Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Response to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation, Part 6

[Part 1 of this series]
[Part 2 of this series]
[Part 3 of this series]
Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?
[Part 4 of this series]
[Part 5 of this series]

Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.

We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.
Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-12; John 12:32, 14:6; Acts 10:39-43; Acts 16:30-32; Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:10-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-20; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:12-15, 24-28; 10:1-18; I John 1:7; 2:2
I appreciate the claims of exclusivity and efficacy that are made for the atonement in this article along with its affirmation of penal substitution. I also agree with the first sentence of the denial. No one is saved without responding (to the gospel) with repentance and faith. Beyond these points of agreement, however, I find some of the language confusing and imprecise and simply disagree with authors on what actually happened on the cross.

The positive affirmation makes two claims for the penal substitution of Christ: 1) it is "the only available...sacrifice for the sins of every person" and 2) it is "the only...effective sacrifice for the sins of every person." The exclusivity of Christ as the only Savior that anyone in the world has available is an important point to express in this day of ideological pluralism and theological inclusivism. Acts 4:12 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6 plainly teach this. But the authors clearly mean to say more than this.

By coupling "effective" with "available" the article affirms that Christ has effectively provided a penal, substitutionary atonement for "the sins of every person." In other words, this statement affirms universal atonement--that Christ actually paid for the sins of every person. The first sentence of the denial shows how the signers avoid actual universalism (the belief that everyone will be saved) because it states that the effective sacrifice (atonement) will not result in salvation "without a person's free response of repentance and faith." While I am glad for this rejection of universalism, I am left wondering what exactly is the nature of the atonement's efficacy. In what sense is the penal substitution of Christ an "effective sacrifice for the sins of every person" if it does not effectively (actually) save? Would you call a mission "effective" that did not accomplish what it claimed to accomplish? I wouldn't. I would say its effectiveness was limited by the response of the people for whom it was intended.

The debate over the extent of the atonement has a long history among evangelical Christians. The Baptist Faith and Message allows room for both the Calvinistic and Arminian view of atonement when it states in article II that "in His substitutionary death on the cross He [Jesus] made provision for the redemption of men from sin." I have no illusions that in this forum I will convince the proponents of universal atonement that what Christ accomplished on the cross was objective, definite and intended actually to save particular sinners rather than merely make salvation possible for all sinners. What I would like to point out, however, is that everyone "limits"or particularizes the atonement in some way, unless true universalism is affirmed. Either the atoning work of Jesus is limited in its scope--that is, intended only for particular people--or it is limited in its efficacy--that is, not able to save the very people for whom it was intended.

The framers of this document have plainly declared themselves to be in the latter camp. While asserting that the death of Christ is "an effective sacrifice for every sin of every person" they go on to deny that it actually saves every sinner. They have a purportedly "effective" sacrifice that does not actually save some of the people for whom it was made. Their view of Christ's atonement limits its power.

In John 10:11 Jesus describes himself as "the good shepherd" who "lays down his life for his sheep." He later says to the Jews who were around him, "You do not believe because you are not part of my flock" (John 10:26). In John 6:38-39 Jesus says that He came to do the Father's will, "and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day." All that Jesus was entrusted to do--including his atoning work on the cross--was to be effectually accomplished. The question must be asked then, "Did Jesus do the Father's will?" "Was He successful in his mission?" I believe that he was and that this is exactly what he meant when he said from the cross, "It is finished!"

Wisdom from Spurgeon on this point might be helpful. In his sermon entitled, "Particular Redemption" (#181), he made the following remarks.
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 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 Divine Grace, then Christ’s Atonement would be worthless! They hold that there was no particularity and specialty 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 as 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 objective in view and that objective will most assuredly and beyond a doubt, be accomplished! We measure the design of Christ’s death by the effect of it. If anyone asks us, “What did Christ design to do by His death?” We answer that question by asking him another—“What has Christ done, or what will Christ do by His death?” We declare that the measure of the effect of Christ’s love is the measure of the design of it! We cannot so belie our reason as to think that the intention of Almighty God could be frustrated or that the design of so great a thing as the Atonement can by any way whatever, be missed of. We hold—we are not afraid to say what we believe—that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving “a multitude which no man can number.” And we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin and stand, washed in His blood, before the Father’s Throne. We do not believe that Christ made any effectual Atonement for those who are forever damned! We dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew would never be saved—and some of whom were even in Hell when Christ, according to some men’s account, died to save them!... 
Now, beloved, when you hear any one laughing or jeering at a limited atonement, you may tell him this. General atonement is like a great wide bridge with only half an arch; it does not go across the stream: it only professes to go half way; it does not secure the salvation of anybody. Now, I had rather put my foot upon a bridge as narrow as Hungerford, which went all the way across, than on a bridge that was as wide as the world, if it did not go all the way across the stream.
While the authors of the document do not want to be described as Arminians, and I want to honor that desire, their view of the atonement does have more in common with Arminianism (as Spurgeon illustrates) than with the understanding of the churches and leaders who founded the Southern Baptist Convention in1845.

The second sentence of the denial highlights two of the issues that are a recurring problem for me in this document: "We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will." First, beyond the whole of "Article Eight: The Free Will of Man," the entire document seems to be more concerned to protect the integrity of man's free will than to defend the glory of God. In fact, one will search in vain for any reference to the glory of God in the Preamble or articles. Obviously, this does not mean that the authors and signers have no regard for the glory of God but it does suggest how out of alignment with the great emphasis of Scripture their thinking is at this point.

I cannot imagine the Apostle Paul submitting for public review his understanding of salvation while failing to emphasize, much less mention, the glory of the God who saves. A cursory reading of his symphony on salvation by grace in Ephesians 1:4-14 underscores this.
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace…7 In him we have redemption through his blood…11 [and] have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory…[and we have been] 13 sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…14 to the praise of his glory” (emphasis added).
The second recurring concern that I have with the document is what seems to be a confusing of categories and imprecise language. For example, where in Scripture do we read of God ever "imposing or withholding" atonement from someone? "God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood" (Romans 3:25). "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). These two verses are representative of the whole New Testament's teaching that the atoning work of Jesus on the cross is finished. It happened. It is the accomplishment of salvation.

I could possibly understand speaking of God "imposing or withholding" salvation, or even more specifically, forgiveness, from someone. Paul even entertains the prospect that God might withhold repentance from some who oppose the ministry of the gospel in the church (2 Timothy 2:25). But to use such language when speaking of the atonement is confusing. It does, however, highlight one reason that I believe theological discussion in general and regarding salvation in particular can be difficult to engage profitably. We need to have a careful definition of terms and make sure that we are reading out of the same dictionary. To the degree that we can do that with biblical, theological and historical terminology, mutual understanding will be promoted.

continue to part 7


Darren Collins said...

That's an interesting article, but way too complicated. Bill Sexton's comments and views below were on the spot.

It's really simple. Jesus voluntarily gave is life on the cross, to pay for the sins of anyone who chooses that gift. That gift is available to anyone who CHOOSES to accept it.

Does God offer the gift of salvation through the blood of Jesus to everyone? Yes, absolutely everyone, clearly stated in the Bible. Does God know who will accept the gift of salvation and who will not? Yes, absolutely, God is all-knowing and all-powerful. Does this affect or limit the free-will of man to choose to accept the gift?? Absolutely not.
The fact the not everyone does not choose to accept the gift of salvation does not limit the fact that Jesus did pay the debt for every man, nor does it mean that the death of Jesus was not effective because it supposedly covered the sins of every man yet it does not save everyone. Salvation has two parts. The gift of salvation is offered to everyone through the death of Jesus. Everyone must openly ACCEPT that gift. You cannot accept something that is not offered, but you can choose NOT to accept something that is offered.

In fact I think it's an insult to God and Jesus for those that don't given that he actually suffered for one's sins that choose not to accept it. The price was paid, it was just paid twice.

It's really simple. Jesus freely gave is His life to offer salvation to everyone and to pay for the sins of everyone. Jesus offered the payment for your debt, and he placed that payment in an account. You can choose to make the withdrawal and use the gift for the payment, or you can pay for it with your own funds. Either way, Jesus made the payment. Pay for it yourself, well, we know where that will get you.

Kern Pegues said...

Tom, tell us really how you feel. Good stuff brother.


Tom said...


If it was "really simple" do you think that good and godly men throughout the ages would have so much difficulty coming to agreement on the issues involved?

Even Peter admitted that Paul wrote some things that are "hard to understand." To pretend otherwise is, well, other than wise.

What is needed is a return to the actual words of the Bible in order to examine them to see what God has actually said on these things. If we do that, we will all see things in a much clearer light--both our agreements and our disagreements.


Tom said...

Thanks, Kern.

R. Cofield said...


"The price was paid, it was just paid twice."

Are we to believe that God, being Infinitely Just, punished His beloved Son for every sin of all who never believe...and

1) had already cast into hell every unbeliever who died before Christ's sacrifice...

2) has, since Christ's sacrifice, cast into hell everyone who died in unbelief...

3) is presently punishing them for all eternity....for the exact same sins for which Christ made full atonement?

What kind of god is this?

Russell Taylor said...

I agree that they seem preoccupied with free will. It would be helpful if they would focus on responding to actual statements in Calvinistic confessions instead of debating straw men. It would surprise many who misunderstand Calvinism that we affirm something like the following in the 1689-Chapter 3 Para. 1. "... nor is violence offered to the will of the creature , nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."
I think one major obstacle for many is that we live in a culture that tries to explain profound issues in the shortest and simplest terms possible. That's because deep thinking and dialog is no longer part of our "dumbed down" culture. VERY few people have the interest or ability to think on or express solutions to hard issues. We're a bumper sticker culture. Our former statements were written by men who practiced much deeper thought and communicated on a much deeper and more detailed level. We will never convince people who simply won't think or write deeply on these issues. Perhaps out of each of these encounters will come a small number who think and are convinced. However, the majority will stay on the talking points and nod like sheeple. Thanks for your efforts to win the winnable.

Macjunkie said...

I have enjoyed reading each post. You are eloquent in they way you approach the affirmations and denials.

Tom said...

Thanks for the encouragement, brothers. SDG.


Catfish said...


While we don't know all the authors of the "traditional" statement, we do know one - Eric Hankins. He wrote an article in the Spring 2011 issue of the Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry which appears to be the foundation for the statement. The article is entitled "Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology." (This article can be viewed online).

Ironically, Hankins pastors the First Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi. If I'm not mistaken, this church was once pastored by J.B. Gambrell and was founded by William Hosea Holcombe, son of the legendary missionary pastor Hosea Holcombe of Alabama, a stauch Calvinist. (Of course, this doesn't mean that William Hosea believed exactly as his father, but I suspect the apple didn't fall far from the tree.)

Twilson Wilson said...

Tom – One thing that is really troubling me is that here in the denial statement they infer that a Calvinist doesn’t believe in a free will decision for the gospel. To infer the Calvinist doesn’t believe a decision must be made is nonsensical.

We preach the gospel and broadcast its seeds to everyone and every type of soil. God commands (and will hold people culpable) all men everywhere to repent, to turn from their wickedness. All mankind are fully free to choose the gospel or sin and self. God does not force anyone to choose sin and self; they do that of their own selves because it is their nature to do so. They are fully free to choose the things of God but they will not because they have no desire nor the propensity in their natural state to do so. It is a lot like a dog that eats its vomit or a swine that wallows in the muck and mire, they do it because that is what their nature dictates and no one pins that “choice” on God. That is all man.

Let God get the glory in Romans 5:8. The question should never be why doesn’t God save everybody…the question should be why does He save anybody? That is the heart we should have. We all deserve death and hell. The fact that God woos us to Himself, granting faith and repentance should overwhelm us and humble us.

I am a Calvinist that fully embraces every “whosoever will” and boldly preaches anyone that will come to Christ will in no wise be cast out. Let us quit being divisive and preach the gospel more but also let us enjoy deeply the glory of God while grasping the depravity and position of man. Man is to be low (a wretched sinner with a terminal disease) and God is to be glorified as high and exalted worthy or worship.

When God grants the spiritual gifts of repentance and faith it is with the highest delight the converted sinner chooses the gospel. He is not pulled kicking and screaming into a saving faith, nay! His nature has changed (we call that born again) to a nature that desires the things of God. Ah yes! There again, the converted man is fully free to choose sin and self or the Lord ….now his nature desires the things of God.
How simple is that? (Give up your affection for the power of man and succumb to complete and utter humility of denying self and living to Christ) Who maketh thee to differ?

richardeboyce said...


"It's really simple. Jesus freely gave is His life to offer salvation to everyone and to pay for the sins of everyone. Jesus offered the payment for your debt, and he placed that payment in an account. You can choose to make the withdrawal and use the gift for the payment, or you can pay for it with your own funds. Either way, Jesus made the payment. Pay for it yourself, well, we know where that will get you."

Darren, bud. You make no sense to me, my friend. First you say that in His death, Jesus merely "offers" salvation. This of course makes your decision the hinge upon which your salvation swings, rather than the atoning work of Christ on behalf of sinners. You continue this theme as you reaffirm that Jesus "offered the payment."

To whom, I have to ask? You certainly don't believe it was made to God, because instead you say "he placed that payment in an account." So if I'm understanding this correctly, Jesus, as our mediator, does not actually satisfy His Father's wrath on the Cross, because then the Father would have no more wrath upon those for whom Christ suffered. Instead, what Jesus did in His death was make a secondary account with enough "money" in it for you to dip into and present to the Father yourself?

Forgive me if I believe that this makes you your own Savior, since what Jesus did wasn't enough to save you without your additional input.

Nonetheless, with all this said, your statement that "Jesus made the payment" isn't true within your own framework. At least, not in the sense that Jesus made the payment to His Father on behalf of an individual. So I find your words misleading. As best, your theology leaves you in the position to say "Jesus created a new account that contains the payment for sin. Now it's up to you to pay the Father through that account, rather than your own."

Such a position flies contrary to the very nature of a penal substitutionary atonement, it denounces the meaning of propitiation, and it creates a death through which no man's sins were actually expiated.

Ryan McClintock said...

Regarding Darren's post, is the concept of a "gift of salvation" being "offered" and "accepted" by "choosing" actually taught explicity in Scripture in those terms and in that sequence? If it is, then I believe it must still be taken in the light of the repeated teaching that no man would ever choose it apart from a change of heart.

I find it interesting that those who persistently struggle with the doctrines of election and Limited Atonement often skip over Romans 9, which is where much of the doctrines' foundations are taught. I agree it is hard to understand, in the sense that we are trying to understand the sovereignty of the Holy God from our finite mind, but the language found there is actually quite straightforward. And Paul addresses the objections that continue to come up to this day.

JC Hackler said...

I hope that this will bring clarity to the debate. I sincerely believe that when Adam was in the Garden that he did indeed have "free will". Adam the ability to choose to obey or disobey God. Adam then used his stupid free will to plunge the entire world into bondage to sin. Therefore "free will" is an illusion. Because nothing I do is free from my nature to sin. I can wish to lose the extra 15 lbs I carry but my will is not free from my appetites which desire cake, ice cream and the lack of desire to exercise. So my will is not really free. Ephesians tells us that before we were born again that "Ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the lust of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath. So no I know that I did not have the will to choose Christ. The Bible further declares that There is none righteous , no not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Romans 3:10-11 The bible tells me that in my natural state that "men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." I know that I would have never chosen him because my deeds are evil. Jesus himself said ye will not come to me that ye might have life. Besides all of this Man is not just sick he is "Dead in trespasses and sins" and a dead man cannot respond to anything. "Son of man can these bones live?" "Thou knowest." You and I can "prophesy" over the bones but only the Spirit can give life. You can preach and persuade all day long but without the Holy Spirits intervention a man cannot be saved. 1Corinthians 2:14 The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." I was not smarter or wiser than others. "Salvation is of the Lord"

JC Hackler said...

By the way I forgot to mention. Darren, please read again Toms post. I believe that if you read the verses used and the section by Charles Spurgeon it can shed more light on this topic. Well done Tom.

R. Cofield said...


I posted my question about the framers of this document on the SBC Today site. This was the reply I received from SBC Today via private email:

"Eric Hankins was the main author of the text. He consulted a group of other Baptists about it for ideas or suggestions, but it is essentially his document. He would be the best person to address any other questions you may have concerning the creation of this document."

R. Cofield said...

SBC Today's response to my query concerning disclosure of the framers of this Statement:

"Eric Hankins was the main author of the text. He consulted a group of other Baptists about it for ideas or suggestions, but it is essentially his document. He would be the best person to address any other questions you may have concerning the creation of this document."

However, the introduction to this statement posted on SBC Today states that the document was "compiled by a number of pastors, professors, and leaders..." and that the "concern of the developers" (plural) was to articulate positively the majority view of Southern Baptists.

Help me out here, brothers. Should we be concerned about a full disclosure of who framed this document, or is it inconsequential?

Tom said...

Thanks for the clarification about who primarily authored the document. I had heard that Eric Hankins was the main impetus behind it. I don't know that it matters that much who actually wrote it. Once a person affixes his or her name on it, it is his or her document. Anyone who signed it needs to own everything it says. To refuse to own a document with your name on it would be duplicitous, and am I quite certain none of those who have signed this statement would be guilty of that.

That's my take on it. Again, thanks for the information.

R. Cofield said...


Thanks. Hadn't thought about it in those terms. That helps.

Another thing that deeply concerns me is that some of the language of this Statement, as it stands, seems to place its signatories at odds with the Baptist Faith and Message.

I can't figure out if that is intentional or merely a lack of understanding of the issues. If it is the former, that is ominous. If the latter...well, that is ominous as well, given the stature of some of these signatories.

roof said...

Gordon said...

I wholeheartedly disagree with Darren on this one. The language used is just not part of the content of the scripture especially given its cultural ideas concerning the payment of debt and imputation to one's account.

When a debt was paid there was no withdrawal of funds. Use of such language is an infusion of modern ideas of banking into the biblical concept. When funds were imputed to someone's account there was no withdrawal as of taking money from a bank. The funds were simply handed over to the other person or used to pay for what was needed (in the case of redemption, it was the freeing of slaves). In such situations there was no "Here is the money. I put it on the table. You can take it or leave it." There was a simple paying off of the debt and clearing of the outstanding payments.

This is what Jesus did in his body when he hung from the Cross. He didn't put anything on the bank to be in limbo waiting for us to withdraw. He simply without question lavished u=on us the cleansing power and grace that he purchased. He simply went ahead and presented God with the debt-cancelling blood of his new covenant.

So we must be careful not to commit the error of eisegesis by injecting this modern Idea of depositing money to an account and waiting for withdrawal.

Particular Redemption ensures that by no virtue of the human agent does he attain salvation. If Christ died for everyone then each person would have to activate something from within himself in order to apply the blood to his life. That is simply not scriptural. The blood was already cast upon the mercy seat and God's Holiness was satisfied...for everyone? if so no one would go to Hell.

God would not allow his wrath to be experienced twice. if Christ died for even those who end up in hell that means that God's wrath is satisfied both by Christ's death and by their experience in eternal flames.

Let us be careful about how we read things into scripture.

Kyle Mullaney said...

delusional theology, which is clearly what's this promotes, is seen in the words "imposes or withholds". The mental mind set is this, "God says any who call on his name shall be saved. Therefore, call on his name you will be saved." they thi k we Gracers are looking at this and saying, "Only if his name is in the book!" We have all heard this complaint in some form. You see, they think that we say God will withhold from that man what he want. Read between the lines, because he wants and performs the action by saying the prayer commanded he now deserves the gift he has been offered. Which makes it not a gift but a wage. God is bound by his promise. Of course they do not believe this, I am sure they dont. It is offensive to God. So don't hear me as saying they believe such an odiuos idea. It is the fruit of our cultural blight of entitlement. It one of many craggy protrusions below the surface of thinking, it is unseen. What is missed is calling out is a product of the state of ones heart which is not generate by setting and listen to a fiery preacher or trendy hipster in cool glasses and making assent at a few points of doctrine or accepting a few truths. This state of heart is only arrived at by the spirit moving there upon in a soften even rending way so as accept the seeds of the gospel preached. That process is what they call imposing. The man didn't want it before it happened. Then again u have never met a believe who wasn't glad God did what he didn't want done. The night I got saved I told God I didn't think he could do it, I said he wasn't even real, but his Bible said he is real and could do it, so, should the bible be right he should. Did I choose to be saved there? Well, yes, but that was the culmination of 9 months of wooing! 9 months prior I told a guy, "I will never be one of those born agains, (basically) I don't want to and God can't make me!" BUT Mother's Day 2002 I wanted to (No she is still alive and no physical damage was done. My selfish pride erupted that day)! I guess God imposed on me! I am glad he did!
I think Paris Reidhead has a good sermon on how we got fundamentalism wrong, the title is five schekels and shirt, I think. He breaks down the decline to decision regeneration quite well.

Kyle Mullaney said...

That should be decisional theology I must have misspelled and Apple helped me with the wrong word. I did not intend a slight.

coramdeo said...

I was considering purchasing the "I found it" bumper sticker until I read this...

coramdeo said...

I was considering purchasing the "I Found it!" bumper sticker until I read this...

C. McGalla said...

Jesus did not atone for Judas or any other non-believer.