Conference uplifts beauty of atonement
ST. PETERS – One of the five core principles of Calvinist doctrine was the theme of the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest at First Baptist Church here Feb. 26-27.
“Full Atonement,” which resembles the “Limited Atonement” L in Calvinism’s TULIP acrostic, was cultivated by three different speakers to the point where out of the soil of their five messages popped a “TUFIP.”
Limited atonement, in the sense of the Bible word “elect,” was surely taught, but the sterile brand of Calvinism that would coldly plant TULIP after TULIP was not on display.
“I think that what we hold to is an unlimited atonement,” said Jim Ehrhard, pastor, Bible Church of Cabot, Ark., who spoke twice.
Richard Belcher, retired professor, Columbia (S.C.) International University, also delivered two messages on the theme, and Bob Bergen, professor of Old Testament, Hannibal-LaGrange College, spoke once.
Generic definitions of atonement are “the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, especially as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ” and “the reconciliation of God and humans brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus.”
More than scratching the surface is always required at Founders. For example, pamphlets and teaching resources were handed out to conferees so that vigorous reading on the theme could take place over the two days. Attendees at Founders conferences, which began in 1982 for the perpetuation of historic Calvinistic doctrines within the Southern Baptist Convention, tend to crave the meat of the Word. They passionately examine and discuss biblical doctrine, and “full atonement” was certainly no exception to this rule as the basic meaning of that term was fleshed out.
Ehrhard, who addressed both the nature of and the mandate of the atonement, explained how he believes in a sufficient atonement that pays for the sins of the whole world. A full atonement, then, is complete. It is not empty or partial, but it is limited, quite obviously, by the biblical truth that some sinners, no matter how badly we want to see them saved, do go to a literal, eternal Hell.
“There’s more a limit in the extent of the atonement—who did He actually die for?” Ehrhard said.
“Even in Calvin’s terminology, there is a sufficiency in the atonement even for those that are not elected. The problem is, they won’t come. And so when you’re really talking about who did Christ come to die for, He came to die for those who were chosen by the Father ahead of time.”
The beauty of a conference like the one at St. Peters comes when an attendee crunches his way through all of the bowls full of theological granola to arrive at the point where he is satisfied. For example, a conference on full atonement ought to lead one to rejoice that a totally depraved sinner is now at one with Jesus Christ.
“The language of Scripture is He bore OUR sins on the cross,” Ehrhard said.
“We all say we believe in a substitutionary atonement, but you can’t believe in a substitutionary atonement without believing in a particular atonement. You can’t believe in a substitutionary atonement unless you believe in an intentional atonement.
“The atonement is personal, it’s particular, it’s intentional, it’s substitutionary.”
Tony Mattia, pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Wamego, Kan., gave two lectures on the life and teaching of Christmas Evans, a Welsh Baptist preacher who lived from 1766-1838. Mattia sprinkled his talks with gentle admonitions to Calvinists to be a little less pugnacious in their approach.
“You don’t have to ring the five bells every time you preach,” he said.
Scott Lamb, pastor, Providence Baptist Church, St. Louis, spoke on the life of John Mason Peck, a pioneer missionary to St. Louis.