Saturday, April 17, 2010

John Piper's Doctrine of a Common Ineffectual "Atonement"

A friend sent me this link to a question and answer session by John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church:

I've heard him preach this false doctrine before, so I thought it was worth commenting on as follows:

I hope you will read and receive this comment with the understanding that I mean this as an encouragement and as a helpful, edifying, and God-glorifying comment both for Piper (whom I have strongly criticised) and for all the other readers.

He makes a telling statement about the whole fuzzy construct of common grace and free offer theology when he says towards the end, "You're alive!" This is totally wrong, and a wrong way of thinking about the non-elect, and God's attitude towards them. The sinner is dead is trespasses and sins, and therefore does not have a "chance" (and chance is not a word in the dictionary of a Reformed Christian). A "chance to believe"? Is not the very idea undiluted Arminianism?

It's very true that God gives people greater judgment for rejecting the preaching of the Gospel - Christ speaks about this (Matthew 11:21ff). But notice that God's judgment of sinners is with regard to their disobedience, not their rejection of a gracious offer (since how could God offer what He had not purposed to give them?). As II Thessalonians 1:7-10 makes totally clear, Christ will return "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel..." It is for disobedience that the wicked reprobate receive greater condemnation. Of course it is true that God gives the wicked many good things in this world, and holds them guilty for their misuse of these things and unthankfulness, but while His purpose in giving good things to the elect is for their good, His purpose in giving the very same things to the reprobate is to bring them under further condemnation (Rom. 11:9; Psalm 73) - not an attitude of grace at all (Psalm 5:4-6; 11:5-7; etc).

It's important because God is just and simple. It is not possible to say that a man who ends up in hell has received any grace at all - because God's grace is one of His perfect attributes, which must necessarily be in harmony with all His other attributes. God is also sovereign, and omnipotent, and infinte. And therefore His grace must also be sovereign, and omnipotent, and infinite.

And in regard to the above message, is very important not to err on this because of the nature of Christ's atonement. A Christian believes that Christ is His Saviour because Christ is the Head of the Church, His body. His is the legal representative of His people by means of the bond of faith worked by the power of the Holy Spirit which indwells every believer, "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. " (Eph. 5:30, cf. Eph. 2:1ff). So a Christian believes that Christ died on the cross as our substitute. He died in our stead/place, as the corporate head of all His elect which were given to Him by the Father.

Because of this substitutionary atonement it says, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (II Cor. 5:21). So, the only people who can receive any benefit from the atonement are those for whom He was a legal representative before God, which can only be those who are united to Him by faith. And furthermore, if united to Him as a member of His body, then we receive the effect of the atonement. And either it was a full atonement, or no atonement at all. There cannot be measures of atonement because we are all "one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). All those in Christ have received exactly the same grace and are equal with respect to salvation - "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). In Christ, "all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God" (II Cor. 1:20).

And all this must be the case because by means our union with Christ, there is a "swap". All our sins (past, present, future, and of every member in Christ, since there is no difference) were imputed to Him, just as all His righteousness was imputed to us (again, II Cor. 5:21). And God poured out His wrath upon the Son, such that Christ received in His own self, the full measure of punishment due to us for our sins (I Pet. 2:24; Gal. 3:13). And His resurrection for our sakes is absolute proof of our full justification in Him, that He made a complete payment for the sins of all those for whom He was a legal representative. If He has risen, then anyone who receives the benefit of the atonement must also be risen (I Cor. 15:22), and has no sin left to be paid for - we are "dead to sin".

And all this is even further proved because only in Christ can our righteous God love sinners with His infinite love. If we are in Christ, God beholds us, as He beholds Christ - as beloved children with whom He is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17)! And since we are beloved in Christ, it cannot be that God could cast us into hell, just as He cannot reject His only begotten Son (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27).

Piper says here that the non-elect receive some grace from the atonement, but only those united to Christ can receive any benefit from the atonement, and if united to Christ - all the Father's infinite love and grace toward Christ, is also then toward us. So, it's all or nothing with God. If not elect, there is no basis for having any part in the atonement, and if any has a part in the atonement at all, they have full and complete salvation as a beloved child of God. To believers He promises full redemption and assurance of salvation in Christ the only begotten Son, yet to unbelievers He promises both temporal and eternal judgment and nothing but wrath and holy vengeance against them that "obey not the Gospel".

In conclusion, I can't see how Piper's doctrine here is not undermining all that we believe about the particular atonement of Jesus Christ. There is only two conclusions to including the non-elect in the atonement (which is really a contradiction in terms), either all are saved without exception (which is the most blatant universalist heresy), or the cross is a mere crutch by which we must save ourselves by means of the determinant addition of our will/work (which is the proud religion of the Pelagian and Arminian heretics - and wholly dethrones God). We have already seen that it is quite impossible for any who are in Christ to receive variant effects from the atonement - and everything about the nature of the atonement (that it is penal, and substitutionary, and involves full double-imputation, and is applied to those united to Christ, first of all by sovereign unconditional election, and also in time and in our consciousness by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which produces faith in all the elect, and finally in our complete sanctification and glorification with Christ when we go to be with Him in heaven).

Preaching ought to separate light from darkness, as God does, to sanctify the elect and build them up in assurance, and declare to the wicked what God's attitude is toward them unless they repent, and therefore teach indeed without equivocation that, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
 - Sam W.

P.S. There's more to say about this - but it ought to be clear just how impossible it is to believe in any kind of common grace, and yet still defend the doctrine of particular atonement. The difference between the Arminians and Calvinists on that point is after all, especially with regard to what the atonement actually is. The consequences for distorting the simple biblical teaching about the atonement are massive.

No comments: