The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 4 – Can God Suffer?

The doctrine of divine simplicity and immutability sometimes leads us to think that God cannot truly respond to what happens in the world. However, to say that God does respond to human action may suggest that God has become passive and undergoes change when he is acted upon by an external agent. John Frame notes although God’s eternal decree does not change, it does ordain change. God also responds to the unfolding events in human history that flows from the eternal decree. But God’s response does not imply passivity in God because he is bringing to fruition an interaction that he has himself ordained. He is actively bringing to fulfilment what he has eternally ordained, even in bringing about a world that can bring him grief. (Acts 2:23-24)

Does God’s expression of grief means that God suffers? Continue reading “The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 4 – Can God Suffer?”

The Atonement in Isaiah 53

Classical Evangelicalism has always affirmed that the power of the gospel lies in the proclamation that Christ died for the ungodly and made atonement for their sins. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 9:22; 10:12-14) The truth that underlies this proclamation is encapsulated in the phrase, “the penal substitutionary death of Christ.”

However, this glorious truth has been challenged by some modern theologians who deny that Christ’s death is a penal substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Similarly, the teaching of Christ’s atonement becomes distorted when some Charismatics claim that partaking the Lord’s Supper brings physical healing because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross.

You are invited to read the careful reading of Isaiah 53 (the locus classical of the doctrine of penal substitutionary death of Christ in the Old Testament) written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock. It will help you gain a better understanding and a grateful appreciation of the glory of Christ’s atonement. Continue reading “The Atonement in Isaiah 53”

Holy Saturday and the Spirituality of Waiting

In general, the tradition of Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter) is not observed among the independent churches. Yes, Good Friday ends in tragedy. But thank God, there is great rejoicing on Easter Sunday. But how is Good Friday connected to Easter Sunday if we have no idea about what is happening on the day between them? The unexplained hiatus creates a sense of awkwardness.

I strongly recommend Alan Lewis’ profound book, Between the Cros and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Eerdmans, 2001) which I found stimulating and helpful when I preached on Holy Saturday in a series of Easter sermons in 2014. Continue reading “Holy Saturday and the Spirituality of Waiting”

Charles Spurgeon on Particular Redemption (Excerpts from two Sermons)

Excerpt 1: Particular Redemption
Spurgeon’s  Sermons vol 4. Sermon 181 (1858). With paragraph adaptations.
[Christ’s death procures real and not potential atonement. The intent of Christ’s death defines its extent]

The doctrine of Redemption is one of the most important doctrines of the system of faith. A mistake on this point will inevitably lead to a mistake through the entire system of our belief.

Now, you are aware that there are different theories of Redemption. All Christians hold that Christ died to redeem, but all Christians do not teach the same redemption. We differ as to the nature of atonement, and as to the design of redemption. For instance, the Arminian holds that Christ, when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person; and they teach that Christ’s death does not in itself secure, beyond doubt, the salvation of any one man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, or that by the doing of something else, any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life; consequently, they are obliged to hold that if man’s will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ’s atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no particularity and speciality in the death of Christ. Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in Hell as for Peter who mounted to Heaven. They believe that for those who are consigned to eternal fire, there was a true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the Most High. Now, we believe no such thing. We hold that Christ, when He died, had an object in view, and that object will most assuredly, and beyond a doubt, be accomplished. We measure the design of Christ’s death by the effect of it. [Emphasis added] Continue reading “Charles Spurgeon on Particular Redemption (Excerpts from two Sermons)”

Definite Atonement (Part 3/3). The Logic of 1 John 2:1-2

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“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

I. Biblical data that supports the premises of the two following arguments
Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He intercedes with the Father on the basis of his accomplished his work of atonement. He is the perfect advocate whose intercession with the Father is always successful (I John 2:1; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24-26; John 11:41-42,).

II. Argument 1 from Christ’s intercession
Premise: Christ’s intercession with the Father is always successful.

Outline of argument:
(1) If Jesus intercedes for all, all would actually be saved.
(2) But not all are saved.
(3) Therefore Jesus does not intercede for all.*

III. Argument 2 from “Propitiation”
Premise: Christ as “propitiation” has turned away God’s wrath (1John 2:2).

Outline of argument:
1) If Christ has really bore God’s wrath for everybody, nobody will go to hell, since their punishment has already been born by Christ.
2) But Scripture does testify that the wicked will experience punishment in hell.
3) Therefore Christ is not the propitiation for the sins of everybody

IV. The Logic of the arguments
The two arguments have the same logical form: Continue reading “Definite Atonement (Part 3/3). The Logic of 1 John 2:1-2”

Definite Atonement (Part 2/3): Biblical Evidence and Theological Arguments

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It is imperative that theological discourse goes beyond polemics and offers positive evidence and constructive arguments to establish the veracity of doctrine. This being the case, I would like to invite our readers to consider carefully several lines of biblical evidence and theological arguments for the doctrine of definite atonement given below:

The Particularistic Vocabulary of Scripture
The Scriptures themselves particularize who it is for whom Christ died. The beneficiaries of Christ’s cross work are denominated in the following ways: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah,” that is, the church or “true Israel” (Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15); his “people” (Matt. 1:21); his “friends” (John 15:13); his “sheep” (John 10:11, 15); his “body,” the “church” (Eph. 5:23–26; Acts 20:28); the “elect” (Rom. 8:32–34); the “many” (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Mark 10:45); “us” (Tit. 2:14); and “me” (Gal. 2:20).

Christ’s High-Priestly Work Restricted to the Elect Continue reading “Definite Atonement (Part 2/3): Biblical Evidence and Theological Arguments”

Definite Atonement (Part 1/3): Engaging Arminian Proof Texts for Universal Atonement

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Arminians charge Calvinists as guilty of diminishing the universal significance of Christ’s atonement by teaching definite (limited) atonement. However, Calvinists reject the charge as unwarranted since they affirm the atonement of Christ as “sufficient for all.” In truth, it is the Arminians who limit the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement by teaching that Christ’s atonement only offers potential salvation for all, since there remains a possibility that Christ’s atonement may not achieve its intended purpose. [Re: Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists] This uncertainty precludes believers from enjoying any assurance of salvation. In contrast, Calvinists teach that Christ’s atonement does not merely make salvation possible; it accomplishes a definite purpose. It makes salvation certain as Christ really saves to the uttermost every one of those for whom he died. Christ’s atonement is “effective for the elect.” Hence believers may enjoy the assurance of salvation.

Arminians also reject the Calvinists’ understanding of the phrase, “for all” to mean “all without distinction” as hermeneutical gymnastics that go against the plain reading of Scripture which for Arminians, would require understanding the phrase, Christ died “for all” to mean “all without exception.”

The purpose of this post is to defend the Calvinists’ reading by engaging with several favorite Arminian proof texts for universal atonement. For convenience, I shall quote generously from several established commentators. Continue reading “Definite Atonement (Part 1/3): Engaging Arminian Proof Texts for Universal Atonement”

Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)

In response to many requests, I am posting the print edition of an article written when I was much younger, “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ,” Transformation (1998), pp. 10-15. Ah, how time flies and I don’t seem to have grown wiser.

To download the pdf version of this print edition:

Pluralism Particularity Salvation Christ Transformation1998

Throughout this paper, it is my assumption that Christianity promotes and practices social tolerance and affirms plurality. What I dispute is the contention that social tolerance is possible only if Christians embrace a prescriptive form of religious pluralism. I shall further address the issue of prescriptive pluralism, henceforth referred to as religious pluralism within the framework of Christian discourse, and analyze the logic under-girding religious pluralism. In particular, I shall argue that religious pluralism is not only internally incoherent but that in seeking the least common denominator, pluralism offers a religious faith that is too dilute to meet religious needs. Finally, religious pluralism entails the abandonment of the central beliefs that historically define Christian identity such as normative revelational truths and the historical particularity of the incarnation of God in Christ. As such religious pluralists represented by major thinkers like John Hick and Paul Knitter have no basis to speak on behalf of Christianity….

 

…But why should God need to intervene in the human predicament in the first place? How does the Christian teaching of the Incarnation of Christ fit in? Following White I would like to propose the “Criterion of Moral Authenticity” as a means to shed light on this issue. To begin with, estrangement between God and man is overcome not by special knowledge but by a demonstration of perfect love. Given the magnitude of the human predicament, surely such a revelation demands a costly love which does not compromise God’s holiness. It has to be costly love to win over human sin and rebelliousness. But as White asserts, “Unless and until God himself has experienced suffering, death, and the temptation to sin, and overcome them, as a human individual, he has no moral authority to overcome them in and with the rest of humanity.”[Vernon White, Atonement and Incarnation (CUP 1991), p. 38] Continue reading “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)”

Christ’s Death as Expiation-Propitiation (Hilasterion): Appeasing the Wrath of God

 

If the heart of the cross is the atonement, the heart of the atonement is penal substitution.

Christ’s Death as Penal Substitutionary
The prima facie evidence from Scripture supports the case for Christ’s death as penal substitutionary. This is clear from the following verses.

Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6)
Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)
Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3)
he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21)
who gave himself for our sins (Gal. l :4)
who gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us
(Gal. 3: 13)
who gave himself as a ransom for all (I Tim. 2:6)
and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)
Christ suffered for you (I Pet. 2:21)
He himself bore our sins in his body ( 1 Pet. 2:24a)
By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24b)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet. 3: 18)

These verses confirm beyond dispute that Christ died for us. However, how Christ’s death brings reconciliation between the holy God and sinful man is hotly debate. Some scholars teach that Christ died as our representative who advocates or pleas for us as we are not personally present in the judgment court of God. However for evangelicals, these verses require an understanding of Christ’s death which goes further than Christ dying as our representative – Christ died as our substitute on the cross.

To sharpen the difference between the representative and the substitute – the substitute not only pleas for his client, he takes his place on the dock. He becomes the accused who is condemned as guilty. He takes the place of his client as he is executed on the cross. As he took punishment in our place, we are so to say present in him. The phrases “gave himself”, “bore our sin”, “to be sin”, “becoming a curse”, “as a ransom”, and the interchangeability of statements about Christ’s death “for our sins” and Christ’s death “for us” suggests that Christ suffered the penalty that was due to us. The inseparable link between substitution and penalty demands an understanding of Christ’s death as a penal substitution “for us” and “our sins”. Continue reading “Christ’s Death as Expiation-Propitiation (Hilasterion): Appeasing the Wrath of God”

Going Beyond Evangelical-Liberal Debates on Models of Atonement?

Question from an old friend:

“Is it not possible to accept that penal substitution is only one Pauline model of the atonement and that those of us who find it fails to communicate the Gospel in many cultural contexts prefer to use other models/metaphors (whether Pauline or non-Pauline)- without us all being denounced us “liberals”? Isn’t it also high time we moved away from such misleading and irrelevant theological labels as “liberal” or “evangelical” which are largely Anglo-American cultural imports?…there is no way Stott’s and Morris’s insistence that this [hilasterion] means “propitiation” can be defended in the light of both Jewish and recent Christian scholarship. In any case, you well know that words don’t derive their meanings from dictionaries but from usage in larger literary contexts.”

Answer:

1) Regarding atonement models – Of course I agree with you that there are many valid models of the atonement. Notice I mentioned that the classical Confessions did not ‘canonize’ any one model? I further argued that because of PSA, I can believe in CV? But that doesn’t mean that I cannot argue that PSA is foundational for the other models. Whether one agrees with me or not is a matter of theological exegesis. Everyone is free to take a position on this matter. Continue reading “Going Beyond Evangelical-Liberal Debates on Models of Atonement?”