Atonement & Justification – Type & Shadow
I recently had a conversation with a Lutheran friend regarding the Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement. Many of you know that I am quite partial toward our Lutheran brethren, seeing that their founder was an excellent exegete and had a most concise view of the Law/Gospel distinction. I find that there is much in the Lutheran (LCMS) tradition that interests me. There is, however, a few disagreements between we who hold to a Calvinistic position and those Lutherans we admire. One of the most striking of which is, of course, the debate over the extent of and intention of the atonement.
I know Lutherans hold to what they term “Objective Justification”, what exactly that means I’m perhaps still somewhat unclear on. However, in my discussion with my Lutheran friend I noticed that there are striking similarities between his view of atonement and that of the Arminian or semi-Pelagian. (I put ‘his’ in italics because he may not be representative of all Lutherans.) Let me explain.
The Lutheran (please correct me if I am wrong!) view is that Christ’s payment was for each and every person who ever lived, thus they are “objectively justified”:
“The pattern is clear and consistent throughout: the Gospel or absolution offers not a conditional, future prospect, but a perfected, past and present reality. God already is gracious, merciful, propitious, reconciled in Christ, and freely offers this ready forgiveness or grace in the Gospel. To believe this Gospel or absolution is to believe oneself forgiven, justified, accepted. Forgiveness exists “objectively” already before faith. Faith does not create forgiveness but only receives, accepts, appropriates it.” – Kurt Marquart (http://marquart4president.org/oj.shtml)
Thus the Lutheran believes that in order for there to be a ‘free offer’ of the Gospel, Christ’s death must have paid for the sins of all those who might be potentially saved. Recently, in a webcast of the Lutheran program Issues Etc. ( http://kfuo.org/IE_Main.htm ), which by the way is a fantastic Gospel declaring program, they showcased a former “Calvinist”, Dr. Leonard Payton, turned Lutheran. Of course, as often is the case when people who claim to be Calvinists convert to another view, what the person believed was not quite Calvinism but in many cases a strawman version thereof. [The program can be heard at: http://worldwide.kfuo.org/kfuo/issues_etc4/Sep_9c.wma, or http://www.kfuo.org/mp3/Issues4/Sep_9c.mp3 ]. Often during that broadcast I found myself decrying the injustice of the claims. The foremost of difficulties I had with this broadcast, however, is the idea that Calvinism “demands an answer for how/why God elects”, regardless of the validity of that claim, the fact of the matter is that it is Scripture that tells us why and how God elects. It was surprising to hear during that broadcast, none of the traditional verses usually brought to the discussion was shown to be different than how Calvinism views it. Dr. Payton instead indicated instead that “the Bible doesn’t provide said answer.” Likewise, in my discussion with my Lutheran friend, there seems to be this ongoing view that one can easily explain away any difficult passages relating to election, atonement and justification since “God’s ways are not our ways.”
Yet most striking of all is the response I received when discussing the justice of universal atonement. Usually, when a Calvinist debates an Arminian (or their kin) on the subject of atonement, the conversation goes something like this:
Calvinist: “You believe that the sins of each and every person who ever lived are paid for?”
Calvinist: “So on what basis does God condemn anyone?”
Calvinist: “Is unbelief a sin?”
Calvinist: “Did Jesus pay for that sin?”
Calvinist: “So Jesus paid for everyone’s sins, including the sin of unbelief, and yet God still punishes people for whose sins Jesus paid?”
Arminian: “Well… they have to accept the free gift…”
This pattern also occurs in discussions with folks of various denominations, including some NCT types (that is, seeing the Law as not condemning anyone but unbelief being the only sin) and it seems that most of us Calvinists have had this discussion with someone at some point. The most astounding thing, however, is that this conversation, while representative of those I’ve had with Arminians, was nearly word-for-word what I had with my Lutheran friend. The problems with this view are numerous, let me explain a few.
Firstly, and most obviously, is the problem of sin. Romans 1:18 (as well as elsewhere) states that men face the wrath of God not simply for unbelief but for “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness”.
Secondly, if these sins are paid for, on what basis does God have a right to be wrathful? Does God impute to Christ sins He ultimately will punish men for? In legal terms this is “double jeopardy”, a penalty demanded twice. Yet, as Arthur Custance noted: “No man can be held accountable for a debt that has already been paid for on his behalf to the satisfaction of the offended party.” This is a basic legal premise, yet, it seems, one that God does not abide by. To this my Lutheran pal responded “[God] can punish sin as many times as He likes.” But what does Scripture say:
Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
How can this be? If one is “in Christ Jesus” they’re under no condemnation. Their sins are paid for. So far our Lutheran buddies are nodding noting that this is part of “subjective justification”. Yet the questions previously posed creep back, if Christ paid for the sins of someone, how can they be condemned thereof. “Of course”, says our Lutheran friend, “because they don’t believe…” But again, Scripture to comes to mind:
…who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
The “us” mentioned here is of course no other than those “in Christ Jesus” who are not condemned in v. 1. The reason they are not condemned, is because of Christ’s shed blood and because He is making intercession for them. My Lutheran pal insists that Christ makes intercession for those who He knows will never believe in Him.
Finally, there is the Biblical scope of atonement… that is whom the Bible declares is God’s intent in the matter of atonement. It is here that our discussion gets more interesting.
The Lutherans (LCMS types) who believe in election, deny that man has a libertarian free will and clearly have so much going for them in respect to their view of law and grace, believe in universal atonement.
Yet when it comes to how this Universal Atonement is applied, the Lutherans respond:
“…when a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably disposed to him because of Christ, this personal faith [fides specialis] obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us” – (Apology,
As Karl Barth wrote: “God enables us to appropriate this salvation.”
It seems therefore, that the Lutherans, upon encountering the term kosmos in Scripture have come to view it as having the same meaning as the Arminian and Universalist… world means ‘each and every person who ever lived.’ Regardless of the context of the passage, whether identifying Gentiles as well as Jews, or expressing a subset of the world, the view is that world, kosmos, must mean “each and every person who ever lived.” Now, this might not be 100% of all verses, and I’m willing to accept that, but how do they respond to alternative position’s exegetical evidence? “We cannot know.”
But Biblical atonement has never applied to each and every person who ever lived, even though the plan of salvation, what the Reformed call the Covenant of Grace, included from the beginning “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Abraham was not a Jew… Rahab was not a Jew (and so on). Yet when it came to the blood of the paschal lamb, it was intended to save only the people of whose doors it was applied. The sacrifices of the Day of atonement were not universal in scope, applying to the Egyptians as well as the Jews, they were made for the people of Israel alone.
This of course is, as my Lutheran friend pointed out, merely type and shadow and since the Gospel was only partially revealed, the scope of Christ’s atonement cannot be rightly understood from them. This is quite true, and yet it is evident that there is much unity in these types and shadows and the reality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Most specifically, its intent was not for Egyptians and Greeks, but for Israel.
Before you all send Micah to the dispy-funny-farm, let me explain. Hopefully, however, most of you know where I’m headed.
Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
By faith in Christ we become Israel and the Jerusalem that is above becomes our mother…
But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
It is those who are of faith then who are true Israel, as opposed to merely being blood-related to Abraham as Esau and Ishmael. (For a very interesting view about the salvation of Esau, listen to the aforementioned Issues Etc. episode…). Still with me?
Romans 4: 16
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
Now the promise of the New Covenant was not universal in scope. It was not broadcast to the Egyptians, Greeks or even the Edomites. Instead it is written: “I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH”. The scope of the New Covenant is therefore limited to a specific people. The content of the Covenant then includes as well as other things: “FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE.” Because of our relationship to Abraham through Christ (the Seed…), we are view as part of Israel and thus recipients of the New Covenant in the blood of Christ. It is this blood which was shed, not for all men, regardless of their faith in Him, but for His people as prophesied in the Old Testament by the types and shadows and the direct words of God Himself…
” Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.”
It was God’s intent and promise to provide atonement for His people, a people of His choosing. This theme is carried forward into the New Testament.
Acts 20: 28
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
The Lutheran says that Christ’s blood purchased each and every person who ever lived, but Scripture states that His blood purchased the church of God. This is not the only place this idea is expressed:
who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Thus Christ’s blood did not make redemption merely possible as the Arminian believes, nor did it make men redeemable, as the Lutherans seem to believe, instead it actually accomplished what God intended.
Revelation 5: 9
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
Far from the idea of universal atonement, here is a clear declaration that the intent of Christ was to purchase a specific people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. This is exclusive language, not the all-inclusive view of the Lutheran or Arminian.
Of course our friends are not without their own Scriptural backing, 1 John 2:2 for example often gets mentioned, ye A.W. Pink did an excellent explanation on this verse which I will not quote in entirety, but will post a relevant portion of:
“Now believers only may take comfort from this, for they alone have an “Advocate”, for them alone is Christ the propitiation, as is proven by linking the Propitiation (“and”) with “the Advocate”…
…if other passages in the New Testament which speak of “propitiation,” be compared with 1 John 2:2, it will be found that it is strictly limited in its scope. For example, in Rom 3:25 we read that God set forth Christ “a propitiation through faith in His blood”. If Christ is a propitiation “through faith”, then He is not a “propitiation” to those who have no faith!
…who are meant when John says, “He is the propitiation for our sins”? We answer, Jewish believers…” – A.W. Pink, Sovereignty of God
Obviously these statements will not completely satisfy, but I hope a Lutheran might take a careful read of Pink’s evidence and respond, but I digress. It seems, then, for the Arminian these apparently conflicting verses simply prove confusing and usually result in an emotional outburst, but our Lutheran friend has already heard it before: “It is a conundrum…” he responds. “Our ways are not His ways… we cannot know….” This then becomes the reigning method of Biblical interpretation for the Lutheran whenever such a difficulty is reached, rather than reviewing the texts and examining them exegetically, they reply, simply, “we cannot know…”. This sort of hermeneutic can be heard in the Issues Etc. broadcast; ‘it simply is unknowable and thus we shouldn’t ponder it.’
Yet it is my contention that the Bible is more than clear on these matters… election, atonement, justification… When we view the scope of atonement in the types and shadows of the Old Testament, we can see an accurate picture of Christ’s intent in the New, and also verify it by His own words.
More to come?