Saturday, March 25, 2006

Christ and Universalism

I am wary to wade into this mess, but it needs to be done. Mr. Michael Spencer began a discussion of John 3:16 and other "all men" passages at The Boar’s Head Tavern. Mr. Spencer is highly critical of the Calvinistic view of Limited Atonement, in other words, Mr. Spencer wants to argue that every man’s sin is on the cross. He goes as far to say,

A universalist understands Jesus far better than someone who splits humanity into people God loves effectually and savingly in Jesus, and people God is gracious to but excludes from his saving intentions in Christ.

In other words, Mr. Spencer thinks one shows his ignorance of Jesus if he were to claim, "Whoever is not with [Christ] is against [Christ], and whoever does not gather with [Christ] scatters" (Matthew 12:30). In fact, Mr. Spencer believes those who specifically say ‘all will be for Christ no matter what’ have a better understanding of Jesus.

Mr. Spencer’s chief complaint is that Calvinistic exegetes try to apply the rules of grammar and logic to the text. Arguing that ‘all’ can refer to everyone in a group rather than ‘every single person ever’ is apparently showing a lack of respect for the inspiration of Scriptures. Mr. Spencer does not see Jesus burdening people with talk of eternal decrees, instead Jesus just showers love on people. He explains:

Jesus feeding the 5,000 in Galilee or the 4,000 in the Decapolis. Just after the meal, a disciple stands up and explains that "God doesn't necessarily love all of you. Don't take this feeding miracle as implying that God loves everyone without exception. That's clearly not true. Have a nice day."

While I do not agree with the picture of Limited Atonement believers he paints, it should be noted that the day after Jesus feeds the 5,000 the same crowd followed him, and he laid on them such truths as "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father" (John 6:44). Fairly clearly a discussion of decrees by Jesus, something Mr. Spencer thinks a bad idea. The result was the disciples said, 'This is difficult' (v.60) and they left. The end of the discourse also has Jesus pointing out the Judas was a devil. Hardly Jesus telling the entire crowd he loved them.

One wonders how Mr. Spencer fits the end of Feeding of the 5,000 narrative into his theology. Mr. Spencer can respectfully disagree with the Limited Atonement exegesis if he wants, but declaring they have no business saying they know anything about Jesus crosses the line. If Mr. Spencer thinks the grammatical and logical arguments are worthless, then he can argue against them. It is not wrong to use grammar and logic in exegesis of Scripture. In fact, doing so shows reverence for the Word and its inspired status, not disrespect as he claims. Mr. Spencer should beware of forcing the blanket of his own personal experience over the eyes of others. A calmer discussion would be more fruitful for both sides.

Sadly, it is a discussion that needs to occur again today. One can see advocates of universalism (or at least universal atonement) in several different places today. Let the church be on notice, universalism is back and needs to be refuted.


Kevin D. Johnson said...

Ummm...I really don't appreciate my view being called "universalism"'s not. The conclusions of Dort do not automatically touch on the meaning and import of John 3:16.

Lee said...

Thanks for commenting. I do hope that you have not been offended. I specifically added the phrase 'universal atonement' because you did not seem to fit a universalist position.
However, that being said, your exact position from the post on Reformed Catholicism is unclear to me. You claim that John 3:16 does not fit nor should fit into any sort of theological category. This leaves me wondering what John 3:16 means, and how does it inform our theology at all. Your denial of Dort touching upon the import of John 3:16 is equally confusing. A fuller treatment of your position would be appreciated. I do hope you will feel comfortable doing that here, but if not, I would enjoy reading it elsewhere. Thanks again Kevin.