Particular Redemption, Evangelism and the Eternal Counsel of God
Here are two short articles (now put together here in one place) by Dan Phillips:
Part 1 - Particular redemption: some opening thoughts
Predictable but necessary clarifications
Absolutely 100% terrific brothers and sisters would not (yet) agree with what I'm about to explain. To me, that is zero barrier to fellowship or love. I am going to try to explain why I think this is an important doctrine, but it isn't an all-important doctrine. It has far-reaching implications, but not so as to define Christianity to the exclusion of all who don't agree. At our church, particular redemption is not spelled out in the statement of faith, and it is not required either that members or leaders precisely think as I do about it — nor would I ever want that to change.
Talking about the doctrine
This isn't really my main post on the subject, but the main post will need this one to come first. That doesn't mean this one doesn't count!
"Limited? Ew." To those unfamiliar with the concept, "particular redemption" is more commonly known as Limited atonement, being the "L" of the acronym "TULIP." I think almost no adherent really likes the term much, because everyone's first and most natural reaction would be indignantly to burst out with "What?! — limit Christ's atonement? I don't think so!" However, any change would alter the neat little acronym (— TUPIP? TUDIP?).
However, on cooler reflection one soon realizes that every Christian necessarily limits Christ's atonement in some manner. Only universalists do not, and it's debatable whether they should be regarded as Christian.
Think about it. Every Christian believes that some people — at least Judas (Jn. 17:12), and the Beast and the False Prophet (Rev. 19:20), will suffer the wrath of God for their sins, unforgiven and "unatoned," for all eternity. So then, every Christian would "limit" the atonement of Christ by saying that it will not save those who go to Hell. Their sins are still on them; Christ has not removed them. Otherwise we're left with the universe-obliterating absurdity of sinless people forever suffering God's wrath for no reason whatever.
The usual rejoinder is that oh yes, Christ paid for absolutely every last sin, but the beneficiaries have to believe, have to accept Him. But isn't unbelief a sin (cf. Rom. 14:23)? Isn't repentant faith a command (1 Jn. 3:23), and isn't refusal to believe a sin? So doesn't this position "limit" the atonement by saying, in effect, "Yeah, but not those sins"? And doesn't that add the conceivably-worse necessary corollary that I then must save myself by adding the one element that makes all the difference between Heaven and Hell for me, an element not provided by Christ's work on the Cross?
The question, then, isn't whether Christians "limit" Christ's atonement. All Christians do. The question is how it should be "limited," Biblically.
Rounding up. I commonly say that I am a 4.95-4.97 point Calvinist. When I say that, I mean that I think that anyone who believes in the Bible either affirms T, U, I and P, or he's fudging on core Biblical doctrine for some other reason. Those doctrines are not merely reasonable conclusions of what Scripture teaches — they simply are what Scripture teaches, straight-up and in so many words.
The point on which I measure .95-.97 is, of course, L. Now you'll observe correctly that 4.95 "rounds up" very nicely to 5, and so I'll sign on as a 5-point Calvinist without blushing. But the reason for the .03-.05 variation is simply that, unlike the other four points, there is no single verse that straight-up lays the doctrine down in so many words, and there are a couple of challenging verses.
However, the reason why the variation is only .03-.05 is because I think that the cumulative Biblical case for "L" is overwhelming, the "challenging" verses are at least equally challenging for other positions, and every alternative explanation I've ever heard very soon comes to very serious Biblical grief.
Talking the doctrine
What this position means is that I believe the Biblical teaching that the plan of redemption is an eternal plan that was laid and finalized before the first second ticked on the cosmos (cf. Eph. 1:4ff.; 3:11). I believe the Biblical teaching that, in that plan, the Father saw mankind as fallen, guilty, dead and hopeless — and of that mass He selected a subset for salvation (Eph. 1:4ff.), giving them to the Son that the Son should give them eternal life (Jn. 17:2). This number, while a subset, is nonetheless a vast and humanly-innumerable international crowd (Rev. 7:9).
I believe the Biblical teaching that the Son made absolutely full satisfaction for every one of those thus selected by the Father, laying down His life for them, satisfying God's justice and wrath for them, saving them, and guaranteeing their conversion, preservation and resurrection (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; Jn. 6:37, 44-45; 10:11, 15, 26-30; Rom 3:24-25; Eph. 5:25f.). He came into the world to save sinners (Mt. 1:21; 1 Tim. 1:15), not to try to save them, or to give them an opportunity to save themselves. He prays for them (Jn. 17); He does not even pray for the world (Jn. 17:9). All of the blessings He achieved for any one of them are given to every one of them (Rom. 8:29-39). If Christ died for you, you will surely be saved. It cannot be otherwise — unless you imagine that He can fail in achieving the eternal purpose of the God who succeeds in accomplishing all He sets out to accomplish (Ps. 115:3; Eph. 1:11).
This is why, as one sees in reading the small selection of Scriptures above, the Bible characteristically speaks of the atonement in particular terms. Christ dies for the sheep, for His friends, for the church, for us (believers), for you (believers). It is also why Scripture characteristically speaks of His saving design as effectual. That is, He redeems, He saves, He reconciles, He propitiates; He does not try to redeem, try to save, try to reconcile, try to propitiate; He does not characteristically make redemption available, make salvation available, make reconciliation available, make propitiation available.
The practical upshot
What difference does it make for me that I see this doctrine in Scripture? I'll be candid and specific. (Readers: No! Really?)
Credit. It means that I give literally every last atom of credit and glory for my salvation to the Triune God, and I trace every bit of it to the eternal counsels of God ultimately accomplished in Christ's work on the Cross. I contribute absolutely nothing to my salvation. (The reader may be recalling at this point that I did write a book along these lines, explaining at much greater length — though not at all dwelling on "L.")
Responsibility. "But didn't you have to hear the Gospel, repent and believe?" a newcomer asks. Absolutely (see that selfsame book, at great length). But the point is that even this repentance and faith was assured to me by Christ's work on the Cross (Rom. 8:29-39; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29).
Evangelism. It also does affect the way I evangelize.
Now, it has no negative effect on whom I evangelize. The assumption that affirming the Biblical doctrine of election makes evangelism pointless is and always has been off-base. I have no way of knowing that anyone I talk to is not elect. Though there are many reprobate, Scripture only certainly identifies three individuals that I can think of: Judas, the Beast, and the False Prophet. If I am not talking to one of them, I have no reason for assuming that (s)he is not elect, and will not come to saving faith through my giving the Gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16).
So believing in particular redemption has zero limiting effect on whom I evangelize.
It does, however, have an effect on what I tell them. Now, many "L-people" have no problem saying "Christ died for your sins" to unsaved people. For my part, I do have a problem with that. First, I notice that the apostles never found it necessary to say, in their evangelism of the unsaved. Not once. Second, to me, saying "Christ died for your sins" is exactly the same thing as saying "You are saved, redeemed, reconciled, and assured of Heaven." Unless and until they trust Christ savingly, I have no assurance that this is true of them. So I don't say it until I have warrant.
Instead, I say that Christ died for sinners just like me and just like them. I say that Christ calls them to Himself, invites them to come. I say that, if they come, they will find their sins forgiven, for He is able to save to the uttermost all who draw near to the Father through Him.
After all, what does an unbeliever need to know? Does he need to know whether Christ died for him individually? Or does he need to know whether, if he comes to Christ in repentant faith, He will find Christ willing and ready to receive him and forgive Him?
Remember, this is the point at which all Christians agree: if someone does not come to Christ in repentant faith, the death of Christ will do him no good. That is, his sins will not be forgiven, and he will suffer God's wrath for eternity. So why is it essential to do what the apostles never did, and tell him that Christ died for him? If Christ died for all his sins, then how is sin still a problem? Isn't that the same as telling him he has nothing to worry about, since "Jesus paid it all"? If He "paid it all," then I'm set!
By the way, I'm not being merely theoretical. My memory from my pagan days, decades ago, is that I listened with contempt to any Christian who tried to tell me I needed to believe in Jesus to be saved from my sins. I didn't believe what they were saying. But I thought, "Anyway, if you're right, sounds like Jesus took care of my 'sin'-problem anyway, so it should work out."
Okey-doke, are we all on the same page now – at least insofar as we understand what we’re talking about?
Terrific. Then, Lord willing, I’ll make my actual point in the next post...
Part 2: At odds? An imaginary Amyraldian pre-temporal divine council by Dan Phillips
Scripture, as we saw, points to something like a council among the members of the Trinity before the foundation of even one world. The plan of salvation was completely laid among Father, Son and Spirit.
We who affirm the Biblical teaching of God's complete sovereignty in salvation (and thus the "five points") might imagine the council going something like this, fabricating the dialogue along the lines of what Scripture itself says:
Father: We all see the mass of mankind as rebellious, fallen, dead and hopeless. Because I am rich in mercy, and because of the great love with which I love them, I am selecting a subset of humanity for salvation. They are a vast and immense host, from out of the larger number of the lost. Son, I shall give you these men and women, that you might go and give them everlasting life by making full atonement for their sin.
Son: That would be My delight.
Father: Spirit, My Son and I will send You to apply the Son's atonement to those chosen by breathing life into them, thus enabling them to repent of their sin and believe savingly in Him. Your ministry is secured by My Son's penal, substitutionary death for those I chose.
Spirit: That would be My delight.
And then they do it, successfully as always, and just as planned.
Now, the Amyraldian reconstruction would force us to envision a very different council. Amyraldians affirm the Biblical truths that mankind is dead in sin, that God chose the elect unconditionally, that He draws them to saving faith, and that God will preserve every one of them. However, they imagine some way in which Christ died not just for those the Father and Spirit elect to save and regenerate, but for all men and women without exception — including Judas, the Beast, the False Prophet, and people who already were deceased and hopelessly suffering God's wrath.
This forces us to imagine a council that would go something like this:
Father: We all see the mass of mankind as rebellious, fallen, dead and hopeless. Because I am rich and mercy, and because of the great love with which I love them, I am selecting a subset of humanity for salvation. They are a vast and immense host, from out of the larger number of the lost. Son, I shall give you these men and women, that you might go and give them everlasting life by making full atonement for their sin.
Son: That would be My delight.
Father: Spirit, My Son and I will send you to apply the Son's atonement to those chosen by breathing life into them, thus enabling them to repent of their sin and believe savingly in Him. Your ministry is secured by My Son's penal, substitutionary death for those I chose.
Spirit: That would be My delight.
Son: Oh, one more thing.
Father and Spirit: Yes?
Son: I am also going to die for the rest of mankind as well, without exception.
Father: You will die for those I did not choose, those I will not forgive or accept, those I will leave to their sins and to the penalty for their sins? You will make an atonement I did not authorize and therefore will not receive? Why? To accomplish what?
Spirit: You will die for those to whom the Father did not send You to save and will not send Me to bring to life or draw to repentant, saving faith? Why? To accomplish what?
What would the Son answer? What could the Son answer?
We'll never know, because it didn't happen and couldn't happen.
Proponents won't like it and they won't admit it, but Amyraldianism unintentionally has the effect of putting the Son at odds with the Father and the Spirit, offering a sacrifice that the Father did not commission and will not accept, and that the Spirit will not apply.