Does God find pleasure in you?
When he looks at you, does he smile?
In short, if you’re in Christ, the answer is yes. But the answer to how and why and on what basis needs some explaining.
We can break God’s delight for the redeemed into three categories: (1) a delight in election, (2) a delight in redemption, and (3) a delight in holiness.
1. Delight in Election
First, God has expressed delight in his children in the election. Unconditionally and freely, without a hint of injustice or unfairness, God chooses to set his delight on certain human souls, and this delight is an expression of the delight of the triune God (Luke 10:21).
God freely delights in electing children for redemption and for adoption into his family (Romans 9:10–18, Ephesians 1:3–6).
Such a predestined delight over us in election is unconditional to anything in us.
2. Delight in Redemption
Second, God delights in the redemption of his elect in Christ (Luke 15:7).
This delight hinges on the perfect work of Christ and the application of his work to the elect, by faith, in space and time. Even down to the display of our saving faith pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). And once his children are set free from the legal demands of righteousness, and stand forever justified by their union to Christ, God sings over them a song of delight (Zephaniah 3:14–17).
Think of the angel’s joy in heaven over the redemption of one sinner. And think of the father’s overflowing party of delight lavished on his prodigal son. Similarly, when the elect are redeemed, God’s heart is drawn to eternally delight over you, for you (Luke 15:11–24).
3. Delight in Holy Obedience
Third, God delights in sincere obedience.
In one of the most mysterious and profound realities in the universe, the Father’s delight in Jesus was increased after the incarnation, as Jesus matured (Luke 2:52). Think about it. By his obedience to the will of the Father, the Son abides in the delight of his Father (John 10:18, 12:49; 14:31; 15:10). It’s a biblical truth that leaves me mystified.
No mystery, however, is the pattern of Jesus we follow in obedience. And by our obedience we abide in God’s love, and God delights in our holiness (John 14:21–24).
In true obedience we experience the abiding love of Christ and increasing joy of God (John 15:9–11).
For example, humility is beautifully attractive to God. Humility catches his eye. The broken, humble heart draws God close and induces his delight (James 4:8–10; Isaiah 57:15, 66:2; Psalm 34:18).
Sin works in the opposite direction. Delight is contrary to grief, and like any loving father, God is genuinely grieved by our sin (Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 12:3–11). Disobedience in us contradicts his eternal redeeming purposes over us. In a very real way, by our disobedience we declare sin more delightful than God. How can such a move not pain him?
The Father who has elected and redeemed his children, is genuinely grieved by our sin and genuinely delighted by our holiness.
So how do these three delights hold together?
The key is to understand God’s delight over us, not as three distinct delights, but as three degrees of the same delight. In other words, all three hold together in one plan. God’s delight in 1 (election) builds to his delight in 2 (redemption), leading to his delight in 3 (obedience).
At each stage, God’s delight in us is like a fire growing larger and stronger and hotter over time, building to a day when we stand in moral radiance and perfect Christlike perfection (1 John 3:2).
In other words, “sanctification, seen as culminating in our glorification, is the goal aimed at, all told, in our predestination” (Richard Gaffin). We are elected and redeemed to be made into radiant creatures properly reflecting God’s glory in the fullness of our being. This consummation of God’s election and redemption in glorification is found in grand storylines like Ephesians 1:3–10 and Romans 8:29–30.
The delight of God over his children, strong and constant on the basis of election, unshakably secure in the application of redemption, grows in relation to our real holiness and conformity to his will — someday to be perfected to his even greater delight!
Anyone in Christ can look at this plan of God and marvel.
In the beginning, God created humans to magnify his glory. He made me. I rejected him and chose sin instead, to my ruin and despair. But unknown to me, in eternity past, he set his special love on me. By his beautiful obedience, Christ entered the world to live and die and redeem me, by name, to justify me, to give me the Spirit, and to re-create something beautiful out of this mess called me, something fully obedient, fully radiant in holiness, fully happy in holy communion with God. All my sins and disobedience right now pain him. Yet he delights in all my labors against sin, and my labors to obey, and he lovingly disciplines me toward a day when I will reflect my Savior’s glory to the core of my motives, my thoughts, and all my words and actions, to his great delight. This is what God created me to be!
We need this today. As Kevin DeYoung says it, “One of the main motivations for obedience is the pleasure of God.”
Or as John Piper says it, “God is delighted with our obedience when it is the fruit of our delight in him. Our obedience is God’s pleasure when it proves that God is our treasure.”
- On God’s delight in holiness see Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness (Crossway; 2012), chapter five: “The Pleasure of God and the Possibility of Godliness,” and also Wayne Grudem’s contribution in For the Fame of God’s Name (Crossway; 2010), chapter fourteen: “Pleasing God by Our Obedience: A Neglected New Testament Teaching.”
- On God’s delights (in general), see John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Multnomah; 2000), and especially chapter nine.
- On this threefold delight over his children — election (amor benevolentiae), redemption (amor beneficentiae), and obedience (amor complacentiae vel amicitiae) — see Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic; 2003), 3:561–9, and Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (P&R; 1992), 1:242 (iii.xx.v).
I plan to select a list of my favorite books of 2014. My last list covered 2012.
Unlike 2013, during those years when I do have time to stay current on the non-fiction releases from Christian publishers, I usually take some time in July to begin writing out a list of contenders. At this point the list is quite incomplete, but a rough list at this stage will help inventory the books that have caught my attention so far. So here is the early stages of my list of books that will be seriously considered as I develop my final list in November.
As always, I would love to hear from you. What books (released in 2014) should I add?
My list (* newly added titles):
- Andy Davis, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness (Ambassador)*
- Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank, The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home (B&H)
- Chris Sinkinson, Time Travel to the Old Testament: An Essential Companion for the Christian Explorer (P&R)
- Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway)
- Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones, PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace (Zondervan)
- David Platt and Tony Merida, Exalting Jesus in Galatians (Holman)
- Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP)*
- Drew Dyck, Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying (Thomas Nelson)
- Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel)
- ESV Reader’s Bible (Crossway)
- G.K. Beale and Benjamin Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery (IVP)*
- G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (IVP)*
- Gloria Furman, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway)
- Ian and Larissa Murphy, Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up (B&H)
- James Hamilton, Exalting Jesus in Ezra-Nehemiah (Holman)
- James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans)
- Jared Wilson, The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Crossway)
- John Goldingay, The Theology of the Book of Isaiah (IVP)
- John Goldingay, Isaiah 56–66: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (T&T Clark)
- John Piper, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis (Crossway)
- Joseph W. Smith III, Sex and Violence in the Bible: A Survey of Explicit Content in the Holy Book (P&R)
- Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson)
- Kevin DeYoung, Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway)
- Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (WJK)
- Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin, Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself (Thomas Nelson)
- Mark Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans)
- Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan)
- Michael Horton, Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever (Crossway)
- Michael Reeves, Christ Our Life (Paternoster; UK only)
- Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway)*
- Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Zondervan)*
- N.T. Wright, Philippians: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (T&T Clark) — publisher revised release date: Nov. 2015.
- Peter Sanlon, Augustine’s Theology of Preaching (Fortress)
- Ray Ortlund Jr., The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway)
- Robert Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (Ignatius)
- Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme (Eerdmans)
- Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale)
- Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton)
- Vern Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (Crossway)
- Zack Eswine, Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (P&R)
Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie opens December 12th (rating unknown). Here’s the new trailer:
If video doesn’t work, click here.
I was honored to write the following on the sometimes rowdy, always unpredictable discipline we call family devotions in the Reinke house as a chapter in the new book, Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood (Desiring God, 2014), pages 64–73.
You can download the entire book for free here.
When the Apostle Paul said a man must first learn to manage his household before he can manage a church, he must have meant managing a church is something like managing a household. And that means being a father is something like being a pastor (1 Timothy 3:4–5).
I believe it.
Just like a pastor leading a church, a husband is called to lead his household in many different directions: in pulling his family into greater depths of the gospel, in pushing back the tide of worldliness, in pushing his family up in Godward joy, and in sowing deep seeds of gratitude. Pastoring children is a labor requiring a lot of thoughtful paternal attention. It always has.
On the heels of Israel’s dramatic rescue of Israel from Egypt, Deuteronomy 6 sets forth an ancient (and relevant) model for fathers today:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
These words are equally applicable for moms, but for the sake of this chapter, I’ll focus on how this passage shapes a dad’s calling (Ephesians 6:4). Although we are separated from Deuteronomy by time and geography and culture, Scripture remains true for every father today. Dads are called to the glorious labor of chiseling the words of God deep into the lives of our children, and this labor demands our entire schedule (breakfast and bedtime), all of our situations (activity and inactivity), and all of our locations (our comings and goings). There’s never a moment with his family when a father is not on-call to love his children by pointing their attention Godward.
As a dad of three kids (12, 8, and 6), this is the lesson I’m trying to learn myself. As I attempt to serve my family in this Godward direction, here are some of the most valuable lessons I’m learning along the way.
1. Dad leads family devotions … to Jesus.
Some dads choose to lead family devotions as a liturgy with a concrete style and format, with a Scripture reading, a short homily, and a concluding hymn. Other dads take a more informal approach. My personality favors the structured approach, but over the years the Holy Spirit has given some of the most impactful family devotions to our family when “my plan” seemed to take sudden turns toward the unexpected.
Take one Monday evening in our house, President’s Day 2014. The family lingered at the table after a meal (and drooled over the President’s Day cherry pie). A few Googled-and-printed presidential portraits were scotch-taped to the wall. I opened with a prayer of thanks for the lineage of American presidents and a prayer for our current president. As we pushed back the empty plates, I grabbed my Bible, and we began walking through my carefully planned devotional. I explained that civil authorities (like presidents) are God-given blessings for our flourishing. I read Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13–17.
So far, so good.
Next I moved on to explain the goodness of civil punishment that keeps us safe, and I flipped open to Romans 13:1–7. Here’s where things unraveled a bit. Apparently the Marvel Comics Translation of the Bible I was reading said, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad …. For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (ESV). That phrase, “an avenger,” leapt from the page into the ears of my (up until that point) moderately-interested 6-year-old son. “The Avengers!” he said in his own love language (and probably in his Iron Man pajamas). At this point I could have smiled and nodded and kept reading, but I felt compelled to stop and go along with the sudden detour.
There was a connection here. The Avengers are dramatized fictional images of the civil powers God has ordained to preserve justice and order in society. We walked through each character briefly—Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, and Thor—and reviewed how each hero helps in the fight for justice. Fascinating discussions, of course, but I knew I had to turn this unraveling devotion toward Christ. So I asked: “But who is The Avenger?” Confused looks. “You know it,” I said again. “Who is The Avenger?” Slowly it dawned on them, and the devotion took a sudden turn to the return of Christ—The Avenger—who will return to bring cosmic peace and order. I had no intention of talking about the return of Christ after President’s Day dinner, but that’s the way it unfolded in the moment. We ditched the presidents, delayed the pie, and detoured directly to Jesus.
Dads, leading family devotions is our calling, and leading family devotions to Christ is our final aim. If I have a liturgy at the dinner table, it looks like this: Start by reading the Bible and end with Jesus. What happens in the middle will often unfold in ways unexpected and glorious.
2. Dad models a real relationship with the living God.
Deuteronomy 6 addresses a father’s heart before it addresses the hearts of his kids. And this is by design. God’s commands are written first “that you [dad] may fear the Lord your God” and then to pass that to “your son and your son’s son” (Deuteronomy 6:2). And the point gets restated: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6). Dad is an object of gospel grace from God before he is a conduit of gospel grace to his children.
Dads are not propped up as models of moral perfection, but as models of holiness (at their best) and a model of repentance and contrition (at their worst). My kids are watching me, watching to see how I respond to affliction and adversity and to success and victory. God has designed my life to be a legacy I pass on to my children.
3. Dad models joy in God.
But if my so-called obedience appears to my children as gruff, stern, and stoic, I am lying about God. As a Christian Hedonist, I believe God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him. This is the legacy I want to leave with my children. Son, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Daughter, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
This end—this aim—shapes everything about my leadership in the home, and it’s not a stretch because if fatherhood echoes pastor-hood, leading my family in joy is central to my success as a dad (2 Corinthians 1:24). Dad himself is called to model faith, the all-encompassing embrace of God. In the words of Deuteronomy 6, I am called to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my might. More than modeling right moral choices, I must model joy—a mighty, heart-filled, heart-saturated delight in God that spills over into everyday joy.
Dads, the model is incomplete if we model duty with a sour attitude. John Piper, a father of five, says of raising young kids: “Children need to see daddy is happy—happy with God, happy in being with the family, and of course happy in worship at church and happy in devotions at home. If dad is morose, bored, and withdrawn, he is saying, ‘That is what it is like to know God.’”
And that is simply untrue.
4. Dad reorients his family to the metanarrative of the gospel (daily).
With joy taking such a central role in our homes, the Ten Commandments are not given simply for stoic obedience training. Obedience is designed to flow out from God-initiated deliverance, as Deuteronomy 6 sets forward beautifully in the tender setting of a son who turns his head up to his father:
When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.”
There’s a time for young children to simply learn yes from no and obedience from disobedience. Disobedience brings negative consequences; obedience brings positive consequences. By God’s grace, this obedience at the training-wheel level can be replaced later by a robust, gospel-centered obedience when our children are old enough to understand the redemptive story of Christ.
And this introduces one of the tensions dads face. We’re called to instruct children in two truths simultaneously. First, it’s impossible for any sinner to earn God’s favor with our best obedience. Such a favor with God comes only in the merits of Jesus Christ, applied to us when we embrace him by faith (Philippians 3:2–11). Secondly, we cannot say we embrace this glorious Jesus if we consistently disobey his commands (John 14:15; 1 John 2:1–6). Both points are essential in our training (and more on the second point in a moment).
My point here is simple, but essential. The gospel message is the redemptive supernarrative that covers all of time and history, and the gospel message redefines our very existence. The gospel message is a supernatural story of deliverance that makes Jesus glorious and provides the necessary context for mature obedience. It is our glorious calling, dads, to reorient our families to Jesus and to this supernarrative every day.
5. Dad trains his kids in moral vision.
Out of the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection (indicatives), we find the full context and meaning and empowerment for obedience (imperatives). When the moral training wheels come off, the supernarrative of the Gospel holds them in balance.
As children grow, they find themselves in more and more situations when mom and dad are not around, when immediate consequences for disobedience cannot be meted out. Take school for example. As a family, we have over the years sent our three children to a mix of public school, private school, homeschool, and public academy. And while each of these educational options has their particular strengths, every option has its particular weaknesses and temptations for each child. A child tempted to self-exaltation and sinful comparison in a private school may be tempted to laziness in a homeschool setting. A child prone to man-pleasing at public school can be just as prone to the pride and elitism of the private school.
In whatever context our children are called to demonstrate maturity in this world, dads are called to envision obedience for them, and this obedience flows out of the gospel. Out of Christ’s self-sacrificing love for us, our children are called into the world to show love to fellow students and teachers. We help our kids identify pride and self-seeking as we teach them to pray for the children they meet. By the work of Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us the power for such a radical, selfless morality. The Spirit brings the power necessary for the hope-filled moral vision offered by dad.
6. Dad models God-centered gratitude.
All the blessings our family receives—house, food, sports, movie nights, dinners at home, dinners out, even life and health itself— come from the almighty God who sustains us and provides us with everything we enjoy.
We pray before meals, not only because daily gratitude to God for food is a pattern we find in Scripture (1 Timothy 4:1–5). Food does not appear on the table like magic. Dinner on the table requires God to call and gift men and women, folks we often don’t know. I want my children to know that before we enjoyed bread on our table, there was a farm boy who watched his dad farm, who felt the desire to farm himself, and labored in the soil to raise and harvest wheat. Then that wheat was hauled by a man who was called by God to drive a truck, who delivered the wheat to a bakery where men and women were called and skilled by God to make the bread. Next, another truck brought it to our local store, where a night clerk in the dark hours stacked it on shelves, and then a checkout clerk helped finish the transaction with mom, and now we have bread on the table for dinner. Why? Because God ordained a string of individuals—men and women—whose lives were meticulously fashioned and woven together into one long line with the aim of providing us our daily bread.
Money doesn’t make bread; people make bread. Behind the simple provision is a God who has built a complex chain of sovereignly ordained commerce for the goal that our family have bread on the table, which we in turn lift up in adoration to the God who somehow orchestrated all these details with the aim of blessing us.
Those are just a few ideas of how leadership in the home gets worked out in my life. And if I sound like an impressive father, it’s only because space (and perhaps pride) forbids me from documenting my glowing faults and inconsistencies. Growing as a dad is the fruit of the Spirit’s gracious work in making my failures into lessons. And if I have learned anything about being a father, it’s that the calling of Deuteronomy 6 is too big for me alone. I need a God, I need a Savior, I need a church, and I need a wife in the gargantuan work of raising sons and daughters and leaving them with a glorious legacy that God is most glorified in them when they are most satisfied in him.
From Zack Eswine’s new book, Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (P&R, 2014), 188–9:
If something goes well in your day, no matter how small, celebrate over it! No more wondering if you can be happy about good things. No more needing to wait and pray to discover whether it is okay with God whether you smile or not. “In the day of prosperity be joyful” (Eccl. 7:14)!
In college, when our team won a big game, our motto sounded something like this: “In the day of prosperity, get drunk and destroy stuff!” You may need to learn again what it means to truly celebrate something. God will teach you. Each day becomes full of small but genuine smiles when we take up joy in response to good things. A great deal of happiness is passing some of us by because we think that when a good thing happens we are supposed to consider it rather than get on with rejoicing over it.
In contrast, “in the day of adversity consider” (Eccl. 7:14). Let the tough stuff sink in. Don’t run from it. Don’t use god-talk to pretend it doesn’t exist. Set your heart and mind on the awful thing. No evil thing can ultimately win. The foulest thing will reveal something true about the nature of life and the nobler purposes we were made for. Take time, lots of time, the time needed to grieve, ask questions, wrestle with it, work it out, and come to terms.
Why? Because though this is a mystery, we need to stand on this truth, that no matter what happens in our lives, God holds on to us and maintains his purposes for us. “God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Eccl. 7:14). We cannot make crooked things straight. We can’t fix everything.
Now the Preacher humbles us to free us again by telling us that we can’t know everything. A certain amount of ignorance attends everything we do — particularly when it comes to trying to figure out how it is that God governs and ordains both the good and the bad that happens in our lives and in the world. Solomon doesn’t attempt to answer what we cannot know. Instead, he focuses on what we do know. Both good things and bad things happen to us. God is within the thing either way. This means that something larger than our prosperity and something larger than our adversity has a hold on us.
What does this mean? We get to lighten up. All our energy spent in trying to control and preserve our lives is next to worthless. “There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (Eccl. 7:15). There is no secret formula to life that if you could just figure it out or get in with God well enough, you could make everything happen the way you hope. . . .
The whirlwind in your mind constantly trying to figure out everything in order to hold everything together is like chasing after the wind. We add wear and tear to our lives that God does not ask of us. “Why should you destroy yourself?” (Eccl. 7:16).
For others of us, we can stop acting as if, because we don’t know everything and can’t fix everything, nothing matters. We can stop with the excuses we use to justify the constant wandering and harm that we inflict on others and ourselves.
God has the last word on our pain. God has the last word on our joy. Behind every pain, God is there letting nothing and no one separate us from him in Jesus. Behind every joy, God is there generously and graciously giving us something to rest happy about.
Here’s one quote from what I think will end up proving to be one of the very best books published in 2014, Michael Reeves, Christ Our Life (Paternoster; September 1):
When Christians define themselves by something other than Christ, they poison the air all round. When they crave power and popularity and they get it, they become pompous, patronizing, or simply bullies. And when they don’t get it they become bitter, apathetic or prickly. Whether flushed by success or burnt by lack of it, both have cared too much for the wrong thing. Defining themselves by something other than Christ, they become like something other than Christ. Ugly.
Our union with Christ thus has deep plough-work to do in our hearts. It automatically and immediately gives us a new status, but for that status and identity to be felt to be the deepest truth about ourselves is radical, ongoing business. That is the primary identity of the believer, though, and the only foundation for truly Christian living. For our health, our joy and fellowship, then, we must take up arms against the insidious idea that we have any identity — background, ability or status — more basic than that of sharing the Son’s own life together before the Father.
The Nature and Scope of the Atonement in the Calvinist – Arminian Debates (Interview with Mark Jones)
In November I was invited to speak at Westminster Theological Seminary, and my dates in Philadelphia happened to coincide with Mark Jones’s presence on campus. Mark is a pastor in Vancouver, and the co-author of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, so I was eager to meet him.
We ended up meeting and dined one evening with Scott and Jared Oliphint. In a peacefully dim corner of a wonderful Philly restaurant (Iron Hill), a heady historical-theological conversation kicked up over the logical connections between definite atonement and substitutionary atonement. Jones highlighted various characters and debates over the years, weaving together a fascinating verbal history of how theologians wrestled with the nature and extent of Christ’s atonement. Later I asked him to develop this into a written interview, which he obliged.
Mark, I’ll start by asking you this: just how different are the Arminian and Reformed traditions?
The differences between Reformed (Calvinist) and Remonstrant (Arminian) traditions extend well beyond questions of “free will” or the extent of the atonement. Ranging from topics such as God’s attributes and knowledge to justification by faith alone to the nature — not just the extent — of the atonement, the Calvinists and Arminians crossed swords.
For example, Jacob Arminius eventually rejected the Reformed understanding of justification. The Arminians seemed to agree with the Reformed that the formal cause of justification was the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but they openly disagreed on the material cause of justification. What is imputed, our act of faith (so, the Arminians) or the righteousness of Christ apprehended by faith (so, the Reformed)? In the Arminian scheme, imputation is an aestimatio — God regards our righteousness (i.e., faith) as something what it is not (i.e., perfect). In the Reformed scheme, however, imputation is always secundum veritatem — God regards Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness because it really is ours through faith and in union with Christ.
When did Remonstrant theologians begin to reject the Reformed view of the nature of the atonement?
On the question of the nature of the atonement, the Remonstrants adopted the objections raised by the Socinians against the Reformed view of the atonement. By the seventeenth century, the dominant Reformed view of the nature of the atonement was a refinement of Anselm’s concept of satisfaction. Satisfaction through punishment (satisfactio poenalis) incorporates the “both/and” approach to viewing Christ’s death, whereby he satisfies the Father’s justice by acting as our penal substitute. But the Remonstrants by and large rejected this view. They “denied that Christ suffered all the penalties that God had placed on sin, that he suffered eternal death, that his active obedience was vicarious . . . Even [Christ’s] suffering and death were not a full satisfaction for sins” (Bavinck, RD 3:349).
An example of this from the seventeenth century comes from the Remonstrant theologian, Philippus van Limborch. He rejected the Reformed view of the nature of Christ’s satisfaction. He does not merely differ on the extent of the atonement, but rather vigorously denies the Reformed position that Christ suffered all the punishments due to our sins, and thus satisfied divine justice (Bk. III, Sec. 4).
Grotius provides another example: he rejected the idea of Christ’s death as an “exact payment” (solutio eiusdem), which was affirmed by John Owen. Instead, Grotius affirmed the concept of “equivalent payment” (solutio tantidem). An “equivalent payment” does not free ipso facto but rather requires an act of acceptance on the part of God after payment. God and Christ are then free to set up conditions for salvation in whatever manner they see fit. So because of Christ’s “equivalent payment,” God causes forgiveness to be offered to all — as in “Christ died for you,” not the typical Reformed view that “God is able to save you.” The application of Christ’s death depends on the human act of faith, by one’s free will. In Arminius’s view, the remission Christ merited by his life and death was a potential remission, not an actual remission.
In essence, then, the Remonstrants basically denied the legal exactitude of penal substitution. As some scholars have noted, the Remonstrants believed that Christ’s death was for our sake and for our benefit, but not in our stead. Which is why the language of Dort (Second Head, sec. 2) shows that in Christ’s satisfaction for his people he “was made sin and became a curse on the cross for us and in our place.”
How did later Arminian theologians understand the connection — or dis-connection — between the nature of the atonement (penal substitution) and the extent of the atonement (definite atonement)?
Now, to the credit of many later Arminian theologians, they understood these points, and so rejected penal substitution. John Miley, a nineteenth-century Arminian theologian, understood that Reformed theology requires an atonement that “must be effectual in the salvation of all for whom it is made,” and thus it must be substitutionary (The Atonement in Christ, 22). J. Kenneth Grider, in the next century, notes: “A spillover from Calvinism into Arminianism has occurred in recent decades. Thus many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us. Arminians teach what Christ did he did for every person; therefore what he did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition” (“Arminianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 80). Grider makes the connection between the nature of the atonement and the extent of the atonement.
Another Arminian nineteenth-century theologian, William Burt Pope, contends: “Arminianism holds that the Sacrifice was offered for the whole world: it must therefore for that reason also renounce the commutative theory of exact and mutual compensation; since some may perish for whom Christ died, and He would be defrauded of His reward in them” (A Compendium of Christian Theology, 2:314). Pope understands that penal substitution, understood in terms of solutio eiusdem, cannot fit in the Arminian model, for it would necessarily mean either universalism or that Christ’s blood was spilled in vain for many.
The idea of connecting the nature of Christ’s death to the extent of his death requires further investigation. Is there are necessary connection between the two? I happen to think so. Thus if an avowed Arminian holds to “penal substitution” it must be said he isn’t a very good Arminian.
One curious fact is that Jacob Arminius seems to have himself held to penal substitution. How do you account for this?
On the question of the nature of the atonement, Arminius did in fact hold to substitutionary atonement, but in a way that was different from the Reformed, particularly on two points.
1) Arminius placed Christ’s universal atonement prior to the decree of election.
2) Arminius distinguishes between the sufficiency and principal efficiency of the atonement.
For him, the atonement was sufficiently made for all people indiscriminately, whereas the effective application of it pertains to the elect (i.e., those who by their own free assent accept the grace of Christ). This sounds like Reformed Hypothetical Universalism; but we should note that the effective application pertains to the elect because they embrace Christ by their own free will.
For Arminius, if we believe, Christ’s death has efficacy for us; but the Reformed held that we believe because Christ died for us. This, again, gets to the nature of the atonement. Even though Arminius holds to “substitution,” Christ’s death does not actually achieve redemption.
Reformed theologians like Owen and Turretin, for example, have contended that in dying for the elect, and them alone, Christ acquired faith for his people. Frequently, many today who hold to universal atonement and substitutionary atonement claim that sinners are not saved because they do not believe. But unbelief is the mother of all sins, and Christ died for that sin, too. Because he died for that sin, his death has a certain efficacy whereby those for whom he died must necessarily believe because his death and his intercession are two inseparable parts of his priesthood. Intercession always leads to belief (i.e., salvation). How can God refuse the requests of his exalted Son?
This is to say, if Christ died for everyone without exception, everyone would surely believe without exception because of the nature of Christ’s satisfaction.
Thank you, Mark, for parsing out this controversy.
Here’s the takeaway, in the words of Gary Williams: “penal substitution and definite atonement are two sides of the same coin.” And for more on the relationship between the two, see Williams’s contribution, “Penal Substitution and the Intent of the Atonement,” in the new book, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Crossway; 2013), pages 461–82.
Once a year I set aside time for a personal reading retreat, a few days blocked off for me to dive into a stack of books I’ve collected (and some I’ve already started). In the last two years, neck deep in the John Newton writing project, these reading retreats have been focused on the topic at hand. And for the first time since we moved back to Minneapolis, this weekend affords me my first retreat to work through a stack of books on random topics of interest.
Whether I focus on one particular topic (like in my 2011 retreat) or whether I read more generally, these reading retreats give me a chance to largely disconnect from the Internet and cut away from the digital entanglements of daily web communication for the purpose of reading printed books for 12 hours each day (the goal). Such a discipline may seem daunting, but I find the practice life giving, and it has increasingly become an essential strategy I need to protect and develop my sustained, linear reading concentration, a skill that seems to otherwise erode every day (a concern I addressed at length in my book Lit!).
The goal of this retreat, like every reading retreat, is not to finish a lot of books, the goal is simply to read a lot. And for the interested, here are the titles I’ll be taking along —
- John Updike, Rabbit, Run (Random House; 1996)
- William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 (Little, Brown and Company; 1988)
- Harlow Giles Unger, Lafayette (Wiley; 2003)
- Thomas Hubbard, editor, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents (University of California; 2003), reading it alongside this essay.
- Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm (Moody; 2014)
- Arthur Hunt III, Surviving Technopolis: Essays on Finding Balance in Our New Man-Made Environments (Pickwick; 2013)
- Hannah Anderson, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody; 2014)
We all know John Frame is a brilliant theologian and a prolific author, but here are ten things you likely didn’t know about him, as revealed in a personal bit published at the end of the new book, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1 (P&R, April 2014), 290–2:
- [As a family] we listened faithfully to Pittsburgh Pirate games from 1950–56, when the team had the worst record in baseball.
- As treasurer in our youth group, I used to harangue the kids every week to bring a quarter for the offering.
- The height of my piano study was Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto. On the organ I played over half the organ works of J. S. Bach.
- During my high-school years, I was on the verge of accepting an organ position at a Christian Science church, but chose instead a similar job at a Presbyterian church (PCUSA).
- I became a fundamentalist at Princeton, and more or less remain so. When I am called that, I’m not embarrassed at all.
- My first paper for Cornelius Van Til was 125 pages. People had told me that Van Til graded by weight. So I added seventy-five pages to some material from my Princeton thesis. He gave me an A, and that is what brought me to the attention of the Westminster Seminary faculty.
- My priorities for ministry were (a) missions, (b) pastorate, (c) academic theology. A visit to mission fields in 1960 ruled out (a). A year and two summers of pastoral experience ruled out (b). So I embraced (c) by default, as God’s calling.
- At Yale, I was bored to death by modern theologians. Still am.
- In my early career, I felt a strong tension between my interests and my abilities. The former were focused in practical ministry; the latter were almost completely academic. God has helped me to resolve the tension by writing up academic theological theories that glorify practical ministry.
- I did not marry until I was forty-five. God was preparing someone special.