Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Nature of the Atonement

As I study, contemplate and pray about the nature and extent of the atonement and specifically of the word propitiation, as it is used in scripture (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2 and 4:10), I find it hard to see how anyone can see that Christ on the cross died for everyone in the same way. I say same way as Phill Johnson, at the 2003 Shepherds Conference, spoke on the extent of the atonement and the different ways reformed people see the atonement. However all reformed people would agree, I think, at the end of the day that Christ death was not a propitiation for anyone but the elect. While there may be an aspect of the cross that allows common grace to the unbeliever it is the believer that has had their sins ACTUALLY paid for. This is not speaking to the sufficiency of the atonement but the efficiency. While we can say the atonement was sufficient for the world, if God so desired it to be, and had infinite value, since any sin against an infinite God needs an infinite sacrifice, it is only efficient for the elect. I think it is the idea of “propitiation” that speaks to the saving efficiency of the atonement.

The death of Christ on the cross is only efficient for the elect because it those sins that were actually, in time and space, on the cross paid for. This is important because it takes some linguistic gymnastics to say that Christ’s sacrifice was for all in the same way and then say that not all are saved. This again comes back to the word “propitiation” which means the taking on of the wrath of God and thus Christ’s sacrifice took on that wrath for His children. If Christ took on the wrath of any that would not believe you either have to agree to universalism or believe that there are people in hell that are there having their sins paid for, or redefine what propitiation means.

I by no way have all the answers and even tend to struggle with grasping the whole sufficiently-efficiency, Phill Johnson’s talk has helped greatly in this area. But at the heart of the matter is what happened on the cross. Did Christ die for sins of all (as many like to define all, meaning everyone without exception) or some (all as in meaning from every tribe tongue and nation)? Christ’s death does garner some effect for the unbeliever but not a saving effect or one that pays for sin. I think this is one of those issue that is hard to get ones arms around, as evidenced by disagreements even among those that agree on the end results. But, for those that see Christ dieing for the world in the same manner they, in my opinion, deny the substitutionary aspect of the atonement.

I probably need to think more on this but to ignore the atonement or redefine it often leads to a denial of God’s sovereignty in salvation. Of course there are those that redefine God’s sovereignty to save man’s autonomy and then change the definition of the atonement but either way they end up in the same place and that is to change the God of the Bible to the God of man’s desires. The God we worship needs to be the God of the Bible and not the God of our own making even if the God we find in the Bible makes us uncomfortable. When you think of it, an infinite Holy God should in many ways make us uncomfortable.

No comments: