D A Carson on the Atonement – 2015 EFCA Theology Conference

I should begin by offering 5 prefatory remarks:

1. In the context of the broad sweep  of current western reflection on the atonement, it is important to observe the Evangelical Confessionalism  espoused  by all 3 of the plenary speakers at this conference. Is it one on the fundamentals? Many contemporary theologians distance themselves from substitutionary atonement and certainly from penal substitutionary atonement. Another small, but vociferous cadre of theologians distances itself from any hint of violence in the atonement. Such trends demand that we engage them. But, all three of us would argue that we must not be seduced by them. In some ways, there are more important topics than the ones in which we have been asked to engage.

For this reason, I want to begin with a broad brush, that picks up some of these broader, more fundamental questions, and then, focus in more narrowly.

2. I’ve been asked to represent the calvinist/reformed heritage. Many would argue that I’m a poor exemplar  of that heritage, and I would not disagree with them. One might have chosen someone like Michael Horton  in the reformed presbyterian tradition or B. Gatus in the reformed wing of anglicanism, see his important book ‘For Us and For Our Salvation. Limited Atonement in the Bible. Doctrine, History & Ministry’. Some would be suspicious of me because as a baptist by heritage, I do not understand the covenants to fit together in exactly the same way as most of my presbyterian friends. Others would be suspicious of me because defend definite atonement in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

3. The category soteriological essentials is a tad slippery. Soteriology is sometimes used to refer to Christ’s immediate cross work. Yet, in the New Testament, it tends to be a rather broad category. If the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, unto the soteriological, it is the power of God unto the wholeness of transformed resurrected life in Christ, finally consummated in the new heaven and the new earth, That’s a pretty big mandate to tackle in an hour. At one level, in other words, soteriology refers to all of the Gospel and its effects. I cannot ignore this broader exegetically based frame of reference entirely in offering my reflections on the reformed view.

4. One is hard pressed to decide whether to address the subject primarily in the categories of systematic theology, the categories of biblical theology, and long lists of proof texts and work focused exegesis, selected disputed texts, or in the debates that are the stuff of historical theology. And so, what I shall do is opt for a glorious miss mash.

5. Finally, much of what I am about to say, at least initially, will be common ground between the other speakers and me and then gradually I will introduce some separation.

1. The sheer Godhood of God

One of the working theological commitments in the reformed tradition, taken up in different ways in other traditions, is the emphasis on the sheer Godhood of God, Godness of God. To overstate the issue, this isn’t quite right, but you’ll see the point. The Bible is first of all about God, not us. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. And the Book of Revelation, the first chapter asserts this, not only of God, but of His Son Jesus. He is the fist and the last. This is not merely a temporal category. The first is a temporal category, before anything else was, He was, self existent, the Creator of all other things. But, He’s not the last, in the sense that He exists after everything else is gone. After all, the Bible doesn’t suggest that we shall inherit a new heaven and a new earth for 50 billion years and then God will say, „You’re done. I’m still here.” He’s not the last in that sense. It’s more like, the ultimate- that towards which everything presses.

from the first 5 minutes.

2015 EFCA Theology Conference: Calvinism/Reformed from EFCA on Vimeo.

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