This is part 5 of a series of blog posts examining the arguments John Owen makes for and against a limited/particular atonement in his extensive work on the subject: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
John Owen was well aware of the arguments against limited atonement regarding the preaching of the gospel. Particularly that the gospel, preached to the non-elect (or reprobate), was vain and useless. Opponents make this claim, Owen rightly admits, because it asks people to believe something that was not true; specifically that Christ died for them.
our adversaries pretending that if Christ died not for all, then in vain are they exhorted to believe, there being, indeed, no proper object for the faith of innumerable, because Christ did not die for them; (Bk IV chap 1)
Preaching to all is not in vain
Owen will argue that “this offer [of the gospel] is neither vain nor fruitless” when presented to those whom Christ did not die for. Why, you might be asking, should I accept Owen’s premise.
And if any ask, What it is of the mind and will of God that is declared and made known when men are commanded to believe for whom Christ did not die?
Owen provides several reasons in answer to the question (his words in italic).
- every man may conclude his own duty, which is to believe in Christ even if it is not God’s purpose to do, or his decree that it should be done
- every man may know the sufficiency of salvation that is in Jesus Christ to all that believe on him
- every man may know the certain, infallible, inviolable connection that is between faith and salvation (or put more simply that salvation is conditioned on faith)
- every man may know that whosoever performs the one [faith] shall surely enjoy the other [salvation]
In an interview, posted in October on the Desiring God site, John Piper was asked:
Can an Arminian preach the gospel effectively — Christ and him crucified?
This question was prompted by Charles Spurgeon’s claim that “[t]here is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism”.
Arminian’s do preach an effective gospel, affirms Piper, if by effective it is meant that there is “enough of gospel truth so that God is willing to use it to save sinners.” While admitting that an Arminian can preach an effective gospel, Piper underscores the point that they cannot preach a full gospel; only one that is defective and harmful.
Can an Arminian preach the gospel fully?
Can an Arminian preach the gospel without implicit or explicit theological defects?
Can an Arminian preach the gospel without tendencies that lead the church in harmful directions?
Can an Arminian preach the gospel in the most Christ-exalting way?
And my answer to all those questions would be: No, they can’t.
Piper explains that when gospel truth is presented it can and often is stated in such a way that both an Arminian and a Calvinist would readily accept it.
However, he rightly notes that as one unpacks the terminology in that presentation that there would be a different “direction” or meaning behind many of the words and phrases that are used. Differences that, Piper notes “really do matter as people grow in faith.” Continue reading
Just as Pinson examined the theology of Arminius Grace for All, Vic Reasoner explores the theology of John Wesley. Reasoner is the president of Southern Methodist College (link) and an author, having written a Wesleyan commentary on Romans (link).
Reasoner starts off surveying the various scholars who have studied and interpreted John Wesley over the last 50+ years, highlighting Thomas Oden recently published 4 volume set that is considered “the first systematic exposition” of Wesley’s theology (amazon).
Reasoner, exploring numerous aspects of Wesleyan theology, starts off the affirming God’s sovereignty.
Wesleyan-Arminians affirm God’s sovereignty, but believe that God has the prerogative of not always exercising total sovereignty. Thus we have true libertarian freedom. Yet God never surrenders the consequences of our free choices to us. … God is so sovereign he can allow human rebellion, yet that rebellion does not thwart his ultimate purpose.