The One for All: 7 Reasons Why 1 Timothy 2 Teaches Definite Atonement (and 3 Reasons Why It Matters)

andrew-seaman-746845-unsplash.jpg 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
— 1 Timothy 2:1–7 —

Universal Atonement is the theological doctrine that says Christ’s death on the cross was offered for every single person without exception. This view of the cross stands against a “limited” view of the atonement, better termed Definite Atonement. Advocates of Universal Atonement typically make their case from various proof texts in the Bible and from theological commitments like God’s universal love and the universal offer of the gospel.

Combining textual proof with theological commitment, few passages in the Bible appear to support Universal Atonement more than 1 Timothy 2:4–6 and 1 Timothy 4:10. The former speaks of God’s will that all people be saved and Jesus ransom for all; the latter of God being savior of all people. From a first reading, these verses seem like a slam dunk for Universal Atonement. What else could Paul mean, but that Christ died for all people without exception?

In context, however, there are multiple reasons—textual, covenantal, and theological—which argue against such a reading. Such a statement may evoke disinterest, even disgust. Few are the cultural winds that blow in the direction of particularity today. Rather, our modern world loves to speak of universal equality and tolerance without distinction. Theologically, few doctrines have been left unscathed from the effects of individualism and modernity’s penchant for ubiquitous choice.

Yet, as is often the case in the Bible, God’s ways are not man’s ways. And what we find in Paul’s letter to Timothy is a very clear account of salvation that establishes Christ’s death as the one way of salvation for all people. All people, however, is not an individualistic word in Paul’s letter; it is a word that speaks of all kinds of people—especially, the categories of Jew and Gentile.

Echoing his earlier words to the Ephesians (2:11–220, Paul is proclaiming a message of the cross that is good for all kinds of people (1 Timothy 2:7). And as we will see his words do not support a universal atonement for individuals; they speak of a definite atonement for God’s people, whatever their country of origin. That said, we need to see from the text, how Paul speaks of one ransom for all people and how God is the Savior of all, especially those who believe.

Today, we will look at 1 Timothy 2. Some day soon, we will consider 1 Timothy 4. In truth, these chapters should not be read separately. They inform one another and reveal a unified vision of salvation. Yet, for sake of time, with open Bibles, we will address one and then the other. Continue reading

Preaching a Definite Atonement

Sometimes people ask “Why did you write your dissertation on limited atonement?” To which I have two answers.

The academic answer is “because I wanted to apply a biblical theological approach to a contentious doctrine.” I believe that only by approaching the extent of the atonement with the whole canon of Scripture in view is it possible to rightly hold its absolute efficacy for the elect with its cosmic scope for all creation. That’s the academic answer.

The other answer is evangelistic: “I wrote my dissertation on the extent of the atonement to stress the fact that what God designed, he accomplished.” What Jesus did on the cross was not to pay for some of it. Jesus paid it all, by divine design and sovereign grace. For me this has tremendous practical, missional, and homiletical effect. Every sermon I (have) ever preach(ed), stands on the glorious reality of Christ’s definite atonement and calls sinners to believe in him.

This week while at Together for the Gospel (more on that soon), we saw the above video, which perfectly expresses this same conviction. The preacher is E.J. Ward, a powerful herald of God’s gospel whose Lexington Pastor’s Conference encouraged primarily African-American brothers and sisters the doctrines of grace. His short message takes its language from the old hymn, “Jesus Paid It All,” and shows why definite atonement is necessary for preaching the gospel as good news. (For more on this point, see my chapter in Whomever He Wills).

Listen to Elder Ward’s message and marvel at this fact: Jesus death did not pay some of it. Jesus paid it all. Then, ponder this question: How can we proclaim the power of the cross if we must call our hearers to add faith? Far better, Christ’s death pays the penalty for sin and establishes a new covenant which gives to the elect all that God requires—chiefly saving faith.

Brothers, preach the definite atonement of Jesus Christ. Universally call men and women to repent and believe. And trust that all God designed in eternity and accomplished in time, he will bring to effect by means of Christ’s death and the Spirit’s life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Reconsidering “Above All”: How Hermeneutics Must Intersect with and Inform Our Hymnody

aboveallYesterday, I raised concerns with the popular song “Above All” by Michael W. Smith. For some time, I have taken theological issue with the central lyric of the song:

Like a rose / Trampled on the ground
You took the fall / And thought of me
Above all.

Those last two lines have always made me stumble because of the way they seem to eclipse God with humanity. I’ve always heard them as making the claim that Christ thought more of me than he did of God—which I argued reverses the God-centered nature of the universe and the cross.

For that reason, I was theologically opposed to the song. While I could sing the rest of the song with delight, I always cringed as the chorus neared. Hence, I set out to write these reflections so as to expose the errant chorus. However, a funny thing happened along the way—I read the lyrics again (and again) and this time in context.

Unlike any time before, I read the chorus in light of the whole song. Not surprisingly, reading it context provided greater light. But surprisingly, I had to adjust my thinking for I realized that if I (or we) let the song define its own terms—a principle of general hermeneutics—it does not ascribe humanity to a place higher than God. In fact, the song rightly retains a high view of God’s sovereignty and the dignity assigned to humanity, as the pinnacle of creation. Continue reading

Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement

lambIn his chapter on “Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement,” Paul Helm observes that Calvin’s universal language is pastoral in nature and necessary (and biblical) because of humanity’s epistemic condition. In other words, because humanity is ignorant of the future, the decree of God, and who God’s elect are, it is most appropriate for the pastor (and all Christian witnesses) to offer the gospel freely to all people. In fact, it is spiritually dangerous to call men and women to look for evidences of grace in themselves as ‘pre-conditions’ for election. Rather, following Calvin’s teaching, one’s election can only be known in the mirror of Christ.

On this point Helm quotes Calvin who rightly observed,

But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to ingraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion3.24.5, quoted in Helm, “Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement,” From Heaven He Came and Sought Her118)

Accordingly, may we look unto Christ today. The invitation to come is available to all, and all who come will discover God’s covenant love that he set on his elect before the foundation of the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss