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Does Definite Atonement Undermine Our Zeal for Evangelism?

This is a guest post by Dr. Jonathan Gibson, coeditor of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective.


The Achilles Heel of Reformed Theology?

The doctrine of definite atonement, known historically as “limited atonement” or “particular redemption”, has always courted controversy. It has been called a grim and textless doctrine, the Achilles heel of Reformed theology (see, for example, Karl Barth and Broughton Knox). Of the many objections to the doctrine, one of the strongest is that definite atonement undermines a zeal for evangelism. If Christ died only for the elect, can we sincerely offer the gospel to everyone?

However, when definite atonement is placed alongside other biblical truths, the question does not follow. Particularity of grace in election or atonement does not mitigate a universal gospel offer.  This is where we should follow Christ’s example.

Biblical Examples

In Matthew 11, Jesus explains that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (v. 27). The particularity is explicit. Yet in the very next verse, Jesus gives a universal offer to everyone to come to him and find rest (v. 28). In John 6, Jesus claims that he has come from heaven to do his Father’s will, which is to lose none of those given to him but to raise them up on the last day (v. 39). This is actually the reason why (“For”) whoever comes to him will never be turned away (v. 38). The Father’s will is that “everyone” who looks to the Son and believes will have eternal life (v. 40). Christ’s purpose in coming was particular; the work he performed in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension was particular (cf. John 17); and yet his invitation was universal. It was also sincere.

Did Christ know all those whom the Father had given him as he encountered the many crowds during his ministry? Of course. Did he still sincerely offer himself to everyone in the crowd? Yes. So we should be like Christ in relation to this issue. Calvin put it well: “Since we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined, and who does not, it befits us so to feel as to wish that all be saved. So it will come about that, whoever we come across, we shall study to make him a sharer of peace.”

Why It Matters

But here’s the take-home value in definite atonement. When we offer Christ to sinners, we aren’t offering them the mere opportunity or possibility of salvation (as those who hold to an unlimited atonement can only do if they are consistent); rather, we offer them a Christ whose first name really means “Savior” (Matt. 1:21). And this is only so because God presented him as a propitiation for sinners—not potentially or possibly or hypothetically, but actually.

Let’s get even more practical. If one believes in definite atonement, can we say to people, “Christ died for you”? What’s interesting is that the phrase “Christ died for you” does not appear in the NT and yet the Apostles turned the world up-side-down with their preaching, as did many “Calvinist” ministers and missionaries: George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, David Brainerd—to name but a few. So the efficacy of gospel preaching is not dependent on including the phrase “Christ died for you”. J. I. Packer is most helpful here:

The gospel is not, ‘believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,’ any more than it is, ‘believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours.’ The gospel is, ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sins, and now offers you Himself as your Saviour.’ This is the message which we need to take to the world. We have no business to ask them to put their faith in any view of the extent of the atonement; our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him.

Embracing the Tension

When it comes to definite atonement and evangelism, it’s not either/or but both/and.  Christ made a definite atoning sacrifice for those whom the Father had given to him; and we are commanded to proclaim Christ indiscriminately to all people.

How should we live between these two points of tension? On our knees, as we plead with our Triune God to do for others what he has so graciously done for us.


Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge University) is the is author of historical and biblical articles in Themelios and Journal of Biblical Literature, as well as “Obadiah” in the NIV Proclamation Bible, and is a coeditor of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (excerpt).

 

A Message from Crossway’s President

This is a special message recently sent to our friends and supporters from Dr. Lane Dennis, president and publisher of Crossway. For more information related to Crossway’s 75th anniversary celebration, please visit Crossway.org/75th.

Dear Friend of Crossway,

On this 75th anniversary of our ministry, we are overflowing with thanks to the Lord for His great faithfulness.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies…are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness”! (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Likewise, I want to thank you in particular for your partnership, prayers, and gracious support – all of which is an integral part of what the Lord has accomplished over these last seven decades.

Crossway, as you may know, was founded originally as Good News Publishers in 1938.  It was founded with a $20 tithe, saved up by Clyde and Muriel Dennis (my parents), that they dedicated to the Lord for the publication of the first gospel tracts.

It is amazing to see how the Lord has multiplied that first twenty-dollar gift – and the faithful gifts of untold thousands – over these last 75 years:

  • To distribute over 2 billion pieces of gospel-centered literature worldwide,
  • To publish tens of millions of Crossway books (with 800 titles by 350 authors currently in print),
  • To distribute 80 million ESV Bibles worldwide since 2001,
  • And to reach untold numbers of people around the world who have come to know Christ as their Savior.

During this past year, the Lord has continued to work through our ministry in a special way.  In only 12 months, God has enabled Crossway to distribute 23 million gospel tracts (the most in over 30 years); to publish over 1.9 million gospel-centered books (many of which are available in over 50 languages); to launch the new ESV Gospel Transformation Bible; and before the end of this year, to distribute more than 1 million ESV Study Bibles worldwide, since its first printing in 2008.

In addition to these evidences of the Lord’s hand, we have also seen his gracious provision for us in two significant ways:

1.  The Crossway Flood: After a major flood swept though our offices last April, the Lord moved the hearts of people from 35 countries to help us recover.  Through an outpouring of generous gifts – from more than 2,000 of his people worldwide – we were able to maintain funding for critical Bible projects in China, and still meet the unexpected costs of damage recovery and flood-proofing our building. It has been remarkable indeed to see God’s gracious provision, in almost exactly the amount that He alone knew we would need.

2.  Strategic Bible Projects in China:  Perhaps most significantly this last year, we have seen the Lord’s hand of provision in three ministry projects in China.  These include:

  • Chinese Translation of ESV Study Bible Notes – This major effort, to produce a Chinese Study Bible for distribution throughout Mainland China, has been fully funded for the New Testament.  God willing, we anticipate publication of a Chinese Study Bible New Testament in 2014 (followed by the Old Testament).
  • Chinese-English Gospels of John – 1 million Chinese-English Gospels of John are being distributed in China (in partnership with the Pocket Testament League).  Each copy includes a clear presentation of the gospel in English and Chinese.
  • Chinese-English Bilingual Bibles – The total number of full Chinese-English (ESV) Bibles distributed in China has now reached 250,000 copies this year, through funding provided by Crossway and its supporters.

The Lord has indeed done far beyond anything we could ask or think during this last year – and certainly throughout the last 75 years of our ministry. He is our Lord and Savior, and His grace is always sufficient.  With this confidence in the Lord, all of us at Crossway are deeply grateful to you, as we look forward to seeing the Lord’s continued provision for our ministry – to share the truth of God’s Word and the riches of the gospel with a world that is desperately lost apart from Christ our Savior.

With my great appreciation for your partnership in the gospel,

In Christ,

 

 

Lane T. Dennis
President


Lane T. Dennis (PhD, Northwestern University) is president and publisher of Crossway. He is the author and/or editor of three books, including the Gold Medallion-award-winning book Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, and he is the former Chairman of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Dr. Dennis serves as the Chairman of the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible Translation Oversight Committee and as the Executive Editor of the ESV Study Bible. Lane and his wife, Ebeth, live in Wheaton, Illinois.

 

November 26, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Books,Company Updates,ESV,General,News & Announcements | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | (5) Comments »

Why Do We Need So Many Books on the Gospel?

This post by Dane C. Ortlund was originally published on May 25, 2011. We’re reposting it as we celebrate Crossway’s 75th anniversary. For more information, visit Crossway.org/75th.

Why do we need so many books on the gospel?

After all, after 2,000 years, don’t we know by now what the gospel is? Haven’t we “been-there-done-that”? Why do we need one book after another on the same old topic?

1. Because the gospel is “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3).

In describing his ministry—a ministry that communicated “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27)—Paul described it as testifying “to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

2. Because you’re going to roll out of bed tomorrow a functional Pharisee.

The instincts beneath your instincts, the impulses way down deep inside you, are law, not gospel. A good night’s sleep, not a heretical sermon, is all it takes to forget the gospel of grace.

3. Because the gospel is disputed and debated today.

What is the gospel? What are the implications of the gospel? What is the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God? How does the gospel relate to growth in godliness? What is the connection between the gospel and community? These questions need answers from different people, with different voices and different backgrounds, who love the same gospel.

4. Because the church is always one generation away from losing the gospel.

Every generation must rediscover the glories of free grace for itself.

5. Because for every book exulting in or explaining or defending the gospel, a hundred more roll off the press which, wittingly or unwittingly, distract us from that which is of first importance.

6. Because the gospel is the central message of the entire Bible.

Jesus said that even Moses was writing, ultimately, about him (John 5:46). The last verse of the Bible sums up the core message of the Bible: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:21).

The gospel is the scandalous news that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our disobedience cannot dent God’s approval of us and our obedience cannot help God’s approval of us, as we look in trusting faith to Christ. And the priority of this gospel, the functional need of the gospel, the contesting of the gospel, the retaining of the gospel, the constant sidelining of the gospel, and the unified biblical testimony to the gospel all unite to say—yes, we need more books on this gospel.


Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is senior vice president for Bible publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books and serves as a series editor for the Knowing the Bible series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their three boys in Wheaton, Illinois, and blogs at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology.

 

 

November 19, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Books,General,Guest Post,Life & Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life,The Gospel,Theology | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:00 am | 0 Comments »

Video: What Does It Mean to Be Gospel-Centered?

As we mentioned yesterday, this year marks Crossway’s 75th year of “gospel-centered publishing.” We recently sat down with some Crossway authors and asked them, “What does it mean to be gospel-centered?”


 

What Does It Mean to Be Gospel-Centered? from Crossway on Vimeo.

 

November 14, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Books,General,Video,Video | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:32 am | 0 Comments »

A Free Gift to Celebrate Crossway’s 75th Anniversary

Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel-Centered Publishing

Please join us in celebrating 75 years of God’s faithfulness to Crossway as a not-for-profit publishing ministry.

Since 1938, we’ve been committed to publishing biblically sound content that bears witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, proclaims the gospel, and applies the truth of God’s Word to all of life.

75 years ago, Clyde and Muriel Dennis had a vision to produce gospel-centered literature that communicated the truth of Scripture and reflected the beauty of God. Today, we’re still committed to that original vision as we seek to serve the church worldwide through the distribution of millions of Bibles, books, and tracts in over 75 languages.

Our Gift to You

To celebrate this historic milestone, we’re giving away the ESV Study Bible Web App for FREE through the end of November. This award-winning resource features the study notes, maps, charts, illustrations, and theological articles found in the print edition—all integrated into ESVBible.org’s easy-to-use web interface.

To receive FREE access to ESV Study Bible Web App, please visit Crossway.org/75th. Finally, be sure to share this limited-time offer with your friends, families, and neighbors so they too can go deeper in their study of God’s Word.

 

November 13, 2013 | Posted in: Books,General | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:50 am | (18) Comments »