Wednesday, March 17

Less-Than-Orthodox Atonement Model, Part 2

When we left this subject, we had drawn little diagrams in our minds of the two orthodox atonement theories. The general atonement theory, if you remember, was represented by two circles: a larger circle representing those for whom atonement was made, and a smaller circle included within the larger circle representing those to whom the atonement is applied. The larger circle, representing those for whom atonement was made, includes everyone in the whole world. The smaller circle within the larger one, representing those to whom the atonement is applied, includes all those out of the world who become believers.

The definite atonement theory, on the other hand, was represented by two circles, both precisely the same size as the smaller circle in the diagram of the general atonement theory. One circle sits exactly on top of the other, the two circles forming one circle that represents both those for whom atonement is made and those to whom the atonement is applied. Both circles include only those who become believers--it is only those who come to faith for whom atonement is made, and only those whom come to faith to whom the atonement is applied. The two theories, though, agree on the parameters of the circle that surrounds those to whom the atonement is applied: The atonement is applied to all those who come to faith.

So what would a Venn diagram of this less-than-orthodox theory we are examining look like? Take the diagram of the general atonement theory that you have in your mind, and expand that inner circle representing all those to whom the atonement is applied outward until it exactly matches the perimeter of the larger circle, the one representing all those for whom atonement is made. And there you have it. This model says that Christ's death accomplished atonement for every single person, and that atonement is also applied to every single person.

Even from here I can see the light bulb that just switched on above your head--the light bulb in the little balloon that also holds the words "Aha! Universalism!". I suggest you reach up there and switch that light bulb off---and while you're there, you can take a straight pin and pop that little balloon, too---because you're wrong.

Of course, I understand why you would come to that conclusion. You assumed that atonement applied means certain salvation, but the proponents of this atonement model don't tie an applied atonement to certain salvation. Having the atonement applied, while a necessary component of salvation, doesn't ensure it.

They will argue that the applied atonement means these things: all record of all sins are removed from one's rap sheet, God's wrath on one's behalf is removed along with the record of sins, and all sins past, present, and future are forgiven. All sin has been fully and finally propitiated, and there is no barrier between God and any human being. Every person has been redeemed by God through the application of Christ's redemption. The obvious question, then, is why isn't everyone saved?

Defenders of this theory will answer this question by saying that eternal condemnation results from unbelief and from unbelief only. Some will even say that the reason unbelievers receive judgment is not because God has wrath against unbelief in itself, for all wrath is propitiated, but because God gives people what they want, and unbelievers prefer damnation to an eternity spent in the presence of a God they don't want. If we think of each person as being born into this world with a slate for recording their sin, and that each person starts out with one mark for original sin, and as they commit actual sins a written record of each sin is added, this theory would say that the atonement applied means that each person's slate is erased completely except for one word--the word unbelief. Then, when a person turns to God in faith, that last thing on the slate, the mark for unbelief, is erased as well, and the slate becomes empty. Those who do not come to faith remain forever condemned by a slate that says, "Unbelief!"

Now that you have a description of this atonement theory, please let me know if you've heard of it and know of a proper name for it. I've never been able to find it described in any sort of systematized way, and perhaps it hasn't actually been formally systematized, but it comes up often enough that it must be taught someplace. A few years ago it was mentioned in an article in Sound of Grace, but I don't remember if a name was used for it. The article did say that the theory is a relatively recent one, starting probably only 30 or 40 years ago. Since I can no longer find the article, I can't check back into any of this.

In the next installment, I hope to look into the evidence given in support of this theory, examining the scripture used as proof.