Sunday, June 21, 2009

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Day of Atonement

In the “Question and Answer” section of his chapter on “Unlimited Limited Atonement” in Death by Love, Mark Driscoll writes, “Jesus’ work on the cross follows the pattern of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)… The two goats provided propitiation and expiation on behalf of all the people, even though these benefits were applied only to God’s elect, a remnant within the larger group” (179).

This kind of analogy (between the atonement made by Christ and the atonement made on the Day of Atonement) is persuasive at first glance against Limited atonement. When I first began struggling to understand the biblical teaching on the extent of the atonement, I had considered a similar conclusion to that reached by Driscoll specifically due to the system of atonement found in the Old Testament. Two considerations led me to reconsider such conclusions based on “the pattern of the Day of Atonement.”

1. Driscoll writes, “the two goats provided propitiation and expiation on behalf of all the people.” This statement is true, and would provide great support for his idea of “Un/limited” atonement if the phrase, “all the people,” as defined in the context of Leviticus 16, properly carried the Arminian definition of “every individual ever to live.” But notice Leviticus 16:16a- “In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleaness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been” (NIV, emphases added). The High Priest of Israel, in offering atonement for the sins of “all the people,” is not offering atonement for the sins of all the Babylonians, the Philistines, etc.; rather, he is offering atonement for “all the people” of Israel. The atonement is made on behalf of God’s covenant community.

2. Driscoll writes, “these benefits were applied only to God’s elect, a remnant within the larger group.” Driscoll is correct to point out that eternally salvific benefits were not bestowed upon all for whom the Old Testament atonement was made. This is the faultiness of the old covenant mentioned in Hebrews 8:7. But in the new covenant community, salvific benefits are not applied only to “a remnant within the larger group;” as the author of Hebrews explains, quoting from Jeremiah 31-

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more. (Heb 8:10-12 NIV)

As under the old covenant, under the new covenant, the atonement is made for all the people of God’s covenant community. The difference is that whereas under the old covenant not all the people for whom the atonement was made benefited from that atonement in an eternal, salvific way, under the new covenant all the people for who the atonement was made certainly receive the full benefits of the atonement.

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