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Loraine Boettner

(3 posts)

Definite Atonement in Titus

What is the value of an atonement that fails to save? Those who espouse an unlimited atonement must answer that question. Paul also taught that Christ gave Himself at the cross for usthat is, for all believersin order to redeem us and transform us into a people for His own possession: Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:13b14 Jesus gave Himself at the cross for all believersusin order to redeem them from their sins. To redeem us means to ransom us from an evil power. The ransom Christ paid to purchase His church was His own blood (1 Peter 1:1819). By the power of His death, Christ bought all believers from lawlessness in order to purify them and make them His own. The extent of the atonement is not one person more or one person less than all of the elect. Benjamin B. Warfield said, The things we have to choose between are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together. The fact is, Jesus accomplished an atonement of exceedingly high value as He purchased all who would believe upon Hima people for His own possession. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 456.

Defining Depravity

What does it mean to be “totally depraved”? The question of man’s depravity considers not the extent of his guilt before God, but the extent of his corruption in sin. The question is: am I totally depraved or only partly depraved? This is not to say there is nothing good about us. In fact, we need to emphasize that humankind was created good, bearing the image of God. The most depraved person you will ever meet enjoys the dignity of God’s original glorious creation of mankind. The doctrine of total depravity does not teach that men and women are “worthless”; as Francis Schaeffer passionately argued, “Though the Bible says men are lost, it does not say they are nothing.” Far from it: it is the priceless value of every human soul that defines the tragedy expressed by total depravity. Neither does total depravity mean that little children should never be called “good boy” or “good girl.” It is very possible for totally depraved sinners to do things that are in and of themselves good. So what is total depravity really about? Loraine Boettner explains: This doctrine of Total Inability, which declares that men are dead in sin, does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human will is evil in itself, nor that man’s spirit is inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead. What it does mean is that since the fall man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God or to do anything meriting salvation. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 20–21.

Before Arminius

Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.


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