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Understanding our Opponents April 16, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Random Musings.
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Joe,

Thanks for getting the ball rolling this week, and for picking things up for me all last week. You have definitely left some work for me to do in getting caught up on all that!

I had an excellent week, first spending a few days in Cape May with Michelle, and then at the Sovereign Grace leadership conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I hope to fill you in on my experience there either later today or tomorrow, but first I thought I would respond to what you wrote earlier today about Jerry Falwell’s comments regarding those who hold to the doctrine of ‘limited atonement’.

I thought the two points you made were excellent, and to them I think I would add just one thing. It is essential that we understand our opponents, and seek to understand their arguments charitably. I can’t help but think that if Jerry Falwell were to give a definition of the doctrine of ‘limited atonement’ which he so despises, we would probably find that we also reject his definition. Too often when we disagree with people on theological issues, we tend to stereotype their viewpoints and end up making them say something that they do not even believe.

Often when I have spoken to people about the doctrine of unconditional election, they are revolted that I would suggest that human beings do not have a choice in their salvation. The problem is that they take my words and stretch them to end up putting words in my mouth that I do not mean. Though I believe that God has chosen before the foundation of the world a group out of all humanity whom He would bring to faith and save, my saying that does not mean that people do not have a choice when it comes to their salvation.

We all have a choice. But because of our deep corruption inherited from the fall, nobody chooses God. We all are at war with God, and apart from sovereign grace, we will continue choosing to reject Him until we are finally destroyed in hell. But in mercy, God changes the hearts of some people, raising them to spiritual life, and giving them a new heart, one that wants God. So all who are saved are saved because they see Christ as irresistably attractive and choose to follow Him. But our choice is dependent, and made possible, by God’s choice. If only people would listen to what I really believe, instead of shutting their ears and making their own conclusions about what I believe, attempts to understand one another would be much more successful. That way I will not hear people summarize the doctrines that I supposedly believe in and shudder at how I reject them!

I wonder, what does Jerry Falwell mean when he says limited atonement? Does he mean a teaching that says we should not preach Christ to all people without exception, since Christ did not die to offer the gift of salvation to all people? If that is what he means by limited atonement, then it is dead wrong, and I oppose it with him. Because when the Bible says Christ died for all, I take that to mean that He died so that a genuine offer of salvation could be to made to any person in the world, that if they would believe in Christ, they would not perish but have eternal life.

As I have sought to understand the people who oppose ‘limited atonement’, I have found that often times I am not that far from what they believe. So I encourage our readers, do not reject the doctrine of limited atonement without first hearing from people who hold to it explain what it means, and why biblically they believe it. And to those who hold to limited atonement, do not say that those who hold to universal atonement are heretics, without first hearing what they believe and why biblically they believe it.

If we would all do that, we may find that our beliefs are a lot closer than we realize. And when we don’t agree, we will be able to disagree respectfully, and without making rash judgments about those who oppose us.

Seeking to be humble about orthodoxy,

Larry

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Comments»

1. Erin - April 17, 2007

Great added point, Lar! I know in many situations I need to stop and see where the person is coming from before unloading on them! thanks for the reminder.
Erin

2. larrylaz - April 17, 2007

Erin,

Glad that the post was an encouragement to you. As I trust you know, I have learned this lesson the hard way! But it has been a valuable lesson indeed.

Larry

3. Jim W - April 20, 2007

I have to challenge you, my brother, on your use of the word “opponents.” I know you think carefully about your words and especially your headings. But that word, for me, has connotations of being in competition with one another, and, although I understand the point you make and your wonderful case for listening carefully, patiently, and lovingly to those who may disagree with you (which, by the way, you do very well), I’d like to know if your use of that word was intentional. Though you disagree with Jerry Falwell and may be a bit offended that he referred to those who believe in limited atonement as “heretical,” (again, knowing you, you’re probably not offended by it!) Dr. Falwell is still a brother in Christ. Though we may disagree with our brothers, we all continue to press on together, as the Church, to accomplish the work of Christ.
Most likely, I’m just reading into your use of the word “opponent” a nuance that you never intended!

Jim W

4. larrylaz - April 20, 2007

Jim,

Thanks, brother, for continuing to sharpen my thinking and pressing me to examine my use of words. I would say that my use of the word ‘opponent’ was intentional, but my use of it is shaped by the dictionary definition of the word: ‘one who opposes a course of action, belief, person, etc.’ As you said, ‘opponent’ could have connotations of being in competition with someone, I think this dictionary definition indicates that it doesn’t need to have that connotation. I certainly didn’t mean it with that connotation, but rather I meant it in the sense of the definition I gave above.

In saying that we must seek to understand our ‘opponents’, I mean understanding those whose beliefs are opposed to ours. Falwell and I could well agree on much, but if we differ on our understanding of the atonement, then my viewpoint is in opposition to his. There need not be any relational hostility involved in this opposition, though we often use the word opponent to mean ‘enemy’. But I don’t think the two are necessarily the same.

So I hope that clarifies what I meant. When I say we must seek to understand our opponents, I simply mean that we must seek to understand those whose beliefs/viewpoints contrast with ours. And as you suggested, any attempt to understand those ‘opponents’ will be enhanced by understanding where our points of agreement are.

Thanks again, brother. It is not a small thing to write words which are posted on the worldwide web for everyone to see, and I certainly need to be even more careful than I am to make sure that my words accurately express the meaning I am trying to communicate.

Larry


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