|The Sacrifice of Isasc
We continue our examination of "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation":
Article Three: The Atonement of ChristWe 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.
This is one of those instances in which the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" affirms something in one breath and then denies it in the next. Article Three begins by stating its affirmation of "the penal substitution of Christ," but then goes on to deny that "Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved." If the death of Christ was a penal substitution, then why are many of those for whom He presumably died ultimately lost? Did He pay the penalty for their sins or did He not?
The penal substitution theory is essentially the Calvinist view of the atonement. Christ died in the place of those who would believe in Him, and in so doing paid the penalty for their sins and thereby secured their salvation. He took their place on the cross, and thus they are saved.
So far, so good. But in their denial the authors seem confused about exactly what it is that they are opposing. The Statement specifically denies three propositions: 1) "this atonement results in salvation without a person's free response of repentance and faith"; 2) "God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person's free will"; and 3) "Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved." The problem here is that virtually no Calvinist would affirm the first two propositions. It is recognized by virtually all that repentance and faith are necessary prerequisites for salvation. The authors of the Statement seem to think that Calvinism is a species of fatalism that completely cancels our all human responsibility. But Calvinism is very far from saying any such thing.
This leaves the third proposition, that "Christ died only for those who are saved." This is what is generally known as "Limited Atonement," the "L" in "TULIP." A moment's reflection will demonstrate that the proposition is obviously true. If Christ paid the price for the sins of someone, then the price has been paid. The debt has been cancelled and the person is effectively forgiven. The proposition is a truism then: Christ saves those who are saved. He does not save those who are not saved. Their guilt remains, precisely because their sins have not been atoned for.
There is a sense, however, in which Christ could be said to have died for all mankind. I Timothy 4:10 calls God "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe" (NKJV), and I John 2:2 says that Christ "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." There is obviously some sense in which God is "the Savior of all men" and another in which He is the Savior "especially of those who believe." We think that James P. Boyce, the 19th Century Southern Baptist theologian, has given us as good of an explanation as any. He makes the following points, among others:
- Christ actually died for the salvation of all, so that he might be called the Savior of all, because his work is abundantly sufficient to secure the salvation of all who will put their faith in him.
- Christ died, however, in an especial sense for the Elect; because he procured for them not a possible, but an actual salvation.
- The death of Christ opens the way for a sincere offer of salvation by God to all who will accept the conditions he has laid down.
- That same death, however, secures salvation to the Elect, because by it Christ also obtained for them those gracious influences, by which they will be led to comply with those conditions."(Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 340)
"For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth."