“The God whose grace Paul proclaimed is the God who alone does great wonders. He creates the universe from nothing; he calls the dead to life; he justifies the ungodly. This third is the greatest wonder of all: creation and resurrection are consistent with the power of the living and life-giving God, but the justifying of the ungodly isprima facie a contradiction of his character as the righteous God, the Judge of all the earth, who by his own declaration “will not justify the ungodly” (Exodus 23:7). Yet such is the quality of divine grace that in the very act of extending it to the undeserving God demonstrates “that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).”
F.F. Bruce – Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 18-19
“In daring to write (and read) a book about the cross, there is of course a great danger of presumption. This is partly because what actually happened when “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” is a mystery whose depths we shall spend eternity plumbing; and partly because it would be most unseemly to feign a cool detachment as we contemplate Christ’s cross. For, whether we like it or not, we are involved. Our sins put him there. So, far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness. We can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit. And there we remain until the Lord Jesus speaks to our hearts his word of pardon and acceptance, and we, gripped by his love and full of thanksgiving, go out into the world to live our lives in his service.”
John Stott, The Cross of Christ. pg 12
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Check out the video featuring Garry Williams talking about Penal Substitution and definite atonement:
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Aussie theologian Graham Cole has a new book coming out in a few days called The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of Incarnation. I recently interviewed Graham about the book. Here is the transcript:
Most books have a back story behind the author writing the book what is the story behind you writing this book?
I made an observation to a friend, Don Carson, how the Old Testament speaks of God as though God were incarnate. Language about God’s eyes, heart, arms, fingers, hands etc. Technically put, this is anthropomorphic (human shaped) language. Next thing I know I have a book contract to explore the observation from one end of the Bible to the other.
What is the main idea you are trying to capture in this book?
The big idea is that God providentially in his Old Testament revelation of himself provides the conceptual framework such that when the incarnation takes place it can be understood. This was not seen in advance by Old Testament writers. They expected Yahweh to come to Zion and an agent of God’s kingdom to deliver them but an incarnation of the God of Israel? In Paul’s terms it was a mystery ( a secret now revealed as in 1 Timothy 3:16). But in retrospect the divine groundwork comes magnificently into view.
Are there any controversial theological issues regarding that incarnation that you are trying to address in this book?
I address a number. For example, would the incarnation have taken place if sin had not entered the world? Another is this. Is the missional centre of gravity in the New Testament the incarnation or the cross?
If you were going to preach a 4-6 week series on the incarnation what passages would select to preach on and what would you want to be getting out of each passage?
The series would explore ‘The Purpose of the Incarnation’
Week 1: To Reveal the Father to Us (John 1:1-18)
Week 2: To Redeem the Enslaved (Galatians 4:4-7)
Week 3: To Defeat the Devil for Us (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Week 4: To Represent Us Eternally (Hebrews 7:11-28)
What do you hope that readers get out of reading this book?
God so loved the world he did not send a surrogate (e.g. a wise person or a prophet) but His own beloved Son who in becoming one of us knows the human condition from the inside. At the tomb side of Lazarus he wept a human tear (John 11:35). I hope that the book leads to doxology: the praise of God at the wonder of the incarnation.
And finally, what do you miss most about Australia?
I miss our children, grandchildren and great food.
I have blogged about Definite Atonement before here. There are significant pastoral implications and reasons why we should hold to Definite Atonement. Don Carson lists two:
(1) This approach, I content, must surely come as a relief to young preachers in the Reformed tradition who hunger to preach the Gospel effectively but who do not know how far they can go in saying things such as “God loves you” to unbelievers. When I have preached or lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question, “Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?” No doubt the question is put to me because I still do a fair bit of evangelism, and people want models. Historically, Reformed theology at its best has never been slow in evangelism. Ask George Whitefield, for instance, or virtually all the main lights in the Southern Baptist Convention until the end of the last century. From what I have already said, it is obvious that I have no hesitation in answering this question from young Reformed preachers affirmatively: Of course I tell the unconverted that God loves them.
Not for a moment am I suggesting that when one preaches evangelistically, one ought to retreat to passages of the third type (above), holding back on the fourth type until after a person is converted. There is something sleazy about that sort of approach. Certainly it is possible to preach evangelistically when dealing with a passage that explicitly teaches election. Spurgeon did this sort of thing regularly. But I am saying that, provided there is an honest commitment to preaching the whole counsel of God, preachers in the Reformed tradition should not hesitate for an instant to declare the love of God for a lost world, for lost individuals. The Bible’s ways of speaking about the love of God are comprehensive enough not only to permit this but to mandate it. [Footnote 4: Cf. somewhat similar reflections by Hywel R. Jones, “Is God Love?” in Banner of Truth Magazine 412 (January 1998), 10-16.]
(2) At the same time, to preserve the notion of particular redemption proves pastorally important for many reasons. If Christ died for all people with exactly the same intent, as measured on any axis, then it is surely impossible to avoid the conclusion that the ultimate distinguishing mark between those who are saved and those who are not is their own will. That is surely ground for boasting. This argument does not charge the Arminian with no understanding of grace. After all, the Arminian believes that the cross is the ground of the Christian’s acceptance before God; the choice to believe is not in any sense the ground. Still, this view of grace surely requires the conclusion that the ultimate distinction between the believer and the unbeliever lies, finally, in the human beings themselves. That entails an understanding of grace quite different, and in my view far more limited, than the view that traces the ultimate distinction back to the purposes of God, including his purposes in the cross. The pastoral implications are many and obvious.
Taken from The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.
If you want to more on definite atonement check out the forthcoming book by David and Jonny Gibson From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective
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Liberal Christianity is a wing of the church which tries to modify or change some of the central beliefs of Christianity so that the modern world, in which we are in, would see Christianity as more acceptable. But if you do this type of theological and ethical surgery to Christianity do you still have Christianity when you are done?
One of the greatest books on Liberal Christianity is Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. In it he says that Liberal Christianity is not Christianity at all. Here is his conclusion:
What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age? It is this problem which modern liberalism attempts to solve. Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion — against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection — the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting “the essence of Christianity.” As a matter of fact… what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.
I think Machen is correct in his assessment of Liberal Christianity. Because, in the end, when you take out the guts of the gospel you are left with no Gospel at all.
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One of the things I loved about being at college was figuring out what the Bible said about various theological issues. While at college I studied various issues like the atonement, gender, church government, church discipline, the 39 articles, baptism,etc. in an effort to come to a position on each of them. One of my biggest shifts theologically was going from a person who believed that Jesus died effectively for all to believing that Jesus died purposely for the elect. At college I embraced the doctrine of definite atonement.Many theologians and well known pastors hold to the biblical doctrine of definite atonement. Here is the eminent pastor/ scholar himself John Piper explaining why he holds to definite atonement:
Hand in glove with the doctrine of our disabling depravity is the doctrine of God’s effective purchase of his people on the cross. The reason it’s like hand and glove is that our inability because of sin calls for a kind of redemption that does more than offer us a forgiveness we don’t have the ability to receive. Rather, it calls for a redemption that effectively purchases not only our forgiveness but also our willingness to receive it. In other words, the unwilling glove of depravity calls for the insertion of a powerful hand of ability-giving redemption.
Sometimes this doctrine is called “limited atonement.” It’s not a helpful term. Better would be the terms definite atonement or particular redemption. The reason limited atonement isn’t helpful is that, in fact, the doctrine affirms more, not less, about Christ’s work in redemption than its rival view called “unlimited atonement.”
The view of unlimited atonement takes all the passages that say the death of Christ is “for us” (Rom. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:10), or for his own “sheep” (John 10:11, 15), or for “the church” (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25), or for “the children of God” (John 11:52), or for “those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14) and makes them refer to all human beings. In this “unlimited atonement” view, the sentence “Christ died for you” means: Christ died for all sinners, so that if you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins.
Now as far as it goes, this seems to me to be biblical teaching— salvation is offered to all because of Christ. But then this view deniessomething that I think the Bible teaches. It denies that Christ died for his church—his bride (Eph. 5:25)—in any way different from the way he died for unbelievers who never come to faith.
There is no dispute that Christ died to obtain great saving benefits for all who believe. Moreover, I have no dispute with saying that Christ died so that we might say to all persons everywhere without exception: “God gave his only begotten Son to die for sin so that if you believe on him you will have eternal life.”
The dispute rather is whether God intended for the death of Christ to obtain more than these two things—more than (1) saving benefits after faith, and (2) a bona fide offer of blood-bought salvation to every person on the planet. Specifically, did God intend for the death of Christ to obtain the free gift of faith (Eph. 2:8) and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25)? Did the blood of Jesus obtain not only the benefits that comeafter faith but also the gift of faith itself?
We want to be biblical. Does the unlimited atonement interpretation of any of the “universal” texts on the atonement necessarily contradict thismore that I am affirming about God’s intention for the death of Christ—texts like John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; and 1 John 2:1–2?
I don’t think so…
…The fact that God makes salvation possible for all through the blood of Christ does not contradict the view that God does more than that through the death of Christ. I don’t affirm that God does less but that he does more. He actually secures the salvation of his chosen people. He secures all the grace needed for their salvation, including the grace of regeneration and faith.
Paul says in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This was a particular redemption. Christ had his bride in view differently than he had all in view. He knew his bride, and he wanted his bride, and he bought his bride. Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). He said, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you [Father] have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). He said, “And for their sake I consecrate myself [to die], that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). In other words,Christ had a specific design in his death for the sake of his people—the cross would be sufficient for the salvation of the world, but efficient for his sheep, his bride.
And Paul carried through this understanding of Christ’s work when he said in Romans 8:32–33, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” God’s elect in verse 33 are the same as the “us all” in verse 32. This group, he says, will most surely receive “all things.” God will see to it. And the reason Paul gives is that Christ did not spare his own Son but gave him up “for us all.” That means that the giving of the Son guarantees all the blessings of the elect.
This does not limit the extent of what the atonement offers. The benefits of the atonement are offered to everyone.
If you believe on Christ, they are all yours. But “the Lord knows those who are his” (2 Tim. 2:19). For them, for his bride, he is securing something that cannot fail—their faith and their justification and their glorification. Those for whom he died, in this fullest sense, will most certainly obtain all things—they will finally inherit the kingdom of God. His death is infallibly effective for the elect.
–pg. 136-138, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper (Crossway, 2011)
The reason that all Christians should believe in definite atonement because only when we see the atonement is for the elect can we say Jesus died to save without reservation or qualification.
If you want to read more on the biblical doctrine of definite atonement make sure you pre order the book that my good friend Jonny Gibson and his brother David edited From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral PerspectiveWith contributors like J. I. Packer, Henri A. Blocher, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Paul Helm, Robert Letham, John Piper, Thomas R. Schreiner,Carl R. Trueman , Lee Gatiss, Donald Macleod, J. Alec Motyer, Garry J. Williams this will be the book on definite atonement.You may also like:
The Holy Spirit is always a contentious topic among Christians. People are generally confused about his person and work and so it is important to have some great books on the Holy Spirit to help us along as we explore what the Bible says about the Spirit. I have found the following books immensely helpful for studying what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit.
Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God by J.I Packer. This book is awesome for those looking for both biblical/theological in put on this Holy Spirit as well as pastoral application. If you only buy one book on the Holy Spirit buy this one.
He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit by Graham Cole. This book is an in depth theological look at what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Good for pastors and those who are in Bible/Theological College or are going to College.
Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers by Graham Cole. This is a super practical book which answers a lot of the common and controversial questions about the Holy Spirit in a readable and theologically informed way.
The Holy Spirit (Contours of Christian Theology) by Sinclair Ferguson. This is another great book on the Holy Spirit whose strength is explaining the theology of the Spirit.
Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14 by Don Carson. This book looks that those tricky passages in 1 Corinthians 12-14 with a view to pastoral application of those passages. It has boat loads of great application for those thinking through charismatic theology and the Holy Spirit.
Jonathan Edwards: On Revival by Jonathan Edwards. Buy this book for the chapter Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. It is very practical and relevant for our times in working out what is true revival or a move of the Holy Spirit and what isn’t.
What books on the Holy Spirit would you add to this list?
Tom Wright is one of the most influential figures in contemporary theology. He has three books coming out on Paul. I had the opportunity to interview him and here is the interview:
You are coming with three different book on Paul and his theology. What are you trying to achieve in each book?
The first book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, is actually two volumes and is the major work on Paul. The second, Paul and His Recent Interpreters, is the story of recent Pauline scholarship which explains in effect what the debates are to which the book is contributing. The third, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013, is a collection of all the articles I’ve written about Paul over the last 35 years except for those which are in Climax of the Covenant: Christ And The Law In Pauline Theology (1991).
How do the three books compliment each other?
They complement one another because the articles offer detailed back-up for the major exposition (e.g. there’s no room in the big book for a 50-page article on Abraham in Romans 4 and Galatians 3!) and explain where the discipline of Pauline studies has come from.
What do you hope that readers get out of the books?
I hope and pray that readers gain a big, big picture of who Paul actually was in his full and wider culture – Jewish, Greek, Roman, religious, philosophical, cultural, political and above all spiritual – and will be stimulated to get stuck into fresh readings of his letters for themselves.
How has writing these three books impacted you spiritually?
It has been a major and wonderful task of prayer as much as thought. Several friends have been praying for me all the way and their prayers have really helped as I have wrestled with huge issues and tried to make them clear. Again and again the insights I’ve needed to take the book forward have been as much a matter of prayer as of study. That doesn’t mean they’re right, of course . . .
Some of your perspectives on Paul has been have been critiqued quite strongly, in what ways will these books help you answer some of your critics objections to your work?
These books will set my perspectives on Paul in a MUCH larger context than before so that the controversial issues will be approached from many different converging angles. For instance: ‘justification’ and ‘the law’ are set where they belong in Paul’s wider world, which is the revision, through Messiah and spirit, of the Jewish doctrine of God’s people (= ‘election’).
Whose critique of your work have you most profited from and why?
That’s difficult. I covet good criticism but many conservative critics haven’t really taken the trouble to understand what I’m saying and most of the more liberal critics have hardly noticed my work! I hope this will make a difference.
What do you see lacking in the contemporary reformed position on justification and how do you outline justification in these books?
Justification is the hugely important central feature of Romans and Galatians, two of the most stunning letters ever written. When we place it – as Paul does – within the story of Israel, and the inclusion into that story of believing Gentiles, we discover how many-sided it really is. It all depends of course on the utter free grace of God given in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and made effective through the spirit: placing chapter 10 of my book (election, including justification) right after chapter 9 (the revision of monotheism through Messiah and spirit) enables Paul’s fully Trinitarian framework to be seen as the framework for justification too; and then chapter 11 (eschatology) shows that likewise you need the full story, right through to the end, to understand what justification is. Within that larger framework, justification is God’s declaration that his people are ‘in the right’. God made that declaration over Jesus the Messiah when he raised him from the dead; he will make that declaration over all his people at the last when he raises us from the dead. Present justification is held between those two events, founded on the first and anticipating the second. To believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus as ‘for me’ is to believe that God is already saying, over ‘me’, what he said over Jesus in his baptism: ‘this is my beloved child’. This is the ground of Christian assurance and also of all ecumenical work, since justification is the same for all of us. That’s one of the main points Paul is making.
You have written a quite vastly, if someone has heard of you but never has read one of your books what would be the best book for them to start with?
Depends entirely on where they are coming from! For someone who likes good big chunky books, I’d say, start with The New Testament and the People of God Volume 1 . For someone who reads shorter books, start with either Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense or How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. For someone facing bereavement or puzzled about the’rapture’ and all that – read Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church…
How many books are there still to write in the Christian Origins and The Question of God series and what will they be on?
Supposedly, two more: one on the gospels and one on the early Christian mission as a whole. Don’t hold your breath, though!
Thanks again for your time, I really appreciate it!
Some people find the idea of God demanding we worship him uncomfortable or plain wrong. It seems like God is arrogant. I mean If I said “I am the greatest in the world worship me!” you would find me arrogant wouldn’t you? Well the same goes for God than doesn’t it? Or does it?
Paul Copan in his book Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Answers the question “Is God Arrogant” like this:
Pride, we know, is an inflated view of ourselves—a false advertising campaign promoting ourselves because we suspect that others won’t accept who we really are.2 Pride is actually a lie about our own identity or achievements. To be proud is to live in a world propped up with falsehoods about ourselves, taking credit where credit isn’t due.
What then is humility? This involves having a realistic assessment of ourselves—our weaknesses and strengths.
Well, then, is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship. In fact, our word worship is a kind of contraction of the Old English word weorthscipe—or “worth-ship.” So if an all-powerful but despicably evil being demanded our worship, we shouldn’t give it to him. He wouldn’t be worthy of worship.
So God can demand our worship because he alone is worthy of our worship!
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