In other words, on the cross Christ actually saved people. He didn’t merely potentially save them; he actually saved them. But this anonymous author chooses to place the discussion in Scriptural terminology (for instance, using the term world. We don’t deny that Christ died for the “world,” but that the “world” is defined by the context) with the sole purpose of contrasting it with an oft-cited prooftext. But is particular redemption “contrary to 1 John 2:2″? Let’s take a look at this text:

1 John 2:1-2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

It never ceases to amaze me how synergists are so practiced in the art of taking any random non-soteriological text and making it relevant to the discussion. If it has the words “all,” “world,” or “whosoever” in it, it’s fair game, apparently. In any case, the synergist exegesis hinges on two assumptions: 1) the assumption that the only definition of “world” is “every single person without differentiation,” and, 2) the eisegesis of the word “potential” into the text. We’ll look at both assumptions separately:

1. The first assumption was already refuted in the my first article. The word “world” has varying meanings throughout John’s writings, as well as the rest of the New Testament. When John tells us “do not love the world” (1 John 2:15) does he mean “do not love every single person”? Or when he states that Jesus came “into the world” (John 1:9), or that the Father sent the Son “into the world” (John 3:17), did he mean that Christ was literally sent into “every single person”? Or when Jesus stated, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), did he mean “I am the light of every single person”? Or when Jesus states to his disciples, “You are of this world” (John 8:23) do you think he meant “You are of every single person”? Of course not. Rather, the word “world” has varying meanings in his writings. Therefore, we should not dogmatically assume its meaning. It must be determined from the context.

2. When it comes to the atonement, we must determine intent before we determine extent. But advocates of universal redemption are always quick to cite prooftexts that concern extent while altogether ignoring the intent of the atonement: that Christ died on the cross with the intent of actually saving people. He redeems them, satisfies God’s wrath, and intercedes on their behalf (see my response to Elmer Towns concerning the atonement for more information).

It takes eisegesis, therefore, in order to apply the atonement with universal extent, for its specific intent must be altogether ignored. So here the word “potential” must be eisegeted into this text, defying intent in order to avoid universalism but remain with universal extent. Christ can’t be the actual propitiation for the sins of every single person in the world (the assumed meaning of the word “world), for if he actually satisfied the wrath of God against their sin, God is unable to justly condemn them. Christ, therefore, can only be a potential propitiation. He can only potentially satisfy the wrath of God.

But is there a reading of this verse that does not require either an assumed meaning of the word “world” or eisegesis of the word “potential” into the text? Certainly there is! Can we not recognize John’s audience? Can we not recognize geographical, ethnical, and time-age-related distinctions? In fact, the linguistic parallel here with John 11:51-52 is terribly close, so much so that is simply dishonest to avoid the conviction that this is John’s meaning here:

John 11:51-52 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Notice the parallel:

1 John 2:2
He Himself
is the propitiation for
our sins
and not for ours only
but also
the world

John 11:51-52
he prophesied that
would die for
the nation
and not for the nation only
but also
that He would gather together in one
the children of God scattered abroad

Who, then, is the world? The children of God scattered abroad. Jesus didn’t just die for Jews but Gentiles as well (ethical distinction), not just for those in Asia Minor but from every nation (geographical distinction), not just for those who lived in the 1st century but for all ages to come (time-age-related distinction). In short, with his blood he redeemed a church “from every tongue and tribe and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

Now that we’ve gotten past the first paragraph of Scripture prooftext citations, we should be able to move quickly in future posts to come!

Evan May.

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