[This post is part of the Atonement series]
For the 2nd week in a row, one of my students asked me what I was giving up for Lent. I had thought we had gone over it last week, but it get me thinking somewhat. He of course is giving up sweets, and may or may not really understand the significance of the event, although I would suspect he could give at least a decent explanation.
I had told him that at our church Lent was not mandatory, which of course is true. Lent is purely optional, and I don’t necessarily think it is worth debating whether or not as a Reformed Christian I should observe it in the first place. I think it falls under a Romans 14 banner to be honest. Specifically I think of v.5-9 which talks of some observing days and others restraining. That could be the start of some healthy dialogue, but if nothing else, that is my conviction on the matter.
I did start thinking though that in the spirit of Lent I should participate in some preparation of heart and mind for Easter. Lent usually involves giving something up, ostensibly to then meditate on Christ and his work in its place. I thought I would be a little more direct and give up a portion of my time to study the atonement more thoroughly. Most people I would think don’t necessarily think of giving up time as “giving something up” but time is just as precious a commodity as coffee or fried foods, or sweets. In fact, giving up time is probably a bit more intentional and therefore a little harder to do.
So, outside of teaching, studying, going to class, and spending time with Ali, I’ve decided to devote time I could use elsewhere to work through Volume 10 of the Works of John Owen, specifically the section entitled, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.” I had read a good bit of it last year while I was taking Soteriology, but just didn’t finish. Thanks to my good friend Yuce, I now have the whole volume, so I’ll start my going back over what I’ve already read before pushing forward into new ground.
Now, for anyone not familiar with this particular work, or John Owen in general. Here’s a brief intro. For a background on John Owen himself, see my paper, Trinity in Owen and Edwards which includes a brief bio.
The part entitled “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” is basically a treatise on limited atonement. In Owen’s own words,
I shall, by the Lord’s assistance, declare what Scripture holds out in both these things, both that assertion which is intended to be proved, and that which is brought for the proof thereof; desiring the Lord by his Spirit to lead us into all truth, to give us understanding in all things, and if any one be otherwise minded, to reveal that also unto him.
If that is not entirely clear what Owen is talking about, “these things” is referring to the idea of general ransom and the two conclusions that that idea leads to, namely that either God in Christ failed to accomplish salvation, or that in the end everyone will be saved. In other words, Owen surmises that if you believe the Christ died for everyone, then either the atonement that he provided fails to atone for everyone since some go to hell, or else no one goes to hell and everyone’s sins are atoned for and therefore in the end, all are saved.
Neither of these are Biblical conclusions on the matter. Universalism (all are saved) is pretty clearly denounced elsewhere. And the idea of God in Christ failing to accomplish something that He purposed to do is likewise un-Biblical. However, in spite of those conclusions flowing from the premise of a general ransom, most people tend to bristle at the idea of a limited atonement. People who are otherwise Calvinistic in their thinking about salvation will tend to deny this letter in TULIP (the L). Of the pillars of Calvinistic soteriology, the L is probably the most attacked as well as the one that is most tentatively held.
So, this will probably then make for an interesting series of blog posts. Much like the progression of other studies, I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts as I read through Owen, and offer insights as I find them. Hopefully we can all come to a clearer understanding of the atonement as we move closer to Easter and grow in both our appreciation of what Christ has accomplished, but also grow in our worship of Him.
This should be an interesting ride…