Book Review: Romans

To put it bluntly, R.C. Sproul is an author that Christians should read.  Even more so the book of Romans is a book that Christians should be well acquainted with.  This is what makes Sproul’s recent commentary on the book of Romans so helpful.  Published this year, Sproul’s commentary on Romans is the first in what will hopefully be a long series of commentaries on the NT.  This commentary, as well as the ones planned to follow, reflect the preaching ministry of Sproul.  Each chapter reflects a sermon preached by Sproul on that particular passage.

This commentary would certainly be in the category of an expositional commentary.  Which means that it is accessible to all. No need to worry about brushing up on your Greek grammar, or trying to remember which scholar holds what position.  It is simply Sproul explaining the meaning of Scripture.  This, however, does not mean that the commentary is simplistic.  Sproul is certainly thorough, providing his readers will valuable information.  Furthermore, Sproul challenges readers spiritually throughout this volume.  As I worked through various sections of the book Sproul’s explanation of the passage as well as his explanation of its implications for my life left me feeling the weight of the passage.

If there is a weakness to this book it is probably the fact that the chapters so closely resemble a sermon manuscript.  I guess this is not really a problem, but it seemed to me that the editors could have done a little more to make this seem like a commentary and not a compilation of sermons. There were times when I felt like Sproul was preaching to his people and I was just trying to listen.  There were even a couple of times when I thought, “man I wish I could have been there that Sunday morning.”  This is, however, the first is a series so I think we can expect some improvement on this point.

Overall I would highly recommend this volume as a valuable resource to any Christian looking to learn more about the book of Romans, or just looking to feed his soul!

The Extent of the Atonement (pt. 3)

II. Notable Differences between & Weaknesses of the Two Views

Obviously these two views differ significantly with respect to the intent of the cross, as well as what was actually accomplished through the cross.  It is worth noting several key differences and weaknesses to each view.

a. Differences

  1. The general view holds that God intended for everyone to be saved through the work of Christ.  In contrast, the definite view holds that God intended to save those whom He had already chosen
  2. The general view holds that the atonement did not accomplish salvation for anyone (unless someone is willing to say that everyone will be saved in the end, i.e. universalist), but rather made salvation available.  The definite view holds that Christ actually accomplished salvation by paying for the sins of those whom God had chosen.
  3. The general view ultimately makes man’s choice the definitive act in one’s salvation.  The definite view ultimately makes God’s choice the definitive act in one’s salvation.

b. Weaknesses

  1. A weakness of the general view is that God intended to save individuals that in the end were not saved.  Thus, God’s intention failed.
  2. A weakness of the general view is that Scripture often speaks of actually accomplishing salvation, rather than just making it possible.
  3. A weakness of the general view is that if Jesus paid for the sins of an individual then it would be “double jeopardy” for God to still punish them (this takes into account that unbelief is a sin, and that scripture often speaks of eternal punishment for sins other than unbelief as well, i.e. Romans 5:6-8, 16-18).
  4. A weakness of the definite view is the many passages in the bible seem to speak of Christ’s work being for “all.”

The Extent of the Atonement (pt. 2)

pt. 1

I. Summary of the Major Views

Today’s post will be really simple.  I have tried to cull down all the information on the two major views of the extent of the atonement into two simple statements.  There are really two primary questions that a view of the extent of the atonement must answer.  First, what did the Triune God intend to happen through the work of the cross?  Second, what was actually accomplished through the work of the cross?  Using these question we are going to summarize the two major views on this issue.

a. General Atonement

The first major view that we will look at is the “General Atonement” view.  This view is also referred to as the “Unlimited Redemption” view.  This view stipulates that it was God’s intent to save every individual throughout history through the sacrifice of Jesus.  Thus, the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross made salvation possible, but did not actually accomplish salvation.  Salvation, individuals taking advantage of Jesus’ sacrifice, is contingent upon individuals believing on him.

b. Definite Atonement

The second major view is the “Definite Atonement” view.  This view is also referred to as the “Limited Atonement” view.  This view stipulates that it was God’s intent to save those whom He had previously elected through the sacrifice of Jesus.  Thus, the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross actually accomplished salvation for the elect.  This salvation, the application of Jesus’ sacrifice, was completely contingent upon God’s gracious work.

The Extent of the Atonement

Today we are going to embark on a short study of the extent of the atonement.  I know that I have done this in the past here on the blog, but I have revamped some notes on the  subject that I would like to share.  Plus, it is a topic that I get a lot of questions about.  As we seek to determine what the bible says about the extent of the atonement I think that it is important that we let the bible speak for itself.  This means that we are going to have to comfortable with some tension in our position.  Specifically, there will be tension between the fact that Jesus died as a part of God’s plan (which began for the foundations of the world) to save the elect, and at the same time the offer of salvation is to everyone (i.e. the “all” passage).  This is a tension that I can live with because it is not contradictory; it simply looks at things from divine perspective as well as a human perspective.  With this in mind let’s overview some of the main issues involved in this debate.  Today we will begin by introducing the discussion.

An Overview of the Doctrine of Definite Atonement

Introduction:

There are various doctrines taught in the bible that are difficult for us as finite human beings to fully understand.  By this I do not mean to imply that God has not revealed what we need to understand these doctrines, I simply mean that because of our human limitation we can not understand things completely as God does from His perspective.  Commenting on this J. I. Packer put it this way:

We ought not in any case to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word.  For the Creator is incomprehensible to His creatures.  A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.  (Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God, 24)

The perfect example of what Packer is talking about is the doctrine of the Trinity.  There are simply things that we cannot fully know from God’s perspective.  The Lord Himself put it this way in Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.”  For this reason it is necessary that we look to scripture to be the ultimate guide for our theology.

The way that we frame up our theology should be as close to how scripture frames it up as possible.  This is especially important when talking about the intention and extent of the atonement.  Much ink has been spilled over this issue throughout the years, and many unnecessary rifts have developed because both sides have been guilty of speaking past each other rather than letting scripture speak for them.  With this in mind we are going to overview this very difficult issue, and do our best to let the bible speak for us.

At the outset I need to make a few introductory comments.  First, as someone recently pointed out to me, in some ways this is a secondary secondary issue.  By that he meant that someone could be saved without accepting any of the points of Calvinism, additionally they can be saved without accepting all five of the now famous points of Calvinism.   With this is mind we must view this as an in house debate.  A debate that is important because it gets to the heart of the Gospel message, but a debate that should not create rifts.  Again, J.I. Packer’s comments are helpful,

The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him.  The basis on which the New Testament invites sinners to put faith in Christ is simply that they need Him, and that He offers Himself to them, and that those who receive Him are promised all the benefits that His death Secured for His people.  What is universal and all-inclusive in the New Testament is the invitation to faith, and the promise of salvation to all who believe.  (Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God, 68)

A second presupposition that is important to set forth at the outset is that universal salvation is not acceptable to orthodox Christianity.  By universal salvation I mean that view held by some that Jesus died for all and effectively saved every single human that would ever live.  Scripture clearly contradicts this view.  Thus, if we are being honest we must admit at the outset that all orthodox views of the atonement are limited in some sense.  Either in they are limited in scope, or they are limited in effect.  What I mean by this will become a bit more clear as we look more closely at both views.

Tomorrow we will briefly overview each side of the debate…

Plain Ole’ Jesus – Mark 6:1-6a (pt. 3)

I apologize for the long layoff around here for the last couple of week.  I have been working on a project in the book of Nahum that has kept me quite busy.  But in the weeks leading up to Christmas I have some plans for the blog including (you guessed it) some material on Nahum, and maybe even a return visit to the doctrine of limited atonement.  For now, we are going to jump back into the book of Mark to finish looking at Mark 6:1-6a.

II. The Response to Unbelief (vv. 4-6a)

a. Jesus points out the problem

The response of the people toward Jesus made it clear that they did not believe in Him.  This was even Jesus’ diagnosis in v. 6.  And it was this response on the part of the people that led Jesus to respond to their unbelief.  Jesus responded first by pointing out the problem with the people’s response.  He points this problem out by quoting a familiar truism, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown and among his relative and in his own household.”  The point of this quote is clear.  The only people who do not revere a prophet are those who know him best.  ILL: A famous ball player at home in the offseason.

This was true of many of the prophets in the OT.  For instance, Jeremiah was tortured physically by his own people.  And now, in this passage, Jesus is being rejected in the same way.  It is all because his own people were too caught up with what they knew about him physically to see the spiritual truths He was trying to teach them.  Because of pride, these people were not able to see Jesus as anything but a hometown boy.  This was the problem that Jesus is pointing out.

For us today there isn’t really a danger of getting caught up with what we know about Jesus physically.  However, there is a constant danger that we will become so familiar with the great spiritual truths about Jesus that we will take them for granted.  A perfect illustration of this is the way Christians talk about God’s sovereignty.  Usually the statement “God is in control” is thrown around like some cliché, to the point where it almost become cheesy to say it to someone experiencing difficulties.  The point is that we become so familiar with it that we forget how amazing God’s sovereignty really is.

b. Jesus addresses to the problem

Jesus not only pointed out the problem, but He also addressed it by the way He ministered in Nazareth.  Mark tells us in v.5, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.”  At first glance this verse seems a little strange.  It seems to be saying that Jesus was physically unable to do a mighty work, but then Mark tells that Jesus does a “few” things that seem like mighty works to me.  So what’s the deal?

First of all, mark is not saying that Jesus was physically unable to do mighty works.  Jesus, as God, is omnipotent.  He had the power to perform the miracles, this proven by the fact that he does heal several sick people.  The point of v. 5 is not that Jesus did not have the power.  The point is that Jesus chose not use that power.  He chose not to exhibit His power on the same level that He had done in Capernaum because it did not fit with His purposes.  You see, Jesus was not in the business of impressing people with miracles.  He used His power for spiritual good.  We saw this in 5:21ff.  There Jesus used His power over human frailty to grow the faith of the woman and Jairus.  Jesus’ power was not dependent upon faith, it was meant to help people’s faith.  And if there were not faith present then there was no reason to use that power.  This is why Jesus did not use His power.  He was responding to their lack of faith by withdrawing his power from them.

At the close of this passage v. 6 tells us that “He marveled because of their unbelief.”  The fact that the people refused to accept Jesus’ teaching was a travesty.  They had already tried to kill him, yet He came back because He loved them.  He wanted them to know the truth.  Despite this, however, they refused to accept him.  They would not believe His message.  This unbelief is shocking.  In fact, Jesus marveled at this unbelief.

It is interesting to note that the only other time that this word for marveled is used to refer to Jesus is found in Matthew 8:5-13 where he marveled at the faith of the Centurion.  In these two passages we have a sharp contrast between belief and unbelief.  And in these passages we see how Jesus responds to belief and unbelief.  Those who do not believe in Jesus will not receive the benefits of His work.  The question is, do you believe?

Conclusion:

Whether or not you really believe in Jesus may seem like a simple enough issue to clear up.  However, it may be trickier than you think.  Remember, the people of Nazareth would have claimed to “know Jesus,” but in reality they had no idea who Jesus was.  That is why this passage is so instructive for us today.  The people of Nazareth took it for granted that they knew who Jesus was, and so they missed His true identity.  Unfortunately, the same thing is true in many local churches today.  You see, it is possible to know all the right Sunday School answers, and be “in church every time the doors open: but never really know Jesus—never believe in who He really is.  I guess that you could say that today the church is “Jesus’ Hometown,” and in many cases He is not being honored in His own hometown.  Some claim to know Jesus, but never acknowledge His authority over their lives.  Some call themselves Christian, but go through the day without even thinking about Jesus and His will for their lives.  The problem is that it is easy to become of familiar with what we think it means to be a Christian that we totally miss Jesus.  So I ask you, have you missed Jesus?  Have you responded to His teaching with belief or unbelief?  These are important questions, don’t blow them off.  There will be many people standing before Christ at the final judgment that realize for the first time that they missed Jesus (Matthew 7:21-23). Don’t let that happen to you.

Additionally, this passage is a warning for those who have truly believed.  It is reminds us that we must never take Jesus for granted.  [Ill: Work habits usually degenerate] Just like our work habits can degenerate so can our spiritual lives.  This passage is a reminder not to let that happen to you.  DO you remember what Christ said to the church at Ephesus in Revelations 2:4? He said, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Could this be said of you?  Have you become so familiar with Jesus that He has become “just plain ‘ole Jesus?”