Sunday, April 15, 2007

Christ as Good News: For the World

Thor over at the Thinklings is stirred up by Jerry Falwell's recent statement,
We are not into particular love or limited atonement.
In fact, Falwell goes on to drop the "h-bomb" (heresy), which has already received comment elsewhere. Now normally I would have no idea what Jerry Falwell's most recent announcement might contain, but I got news of it through Thor's reaction:
Is he really suggesting that Jesus Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice for the all the sins of all those who will ultimately reject Jesus as Lord and Savior?
Well, Thor, it may be bait but I'll bite. Christ died for all: he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, not only ours but for those of the whole world. God is not willing that any should be lost, but wants all to come to repentance.

I suspect that we can place where the disconnect happens here: where the original quote (Falwell) discusses atonement and the reply (Thor) discusses substitutionary sacrifice.

In the Sinai Covenant, the Day of Atonement included a sacrifice that could be understood as a substitutionary sacrifice. This sacrifice was made for the whole people, but it was understood that the unrepentant received no benefit from a substitutionary sacrifice, even one offered on their behalf. That's because substitutionary sacrifice is not the whole of atonement. The objection that is usually raised against Christ being the atoning sacrifice not only for us, but also for the whole world, is an objection that sees forgiveness as forensic (in this case, a decree of acquittal or pardon), and assumes that therefore the whole of atonement is forensic, assumes that everything happens because the Judge decreed it.

If you assume a "reunion with God" view of atonement, then Christ being the atoning sacrifice not only for us, but also for the whole world doesn't pose a problem at all. We can confidently announce Christ's redemption not just to some subset of the world but to anyone we meet: Christ is for the whole world, and they belong to the world, therefore Christ is for them in particular.

I am going to take one of the classic prooftexts of substitutionary sacrifice and quote it in context. Notice how the apostle Paul assumes a framework of reconciliation with God -- and non-compulsory grace -- for his announcement of substitutionary sacrifice: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain." (2 Cor 5:18-6:1)

Take care & God bless

7 comments:

codepoke said...

I've not had a lot of time, and I've not read Thor's post or the likely large number of comments it generated.

I don't have a lot to say, but your argument seems to hinge upon your statement, If you assume a "reunion with God" view of atonement... If you don't make that assumption, then the rest doesn't go anywhere.

Paul's statement seems exclusive, otherwise.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ
He starts by limiting the reconciliation to "us". That makes sense since he is writing to a church.

that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.
He continues by either saying that he will count none of men's sins against any of them, or by saying that Christ was reconciling the creation back to Himself. The use of the word "world" is not conclusive here.

We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Then he gives a gospel call to a bunch of saved people.

This passage is another rorschach test.

Your separation of the atonement into two components makes sense to me, but I don't see how that helps your cause.

v15 says "[Christ] died for all ... [Christ] died for them."

With two components, that makes sense. One is for everyone, and is not effectual to salvation; and the other is to His own, and is effectual.

When you bring up the Jewish sacrifice of atonement, you open the discussion to the Reformed view of Covenant. The sacrifice of the atonement was only available to those in covenant with God. It did not pretend to cover the nearby Midianites. But being in covenant was not equivalent to being redeemed. Being circumcised brought you into covenant, but could not save. Once that rhetorical ground is laid, the Reformed person answers you that Paul was addressing those baptised into covenant who still needed to work out their salvation.

Christ's sacrifice carries the appearance of extending to all those baptised into the Corinthian church (the first component, that is), but really is effectual only to a subset. Paul warns all men to be saved in truth, and not merely in appearance. His warning will only be heard by those with ears, but it goes out to all.

Mostly, it had been a while since I'd said anything over here. :-)

Bonnie said...

Nice "bite," Weekend Fisher :-)

The whole soteriological debate is such a quagmire...I've tried to wade through it a bit but the arguments get unbelievably complex. I still don't understand all the distinctions everyone makes and suppose I never will.

I know that those who believe in limited atonement use verses which speak of the elect and Romans 9 (for example) in support of their view. They would explain the assumed framework of reconciliation with God as found in the passage from 2 Corinthians as being due to Paul's addressing those who are already assumed to be elect because they believed.

I've also heard arguments to the effect that the "national" sacrifice under the law, before Christ came, was necessary because God's chosen people were a nation. But, after Christ, the promise was to the Gentiles as well. The "new" nation would be defined differently.

I have seen those who claim limited atonement also say that Christ must be proclaimed to all because only God knows who the elect are. That's fair enough.

And, there is the argument that limited atonement properly gives all the credit for salvation to God, since man can have nothing to do with it. Otherwise, the argument goes, if salvation is for all, and only some are saved, then those who are saved get some of the credit for it. (which I don't believe as stated there, but I'll save the explanation, as this comment is getting long!)

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi 'poke

Good to see you again. Hope things are going well.

But, c'mon, you know I'm not going to let that "Rorshach blot" thing go.

First where you said "Then he gives a gospel call to a bunch of saved people" -- I'd invite you to reread that: he just called us Christ's ambassadors and said God was making his appeal to the world through us. That text is the content of God's appeal to the world (which includes us; but the call also comes to others through us). He portrays us as both being called and calling the world.

Now back to those Rorshach blots. Rorshach blots are designed to be ambiguous, inherently meaningless; they take meaning only from the imagination of the beholder. Scripture isn't a Rorshach blot; it's just that we "see through a glass darkly" (or maybe even we're all like funhouse mirrors in our abilities to have everything bend to our own reflections).

Words have meaning; sometimes several. Take "world." The most common meanings are a) the earth; b) the inhabitants of the same; c) (especially in Scripture) "worldly" (the world as opposed to the heavens). You can actually tell which meaning is meant by the surrounding words. If it's talking about places, it's #1; if it's talking about people, it's #2 or #3 which you can further split down by this: if it's opposing "the world" to "God" or "heaven" or "spirituality", it means #3 (the fallen world). Otherwise it means #2: the people of the world. You can even make a little decision-tree to tell which definition you're going to get based on the surrounding words (geography prepositions, opposition to God, etc.), not based on theological ideas of what it ought to mean.

Scripture portrays our salvation as reconciliation with God so often that I'm surprised when people object to it. It's the piece that holds together the incarnation/God With Us, repentance, forgiveness, victory over sin/death/the devil/God For Us, relationship ('Lord'/'Savior'), substitution, redemption, re-creation, all the pieces of our salvation. Maybe I oughtta do a post on that just so people see the passages highlighted.

Take care & God bless

Weekend Fisher said...

Hey Bonnie

Thanks for stopping by. I don't mind if the comment's long.

I know that setting foot in the atonement debate right now can be an adventure. And you're so kind about the way you phrase the Calvinist (some woudl say hyper-Calvinist) position, though still (apparently) skeptical of it. I really admire the graciousness there.

Take care & God bless

codepoke said...

But, c'mon, you know I'm not going to let that "Rorshach blot" thing go.

Nor could I expect you to.

Let's talk a second about context. You are taking this in a one-dimensional context of Paul talking about Jesus saving people. It's that kind of theology for its own sake that I am trying to fight.

The context here is a former Jew talking to a mixture of Jews and gentiles about their existence as a church. He is defending his apostleship from imposters, and describing the way that he worked among them. The context is the defense of the kingdom, the church alone in the world.

As such, your definition "a" more than suffices to explain Paul's use of the word, "world."

Ro 4:13
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Ro 8:22
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

Ro 11:12
Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?


The world and the fulness thereof are the Lord's. In Christ, in the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth, everything is redeemed. Focusing everything on salvation of individuals diminishes the meaning of reconciliation. So when Paul here refers to those against whom God no longer holds transgressions, it is unreasonable to laugh off the possibility that Paul is only refering to redeemed.

We know that some of the people living in the church at Corinth were certainly not saved (1 Cor 15:34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.) so Paul giving a gospel call entirely within the visible church in the context of the invisible kingdom is the most reasonable interpretation of this passage.

Scripture isn't a Rorshach blot; it's just that we "see through a glass darkly"

I thought by now you would know what I meant by Rorschach Blot.

Yes, we see in a glass darkly, and we tend to see reflected within that glass exactly what we expect to see. You and I both see a world in the glass, and God interacting with that world, but we interpret God's actions in light of our preconceptions. Of course, you deny bringing preconceptions to the table, but that's neither here nor there.

The point of limited atonement is that Christ is not disappointed in the number of people who are saved. Instead, He carried the Blood into the Holy of Holies for exactly those people, and did not lose anyone for whom He was sent. To challenge that statement on the basis of the use of the word "world" in this verse is beyond a stretch.

There is a very real sense in which everything the kingdom, the church, does is redemptive. There is even a sense in which the cross is redemptive to those not saved. But Paul has just finished a discussion of how the perishing are blinded to the gospel, and how they find the scent of the Savior to be death to them. He just explained that this message of reconciliation is one that pushes most of the world away, so now to dismiss out of hand the reformed interpretation by a grammar lesson is neither courteous nor justified.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Poke

You know, I was taught that the best way to break free of preconceptions is to start with the words. Word studies are standard starting points when disagreements come up. If we can't start with the words on the page then there won't be any passage to interpret. It's unfortunate that you took offense; none was intended. Word studies are just standard tools of the trade.

As far as general context, I'm with you when you say

The world and the fulness thereof are the Lord's. In Christ, in the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth, everything is redeemed.

But you've lost me when you go on in the same paragraph to talk about only particular people being redeemed. I know we both agree on one thing: there is a sense in which all things are redeemed. The details seem to differ.

I don't see how the perspective you highlight (God redeeming the entirety of creation) leads to the conclusion that someone might be exluded from that.

So here's where I'd like to start: how do you (in your own interpretation) get from point one to point two?

Just trying to understand where you're coming from.

Take care & God bless

codepoke said...

We've done this before, and not to much profit. It would seem that mine is a 9th side to any argument, expressed in some lost language.

I'll let what I've said stand, and let you move on.