Friday, November 18, 2011

What Did Christ’s Death Accomplish?

As never ending as this battle is between Calvinists and most of the body of Christ, the answers provided never seem to satisfy the rhetorical inquiries of our Calvinist friends. One of the reasons for this, I believe, is due to the Calvinist tendency to view the extent of the atonement with the purpose of confirming their particular soteriological perspective.  “For God so loved the world” is forced to mean “God so loved His Elect or classes of men in the world”. It amounts to a read of theology into the text of scripture. By doing so, they reject responses that are logical and reasoned from the text of scripture itself. Forlines offers the following perspective and solution to the Calvinist insistence.

“Calvinists argue that, if Jesus paid the full penalty for the sins of the whole race, all for whom Christ died must of necessity be saved. This is true since His death settles their account and therefore forms the necessary basis for their forgiveness. Either Christ died for everybody and everybody would be saved, or He died only for the elect and only the elect will be saved, or so the argument goes. It is thought that for one who believes in the satisfaction view of the atonement that the only way to escape universal salvation is to believe in limited atonement. 
The answer is found in the kind of substitution involved. Christ died for the whole world in a provisionary sense. He suffered the penal wrath of God for sin, but that fact alone does not place His death on everybody’s account. It is effectual for the individual only as it is placed on a person’s account. It can be placed on a person’s account only as a result of union with Christ. Union with Christ is conditioned on faith. 
The Calvinists may want to insist that the objection is valid and that Christ died only for the elect. The only way this argument could have any validity would be to deny the possibility of provisionary atonement. If there can be no provisionary atonement, it does follow that if Christ died for a person his justification is never provisionary but always real. 
In explaining the view of the atonement, Louis Berkhof comments: “The Calvinist teach that the atonement meritoriously secured the application of the work of redemption to those for whom it was intended and their complete salvation is certain”. 
A close look at what Berkhof said will show that it does not rule out the provisionary principle in atonement. He says that the atonement “makes certain” the salvation of those for whom it was intended. He did not say that the atonement automatically saved everybody for whom it was intended. Calvinists do not teach that the elect are justified before they experience faith.  They teach that the person for whom Christ died will of a certainty be justified, but they do not consider a person justified until he experiences faith as the condition of justification. Thus, atonement is provisionary until the time it is applied. The only way to deny the provisionary nature of the atonement is to consider all people for whom Christ died to be justified before they experience faith. 
Once we accept that atonement is provisionary, we invalidate the objection that penal satisfaction either leads to universalism or limited atonement. Provisionary atonement applied on the condition of faith and on the grounds of a union with Christ answers this objection and sustains the penal satisfaction view.” 1

Therefore with that last portion of Forlines statement we can turn to John 3:16 and accept it as given rather than reinterpret the passage through any manner of sectarian lens. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 AV)
To ask the question what did Christ’s death accomplish is little different from asking for whom did Christ die for. Jesus accomplished a propitiatory sacrifice reconciling God with man and made individually efficacious through faith and union with Christ. He accomplished a great and glorious provision through which all men might be saved even though I believe most are not and that due to their love of their sins and rejection of the things of God. Much more could be stated however I would recommend a particular resource in addition to Forlines. The Arminian Confession of 1621 would be an excellent source to gain a much greater perspective of Arminian theology on a number of topics. 2

1.       Classical Arminianism, F. Leroy Forlines, ed. J. Matthew Pinson, Randall House, Nashville, 2011 pp 192-193  
2.       The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans & ed. Mark A. Ellis, Pickwick, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, 2005