Author Archives: Tony Reinke

Saul of ISIS

Matt Chandler, in his sermon “Holiness and Humility” (August 17, 2014):

We have no hope but Christ breaking down the walls of hostility between us. That’s Ferguson. That’s Iraq.

I have been reading over and over the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9). Murdering Christians. Well known terrorist among evangelical followers of Christ in the first century. Brutal. Powerfully converted and becomes one of the greatest missionaries of the Christian faith. I feel powerless about what’s happening in Iraq, but I’m also praying that God would raise up a Paul out of the leadership of the ISIS.

Why not? God is God. He’s done it before. Why wouldn’t he do it today?

Lets ask.

An Ocean of Happiness

Thomas Traherne (1636–74), Centuries of Meditations (London: 1927), 146–7:

Varro cites 288 opinions of philosophers concerning happiness: they were so blind in the knowledge of it, and so different in their apprehensions. All which opinions fall in here, as all rivers fall into the sea, and agree together.

Some placed happiness in riches, and some in honor, some in pleasure, and some in the contempt of all riches, honor, and pleasure; some in wisdom and some in firm stability of mind, some in empire and some in love. Some in bare and naked contentment, some in contemplation, and some in action; some in rest and some in sufferings, and some in victory and triumph.

All which occur here, for here is victory and triumph over our lusts, that we might live the life of clear reason, in the fruition of all riches, honors, and pleasures, which are by wisdom to be seen, and by love to be enjoyed in the highest empire, with great content, in solitude alone, in communion with all, by action and contemplation, attaining it by sufferings, and resting in the possession, with perfect victory and triumph over the world and evil men, or sin, death and hell, in spite of all the oppositions of men and devils.

Neither Angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor height nor depth, nor things present nor things to come, being able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Father’s Sacrifice

Genesis 22:6–8:

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

Romans 8:32:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified (IVP, 2014), 64:

What can we say as to the precise nature of the Father’s actions at Calvary? The New Testament answer is breathtaking. He acted in the role of priest. Just as Jesus ‘gave’ his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) so God the Father ‘gave’ his one and only Son (John 3:16); just as Christ ‘delivered up’ himself as a fragrant offering (Eph. 5:2) so God the Father ‘delivered up’ his own Son (Rom. 8:32).

Clearly, then, corresponding to the priesthood of the self-giving Son there is a priesthood of God the Father. From this point of view, Golgotha becomes his temple, where, far from abusing a child or sadistically inflicting cruelty, he is engaged in the most solemn business that earth can witness. He is offering a sacrifice. The cross is his altar, and his own Son the sacrifice.

3 Degrees of God’s Pleasure In His Children

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.

One Design

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.”

Further reading:

  • 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).

Books of the Year 2014: The Contenders

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):

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie opens December 12th (rating unknown). Here’s the new trailer:

If video doesn’t work, click here.

Everyday Godward (On Leading Family Devotions)

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.

Everyday Godward

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.

Relaxing Our Control Grip

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.

The Work of Union with Christ

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.



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