Theology is a glorious thing. Of all the gifts given to man by our God, the ability and the call to search out our Lord and His ways is a treasure of inestimable value. One I think could well be the central occupation of the redeemed for all eternity. What a joy and privilege to begin then here. It is a foretaste of Heaven.
About two years ago, I put together a paper for the other elders where I pastor. This was to give them some sense of an investigation I’d launched into the doctrine of Limited Atonement. The more I had studied historical Calvinism, the more I saw that there was a continuing discussion on the topic. I especially discovered that this was not a doctrine which had a monolithic consensus among those self-consciously committed to the “doctrines of grace.” At various times certain stricter or less strict views were held by a majority, but even then with shades and nuances. None but the most ardent of truly “hyper-Calvinists” (a technical term worth researching) would deny that there is to be a free offer of the Gospel to all men. And yet, men like John Bunyan argued that if we posit that there truly is nothing to offer some men, since Christ in fact did not die for them (even though we do not know who they are) then our offer is somewhat disingenuous. Some answer, we can say for instance “Christ died for sinners”, and leave it at that. This if course is true. But I am not convinced such an approach encompasses the broader spectrum of Biblical constructs concerning the Gospel and its relationship to the atonement of Christ on Calvary. As Andrew Fuller would put it: “If the atonement of Christ excluded a part of mankind in the same sense as it excludes fallen angels, Why is the gospel addressed to the one, any more than to the other?” (the Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation – pg. 113).
Deep down there remains a tension. Not that it is wrong to have such tensions. The Bible has a number of them. I in fact argue for a tension too. I believe it belongs in a different location than where it is normally placed among the so-called 5-point Calvinists I’m most familiar with (living and dead). Recognizing this tension has led to books from the likes of the venerable John Murray (R. B. Kuiper and many others) justifying our offering of the Gospel to all men, even though we do not believe it is actually for all men. Other noted theologians have repeatedly done the same. Some to greater or lesser success. Yet, there is no question a tension remains.
Fred Leuck is a dear friend of mine. A valued brother in Christ. A stalwart for the faith. A comrade in the Gospel. A faithful Pastor. And, he has written a response to my original paper which is included below, along with my responses to some of his. With the exception of some places where I deleted the Biblical text but left the citation, Fred’s portion remains in its entirety.
I cannot express my thanks enough for the love Fred displayed in writing such a detailed response to my original paper. My poorly constructed and somewhat disconnected musings do not deserve the level of attention he gave them. It is of immense value to the Body of Christ for brothers to dialogue over areas of theology, Biblical interpretation and doctrinal precision. To do so publicly can at times be uncomfortable. But it demonstrates our willingness to humbly question ourselves, to continue to labor for clarity and understanding, and to hold one another mutually accountable for our stewardship in God’s truth.
Every step of the way Fred’s interchange here is filled with an irenic tone and a sweet spirit. I pray my own words will be heard and taken the very same way, since a spirit of true love, genuine respect and gratitude are meant to under-gird each one.
In the spirit of semper reformanda, I submit some answers, clarifications and responses below as I hope will prove most beneficial to the readers, and without over-laboring the points or issues.
I am still learning. Wanting above all simply to understand and communicate what the Bible teaches. I want to do so irrespective of how difficult those doctrines may or may not be in the sight of any man, group, or even myself. I want God’s Word to be as unobstructed as possible, even where, especially where – I might not be able to understand it as fully as I would like. Or, where it challenges or contradicts either my present understanding, my systematic framework, or common notions or opinions.
Quotations from others are used only as representative of schools of thought, not as authoritative in and of themselves.
My own interspersions will be prefaced by: [RAF#] and also in the Arial Narrow font for ease of search, navigation and reference.
Thank you for your own prayerful considerations of the discussion. May Christ’s truth triumph in all.