A reading of the Gettysburg Address, first delivered 150 years ago today:
A reading of the Gettysburg Address, first delivered 150 years ago today:
The beginning of an article that Joe Rigney and I wrote for the Religion News Service:
(RNS) In November of 1963, C. S. “Jack” Lewis knew he was dying. The Irish-born literary scholar, children’s author, and Christian apologist had come out of a coma in July, only to be diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. He retired from his post at Cambridge University, choosing to die at home in the Kilns, where he lived with his brother, Major Warren (“Warnie”) Lewis.
On Friday, Nov. 22, he retired to his bedroom after lunch. At 4:30 p.m. GMT he took some tea. An hour and a half later, Warnie heard a crash and discovered Jack unconscious. Within three or four minutes, he was dead, exactly one week shy of his 65th birthday.
A few minutes later (11:39 a.m. CST), Air Force One touched down at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, as a motorcade prepared to take President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, along with their entourage, to the Dallas Business and Trade Mart. But the motorcade never arrived at its destination.
After the president suffered mortal gunshot wounds to the head at 12:30 p.m., his limousine rerouted to Parkland Memorial Hospital where the 46-year-old president was dead upon arrival.
It is no surprise that the death of the Irish-American Jack — the leader of the free world in his prime, tragically murdered in public view — overshadowed the quiet death of the Anglo-Irish Jack, a man who never held public office and who only had a few people at his funeral, but whose fame and fans continue to increase 50 years hence.
Given that both men had to navigate the tension between private faith and the public square, it is fitting on the 50th anniversary of their deaths, which falls Friday (Nov. 22), to compare and contrast their approaches.
You can read the whole thing here.
See also Stella Morabito’s piece for the Federalist, JFK And C.S. Lewis Died On The Same Day: Whose Legacy Is Bigger?
From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, is a major publication. It is hard to imagine someone weighing in on this debate henceforth without interacting with this volume. I suspect that it will convince those who are open and correct many caricatures.
David Wells says, “This is the definitive study. It is careful, comprehensive, deep, pastoral, and thoroughly persuasive.”
Michael Horton calls it “the most impressive defense of definite atonement in over a century.”
D. A. Carson writes, “I cannot imagine that this book could have been published twenty-five years ago: there were not at that time enough well-informed theologians working in the Reformed heritage to produce a volume of such clarity and competence. Whatever side you hold in this debate, henceforth you dare not venture into the discussion without thoughtfully reading this book, which, mercifully, makes argument by stereotype and reductionism a great deal more difficult. Above all, this book will elicit adoration as its readers ponder afresh what Jesus achieved on the cross.”
John Frame adds: ”There is a conventional wisdom that seems to believe definite atonement is the weakest of the five heads of doctrine confessed at the Synod of Dort. But you may come away from this book believing it is the strongest, in its historical attestation, biblical basis, and spiritual blessing.”
Finally, Kelly Kapic points out that this book is for both fans and critics: “Whether you are sympathetic to or suspicious of definite atonement, this book will surprise you. Here are historical details, exegetical links, theological observations, and pastoral perspectives that are fresh and fascinating, even though there is also plenty that will prove controversial.”
The book now has a website where you can explore more about it. And at the end of this post you can watch a short video that contains some introduction to the argument and focus.
I had the privilege of interviewing the editors and some of the contributors
It took you guys six years to acquire and edit contributions from 21 contributors for this massive project. What motivated you to tackle a project of this size and scope?
David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson: Since John Owen’s classic work The Death of Death there has not been a thoroughly comprehensive, contemporary treatment of the doctrine from all the theological disciplines: historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral. Some of the traditional “Calvinistic” approaches can be too forced, too hasty in trying to prove the doctrine; some are more biblicist than biblical and fail to see the doctrine as a biblico-systematic conclusion. The same problem of biblicism also attends some of the objections to definite atonement (e.g., Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears in Death by Love: Letters from the Cross).
Assembling the line up of scholars we wanted and giving them a substantial amount of time to write their chapters made for a lengthy project. As essays came in, there was a lot of sharpening of arguments and feedback among the contributors. So the completed manuscript took longer than expected. The benefit of this, however, is that each chapter has effectively been peer reviewed and exhibits real quality in the argumentation. We wanted a volume written at the highest academic level. We also desired a warmth and winsomeness that might diffuse some of the heat associated with definite atonement and allow the glory of this truth to sparkle and shine. We don’t want to win an argument; we want to help the convinced and win the unconvinced.
What unique contributions does this book make that won’t be found elsewhere?
David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson: The breadth of scope is balanced with detail of focus. There are close readings of individual biblical texts (Alec Motyer on Isaiah 53, for example), as well as fluent treatments of key theological issues connected to the doctrine (Donald Macleod on the divine decree, or Garry Williams on the nature of punishment). Many of the chapters plough fresh furrows. The book also shows the practical usefulness of definite atonement for the Christian life, something which detractors are often quick to challenge: see the chapters by Daniel Strange on mission, Sinclair Ferguson on assurance of salvation, and John Piper on preaching.
But mainly this volume attempts a new approach by arguing the four sections of the book work together to provide the right kind of lens for looking at the doctrine. In our Introduction we take our cue from John Calvin’s theological method and argue that Bible readers need a Bible map drawn with historical awareness, exegetical care, theological coherence and pastoral insight. We’re saying the four sections need each other in order to sketch a pathway to definite atonement and that travelling along this road allows the reader to see the reality and beauty of definite atonement in the Scriptures.
What historical pedigree does the doctrine of definite atonement have?
Raymond Blacketer: Like all theological topics, questions about the universal and particular scope of the satisfaction Christ rendered on the cross arose from biblical exegesis: the attempt to make sense of apparently dissonant texts.
So Jerome commented on Matthew 20:28 that Jesus “does not say he gave his life for all, but for many, that is, for all those who would believe.”
The medieval Glossa Ordinaria further specified “the many” as “those predestined to life.”
Peter Lombard formulated the classic distinction that Christ’s satisfaction was sufficient to redeem every person, but effective only for the elect.
Following Augustine, who frequently emphasized the particularity of Christ’s redemption, Thomas Aquinas interpreted 1 Timothy 2:4 to mean God desires the salvation of all classes of humanity.
Martin Luther insisted it pertains “to the elect only . . . For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all . . .”
Reformers Calvin and Beza continued in this exegetical trajectory.
The Synod of Dordt drew upon the Christian exegetical and theological tradition to clarify that God intended Christ’s redemption for the elect. It rejected Arminian assertions that the cross makes salvation available to all, yet specific to none, and conditional upon any individual’s choice to believe and persist in faith.
Some critics of definite atonement argue no one would ever come to believe in it merely by reading the Bible. On top of this there are several “problematic” biblical texts for definite atonement. How does this book deal with those issues?
Thomas Schreiner: Three things can be said in reply.
First, the Bible often explicitly teaches definite atonement. For instance, Christ laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 15), gave himself up for the church (Eph. 5:25), and purchased some from every people group by his death (Rev. 5:9).
Second, some doubt we can place such weight upon these verses, but these texts must be interpreted along with what scripture teaches about God’s election and other soteriological realities. In other words, the Son dies for those whom the Father elects, and the Spirit applies his efficacious work to the same.
Third, texts that are alleged to teach unlimited atonement are often cited superficially. When we examine 2 Peter 2:1 and consider it in the context of 2 Peter 2 (esp. vv. 20-22), we see that the redemption posited there is phenomenological. Similarly, the context of 1 Timothy 2:4 indicates that Paul thinks of people groups (cf. 2:7), so that the verse doesn’t contradict what Paul teaches elsewhere about unconditional election. Hebrews 2:9 says that Christ tasted death for every person, but a closer look at the chapter reveals that the reference is to Jesus’ brothers and sisters (2:11-12), to the children God gave him (2:13), to the offspring of Abraham (2:16). Each of these passages are considered more closely in the book along with a host of other texts so that our aim, in fact, is to suggest that definite atonement is what one should believe from reading the Bible.
Some within evangelicalism wish to defend penal substitution but not definite atonement. In your chapters you argue this cannot be done. Why not?
Garry Williams: The argument of the first chapter is that if the penalty borne by Christ was a true penalty, then it must have been borne for specific sins committed by specific people. Otherwise, it is not a proper penalty but is simply some kind of unspecified suffering. Scripture teaches, for example in Leviticus, that sacrifice is made for specific offerers and their sins. It thus precludes a doctrine of general ransom.
In the second chapter I argue that the traditional “double payment” argument (God cannot punish the same sins twice, once in Christ at the cross and again in the impenitent in hell) needs to be expressed carefully, but it is valid. It does not rely on over-applying the financial metaphor for punishment and atonement. A description purged of such language and cast in terms of the biblical image of punishment as God’s answer to sin would sustain the impossibility of double punishment just as well.
What is the connection between Christ’s priestly ministry and definite atonement?
Stephen Wellum: In Scripture, the relationship between the role of the High Priest and the act of atonement is tight. Under the old covenant, the High Priest serves as the mediator for a particular covenant people. We see this on the Day of Atonement where the High Priest has the incredible privilege of entering into the Holy of Holies, on behalf of the people and as the covenant mediator of Israel. But it is important to note that the Priest’s act of sacrifice and intercession is a definite work.
As our Lord Jesus brings all of this to fulfillment, this same particular work is stressed. Christ is the new covenant head, mediator, and its great High Priest. As the new covenant head, his work is specific and effective for all those in that covenant. However, Scripture also teaches that everyone without exception is not in the new covenant. All people enter this world in Adam and under the dominion of sin, and it is only by Christ’s priestly work and the Spirit’s application, that we are transferred from Adam to Christ. The priestly and covenantal categories of Scripture demand that we view Christ’s work as definite.
How does definite atonement help us in the task of world mission and in thinking about the fate of the “unevangelized”?
Daniel Strange: In my chapter I argue that those who hold to an unlimited atonement get themselves into some inevitable and ultimately insoluble theological knots when it comes to the category of the unevangelised, that is those who have never heard the gospel. Believing in a definite atonement avoids these knotty problems and dilemmas. Moreover a definite atonement gives us a great confidence in the missionary task. It is said that the song sung in Revelation 5:9-11, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, . . . ” was the passage that sent William Carey to India because he knew that there were people ordained to life there. God has chosen to call a people to himself and he has given us the awesome privilege and responsibility of being inextricably involved in this urgent rescue mission. As servants of the king, we have been commanded to go and invite to the wedding feast as many we can find. We have confidence, in that we know that the message of the cross we proclaim does not merely offer people the possibility of salvation, but offers salvation itself, Christ himself. Confidence, that because the Father, the Son and the Spirit have complete unity of purpose, that those whom the Father has chosen, those for whom Christ died, are now those being prepared by the Spirit to hear the gospel message, repent and believe, and come to the feast.
You have recently retired after 33 years as a pastor. What advice would you give to younger pastors and preachers about the place of this doctrine in ministry?
John Piper: When I came to Bethlehem 33 years ago, I was wobbly on the atonement. That’s not a good thing to be wobbly on. So I resolved to work through Owen’s Death of Death. I came out with my feet on solid, biblical ground. I am glad I did. So my first advice would be: Don’t stay wobbly on this. Dive into the deeps, and don’t come up till you have the pearl.
Second, I would emphasize that particular redemption affirms more, not less, about the atonement. We all agree that the death of Christ warrants the free offer of the gospel to everyone: “If you receive Christ, his death covers all your sins.” But the more is that there is a particularly “great love” (Eph. 2:4) for the elect that “made us alive,” and this too was purchased by the blood of Christ. He died to secure for his sheep the living heart of faith.
Third, I would plead: Don’t let your blood-bought flock fail to enjoy the logic of Romans 8:32. If the “us” of that verse is all human beings, then the promise is void.
A sad and disturbing look inside the process:
HT: Mollie Hemingway
Fred Zaspel writes about the death of their 29-year-old daughter:
Surely a day will never pass, in this life, without sensing this deep, gaping hole in our hearts. We just cannot imagine life without Gina. How we loved her.
I have often suspected over the years that Christians who romanticize death have likely never experienced the loss of a close loved one. Death remains a dreaded and a devastating enemy, and there is just no way to make it pretty. It still stings, deeply so, and when it comes close like this it leaves us feeling all but completely undone.
Yet for Christians there truly is a difference. And during this past week since Gina passed, agonizing as it has been, we have learned first-hand that we really do not sorrow as those who have no hope. The weighty promises and massive truths that God has revealed to us in his Word truly are life-shaping and soul anchoring, and they provide a sure point of reference for even the most hurting heart.
United to Christ by faith Gina belonged — and belongs — to God. And through the years of her suffering we reminded ourselves often that the God who in grace had rescued her in Christ from sin loves her even more than we do. And so we trust his providence. He is too wise ever to make a mistake, and too good ever to do us wrong. And we acknowledge that just as he was free and sovereign in giving Gina to us 29 years ago, so now he is free and sovereign — and good and just — in taking her. He has not wronged us. Indeed, not only do we affirm this great truth — we rest in it. This God is himself our Father, a Father who knows what is best for his children and faithfully directs our lives accordingly. Moreover, he is the Father who in love one day gave up his own Son to bear our curse in order to redeem us to himself. Yes, of course there are many “Why?” questions that we cannot answer, but we lack no proof of God’s love or his goodness. And we bless him today with deeper passion than ever.
We are so very grateful not only that God gave us our daughter for 29 years, but also that in grace he saved her and made her his own. This is really everything — everything — and we recognize that we are blessed to know that Gina is rejoicing today in the presence of our great Redeemer. How she loved him! How she loved the gospel. Gina was marked by passion in everything she did, but nothing so stirred her like the gospel of Christ. She loved to hear it, she loved to learn it more deeply, she loved to sing it, and she loved to share it with others. Her whole hope was in Christ. Virtually every day, even in much pain, she would sit down at the piano to play and sing and refresh her aching soul with some of her favorite songs about Christ, God’s love in Christ, salvation in Christ, God’s faithful love and providence, and the glory that awaits us. And this same gospel is what assures us still. And we rejoice that neither death nor life nor anything else in all God’s creation could ever separate Gina or us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And we have come better to appreciate that our hope in Christ is not for this life only. We eagerly await the day of Christ’s return when we will rejoice together in his glorious presence and discover for ourselves that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will then be revealed in us.
You can read the whole thing here.
The strategy of darkness against revival is threefold:
(1) to destroy the work either by persecution or by accusation which will discredit it and limit its growth,
(2) to infiltrate the work and reinforce its defects in order to provide more evidence for accusation, and
(3) to inspire counterfeit revival which may deceive the elect and further confuse and alienate the onlooking world.
—Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (IVP, 1979), 257.
Sin being removed, and righteousness bestowed, we have peace with God—are continually accepted before him.
There is not any thing to charge us with: that which was, is taken out of the way by Christ, and nailed to his cross—made fast there; yea, publicly and legally cancelled, that it can never be admitted again as an evidence.
What court among men would admit of evidence that has been publicly cancelled and nailed up for all to see it?
So has Christ dealt with that which was against us; and not only so, but also he puts that upon us for which we are received into favor.
He makes us comely through his beauty; gives us white raiment to stand before the Lord.
This is the first part of purchased grace wherein the saints have communion with Jesus Christ. In remission of sin and imputation of righteousness does it consist; from the death of Christ, as a price, sacrifice, and a punishment—from the life of Christ spent in obedience to the law, does it arise.
The great product it is of the Father’s righteousness, wisdom, love, and grace—the great and astonishable fruit of the love and condescension of the Son—the great discovery of the Holy Ghost in the revelation of the mystery of the gospel.
—John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, 290-91.
50 years later, the original theory holds up:
Last week I posted Michael Haykin’s suggested reading guide to Augustine’s The City of God.
Here is Leland Ryken’s reading guide to John Milton’s Paradise Lost:
The best way by far to read Milton’s masterpiece is to read it as a story, starting at the beginning, settling down for the archetypal “long read,” and moving forward as fast or slowly as one’s time and attention span allow. As C. S. Lewis once said of long poems, a reader needs to be prepared for flats and shallows as well as mountaintops.
For people who find the prospect of reading the entire poem daunting, my advice is to read more topically and meditatively, foregoing the narrative as a whole.
Here are the key passages that can comprise such a reading:
Satan and the demons in hell, a spectacle of evil and its punishment.
Book 3, lines 1-415
God and the Son in heaven, determining what to do about the impending fall of Adam and Eve.
The best of the best! Milton’s portrayal of life in paradise, offered as a picture of how God intends human life to be lived.
The temptation and fall of Adam and Eve.
Book 12, lines 552 to the end:
Adam’s response to the vision of future history, followed by Milton’s magnificent description of Adam and Eve’s departure from the garden; everything is a balance between sadness and consolation here at the end.
—Leland Ryken, “Paradise Lost by John Milton (1608-1674),” The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (IVP, 2004), 150-151.
See also Ryken’s entry on Paradise Lost in his Christian Guides to the Classics.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.”
Sinclair Ferguson says, “Surprising though it may seem in a world of large books, of all those owned by our family this may be the one we have most often lent or quoted to friends.”
For a contemporary gift edition, I’d recommend this.
And for an intellectual biography of Rutherford, this is the book to get.
Leland Ryken writes that John Milton’s “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” is to him “the greatest sonnet in the English language.” During the middle phase of Milton’s life (1640-1660) he focused on supporting the Puritan cause and largely set aside his poetic vocation. By 1654, at the age of 55, he had gone completely blind, and probably composed this sonnet around this time.
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
A conversation with Mark Noll (author of Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind) and John Piper (author of Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God), moderated by Ryan Griffith, Assistant Professor of Christian Worldview and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Bethlehem College and Seminary. They discuss the best way to approach education and the life of the mind. Following the conversation you can watch lectures each of them gave on this topic.
Kathy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church:
If Sarah Young, the author of the words attributed to Jesus, had only used “He” instead of “I” in her book, about half of my objection to it would be gone. However, in publishing these as messages she received from “listening to God,” she has left us in a quandary.Although in the Introduction she acknowledges that she “knew that these writings were not inspired as Scripture is” and a few pages later she says “The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant [without error] Word of God,” then why are the messages she received from Jesus put in the first person? If it is not truly Jesus speaking, she could have said “Jesus wants you to come to him and have rest in him.” But when she says “Keep your ‘antennae’ out to pick up even the faintest glimmer of My Presence,” and those words are attributed directly to Jesus (and they don’t sound like anything else he has ever said), then they have to be received on the same level as Scripture, or she has put her own thoughts into the mouth Jesus.
Read the whole thing here.
See also Michael Horton’s review.
Christianity Today recently profiled Sarah Young and included a roundup of some of the criticism.
William Pittenger (1905-1997) was a liberal Anglican theologian known for his defense of process theology and offered an early Christian defense of homosexual relationships among Christians.
In October of 1958 he published a piece entitled “Apologist Versus Apologist: A Critique of C. S. Lewis as ‘Defender of the Faith,’” The Christian Century LXXV (October, 1958): 1104-1107.
The following month Lewis penned a response in the November 1958 issue. It is a delightful response in many ways as Lewis acknowledges error, chides misinterpretation, muses about the sledgehammer of the Sermon on the Mount, and closes with a lament about the lack of theological translation in our day.
Here are the closing paragraphs:
He judges my books in vacuo, with no consideration of the audience to whom they were addressed or the prevalent errors they were trying to combat. The Naturalist becomes a straw man because he is not found among ‘first-rate scientists’ and readers of Einstein. But I was writing ad populum, not ad clerum. This is relevant to my manner as well as my matter.
It is true, I do not understand why it is vulgar or offensive, in speaking of the Holy Trinity, to illustrate from plane and solid geometry the conception that what is self-contradictory on one level may be consistent on another. I could have understood the Doctor’s being shocked if I had compared God to an unjust judge or Christ to a thief in the night; but mathematical objects seem to me as free from sordid associations as any the mind can entertain.
But let all that pass. Suppose the image is vulgar. If it gets across to the unbeliever what the unbeliever desperately needs to know, the vulgarity must be endured. Indeed, the image’s very vulgarity may be an advantage; for there is much sense in the reasons advanced by Aquinas (following Pseudo-Dionysius) for preferring to present truths sub figuris vilium coporum. . . .
When I began, Christianity came before the great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in the unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither. My task was therefore simply that of a translator—one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand. For this purpose a style more guarded, more nuancé, finelier shaded, more rich in fruitful ambiguities — in fact, a style more like Dr Pittenger’s own—would have been worse than useless. It would not only have failed to enlighten the common reader’s understanding; it would have aroused his suspicion. He would have thought, poor soul, that I was facing both ways, sitting on the fence, offering at one moment what I withdrew the next, and generally trying to trick him. I may have made theological errors. My manner may have been defective. Others may do better hereafter. I am ready, if I am young enough, to learn. Dr Pittenger would be a more helpful critic if he advised a cure as well as asserting many diseases. How does he himself do such work? What methods, and with what success, does he employ when he is trying to convert the great mass of storekeepers, lawyers, realtors, morticians, policemen and artisans who surround him in his own city?
One thing at least is sure. If the real theologians had tackled this laborious work of translation about a hundred years ago, when they began to lose touch with the people (for whom Christ died), there would have been no place for me.
HT: John Piper
Our family is currently in the process for our fourth adoption.
If anyone feels led to help us financially in this endeavor (and please feel no pressure to do so!), we have set up a page that facilitates this.
God has graciously used the gift of adoption to build our family and to remind us of the beauty of our spiritual adoption in him. We are eager to receive more blessing by welcoming another baby into our home.
Many thanks for your kind consideration.
And if you are wondering why adoption is such a big deal for Christians, it’s because of the foundation of our faith.
After all, the church is an organic collection of individual orphans turned adopted children, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans (John 14:8).
The reason Jesus was born, according to Galatians 4:4-8, is so that Jesus could redeem us (v. 4); and the reason he came to redeem us is so that God could adopt us as sons (v. 5).
The result is that the Father sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts so that we can cry “Abba, Father!” (v. 6).
Now that we are adopted sons instead of slaves in bondage, we have an eternal inheritance through God. It’s because of teaching like this that J. I. Packer writes:
Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. . . . If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.
Because God is a Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows (Ps. 68:5), he commands his adopted children—the bride of Christ—”to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). Adopting, assisting with adoption, and foster care are some (though not the only) means of fulfilling this biblical vision and command.