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MacArthur's Evolving Views on the Atonement

Since first publishing the article "Calvinism+Arminianism=Fullerism" it has come to my attention that MacArthur's views regarding the atonement have changed substantially.  Originally, he espoused a General Atonement/Fullerite belief, which is particularly scene in his quotes from 1978 and 1990.  As of 1997, although MacArthur admits not wanting to be dogmatic about it, he has evidently come to a closer understanding, if not outright belief at that time, of Particular Redemption.  Five of his 'Answers', given in chronological order from 1978 to 1997, are given below.   Although the Primitive Baptists would not be completely satisfied, myself included, with his last two answers from 1997, they are much more sound doctrinally.  Furthermore, every preacher should be accorded the opportunity for his views to change and mature as we hope is the case with MacArthur.  JT

According to the transcriber, this tape was recorded in 1978. JT

http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-O-4.htm

The following "Question" was asked by a member of the congregation at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and "Answered" by their pastor, John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed by Brenda Rivera of Orlando, Florida from the tape, GC 1301-O, titled "Bible Questions and Answers Part 17."  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE. ©1978. All Rights Reserved.

Question

I want to clarify this. Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all men past, present, and future?

Answer

Right.

Question (continued)

Then can you explain 1 Samuel 3:14?

Answer (continued)


1 Samuel 3:14, ďAnd therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eliís house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever.Ē

I believe that the death of Christ was efficacious for the entire world. But I believe the death of Christ has to be appropriated. Now, I think thatís answering your question more than dealing with the text of 1 Samuel, but let me go a step further. Historically, there have been some who have said that because Christ died for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2. Thatís very hard to deny that, a limited atonement view finds itís waterloo at 1 John 2. So if Christ died for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world, then that has been done.

Now some have gone so far as to say, therefore, everyoneís sins in the entire world have already been atoned for and forgiven. All we have to do is simply take the gift or appropriate it. Now I wouldnít go that far, I would say that the penalty has been paid but it is only applied through personal faith. And I think what you have then is that Christ has prepared a salvation for every person in the world if every person in the world accepts it. Now, if they donít then it is not efficacious.

Now if you go back into the Old Testament what He is saying there is that the house of Eli, that is the role of the priest, the function of the priest, the exaltation, the lifting up, the righteousness of that house shall not exist again. I donít think that in anyway reflects upon an inability of Christ's death to cover their sin, nor do I think it reflects on the fact that Christ didnít die for them. I think that simply what you have there is a statement by God that because of evil and sin that house is removed permanently from any place of divine purpose or sanctification, and the house will not be purged or its iniquity purged, so that it can never again take the role of the priest. So youíre talking about a priesthood in Samuel, youíre talking about salvation in general in the New Testament doctrine of Christ atonement.

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "MacArthurís Questions and Answers" by:

Tony Capoccia
Bible Bulletin Board
Box 119
Columbus, New Jersey, USA, 08022
Websites: www.biblebb.com and www.gospelgems.com


According to Grace Community Church, this tape was recorded in 1990. JT

http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/70-11-6.htm

The following "Question" was asked by a member of the congregation at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, and "Answered" by their pastor, John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape, GC 70-11, titled "Bible Questions and Answers."  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.  Copyright John MacArthur Jr., All Rights Reserved.

Question

My question is threefold, 

1. How can the Bible be read to teach "Limited Atonement?"

2. How can the Bible be read to teach "Unlimited Atonement?"

3. What do you believe that it teaches and why?


Answer


Let me qualify this, because this is a little bit of a theological question. 

There has been through the years a debate about the Atonement, and the debate basically is, "Did Jesus Christ die for everyone?" In that sense, His atonement was unlimited. In other words, He died to pay the penalty for sin for the whole world, and then the gift of salvation is generally offered to the world.

The second viewpoint is, that Jesus Christ died only for the elect. That it is more logical to assume that if only the elect are saved--that Jesus died only for the elect, otherwise Jesus died for people who He knew would never  be saved, and what's the point of that?

So this particular debate rages hot at this particular time in history.  There are some who believe in a "Total Redemption," that is, that Jesus Christ provided a full redemption for all human beings, and there are some who believe in what is called a "Particular Redemption," that He died providing redemption particularly, that is only, or specifically for the elect.

I find in my own mind and in my own study of Scripture a strong case for a "General Atonement," for a "Universal Atonement," for an "All Encompassing Provision." For Jesus dying as the propitiation for our sins--and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world, tying it in particularly with John, chapter three, "God so loved. . . ." What? "The world"--not the elect. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It seems to me that the giving of the Son was in response to the loving of the world, and that the propitiation which Christ was, was sufficient for the sins of all the world. 

So, I would say, that I believe, and I think this is maybe one way to understand it--I believe that the atonement of Christ was sufficient for the world, but is efficient for those that believe. I believe in, I guess what you could call a "Limited and Unlimited Atonement." It is unlimited in the sense that it was sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world--it is limited, in that it is applied only to those who believe. I don't like to  get pushed beyond that, but I don't like to just take the title of believing  in "Limited Atonement" or "Particular Redemption," that Jesus died only for  the elect, because I think that that has some exegetical problems. I think  you would have problems explaining certain passages of Scripture, but I admit  to you that it is a very difficult issue, because there are many passages  that apply His redemptive work "only to the elect," "only to those who  believe." But I believe, compared with other passages, His redemption encompasses, in its sufficiency--the world.

It is no more a contradiction than the many other things that appear to be contradictory. Like, how is it that people are saved by the election of God and damned by their unbelief? I mean, I think that there are other issues in theology that are very difficult for the human mind to resolve and that has passages, apparently, on both sides. For example, you have passages in the New Testament on "Eternal Security" that say that God keeps us. You have passages in the New Testament that says that you will be saved if you persevere to the end. So, I think that we can't get too threatened by the fact that with regard to theological issues, particularly in the realm of salvation, we may not be able to harmonize everything. You can read some Scriptures which appear to be limited, some Scriptures which appear to be unlimited--a better way to understand that is in somewhat paradoxical terms--in some points it is limited, in some points it appears to be unlimited.

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "MacArthurís Questions and Answers" by:

Tony Capoccia
Bible Bulletin Board
Box 119
Columbus, New Jersey, USA, 08022
Websites: www.biblebb.com and www.gospelgems.com


According to Grace Community Church, this tape was recorded in 1994. JT

http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/70-15-3.htm

The following "Question" was asked by a member of the congregation at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, and "Answered" by their pastor, John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape, GC 70-15, titled "Bible Questions and Answers."  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.

Question

Could you please clarify the extent of the atonement, limited versus unlimited?

Answer

Well, I donít know if I could clarify it, but I could take a sort of stab at it. People always ask this question about the extent of the atonement. What the question is, is basically this: did Jesus Christ die for the whole world or did He just die for the elect? Now, we believe in election because the Bible says that the elect were chosen before the foundation of the world--their names were written in the Lambís book of life at that time--and they were given to Christ as a love gift from the Father. Thatís what election is. We were predestined to be adopted as children of God and all of that. So, we believe in election.

The question then comes, did Christ die only for the elect or did He die for the whole world? The debate circles around these thoughts: if Christ died for the whole world, then He died for people that He didnít save and didnít choose, and therefore you have a wasted effort on His part. In other words, you have Him (this is the philosophical approach to it) you have Him dying for people who were never supposed to be saved anyway, so why would He bother to die for them?

Now, in the first place, this is a whole lot of human reasoning and thatís what makes it so very difficult. Christ died. He died. God knew who His death would benefit, true? God not only knew who His death would benefit; He decided who His death would benefit. He decided who His death would benefit before He planned His death, because He wouldnít have planned a death unless He had planned a redemption effected by that death. Is that ok, in the ďordisĒ (sp?) category, Ken? Ok? (he's the Theology professor). I mean, you donít plan the means until you plan the end or the goal. So, from the very outset, God knew that the death of Jesus Christ would be applicable to the elect. Beyond that, I cannot goÖexcept to say this, that there are some ways--and you can find certain verses that seem to apply the atonement to the elect only--to go beyond it in several ways, maybe two. One first of all; there are some ways in which the death of Christ applies to the non-elect and the unsaved, and that would be in what theologians through the years have called ďcommon grace.Ē Are you familiar with that term? Grace that is common to all.

For example, in Acts 14, "... in the generations gone by, He permitted all the nations to go their own ways." He let them go their own ways, "yet He didnít leave Himself without witness in that He did good and gave rain from heaven and fruitful season, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." Thatís what we call ďcommon graceĒ: the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  Also, in 1 Timothy 4:10, it says, "God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers."  Now, what does "common grace" mean?  

One, there is the temporal aspect of it, it's really all temporal, but let's just divide it that way for a moment.  The first temporal aspect of it would be earthly blessing.  Somehow in the atonement of Christ, the wrath of God was mitigated so that He allows even the unregenerate to enjoy life.  Ok?  I mean, they can laugh, and they can smile, and they can enjoy the richness of life in creation, and love, and children, and whatever.  But secondly, "common grace" shows itself in a temporal way, in that God doesn't kill people, in other words, the very fact that a sinner takes another breath is grace--is it not?  Because he deserves to die.  

So somehow in the atonement there is found even a "common grace" which can be bestowed on an unregenerate, and that "common grace" will express itself in the blessings of human life and in human life itself.  But then there is another component, and this throws the mystery into the whole thing, and that is this: if a person goes to hell, they do not go to hell because Christ didn't die for them--they go to hell because they rejected His death.  Is that not true?  Now that's what makes the whole thing incomprehensible to me.  I was fine until I made that statement--right?  But that's honest.  There is an element in this whole atoning work that makes men culpable of sin, because "they believe not on Christ."  Jesus simply said, "you will die in your sins because you believe not on Me."  And, we are told to go into the whole world and preach the gospel "to all the elect"--is that right?  [No], "to every creature!"

So, the atonement, certainly in the purposes and plan of God in its efficacy (its effectiveness) was from the very beginning, planned for and limited to the elect, and yet there was something in it that satisfied the justice of God so that he could be gracious commonly to all sinners, and there is another component in the atonement that renders sinners guilty of rejecting it, and thus they are damned.  Now, if you understand all those components and just leave them there--you're ok.  And we have to let God resolve all that in His own perfect wisdom.  

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "MacArthurís Questions and Answers" by:

Tony Capoccia
Bible Bulletin Board
Box 119
Columbus, New Jersey, USA, 08022
Websites: www.biblebb.com and www.gospelgems.com


According to Grace Community Church, this  tape was recorded in 1997. JT

http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/70-17-2.htm

The following "Question" was asked by a member of the congregation at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, and "Answered" by their pastor, John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape, GC 70-17, titled "Bible Questions and Answers."  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.  Copyright John MacArthur Jr., All Rights Reserved.

Question

Could you please explain Biblically for whom Christ died? And also, whether all of them that He died for will be saved?

Answer

The answer is, in terms of Scripture, is that Christ died for the world--the Scripture talks about the world.  But I think that the way you have to define that is to define it as humanity--human kind.  The question is, "Whose sins, within humanity, did He actually atone for?"  Right?  "Whose sins did He actually pay the price for?" "Whose sins did He actually expiate?"  "Whose punishment did he actually bear, and thus eliminate them from ever being judged?"  And the answer is, "Only those who believe."  

So Christ actually paid the penalty; suffered the wrath of God; expiated sin, and was a perfect and satisfactory atonement for the sins of all of who would ever believe.  Some people want to say that He actually paid the penalty for the sins of all who ever lived.  We have some problems with that. We have a number of passages in the New Testament that indicate that He died for His own, He purchased His own, with His own blood He purchased the Church.  Those kinds of statements, I think, take the humanity, or the world and narrow it down more specifically to who it is, it is referring to.  So in the end, if He died and paid the actual penalty for the sins of all people who ever lived, then Hell would be double jeopardy.  Then how could you send people to Hell when their sins have been paid for?  So you can't really have a complete expiation of the sins of everybody, or you are going to end up as a Universalist.  So in reality Christ actually expiated the sins of those who believe. 

Now in the end, of course, as you study the elective and unfolding purposes of the decree of God, it is clear that those who believe, believe because they were chosen before the foundation of the world.  Their names were written in the Lamb's Book of Life and the Spirit of God came and regenerated them by the sovereign purposes of God.

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "MacArthurís Questions and Answers" by:

Tony Capoccia
Bible Bulletin Board
Box 119
Columbus, New Jersey, USA, 08022
Websites: www.biblebb.com and www.gospelgems.com


According to Grace Community Church, this  tape was recorded in 1997. JT

http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/70-17-9.htm

The following "Question" was asked by a member of the congregation at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, and "Answered" by their pastor, John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape, GC 70-17, titled "Bible Questions and Answers."  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.  Copyright John MacArthur Jr., All Rights Reserved.

Question

Do you hold to "Limited Atonement"--that Jesus Christ did not suffer, substitutionarily, on the cross, for the sins of the whole world?

Answer

Yes.  But don't go out and say "John MacArthur advocates 'Limited Atonement,' because I don't.  And I will tell you why--because I don't like that term, because it is not Biblical.  It is obvious when something is not explicitly stated in Scripture, and when you are dealing with the inscrutable nature of God and the mysteries of redemption, and the mysteries of the unfolding divine purpose, and the mind of God--there will always be grappling with these issues.  Whatever it is that you believe about the inherent nature of the atonement, whatever it is that you believe about the limits of the atonement, whether they're there or not there--whatever it is that you believe about the actual efficaciousness of the death of Christ and to whom it is applied, whatever nuances of that discussion you particularly believe--in the end, the atonement will only have value to those who believe--whatever it is that you believe.

My point is, arguing about that really is pointless in a sense.  I understand the debate and I certainly engage in it heartily, but in the end we make our best shot.  It is like trying to define the Trinity, it is like trying to unscrew the unscrutable, it's like trying to figure out things that are beyond our capacity--whether you're talking about the security of the believer measured against the perseverance of the saints, or you're talking about volition and divine election, whether you are talking about any of those kinds of issues, you are always are going to be in the dilemma, and that is why theological debates like this have gone on always.  In the end, however, we don't need to separate, we don't need to become divisive, we don't need to sort of break fellowship over what exactly is the inherent, innate character of the atonement, because in the end, the death of Jesus Christ is only efficacious for those who believe.  And in the end, whatever was going on, on the cross, it has no application to those who don't believe--right?  So, whatever you want to say about it's inherent limits or non-limits--in the end you come to the same place.

It is like the argument about Predestination--people always say, "Well, I just can't handle that God predestined.  I just can't handle that He elected; I just think He knew what was going to happen."  O.K., let's take that view: "God just knew what was going to happen."  When did He know it?  Well, He always knew it. Well, then if He always knew it, why did He create the people to whom it would happen, if He didn't want it to happen?  Even if He knew it was going to happen and nothing more, and went ahead and created the people He knew it was going to happen too--He acted sovereignly in doing that--did He not?  You can't escape these issues.  I'm certainly not going to say all truth resides with me.  I believe in a gospel offer that is universal.  I understand the exegesis of 1 John 2:2, that "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world."  I understand that.  I understand John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever . . . ."  I understand all of that.  I understand the call to go to preach the gospel to every creature on the face of the earth, which means you have to have an honorable, legitimate call to salvation or you're illegitimate in that.  I wrote a lot of this in the book on the Love of God, trying to cover a lot of these things.

In the end, these things are very difficult for us to grasp, because they are things that are in the divine mind and we are not capable.  Suffice it to say, I've always been content to fellowship with those who would take an unlimited view, and those who would take a limited view, because in the end, as long as you believe that people who are putting their faith in Christ go to heaven and those who don't go to hell, then you are orthodox--and that's the issue.  But it is the nature of seminary; it's the nature of grappling day in and day out, hour in and hour out, as I do constantly in my life, with these kinds of issues, and reading widely on these things, to sort of pick and chose where you feel the weight of evidence, and it is usually related to how much you respect the "scholar of choice" or the "author of choice" and that's fine.  That's all about establishing trust and confidence in those that God has given to us as teachers.  The very fact that we are still discussing this issue is pretty good indication that it is not crystal clear, so that we could all rally around it, such as we are able to rally around some things in Scripture, for which there is really little discussion, because they are so explicit.  

But anytime you are crawling into the mind of infinite God and trying to sort out those matters, you have to stand with a bit of humility and a sort of a soft dogmatism, and I'm happy to [be] softly dogmatic on this point, understanding as best I can what the Word of God has to say.  I have such a strong view of the atonement that I would have to believe that if Jesus, on the cross, actually paid the penalty for the sins of somebody, then they wouldn't go to hell, because that would be double-jeopardy.  So there is that issue, theologically, to deal with, and I know how those passages are dealt with as well.  But I think in the end, we want to maintain some humility.  It seems like the younger you are, the harder you hold to these views, and as you grow in your understanding of Scripture, you are more comfortable with allowing yourself to leave the real hard questions to the Lord.  As I say, what matters in the end is who believes, and who doesn't believe.

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "MacArthurís Questions and Answers" by:

Tony Capoccia
Bible Bulletin Board
Box 119
Columbus, New Jersey, USA, 08022
Websites: www.biblebb.com and www.gospelgems.com
 

7/7/2007

 

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