(part 6 of 7) A Critical Review of “He Died for Me”

by | Aug 10, 2017 | Book Reviews, Reformed Theology

part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

Johnson, Jeffrey. He Died for Me: Limited Atonement & the Universal Gospel. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2017.  201 pp.

Critical Evaluation (Continued)

A test case

It will be helpful, I think, to take a moment to apply Johnson’s ideas directly to one of the texts he believes supports his thesis, and see how it fits.  1 John 2:2 is the text we will examine, but we will include verse 1 for added context.  “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

Notice first, John is offering comfort and encouragement to his little children, that if (and when) they sin, they have an Advocate (intercessor, mediator) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  In order to strengthen this consolation further, John reminds them of one of the primary aspects of Christ’s advocacy on their behalf:  He is the propitiation for their sins.  What is more comforting when we have sinned than bringing to remembrance the truth that Jesus Christ Himself is the propitiation for our sins?  The wrath of God for our sins has been turned away from us by the atoning sacrifice of His Son on our behalf.

John adds that Christ is not the propitiation for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  Now, if Johnson is correct, what John is saying is that Christ has not only propitiated the wrath of God against the sins of His people, but has also turned the wrath of God away from everyone in the world.  The manner in which He has turned away the wrath of God against the whole world is that He is an effectual propitiation only for the elect, but He is also a sufficient but ineffectual propitiation for the reprobate.

My question is this: how does the additional information that Christ has also sufficiently though ineffectually turned the wrath of God away from the reprobate bring any consolation to John’s dear little children?  Johnson says, “The fact that it can be said to all that Christ ‘died for our sins’ gives the elect the inward assurance that the promise of forgiveness includes them” (114). But I beg to differ.  I cannot fathom how believing that Christ died not only for the elect, but also ineffectually for the reprobate can bring inward assurance to the elect that forgiveness of sins includes them.  How does the idea that Christ also died for those who still suffer eternally for their sins provide any comfort?  No, the comfort of Christians is the sure and certain knowledge that they have come to Christ who has appeased the wrath of God in their behalf and in behalf of all who will ever come to Him, and He will never cast them away. [1]

Part 7

[1] For an interpretation that does bring comfort, see Calvin’s comments on this passage in part 3.

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