Home > doctrines, S. Lewis Johnson > The John Bunyan Conference Atonement Series: S. Lewis Johnson’s Last Teaching Series

The John Bunyan Conference Atonement Series: S. Lewis Johnson’s Last Teaching Series


Among the full collection at the SLJ Institute, I’m now listening to a series I had often heard about, SLJ’s atonement series from the John Bunyan Conference.  Following are my general observations after listening to the first nine of the 18 messages.

As a set of messages from a conference, it’s quite different from the standard lecture series at Believers Chapel.  These messages were given in 1997, when Dr. Johnson was 81 years old, three years after his last messages taught at Believers Chapel.  The series is a topical one, with what at first seems a rather eclectic selection of passages unrelated to each other.  Yet all have in common words such as “all”, “all men” and “saviour.”  The audio quality, while good overall, isn’t as consistent as the recordings at Believers Chapel — minor things like variation in the speaker’s volume.  For the sixth message (1 Timothy 4:10),  S. Lewis Johnson read a paper he had previously written — a delivery style that takes some getting used to.   More than with any other series, too, this one includes far more biographical details, especially concerning Johnson’s years at Dallas Theological Seminary, including the reason (view of the atonement) that he resigned from DTS in 1977.  It is also fun to hear him tell stories from those days, including his reflections on Lewis Sperry Chafer and Dallas Seminary’s early practice  concerning solicitation of money, a view shared in common with 19th century missionary George Muller.

Among the passages considered are these:

Several of these passages are well-known ones considered “key” to the atonement issue, with words that could be said to support universalism — except of course for the well-known principle of interpretation, that scriptures must not conflict with each other; from the overall teaching of God’s word we know that not everyone will be saved.  Another common view is the Amyraldian view, or the four-point Calvinist (without the “L” of limited atonement):  that the intent of the atonement is for everyone including those who do not come to faith.

Following is a summary listing of ten reasons in support of Particular Redemption, given during the seventh message.

1.  The statements of Scripture are of that character.  The language of conditionality, the language of potentiality, the language of possibility is not found with reference to the atonement.

2.  The argument from definite expressions, so beautifully set out in A. Hodge’s Christian Theology, the expressions of Scripture are definite.  He died for the church.  He redeemed a people.

3.  The argument from the nature of the atonement. The nature of the atonement, the atoning work of Jesus Christ is a penal substitutionary, by a sacrifice, work.  It is penal – Christ died and bore the penalty of those for whom he died.  It is, of course, a satisfaction, that is, he propitiated the Father, satisfied his justice of holiness.  And it is a substitution.  He died for us, for a particular people.  And if he died for a particular people, then my friend, what judgment can heaven bring against those for whom Christ has died?  What judgment?  Heaven can bring no judgment against the one for whom Christ has died.  So if we believe in substitution, then we must be believers in a definite atonement, a particular redemption.  There is no way out of that.

4.  An argument from the priesthood of Christ, after all, the work of the high priest was the work of sacrifice and intercession for a particular people, wasn’t it?  What Aaron and the other high priests did was to offer sacrifices for the Israelites, didn’t they?  Did they offer them for the Moabites or the Amalakites?  They were for Israel.  They were a particular people.  And he made intercession for those for whom he offered sacrifice.

5.   Argument from the less to the greater.  “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  If he died for us, then he will give us everything.  That’s the greatest gift.  Everything else follows.  If he offered a sacrifice for us then, will he give us conviction of sin?  Will he give us repentance?  Will he give us all of the other things?  Will he give us faith?  Of course.  “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  So if you believe he has given himself up for you, the greatest work of all, all these other lesser things, like faith, repentance, and so on, they have to come.

6.   Argument from the results the atonement has accomplished:  the harmonization of the design of the atonement and the end.  The limited result necessitates for an unfrustratable deity, a limited intent.  It seems obvious.  Of course, if you have a God who can be frustrated, that argument does not carry weight with you.  But your problem’s not the atonement, your problem is with the kind of God that you have.  The necessary harmony of the inter-trinitarian economy of salvation, I learned that from John Murray, the Westminster Seminary.

7.  The inter-trinitarian economy of salvation.  Think about that.  You know what that means?  That means the Father works toward one end.  The Son works toward the same end.  The Spirit works toward the same end.  The Father elects.  The Spirit gives faith to the elect.  The Son dies for, well, with the intent of saving everybody?  No, of course not.  We don’t have a dissonance in the Trinity.  We do not have the persons of the Trinity working toward different goals.  They have the same design – the elect, the elect, the elect.  The Father doesn’t elect the non-elect.  He elects the elect.  The Spirit brings to faith the elect.  The Son of God dies with the intent of saving the elect.  He offers for the elect.  I know you’re persuaded by now.

8.  Argument from the representative nature of Jesus Christ’s death.  It’d be interesting to talk about a number of the passages, of course, where our Lord is set forth as the covenantal head of his people, and when he offers himself, he offers for them.

Thomas Goodwin:  “There are but two men standing before God, Adam and Christ, and these two have all other men hanging at their girdles.”

9.  Argument from special divine love or the fact that the Scripture represents God’s love as distinguishing.  The Son doesn’t pray for all.  The Son doesn’t give the Spirit to all.  That’s important, too.  John 14:16 and 17.  He has withheld the gospel from countless myriads throughout the world, both in Old and New Testament times.  Difficult to understand, but nevertheless, true.  And true for a sovereign God.

10.  Revelation 5:10-11  The text says, “You have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”  Now if the atonement or redemption was universal, he would have simply said, You have redeemed every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  But it’s “out of”.  The construction in the original text is a partitive construction.  It’s some out of them.  Some translations translate it that way – some from have been redeemed.

***********************

Additional resource information: Jim McClarty’s Q&A regarding “All Men.”

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  1. January 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Hey there,

    As a moderate Calvinist, I think there are some good rebuttals to the sort of arguments you list above.

    Take #4 and #9. Thats a complex argument. The sacrifices of the OT were of two sorts. There were the various sacrifices of individuals, and then there was the sacrifice by the priest for the nation, once a year. The sacrifice was for all the sins of all the people, as Leviticus informs us. Each year within the nature of Israel there were plenty of non-elect sinners for whose sins the sacrificial offering was made.

    I cant figure out how this is an argument for limited atonement, other than to give a seeming rebuttal of an argument against unlimited atonement. But such an argument ignores the question of type and anti-type, or prefigure and fulfillment.

    It is most natural that Christ does not pray for all. In the NT, the intercession of Christ is explained with some more detail and clarity. Christ intercedes for those who come to him, as per Heb 7-9. John 17 in no way says that Christ did not pray for the non-elect. The context is clear, the prayer is for the 11 disciples. When he says he prays not for the “world” he means those other than the 11. The context is clear enough.

    Argument #5 is not that easy to make. The subjects there are believers. Paul says, if Christ was delivered up for us, how much more will God not give us, namely believers, complete salvation: exactly that: believers. There is no argument here for limited atonement.

    Argument #7 just seems odd. Who says that the persons of the Trinity are in conflict? The moderate Calvinist position says that the Father both elects and sends the Son to die for all men, as to the sufficiency of the sacrifice, for the elect as to its efficacy. The Son totally concurs with this, as does the Spirit. The divine harmony argument is one that hypers use against common grace and the free offer. The rebuttal to the hypers is the same response to this form of the argument for limited satisfaction.

    For example, there is a general love and there is a special love. The three persons of the Trinity express both forms without any intra-personal conflict.

    There is a secret will and there is a revealed will. By secret will, the whole trinity desires to effectually save the elect alone. By revealed will, the whole trinity desires the salvation of all men by way of a non-effectual desire. There is an effectual calling, and there is a general calling. etc etc. The extent of the satisfaction is exactly like this.

    Argument #10 is far from conclusive. The subjects are the redeemed, the actually redeemed, people vitally united to Christ. The verse only speaks to redemption applied: the saved. The verse in no way say these are the only ones saved. And in the context of Revelation, to make such an argument from this is tricky. Would it be credible if I argued that there were in the history of the church, only two witnesses? No. The intended symbolism in Rev 5 is a long way from trying to prove limited satisfaction.

    Anyway, I just thought I would pop off a few comments. If you wish I am more than willing to further discuss these or other points.

    David
    http://calvinandcalvinism.com/?page_id=8466

    • January 25, 2012 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks David for your comments. As I noted above, I’m still listening to the series, and I’m well aware that the “L” in the TULIP is considered the most controversial and the most difficult in terms of study and understanding. The list of ten reasons was from S. Lewis Johnson’s summary in one of the transcripts, and he goes into more detail on those points in that message as well as elsewhere. I understand his point about the agreement among the members of the trinity, which he explained in detail in the earlier messages: the Father gives the Son a particular people, the Spirit brings those people to repentance, and so all three must be working toward the same end, to redeem a particular people.

      I’m familiar with the overall teaching about the “secret will” versus the “revealed will” in scripture regarding God’s purposes — and have actually heard that view regarding 2 Peter 3:9 (one of the texts that SLJ here took a different view of), and from those teaching limited atonement. S. Lewis Johnson, as well as all other Calvinists, agree on the difference between common grace and effectual, saving grace, and the general love versus special love. Not sure what your definition of hyper-Calvinist is, but these are believed by full 5-point Calvinists.

      Don’t have time now for a full discussion on all these points, soon to be leaving for the rest of the day. Anyway, the full 18 part series gives much more detail, as well as Johnson’s shorter series on “Inconsistencies in Modified Calvinism” (which I have yet to listen to), in which he also delves into these issues.

  2. January 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Hey Linda,

    Thanks for letting me comment and for your reply

    cut

    You say: I understand his point about the agreement among the members of the trinity, which he explained in detail in the earlier messages: the Father gives the Son a particular people, the Spirit brings those people to repentance, and so all three must be working toward the same end, to redeem a particular people.

    David: here is what I mean about intra-trinitarian harmony. If you dont mind I will post Daniel as he sets out probably the best counter-explanation:

    Then there is the argument from the Trinity. It is argued that if Christ died for all men equally, then there would be conflict within the Trinity. The Father chose only some and the Spirit regenerates only some, so how could the Son die for all men in general? Actually, this argument needs refinement. There are general and particular aspects about the work of each member of the Trinity. The Father loves all men as creatures, but gives special love only to the elect. The Spirit calls all men, but efficaciously calls only the elect. Similarly, the Son died for all men, but died in a special manner for the elect. Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Good Books, 2003), 371.

    That is where I was heading by way of counter. I would say all three are working for particular ends, the effectual redemption of the elect is one of them.

    You say:
    I’m familiar with the overall teaching about the “secret will” versus the “revealed will” in scripture regarding God’s purposes — and have actually heard that view regarding 2 Peter 3:9 (one of the texts that SLJ here took a different view of), and from those teaching limited atonement. S. Lewis Johnson, as well as all other Calvinists, agree on the difference between common grace and effectual, saving grace, and the general love versus special love.

    David: Yeah thats right. We dont have a problem when it comes to any dual aspects to divine love, will, etc, so why should we when it comes to the nature and extent of the satisfaction. That was my point is all.

    Linda: Not sure what your definition of hyper-Calvinist is, but these are believed by full 5-point Calvinists.

    David: I would define hypers as embracing one or more of the following: 1) deny that God desires the salvation of all by will revealed; 2) deny the free and well-meant offer of the gospel to all; 3) deny common grace and cognate doctrines (love, mercy etc); and 4) deny that it is the duty of the sinner to trust in Jesus for salvation (duty-faith).

    Hypers Ive met often use the very form of arguments against free offer Calvinism which limited satisfaction proponents use against moderate Calvinism. The answer to the hyper’s objections to the free offer, and other things, is, more or less, actually the same answer, in form, to the limited satisfaction objections to moderate Calvinism. That is where I was heading there.

    Linda: Don’t have time now for a full discussion on all these points, soon to be leaving for the rest of the day. Anyway, the full 18 part series gives much more detail, as well as Johnson’s shorter series on “Inconsistencies in Modified Calvinism” (which I have yet to listen to), in which he also delves into these issues.

    David: If I may, if I can pick up on the term “modified Calvinism” when you can and if you will, you might want to check out my for whom Christ died folder, linked to in main index (see below my name). The doctrine that Christ died for all men, along with the doctrine of unconditional election was actually the core Reformation doctrine. It was held to by Luther, Bullinger, Musculus, the English Reformers. This is not modified Calvinism. Limited atonement, as a systematic idea, came later. I know this may sound kooky at first read, but the evidence is documented in the folder I mentioned. And there are a few secondary sources authors like Richard Muller who are now acknowledging this point.

    You can check out comments by Calvin, Bullinger, Musculus, Luther and many others.

    Thanks,
    David
    http://calvinandcalvinism.com/?page_id=8466

  3. October 6, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Lynda, with regard to  “Revelation 5:10-11  The text says, “You have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”  Now if the atonement or redemption was universal, he would have simply said, You have redeemed every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  But it’s “out of”.  The construction in the original text is a partitive construction.  It’s some out of them.  Some translations translate it that way – some from have been redeemed.”

    If the text had said “You have redeemed every tribe, tongue, people and nation,” this could also mean SOME from every tribe, etc. For example, God says he will redeem Israel. This cannot mean every Israelite. The “out of” in Rev 5 makes it absolutely clear that “some” is meant.

    By the way, I am listening to this very message of SLJ at this very moment: “Heaven’s view of the Atonement.”

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