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

by | Aug 11, 2017 | Book Reviews, Reformed Theology

part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6

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

Critical Evaluation (Continued)

An alternate solution

While I commend Johnson for defending the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, I am convinced that he is going about it the wrong way.  The key to understanding the well-meant offer is not found by delving into the secret, decretive will of God and asking, “for whom did Christ die?”  Rather, it is found in rightly upholding and believing the preceptive will of God.[1]

Quite simply, what God commands, He actually desires.  When God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, He actually wants all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel.  When Jesus Christ invites sinners to come to Him, He really desires that they come to Him.  The rationalism of the Hyper-Calvinist declares that this cannot be so, because we cannot say that God wants what He has not decreed.  But to defend God’s decretive will by denying His preceptive will is not biblical.

Allow me to illustrate.  God commands all men to be faithful to their wives.  So if a man came to us and asked, “Does God want me to cheat on my wife?” we would emphatically reply, “Of course not!  He has commanded you not to commit adultery.”  We would not say, “Let’s wait and see.  If God has decreed that you will cheat on your wife, you will, and then we will know that He wanted you to.”  The fact that God’s decree is His will cannot be allowed to negate the fact that God’s command is His will.  The implications of the idea that God does not really desire what He commands can be devastating and we must never allow ourselves to be guilty of doing this.

So, in the very same way that I can tell every pregnant woman that God earnestly desires that she refrain from murdering her baby at Planned Parenthood, I can tell anyone and everyone that God sincerely desires that they repent of their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the eternal welfare of their souls.  We should not shrink back for a moment from the statement that God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But neither should we shrink back from the truth that God has by His decree determined that most will not do so.  Perhaps in eternity God will give us some insight as to how these two truths coincide, but for now, it is our place to hold them both in tension, for both truths are revealed in the Word of God.[2]

I am not proposing two opposing wills in God.  We must be careful not to speak of God as if He were schizophrenic. William Perkins explains:

There is but one will in God. Yet God does not equally will all things, but wills all things in divers respects. He does not will and nil the same thing. He wills the conversion of Jerusalem, in that he approves it as a good thing in itself. In that he commands it, and exhorts men to repent and believe and be converted. It is also good in that he gives them the outward means of their conversion. But, He does not will it in that he did not decree effectually to work their conversion. For God approves he may require many things which nevertheless for just causes known to himself, he will not do. [3]

Conclusion

Clearly, there are a number of points with which I am in disagreement with Johnson, and I cannot accept many of his arguments or his primary thesis.  A more revealing title for the book would be He Died for the Reprobate.  Yet I would not hesitate to recommend this book (with obvious qualifications) to anyone who already has a solid understanding of the doctrines of grace.  While I do not think Johnson’s arguments against John Owen’s [4] view of particular redemption actually hold water, I still think it is good for them to be heard.  Too many Calvinists today have never been exposed to anything but Owen’s view, and Johnson does a fantastic job of introducing his readers to viewpoints of other Reformed theologians.

I think many Calvinists who read this book will have a gut reaction to declare that Johnson is not really Reformed, that he is an Amyraldian or four-point Calvinist, and simply dismiss him out of hand.  I strongly exhort anyone with this temptation to refrain from such conclusions!  Just because Johnson rejects John Owen’s method of defending the doctrine of limited atonement does not mean he rejects the doctrine itself.  He is not outside the Reformed tradition.  A perusal of the original sources the he quotes for support will make this clear.  Though they may not all support his thesis as much as he would like, he is not abusing them.  Anyone still not convinced need only to read p. 402 in vol. 3 of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

Johnson is a talented writer as well as a faithful minister of the Word of God.  He Died for Me has been the catalyst that caused me to give more thought than ever before to the atonement we have in Christ Jesus, and for that I am forever in his debt.

[1] Deut. 29:29.

[2] For an excellent discussion of this point, see John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 8, Section 3.

[3] William Perkins, A Treatise of God’s Free Grace and Man’s Free Will, (2012, Puritan Publications) Kindle Edition.

[4] Johnson brings up Owen sixty times in this book.  It is clear that one of his primary goals is to reject Owen’s view of the atonement.

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