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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 2 "God" Sec. B. "God the Son"

"Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord."

Nothing in this section is questionable in light of Scripture. I only wish there were more detail; it's difficult to squeeze every bit of biblical doctrine on a particular topic into a confession of faith focused on articulating central non-negotiables. This section does focus on the important things about the person of Christ: His identity and nature as the incarnated Son of God, His personal obedience to the Law, and the crown of His work of mediation at Calvary. Still, I wonder if the writers couldn't have easily included statements about Jesus' three offices (Prophet/Priest/King), and about how He fulfilled all of the major covenant promises of the Old Testament (especially the covenants made with Abraham and David).

In this section it is said that the cross made "provision" for the redemption of men from sin. While this is wholly true, I would personally want to also include a statement about the effectual nature of Christ's atonement for His people. It is a perfectly legitimate choice by the SBC to leave open the possibility of interpreting the Faith & Message (and the Bible) in a Calvinistic way or not with regard to the atonement. I am glad to see that the F&M at least uses the language of reconciliation being "effected" in the Person of Christ. Still, this can be interpreted in either way.

Even though it's a very specific doctrinal issue and the F&M takes neither a specifically positive nor negative position on it, the doctrine of the extent and effects of the atonement of Christ is an important enough doctrine to me that I must say a few words about it.

The Bible affirms a universal offer of the gospel (e.g. "Christ died and rose again for sinners such that if you put your trust in Him, you will be saved"). However, the Bible also affirms an electing particularity in God's saving love which is connected, not disconnected, with the means by which God saves--the cross of Christ. The limited extent of the atonement, though, is not a mere theological inference from unconditional election. It has both theological and biblical support, controversial as the interpretation of some passages may be.

I am not going to take the time to spell out in full detail here all the reasons particular redemption has strong biblical support. I can only mention several lines of reasoning and direct readers to an essay I wrote a while back which more fully fleshes out a few of these points:

Several lines of support for particular redemption include:
-Trinitarian agreement in the sovereign accomplishment and application of redemption
-The explicitly limited priestly intercession of Christ in Scripture (see John 17, Romans 8), which cannot be separated from His priestly work of atonement
-The objective nature of penal substitutionary atonement, as pictured in the Old Testament sacrificial system and fully accomplished in Christ (this is where John Owen's "double payment" argument comes in, and remains a forceful argument as long as one is careful to make important distinctions of the objective (decretal) and subjective (historical) aspects of a person's position before God, as well as affirming the truly objective nature of the atonement and it's direct connection with imputation)
-The blood of Christ explicitly purchases the New Covenant promises which in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31 portray unilateral divine activity in regeneration of His covenant people
-In Scripture, there are many places where the atonement is explicitly described in effectual (rather than merely provisional) terms. For example: (John 11:51-52; Revelation 5:9; and even 2nd Corinthians 5:14, one of the passages using universal language often used to argue against particular redemption, despite the fact that the "all" are said to die [in union with Christ according to Pauline categories], and hence are saved).

In summary, I love sections of evangelical confessions of faith about the person and work of the Son of God. These doctrines represent the very heart and center of the Christian faith. They also represent what will be the focus of our worship throughout the endless ages in glory, if Revelation has anything to say about the matter.

Details aside, we can all agree that Jesus has died for sinners, risen from the grave, reigns from heaven, is coming again, and offers all who hear the gospel eternal life through faith in His name. And for this I sing, "Hallelujah to the Lamb for He is worthy!"

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