Thursday, April 1

As Yet Unnamed Atonement Theory, The End

In the last part of this series we looked at the last of the proof texts used to support this model of the atonement. Today I’d like to look at a logical problem I see with this model, and then finish up with a look at the reasons I think refuting this theory is important.

If you remember, according to this theory, all sins, except the sin of unbelief, are atoned for in Christ’s death, and the atonement accomplished is applied to every person so that no person has any sin except unbelief still remaining on their account. People are sent to eternal damnation on account of their unbelief alone, for unbelief is the one thing people are judged for.

Of course, this raises a few questions. If unbelief is a sin, why is it not atoned for with all other sins? If it is not atoned for, then how does previous unbelief not continue to be held against those who eventually believe? On what grounds would believers be forgiven for their previous unbelief? What is required logically then, is for unbelief to be the one sin that can be made up for by a change of heart. This means there is a sin that does not require atonement and that is forgiven on grounds other than the death of Christ. Faith (or that change of heart) becomes not just a condition of salvation, but grounds for salvation. The grounds upon which our salvation is based is not just Christ’s death, but Christ’s death plus our faith. I don’t think anyone that I know who promotes this theory would actually come out and say that our faith is grounds for our salvation, but I don’t see how they can escape that logical conclusion.

This leads us up to one of the reasons why I went through all this nitpicking to refute this theory. At its core this theory devalues what was accomplished by Christ alone. In an attempt to make the atonement through Christ’s death less limited by making it accomplished for and applied to every single person rather than just believers, it actually limits what Christ’s death alone accomplishes. It is Christ’s death plus the individual person’s faith together that accomplishes salvation, for there is one sin that the individual alone must take away from his own account by responding in faith toward God.

This theory is not well-developed and relatively new, so we don’t know the conclusions that will come as the theory is developed and the logical inconsistencies are worked out. What may seem like a small error now can only work into larger error as the system is made internally consistent. As I look at it, it seems only a hop, skip and a jump from true universalism. It seems even nearer to the idea that an actual rejection of the gospel message is needed for damnation, for how can someone be damned for not believing in something they have not heard? This last idea seems to be working its way into the theory already, with some saying that faith in the general revelation of creation is adequate for salvation. Either of these ideas can only lead to the devaluation of missions in the church, for there is not much point in taking the gospel to people who can or will be saved without it, and in fact might be better off without a chance to reject it. This is the second reason for my exercise in hairsplitting in this series: Carried to its logical conclusions, it may make the spread of the gospel message less important.

You may see other problems, and if you do, I’d really like it if you’d post them in the comments section. I run into this theory with increasing frequency in discussion boards, so it seems that it is becoming more popular, and it’s something I’d like to be prepared to refute when it comes up.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this series.)