Friday, March 03, 2006

Response to Elmer Towns Pt. 2

We are continuing the series of responses to Elmer Towns’ criticism of Reformed theology. Part 1 can be found here.

C. Limited atonement. Calvinists indicate that this aspect of their system is the most difficult of their five points to communicate. They teach that if man is totally depraved so that he cannot respond, and God is sovereign in His unconditional choice, then when Jesus died, He died for those that were chosen by God. To keep their system intact, they must deny that Christ died for anyone else, for if He had, then they must also be saved. Since they are not, atonement is limited.

It must be noted that particular redemption does not flow only from unconditional election and total depravity, but it flows from the Biblical basis of intent behind the atonement, specifically, what Christ accomplished on the cross.

Atonement is for the Elect only, since Christ died only for those whom the Father gave Him to be His Bride. Only the saints or elect ones are ever said to be “beloved of God” for they alone are the objects of His saving grace. The Calvinist reasons that if Christ died for all, then all will be saved. If only the elect are to be saved, then Christ died for them, and them alone. Although it is true that the blood of Christ is surely sufficient in value to atone for all, still it is obviously efficient only for those who are saved by His unmerited favor.

In contrast to Limited atonement, the Bible teaches that the death of Jesus Christ was for all people of all time. This does not mean that all the world will be saved. The New Testament teaches that only those who receive Jesus Christ will enter into eternal life.

Notice what is happening here. Dr. Towns tells us that the Reformed argument is that if Christ were to die for all, then all would be saved, because of the intent of the atonement. He counters this by merely asserting that “the Bible teaches that the death of Jesus Christ was for all people of all time.” It does? Where? He doesn’t even give us any citations, let alone exegesis of any passages. Dr. Towns, the strength the Reformed position is in the exegesis, not in the assertion. Then Dr. Towns simply asserts that “this does not mean that all the world will be saved.” Why not? He doesn’t address the intent of the atonement, what Christ accomplished. We must ask what before we can ask for whom. Intent precedes extent. But if it is the case that the extent of the atonement is universal, and that even given this fact it “does not mean that all the world will be saved,” what does that tell us about what Christ accomplished? Did he accomplish salvation, or did he merely accomplish the possibility of salvation? Is the determining factor of man’s salvation in man?

There are at least five arguments against limited atonement. These are argued from the accomplishments of Christ on Calvary.

It is my belief that any fact concerning what Christ accomplished on the cross will always point to the direction of particular redemption. For instance, Christ’s atoning work is part of His priestly office, and He makes intercession for those for whom He atoned.

Hebrews 7 25Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Isaiah 53 12 because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Is Dr. Towns telling us that Christ can lay down his life for someone, satisfy the wrath of God against his sin, mediate for him, make intercession on his behalf before the Father, and yet still fail to save him? For whom does Christ intercede?

John 17 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours

The first argument against limited atonement is the doctrine of substitution. The Bible teaches that Christ has given Himself for the sins of the world (Jn. 1:20; 1 Tim. 2:6; Tit. 2:11), that Christ was the Substitute for the church (Eph. 5:25), and that He gave Himself for individual Christians (Gal. 2:20). The Calvinist only uses the last group of verses to prove limited atonement, but overlooks the verses that teach Christ was the Substitute for every man (Heb. 2:9).

Dr. Towns tells us that the doctrine of substitution argues against particular redemption. But he fails to define for us the doctrine of substitution. He simply continues to cite prooftexts concerning the extent of the atonement, telling us nothing of its intent. We must know what Christ accomplished before we can answer the for whom question. It is my argument that the doctrine of substitution argues against universal redemption. Is Christ really the substitute for all men, or is he simply potentially their substitute? The Bible states the former. Universal atonement requires the latter.

In any case, the notion that a Calvinist “overlooks” the common Arminian prooftexts is ridiculous. Am I to say that Dr. Towns simply “overlooks” John 6? No, this isn’t a matter of who can cite the most passages in one sitting. Systematic theology must flow from consistent exegesis of the text of Scripture, Dr. Towns, and this is something that your citations lack. John 1:20 is a miscitation, I believe, for it tells us nothing about the atonement. With 1 Tim 2:6 Dr. Towns attempts to answer the extent question while completing ignoring the intent question. Is Christ really the ransom for all, or is he simply potentially their ransom? This is the eisegesis that is required. Furthermore, this verse is sandwiched between a context where Paul urges us to not limit our prayers to any kind of man (v. 1-2), and on the other side where Paul tells us that it is “for this reason” that he is a minister to the Gentiles (v. 7). This context must be completely ignored in order for Dr. Towns to accomplish his agenda. In Titus 2:11, it is the grace that saves that has appeared to all men, not a grace that tries to save, or that potentially saves. The eisegesis is undeniable.

The second argument against limited atonement is that redemption is adequate, for Christ gave His blood a ransom for sin, hence redeemed the lost (1 Pet. 1:18-20). The price of redemption is blood. The Greek words for redeemed are applied to purchasing servants in the ancient slave market. The illustration reveals the extent of redemption to all men. First, the Bible teaches that He purchased the sinner in the marketplace–agorazo–that those who were “sold under sin” are redeemed (Gal. 3:10). But agorazo also applies to false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1); he died for these who obviously were not saved. Second, Christ paid the price with His blood and bought the slave out of the market place–ekagorazo; this person was never again exposed to sale (Gal. 3:13). This refers to those who were saved. In the third place, lutroo means to pay the price for the slave and release him (Gal. 4:5). This probably refers to the Christian who has learned to walk in grace and was not living by the law.

The centerpiece for this second argument lies in Dr. Towns’ citation of 2 Peter 2:1. Again, Dr. Towns attempts to tells us the extent of redemption rather than the intent of redemption, and he can only accomplish this by citing verses that lack a salvfic context to begin with! Since he merely cites the verse and offers us no exegesis, I will simply refer our readers to this excellent article by Simon Escobedo III here.

The third argument against limited atonement is that propitiation, which means “satisfaction,” was made for the sin penalty of the world. The justice of God had been offended by the sin of mankind. The sin penalty of death could not be retracted and the nature of God could not forgive the sinner without satisfaction. The price of satisfaction was the blood of Jesus Christ, and the act of satisfaction is propitiation. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the propitiation for the world. “He is the propitiation for our sin, and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). Since Christ is the propitiation for the world, the atonement cannot be limited.

He continues to address the extent and ignores the intent. But notice that apart from eisegesis, Dr. Towns cannot avoid universalism. Here’s why:

1. Christ is the propitiation for those for whom he died. Propitiation means that he satisfied the wrath of God.
2. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2)– he satisfies God’s wrath against everyone’s sin.
3. Therefore, all men are saved, for God has wrath against the sins of no man.

How can Dr. Towns avoid point 3? Is Christ the propitiation for everyone’s sin or is he not? Did he satisfy God’s wrath for their sins? If so, then how can God then pour out his wrath on them in hell? Dr. Towns avoids this by eisegeting the word potential, so that Christ is the potential propitiation for the sins of the world. This eisegesis is both undeniable and unavoidable. But perhaps an accurate reading of 1 John 2:2 does not require such unadulterated eisegesis. Perhaps we can recognize that even in this one book the word “world” has a variety of meanings, and that never does it mean “every single person in the world.” Perhaps John is telling us that Christ is not merely the propitiation for our sins (Jews), but for the world (Gentiles as well), or not only this age, but all ages to come, or not only Asia Minor, but the rest of the world as well. In any case, unless Dr. Towns is a universalist, he cannot use 1 John 2:2 to support his position apart from eisegesis.

…The fifth argument against limited atonement is the fact that Jesus Christ reconciled the world unto Himself by His death. Reconciliation is God making man savable by placing him in a favorable light of God’s mercy. The Bible teaches, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;” (2 Cor. 5:19; Eph. 2:16). This does not mean the world is saved, but man is now in a place where he can be saved when he meets God’s plan of salvation. Since the world is reconciled, surely the atonement is not limited to the elect.

Dr. Towns continues to act as if he is arguing against limited atonement concerning doctrines of intent, but all he is doing is citing prooftexts of extent. Notice that he says “This does not mean the world is saved, but man is now in a place where he can be saved when he meets God’s plan of salvation.” In other words, the world isn’t actually reconciled, but merely potentially reconciled. Christ does not save anyone on the cross, he simply makes them savable.

One of the chief problems with this teaching of a limited atonement is rooted in one’s understanding of some basic theological terms. Calvinists argue the atonement is somehow deficient if any of those for whom Christ died are not finally saved. This basic presupposition results in the belief that those who deny a particular aspect of limited atonement must necessarily teach the salvation of all men. This attitude is evident in Murray’s discussion of the extent of the atonement.

No, Dr. Towns. The problem is that you must eisegete the words “potential” or “savable” into these passages concerning extent, for you completely ignore the intent of the atonement. If Christ actually saved people at the cross, then they would be saved! That makes sense enough. But, you must redefine the intent of the atonement, and eisegete these texts of Scripture, in order to avoid universalism.

The very nature of Christ’s mission and accomplishment is involved in this question . . . Did he come to make men redeemable? Or did he come effectually and infallibly to redeem?

Excellent question, Dr. Towns. The problem is that you have just cited texts that have stated that Christ redeems, reconciles, and satisfies the wrath of God on behalf of the world. None of these texts say that Christ made man “redeemable” or that he “potentially” saved them. It is your eisegetical reading of these texts that requires this.

If we universalize the extent we limit the efficacy. If some of those for whom atonement was made and redemption wrought perish eternally, then the atonement is not itself efficacious.

Exactly, hence, the reason why universal atonement is the truly limited atonement.

…To say that God did not provide a universal salvation is to question His attribute of love.

Why? It is simply assumed and asserted, not shown.

To say God saved all apart from their appropriate discharge of human responsibility is to question His integrity.

Why? It is simply assumed and asserted, not shown.

To say God elected some to salvation, but not all is to question His justice.

Why? It is simply assumed and asserted, not shown.

Evan May.

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