Life Theology

Brian McLaren and Willow Creek: A Match Made in…

Brian McLaren spoke at a youth conference at Willow Creek in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. For those who aren’t familiar, McLaren is the spearhead for the Emergent Church movement in America. Despite what he says, his theology is ultra liberal and simply non-biblical. At the conference, McLaren said that Christians should put less focus on eternity and more on achieving justice in the here and now. In fact, one writer says that McLaren’s message is “serpent-sensitive worship.”

Just one question I will ask as a commentary on this: Why in the world would Willow Creek invite Brian McLaren to speak at their conference? It just makes me wonder how committed to sound, biblical doctrine Willow Creek actually is.


He’s Not Talking About the Bible

“If this book doesn’t change the world — we’re all screwed.”

– Penn, of Penn & Teller

Penn is referring to Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.  I wonder if Penn knows that the best selling book of all time is the Bible.  The second?  Not Dawkins’ book.  Not Darwin’s book.

It’s John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress — which is practically like the Bible.

Go figure.


Meditation on Matthew 11:25-30

Yesterday morning, I spent a short time in Matthew 11:25-30.  As I reflected on Jesus words, I marveled at two very clear, yet profound, truths.  The first truth is divine election and calling.  Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (v. 27).  God has revealed truth to those whom he has chosen and has actually hidden things from the (worldly) “wise and understanding” (v. 25).  This is a splendid truth!  It is a  truth that is a major theme in Scripture and shows the beauty of a loving Father who owes nothing to anyone except justice. 

The second truth is man’s responsibility to come to Jesus–whether saved or unsaved.  He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vv. 28-30).  If you are unsaved, you are held responsible if you do not come to Jesus.  If you are saved, find your rest in him; make him your treasure.  Only because of the first truth though, are we able to respond by coming to Jesus.  Notice the order in which Jesus spoke to the people.  He said that the Son chooses to reveal the Father to some, and then he told the people to come to him for rest.  Without the first truth, the second would be impossible.

These two truths are not at odds.  Two truths cannot be contradictory.  As C.H. Spurgeon said, “Both are true; no two truths can be inconsistent with each other; and what you have to do is to believe them both.”  So may we take heart that there is a God who is revealing himself to us and if you respond to him in faith, you are most certain a chosen child of the King.  And if and when we do respond, Revelation 21:6 should be our beautiful experience: “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”

Coming to Jesus with you,


Limited Atonement

Part 3 in a 5 part series. View series intro and index.

Limited Atonement is perhaps the most controversial doctrine of Reformed theology.  The atonement is the work of God whereby he gave his Son to cancel the debt of our sin and purchase salvation as well as its benefits for those who believe in him.  The Atonement (Christ’s death) was necessary because, otherwise, God would have simply let sin slide without its due punishment.  God took out his wrath on his Son, Jesus.  As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  This is called substitutionary atonement.

Arminians would say that Calvinists “limit” the atonement because Calvinists say Jesus only died for a select few–limiting Jesus’ power to save everyone.  By contrast, Arminians “limit” the atonement because they say that Jesus did not definitely purchase salvation for a select few, but that he only made it possible, so that people could come to faith in him.  “Particular Redemption” might be a better name for this doctrine because it shows that Jesus died to redeem a “particular” group of people, namely, his elect.

The doctrine of limited atonement asks “Who did Jesus die for.”  Most Evangelicals would answer “Everyone.”  And that would not be wrong in one sense.  In another sense though, Jesus only died for the elect, those who believe in his name for salvation.  Does Jesus’ death mean the same thing for a person who goes to heaven and a person who goes to hell?  Of course not!  For one it means mercy and grace; for the other, judgment and wrath.  First Timothy 4:10 says, “We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially those who believe.”  We can see that there is some kind of saving given to everyone, but not eternal life to everyone.  John Piper helps clear this up: “All of God’s mercy toward unbeliever–from the rising sun (Matthew 5:45) to the worldwide preaching of the gospel (John 3:16)–is made possible because of the cross.”   Though Jesus’ death does bring some kind benefit to non-Christians, he brings an altogether different benefit to Christians–salvation.  We can sum this up with this statement: Christ’s death is sufficient to forgive all, but effective only for those who believe.

There are many passages that plainly show that Christ died to obtain salvation for a certain group of people.  Here’s a few.

John 10:14-16, 26 says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd…but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”  Notice how Jesus said that he knows his own sheep and lays down his life for them.  He is bringing his flock together and when addressing the Jews here, he says, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”  Notice that it is not the other way around.  Their disbelief is dependent on their not being part of the flock.  Jesus is making it clear: I am NOT laying my life down for you.

John 17:6, 9 says, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.  Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word…I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”  Jesus is about to undergo his painful suffering and death for his church and during this prayer, with his crucifixion in mind, he is praying only for his sheep.

Revelation 5:9-10 says, “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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests of our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”  Jesus did not die for every person this way because every person is not saved.  Rather, John writes that people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” were ransomed.

With passages like this–that say Jesus atoned for a certain people’s sins and ransomed their souls for God–we can understand harder passages like 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  If “the whole world” really meant every person, then John would be arguing for universal salvation, which certainly isn’t true.  We would have to say this because the word “propitiation” refers to the removal of sin.  Someone who dies and goes to hell do not have their sins removed, therefore we can say, in one sense (the primary sense) that Jesus did not die for them.

Mark 10:45 shows this as well, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Finally, Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (cf. Is. 53:1; Matt. 20:28).

Here’s a beautiful quote from John Owen explaining this doctrine:

[If Jesus died for all men]…why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But his unbelief, is it sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be sin, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it; If this is so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins.

There are dozens of other Scriptures showing this wonderful truth.  May this not make you wander in your assurance.  If you confess Christ and hold to faith, your sins were atoned for.  Do not wander in your evangelism either.  Though this is an overwhelmingly clear teaching in Scripture, we must also preach the gospel because we also believe that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).  If you call on Jesus, then most certainly, he died for your sins.

Other reading on Limited Atonement:


One Way You Shouldn’t be Like Jesus

Jesus never wrote anything. He hung out, and talked, and healed. But if his followers had only done that, we wouldn’t know even that about him. Both-And, not Either-Or. And some people more one than the other.

– John Piper