March 5, 2013 § 1 Comment
In this final post concerning the biblical covenants and its relation to the extent of the atonement, we will look at how Christ’s work as mediator of the new covenant entails a particular redemption. This is the second step in Dr. Stephen Wellum’s overview of the extent of the atonement found in Kingdom Through Covenant.
Christ’s Work As Mediator Of The New Covenant Entails A Particular Redemption
Dr. Wellum begins this section by reiterating the necessity of understanding the atoning work of Jesus in light of its new covenantal context in which Jesus functions as great high priest and mediator. He writes that “one cannot think of Christ’s priestly work, including its design, apart from the biblical covenants, especially the old covenant,” and that to understand its nature and design “it must be viewed in light of the new covenant.”(1) This is because “Jesus’ whole work was a covenant work; His blood covenant blood, His priesthood covenant priesthood, His office as Mediator a covenant office.”(2) Therefore, the questions regarding the scope, extent, or design of the death must be answered in reference to this covenant.
Wellum then asks these essential questions in reference to the covenantal work of the atonement: “What is the scope, extent, and design of the new covenant? Is it a general covenant made with everybody making salvation possible for everyone, if they will take it? Or, is it a limited covenant made only with certain men assuring their eternal salvation?”(3) Whom does Christ as high priest of the new covenant represent in his death and apply the fruits of that covenant to? Does he represent all people universally, or does he represent a particular people who are effectively brought to salvation and receive all the benefits of the new covenant?
Wellum takes the latter view and proposes that “Christ’s atoning work cannot be extended to all people without also extending the new covenant privileges to them, which minimally includes regeneration, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so on.” He contends that thinking otherwise removes the work of Christ from its covenantal context, “which is precisely the problem with general atonement views.”
Wellum again states that general atonement advocates have two options, either they redefine the nature of the new covenant or argue that Christ dies as the covenantal head of another covenant, both of which he says is biblically “unsustainable.” In giving these two options, Wellum also observes that general atonement advocates often divorce their view from covenantal categories and chose to deal heavily on “world” and “all” texts without discussing the biblical categories of “priest” and “covenant.”
In the subsequent paragraph, Dr. Wellum asks an important question: “Who are the subjects in the new covenant?” He asks whether the new covenant is like the covenant of old, entailing a “mixed” group (believers and unbelievers) with Christ representing all people, making salvation possible for them, or does he represent a particular group who’s salvation is effectively secured giving them all of the covenant benefits? Wellum again affirms the latter, and gives three reasons.
First, “Christ’s priestly work is a new covenant work (Luke 2:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Hebrews 5-10). Wellum writes that “He is the mediator of this alone and no other.”
Second, the “newness” of the new covenant community is seen in that all those in it know God (Jer. 31:34a ), all are born of the Spirit and have new hearts (Jer. 31:33; cf. Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32) , and all experience full justification for their sins (Jer. 31:34b; Rom. 8:1). Wellum goes on to cite that this is precicely what the OT prophets anticipated, that the Spirit would be poured out on all those in the covenant community, and that the NT affirms that those in the new covenant enjoy the promised gift of the Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). Wellum also notes that the work of the Spirit is grounded in the cross work of Christ (John 7:39; 16:7; Acts 2:33), and that as a result of the covenant work, the Spirit is sent to those in the new covenant, since the Spirit is one of the gifts purchased by the atoning work of Christ. Wellum writes, the Spirit is “the precious seal, down payment, and guarantee of the promised inheritance,” and is only given to those in the covenant (Romans 8:9).
Wellum then summarizes the importance of his assertions by writing
“Why is this important to emphasise? Given that Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant in terms of both provision and application, it is difficult to deny, unless we want to affirm universalism, that Christ’s priestly work is particular and effective. In other words, all those in the new covenant, for whom Jesus acted as the covenant mediator, are, in time, regenerated, justified, and brought to glory. Not one of them is lost, since our Lord Jesus, as the greater priest and mediator of a greater covenant, does not fail. For those for whom Christ died as their covenant head, his work is effectively applied by the Spirit–the same Spirit who cannot be divorced from the new covenant, since he is one of the central blessings Jesus has secured by his atoning death.”
Wellum’s third reason is given by proposing two problems for general atonement advocates in light of his analysis. The first problem is posed in a question, “for whom did Christ die as mediator?” If it is affirmed that he died as new covenant mediator, then “their ‘new covenant’ is no more effective than the old, since many people in that covenant never have new covenant blessings applied to them.” Essentially, they must view the new covenant as a “mixed” community, and that Jesus, as the greater priest fails to apply his work to all within the new covenant. Wellum states that “in the end, general atonement advocates have to redefine the people of the new covenant and place faith and repentance (tied to the work of the Spirit) outside of the priestly work of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The second problem Wellum sees in the general atonement view is that they divide “the provision of salvation from its application,” and that they fail to acknowledge that both are central to the covenant work of Christ. He states that as priest and mediator, Jesus dies for all those who are in the new covenant, and as covenant head, he secures all the benefits of the new covenant. He states that in this way, “our Lord provides and supplies, which is why it is certain that his greater work will not fail.”
Wellum explains that the work of application by the Spirit takes place throughout history, and is rooted in the plan of the triune God. Wellum outlines this plan as follows: the Father elects, the Son achieves and secures everything necessary to save the elect, and the Spirit is sent by the Father and Son “to apply the benefits of the Son’s work to every subject of the new covenant.”
Dr. Wellum concludes by restating two convictions argued for in this overview. First, “that a proper understanding of the biblical covenants has massive implication for the debate over the extent of the atonement.” Second, that “a major problem with general atonement advocates, whether they are Arminian or modified Calvinists, is that they fail to locate the priestly work of our Lord in its covenantal context.” He argues that Christ’s work as priest and mediator of the new covenant entails a particular redemption, which does not break “the crucial link between Christ and his people,” and which sees Christ as purchasing, securing, and applying everything necessary to bring his people to the end for which his death was designed, eternal rest.
- All quotations, unless noted, are taken from Kingdom Through Covenant, pp 672-679.
- Samuel Waldron with Richard Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2004), 59-60.
- Waldron with Barcellos, Reformed Baptist Manifesto, 60.
February 21, 2013 § 8 Comments
In the preceding post, it was advocated that the sacrificial death of Jesus must be viewed in a covenantal context. In this covenantal context, Jesus must be viewed as the antitypical fulfillment of the types and patterns put forth in the Old Testament who functions as the great high priest and covenant mediator of a better and new covenant. It has also been proposed that placing Jesus in the typological role of great high priest and covenant mediator entails a definite, limited, or particular atonement. This short summary will begin where the last one left off, by overviewing the first part of Dr. Stephen Wellum’s argument for particular redemption.
Christ’s Work As Our Great High Priest Is A Unified Work
The theological concept of a “unified work” is that as great high priest, the intent of Jesus’ death “was not only to achieve the redemption of a particular people but also to secure everything necessary to bring those same people to the end for which his death was designed, namely, the full forgiveness of sin and all the blessings of the new covenant including the gift of the Spirit, who effectively applies his work to those whom the Son represents.”(1)
Wellum sets out to prove the argument of Christ’s unified work as priest by first demonstrating how Jesus function as such. He writes, “the New Testament is clear that our Lord is the antitypical fulfillment of the Old Testament priest.” He then bolsters this claim with five points of comparison and contrast with texts found mainly in Hebrews (5:1-10;8:1-10:18). I will summarize these important points below.
- Similar to the OT (Old Testament) priests, Jesus was appointed and met the required qualifications (Heb. 5:4-6; cf. Psalm 2; 110).
- Similar to the OT priests, Jesus represented a particular people. On this important point, Wellum mentions the fact that “nowhere in the Old Testament does the priest make atonement for all the nations or function as a universal mediator.”
- Similar to the OT priests, Jesus offered a sacrifice. However, in contrast to the OT priests, Jesus’ sacrifice is a once-for-all-time sacrifice and is “able to save completely those who come to God through him” (Heb. 7:25).
- Similar to the OT priests, yet in greater fashion, Jesus’ work cannot entail a separation between the provision and application of the atonement. This means that there is no distinction between the achieving and the applying of covenant benefits to those in the covenant (Heb. 8:4-5; 9:11-15, 24).
- In contrast to the OT priests, who’s work was unified yet imperfect, Jesus’ work is both unified and perfect.
It is in at least these five ways that Jesus functions as the antitypical fulfillment of the OT priests who’s work involves a particular redemption.
To further his argument, Dr. Wellum next moves to demonstrate the particular nature of Jesus’ intercession by writing that “there is no evidence that he intercedes salvifically for the non-elect.” He demonstrates that in every case before (Luke 22:31-22; John 17:6ff) and after the cross (Rom. 8:32-34; Heb. 7:24-25; 1 John 2:1-2), Jesus only intercedes on behalf of the elect. Not only does Jesus only intercede for the elect, his prayers are effective for them as
“he always lives to intercede” for his covenant people. His intercession brings about the application of covenant blessings to the elect.
Wellum then claims that “the problem with all general atonement views is that they fragment Christ’s priestly work of offering and intercession.” As a result of this, Wellum gives two options for general atonement advocates, “either they must view Christ’s work apart from these typological patterns and not discuss the atonement within the constraints of these biblical categories, or they must separate Christ’s intercession from his death, thus dividing his priestly work.”
Dr. Wellum gives examples of two such argument and reveals how each fails to place Jesus in the context of a unified, covenantal, and priestly work. The first argument puts forward the idea that Jesus’ intercession is saving and effective yet does not take place until people believe. Wellum contends that the problem with this view is threefold. First, this view fails to view Christ’s work as unified. Second, it fails to acknowledge that Christ interceded for his people while on earth. Third, it separates Jesus’ death from its covenant context and has Jesus dying for non-covenant members.
The second argument proposes that Christ’s intercession may be viewed as salvific for the non-elect. By appealing to Luke 23:24, it has been proposed that “intercession unto salvation is something that is available to all but only effectual for those who are in Christ.”(2) Wellum argues that such an interpretation divorces Christ intercession from biblical categories by failing to understand that “all we know of priests is that they intercede for those they represent.” He also proposes that if this is true, then Christ failed in his priestly work as he interceded and died salvifically for those who have not been redeemed.
Dr. Wellum concludes his argument for particular redemption in Christ’s unified work by citing and disputing two responses typically given by general atonement advocates. The first response suggests that Christ represents the entire human race–a result of the incarnation. He rejects this response by again recalling the pattern of particular representation by the OT priests and by demonstrating that Christ’s death does not fail to save those whom he covenantally represents (Heb. 2:5-18). He writes that if this were not true, then “Christ’s representative headship would not have achieved what it was intended to achieve.”
The second response rebutted by Wellum suggests that since the OT priests offered sacrifices on behalf of a “mixed” people (the understanding that Israel contained both believer and unbeliever), so Christ’s atonement could be offered to all without exception. His rebuttal is threefold. First, atonement by the OT priests for only the covenant people moves in a particular direction. Second, one must realize the ineffectual and typological nature of the OT priest and move to the perfectly effectual antitype in relation to the extent of the atonement. Third, the argument fails to see the discontinuity between the old and new covenants by making the new covenant no more effectual than the old and by failing to acknowledge the difference between the mixed covenant community of old and the regenerate community of the new covenant.
In the post to follow we will unpack the second and final argument in Kingdom Through Covenant for particular atonement by looking at Christ’s work as the new covenant mediator.
- All quotations are taken from Kingdom Through Covenant, pp. 672-679.
- Gary Shultz, “A Biblical and Theological Defense of a Multi-Intentional View of the Extent of the Atonement” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008), 155, fn. 195.
February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
In this short series I would like to present an overview of Dr. Stephen J. Wellum’s theological argument concerning Christ’s work as priest and mediator of the new covenant and how it applies to the extent of the atonement. At the outset it must be made clear that Dr. Wellum is arguing that Scripture presents the atonement made by Jesus as Definite, Particular, or Limited. This overview can be found in his recent work, Kingdom Through Covenant (1),co-written with Dr. Peter J. Gentry. In Kingdom Through Covenant, the authors set out to present a biblical-theological structure of the Bible that is a via media (middle way) between Dispensational and Covenant Theology. The authors do so by unpacking at great length the overall nature and structure of the biblical covenants, their progression on the plain of salvation-history, and their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. However, the focus of this short series will be over the extent of the atonement, one of many issues dealt with in the final chapter of this recent work which outlines some of the major theological implications of this via media.
The question proposed by the author is essentially this, “What do the biblical covenants have to do with the extent of the atonement?” The answer given by Dr. Wellum’s is that it has everything to do with the atonement. He, echoing the arguments of many others before him, states that you cannot rightly understand the atonement of Jesus outside of a priestly-covenantal context (2). Evidence for this claim is found in many texts, but it is found most clearly in the book of Hebrews, where Jesus is portrayed as the “great high priest” of a “better” and “new covenant.” Additionally, Wellum states that this is precisely the problem of those who advocate a general atonement view when he writes, “the problem with all general atonement views is that they must divide Christ’s unified priestly work, redefine Christ’s relation as priest to his people, and ultimately make ineffective his work as head of the new covenant–all points that Scripture will not allow.”(3) Therefore, Dr. Wellum contends that most who argue from a general atonement position seem to neglect the covenantal and priestly nature of Jesus’ work in inaugurating the new covenant, an error which he believes leads to missing the “power of the argument for definite atonement.”(4)
Dr. Wellum sets up his treatise by showing that the essential elements of the debate are threefold: one must biblically and theologically explain the purpose, design, and intent of Jesus’ death. As far as the intent is concerned, Wellum shows that there are primarily three positions. First, Christ’s death creates a possibility of salvation to any who would believe (the Arminian view). Second, the “Modified Calvinist” view, says that the intent was multiple, meaning, the cross secures salvation for the elect, but also that payment was made for all so that it is possible for all who believe to be saved. Third, Christ’s death was intended to “render certain the salvation of the elect.”(5) The latter view of the atonement, synonymously labeled Limited, Definite, or Particular atonement is the view advocated by Wellum in his overview relating the biblical covenants to the priestly work of Jesus on the cross. Of this view he writes, “Christ died for the purpose of saving only those to whom he actually applies the benefits of his work. As such, the intention and outcome of the cross are in harmony, and the cross work of Christ serves as the sole ground for our salvation in achieving and securing everything necessary to apply it to our lives by the Spirit.”(6)
Wellum outlines his argument for a particular redemption in two steps. First, he argues that Christ’s work as great high priest is a unified work. Second, he argues that Christ’s work as mediator of the new covenant entails a particular representation. We will unpack these two steps in the posts to follow.
1. Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 670-683.
2. These are resources cited by Wellum in a footnote on page 672: John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1648; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1983); Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:403-486; Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:455-475; Louis Berkof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1941), 361-405; Gary D. Long, Definite Atonement (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1977); Tom Barnes, Atonement Matters (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2008); Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 486-520.
3. Kingdom Through Covenant, 672.
4. Ibid., 671.
January 28, 2013 § 7 Comments
Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of my friend, Jesse Berlin. I will most likely never forget the phone call I received the morning of January 28, 2012 from a mutual friend who was closest to Jesse. The phone call began with these words: “Jesse’s dead man, he’s dead.” That statement, combined with my friend’s distraught tone of voice was the most haunting thing I had ever heard. That moment and those words rang in my ears for weeks, and I can still hear it today.
Jesse’s death was completely unexpected. Jesse was a 21 year old guy in seemingly excellent physical condition. He had no bad habits or health abuses leading to his death, and far as I know, his autopsy revealed no clear reason for his death. He was simply taken. He spent his last night on this earth rehearsing with his band, going out to dinner with his parents, and playing guitar for them in their living room. Jesse eventually retired to his room at the end of the night. Nothing was out of place.
It was the next morning that I received the news. I had first received a series of texts from mutual friends communicating to me that Jesse was rushed to the hospital and was not breathing. However, I had no idea as to the severity of the situation. Upon reading the messages I quickly texted Jesse’s closest friend, Derrick, and resolved to pray for Jesse. It was only moments later that I received the phone call I will never forget. Derrick and I both wept and prayed together, which was only the beginning of the mourning that would follow.
I traveled to St. Louis for the viewing and funeral still in shock over the situation. Growing up, I had never lost any friends or loved ones in such a way as this, and even if I had, I imagine that there is no way I could have prepared myself for those moments. I could never have prepared for the tears, the sorrow, and the darkness I witnesses in the eyes of many who had gathered to honor and mourn for their son, brother, cousin, and friend. Everyone was in a state of shock, speaking of how they had just seen Jesse the day or week before, and how he had his whole life ahead of him. It was all so surreal.
But despite the shock, there was deep sorrow. There was incredible pain for those of us who knew Jesse. You see, Jesse was a kind man, and the kind of man you would want as your friend. He was loyal, trustworthy, and honest. Anyone who had ever spent five minutes with him knew that he was extremely funny and had a great sense of humor. He was light-hearted, yet passionate. I am thankful to have been his friend. It is difficult to look back on our friendship and remember anything but joy. To put it simply, Jesse was a joy to all who were able to share his presence. The joy experienced by those who were around Jesse is reason why his death hurt so much, and continues to hurt as much as it does.
The reason I am writing today is twofold: First, I want to honor my old friend. I loved Jesse. We had some incredible times together. I am thankful to have even known him, and honored to have shared the same stage with him. Jesse will be missed for a tremendously long time. Second, experiencing the sorrow of Jesse’s death reminded me of something greater, the Gospel of Jesus. As I was sitting in the funeral service for Jesse, the Spirit of God led my thoughts beyond what we could immediately see. What was immediate was the lifeless body of my friend, a reminder that death is a reality to all, young or old, and can come at any time. But even though death was before my eyes, with all of its sadness, all I could think about was the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Even in those moments of sorrow and seeming despair, I was reminded, strengthened, and comforted by the hope and glory of Jesus’ death on the cross for sins and his victory over death in being raised from the dead.
As the service unfolded, I was overcome by the truth and hope of the Gospel, which proclaims that through Jesus, death does not win. Death does not have the final say because it has been overcome. Yes, death has been overcome by Jesus, who by his dying and being raised defeated death by death. In the resurrection Jesus won a powerful victory over sin and death, so that its power does not reign supreme, as it has been revealed that those who’s trust and joy are in Jesus will someday share in his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-58).
It is because of this Gospel that I can rejoice in sorrow and have hope that I will someday see my friend Jesse again. But until then, I will continue to be strengthened by the words of the apostle Paul written to the troubled church in Corinth so many years ago.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
January 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
This is a message about the Gospel and entitlement.
It is no stretch to say that we live in an age and culture of entitlement. We are living in an age where many people, especially the young, believe they are owed so many different things. People expect to be given certain privileges, certain comforts, certain goods, certain standards of living that perhaps for centuries human beings lived without. This is especially true in America, where the idea of unalienable rights, such as “Life Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are the foundation of our country. But what happens when the attitude of entitlement goes beyond than this? What happens when men and women live with an attitude of entitlement toward God? What happens when men and women look at their circumstances in life and think that they deserve better?
Before continuing, I want to state that between men, there are certain things which I believe we are entitled to, certain things which Scripture promotes. I believe that Life and Liberty are among those. I also believe that men and women are given the right to pursue happiness. In fact, this is what God created us for and what he desires most in us. God wants us to pursue our happiness and joy in him! But unfortunately, this God-given right has been hijacked and perverted by the human race as we have pursued pleasure in the created and not the Creator.
But what about the relationship between God and man? What, in relation to God, are we entitled to? This is more of what I want to talk about here. The question is this: what does God owe us? The answer to this question is simple: nothing. God does not owe man anything. He never has, and he never will. There is nothing in all of creation that we can claim from God. As creator, the universe belongs to him, all created things living or inanimate, all things are his and he owns the right to use them as he chooses. He is sovereign over them.
Additionally, the issue of entitlement goes deeper than this. In one sense, God owes us nothing. He owes us nothing of material value. Everything that we have, our possessions and even the life itself on this earth is given freely and graciously by God. However, in another sense, there is something that we are owed by God. We might come to find what this is by asking this question: what have we earned in the sight of God? The answer to this: death. One might ask how can this be so. How can we go from God owing us nothing to God owing us death? I believe that for the answer to this question, we must look to the Gospel.
The Gospel says this about our condition: at the beginning of time, God created mankind to have eternal fellowship with him in, starting in the Garden of Eden. However, God gave man one condition to this fellowship: that he not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
What we see is that God created man to live in perfect communion with him, enjoying his presence forever on the condition that he not eat from just one tree. In addition, God clearly states the penalty, or the punishment deserved for disobeying his one command: death. God says that man will die. Many of you know how this story unfolds; Adam and Eve, the very first two humans to walk the earth violate this command of God, committing the first human sin, and earning death for all of humanity.
Therefore, we can state this: since Adam and Eve sinned, men and women are entitled to one thing: eternal punishment away from the presence of God in a place called hell. This point is made very clear in Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he states “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). This teaches that the consequence of sin is death. Paul is making it clear that sin against the eternal and infinitely holy God is deserving of death. The death that Paul is referring to is both physical and spiritual in a place that the Bible commonly calls hell. It is a place away from the glorious presence of God (2 Thess. 1:9), it is fiery, it is lonely, and it is a place of unceasing anguish. It is described as being filled with people who are constantly weeping and gnashing their teeth. After looking at the biblical description (there is much more than what I have given here),we see that hell is far worse than anything the human mind can imagine. Yet, this is the only thing that we are entitled to.
However, the Gospel does not end here. No, it is from here that the Gospel begins to shatter our sense of entitlement. Scripture reveals to us that from the beginning of time, God had decided to give us what we don’t deserve: a way back into a right relationship with him for all eternity. God’s plan to save mankind was fully realized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Jesus died as a substitution for those who would come to faith in him. Jesus then, took the punishment of death that we were entitled to. Jesus did this to satisfy the wrath of God that burned against our sin, the sin that had earned us death. As a result, God made a way through Jesus for those who have faith and pursue their joy in him to get everything they don’t deserve: eternal life in communion with the God of the universe!
Therefore, the Gospel of Jesus is everything we do not deserve. It is the superlative of unfairness! The Gospel gives wretched sinners life though they deserve death. The Gospel of Jesus comes to us as a result of the innocent dying for the guilty. The Gospel tells the story of grace. It is a reminder of what we deserve and what we are given. If anything, the Gospel should humble us and sober our sense of entitlement. The Gospel reveals that we are sinners deserving of hell, yet the God of grace sent his only Son to die and give us life. In doing this the Gospel dismantles our claims of entitlement by demonstrating that all we have is of grace. Let us not presume of God, but be thankful that we do not always get what we deserve.