Tuesday, March 23

Less-Than-Orthodox Atonement Model, Part 3: The Evidence

(Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.)

In our last installment of this series on this particular less-than-orthodox atonement model, we saw that those who hold to this model regard Christ's atonement as being both accomplished for and applied to every single person. Every person in the world has a sort of right standing before God, with no sin remaining on their account, and damnation comes to people on the basis of their unbelief only.

The evidence used to support this theory comes, for the most part, from all of what might be called the universal texts referring to the atonement, coupled with John 3:18. By the universal texts, I mean those like 1 John 2:2 and 2 Corinthians 5:19 that tie the Christ's death to the world or all men. For the purposes of this study, we will only look at these two specific universal texts, because what we learn about how these two verses are interpreted in support of this theory can be easily applied to all universal texts. Let's take a look at 1 John 2:2:

and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for {those of} the whole world. (NAS)

Advocates of this model, then, would interpret this verse to mean that Christ, through His death, has fully and finally turned away God's wrath on behalf of every person living, dead, or still to be be born. Their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:19 would be similar:

namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (NAS)

This is interpreted to mean that God is reconciled to every person through Christ's death. They are not all necessarily reconciled to Him, but He is reconciled to them, for the record of every person's sin is permanently removed in the death of Christ, and they are forgiven for their sins. People, through their own foolishness, may still hold things against God, but God no longer holds anything against any human being.

All of the universal texts are interpreted similarly. The words referring to what is accomplished by Christ's death--like redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, removal of sin--are taken in their most complete sense. They are not words of potential, but of something done in a thoroughly finished way. So too, with the words referring to the extent or scope of the atonement--they are defined in their fullest understanding. All and world mean every person worldwide across all time.

The really crucial supporting verse, however, is John 3:18:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (NAS)

Everything turns on the last clause of this verse, for it gives us a statement of cause. Judgment (or condemnation) comes as a result of unbelief. This is understood to mean that not believing is the only cause of condemnation, and thus the only grounds for it. If not believing in the Son of God is the only reason for damnation, then there can be no other grounds included in the indictment of the unbeliever. The list of charges brought against us can contain no other charges but the charge "has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

The essence of the defense of this model of the atonement, then, is these particular interpretations of the universal texts and this statement from John 3 saying that unbelief is a key cause of condemnation. In the next part of this series we will consider whether these interpretations of these verses can be correct.