How To Define Doctrine

I’ve been riffing about this quote the last few days:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

This quote makes it sound as if penal substitutionary atonement is the Gospel. Salvation would then be pinned upon believing penal substitutionary atonement.

I believe penal substitutionary atonement is a man-made doctrine, a result of Calvinistic philosophy, and is not inherently Biblical.

“Penal substitutionary atonement” is mentioned zero times in the New Testament, written after there was a revealed and understood Gospel.

Now, I know, “Trinity isn’t in the Bible either, yet you believe in that.” True. The concept is there and the doctrine of the trinity is the best explanation I’ve heard of how the Bible speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Penal substitutionary atonement is not, in my opinion, the best explanation of the Gospel.

Furthermore, having an unorthodox doctrine of the trinity (one that does not measure up to the man-made definition of what the trinity is), does not disqualify you from salvation.

However, I have heard proponents of the trinity say that if you reject their notion of the trinity you can’t be saved. I’m not sure about that.

I do think wrong views of who God is will impact your doctrine on many levels and it is a vital doctrine, but can anyone fully explain it?

The Trinity is never explicitly explained in Scripture, whereas the Gospel is repeatedly explained. The Trinity is a pretty good attempt to draw together hints in the Scripture about God. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is not a very good summation of all the Bible clearly and repeatedly says about the Gospel.

The fact that we have definitions that we like and agree upon does not mean we actually understand it correctly. In other words, just because you think you’re right doesn’t necessarily mean you are right!

Making people believe your idea, no matter how orthodox (accepted) it may be, is still not a basis of salvation.

Back to penal substitutionary atonement. If penal substitutionary atonement is equal to the Gospel, and must be believed to be saved, shouldn’t these concepts be explicitly stated?

Yet the word “penal,” “penalty,” “penalize,” or any other word with “penal” in it is never once used in relationship to the Gospel in the New Testament.

The word “substitute,” “substitution,” “substitutionary,” or any other word with “substitute” in it is never used in the New Testament in relationship to the Gospel.

Allow me to really shock you and say that the word “atone,” “atoned,” “atonement,” or any other word including the root “atone” is never used in the New Testament in relation to the Gospel (“Atonement” is used one time in the KJV when they mistranslated a Greek word).

It seems weird to me that believing penal substitutionary atonement is required in order to believe the Gospel when none of these words is ever used in relation to the Gospel.

There are, no doubt, verses that people can list that hint at these words (Isaiah 53 being the closest to the idea), there may be concepts that are similar, but alas, none of these words is ever used.

I do not have to believe your doctrine in order to believe the Gospel. I do not have to use your non-biblical words. In fact, I prefer not using the word “trinity” simply because it’s not a biblical word. I prefer “godhead” much better, because there is at least biblical precedent for using such a word.

When we explain to people what we believe, what our doctrine is, it is always best to quote Scripture. It is better to say it the way the Bible says it than to quote what people said.

I, in no way, think doctrine is unimportant. On the contrary, I think doctrine is so important that we should be very careful in what we say it is and how we define it. Instead of using our words, ideas, and concepts, it seems better to quote Scripture.

If a person were to ask me, “Hey, Jeff, what is the Gospel?”

I would not answer by quoting the definition of penal substitutionary atonement. I would instead quote 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

I can rest on that. I’d rather rest on the foundation of Scripture than on the teetering, fallible doctrines of men. If someone has a problem with my defining biblical quote, then I end up defending the Bible, which is way better than defending what some guys said.

If your doctrine uses non-biblical words, I am immediately skeptical. I assume human philosophy has entered your doctrine. I also wonder how well you know the Scripture. Is this unfair judgment on my part? Maybe, then again, the Bible tells me to test the spirits and I don’t mess around with that.

Doctrine is important. The Gospel is important. So important that we should be very careful in how we define it, explain it, and defend it. You can’t go wrong quoting the Bible. Do so.

Two Problems With Substitutionary Atonement

Yesterday I did a post on the following quote:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

The gist of the quote is that if you don’t believe in Substitutionary Atonement (to be called SA from now on cuz it’s hard to type!) then you aren’t saved.

This is a rather silly position to take. SA is Calvinism. What the author of the quote is saying is that if you’re not Calvinist you don’t believe the Gospel and thus are not saved.

In his quote, only Calvinists are saved. These are the same people who fought against the Catholic Church for saying only Catholics are saved!

I believe it is entirely possible to not believe in SA and still believe the Gospel, because SA is not the Gospel. SA is an attempt to summarize and explain the Gospel.

It gets some things right and presses other things out of measure.

I know it is possible to not accept SA and yet still believe the Gospel, because I do.

Here are my two main reasons for rejecting SA:

1. SA says that Christ died as your substitute. He died in your place. You were supposed to die, but instead Christ did. Although this sounds good and there are a couple verses you can misinterpret to make it sound like that’s what the Bible says, this isn’t right.

If Christ specifically died in the exact place of every believer, then He did not die in the exact place of every non-believer. This leads to Limited Atonement, the L of the Calvinist TULIP. This is, by far, their weakest point. It is refuted by many Scriptures. Limited Atonement is wrong. Anyone can come to Christ for salvation. He died for the sins of the whole world.

Limited Atonement rejects that idea because Limited Atonement is not based on Scripture; it’s based on the Calvinist philosophy of SA.

2. SA says that Christ died instead of you. He was your exact substitute, doing something you don’t have to do now because He did it for you.

This obviously isn’t true because everyone dies! This is also not true from a Gospel standpoint because, according to Romans 6 and many other passages, Christ didn’t just die for you, He wasn’t just some man who did some thing a long time ago for you. By faith you were crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised up with Him to newness of life. I am crucified with Christ. The old man is crucified with its affections and lusts.

SA is all about Christ dying, not me. The New Testament clearly shows that we die with Christ and are raised up with Christ to newness of life. By faith, anyone can identify themselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not instead of or in the place of; it’s with.

SA is wrong. It ignores lots of Scripture. SA is Calvinism. Heaven contains non-Calvinists. You do not have to believe in SA to be saved. Rejecting SA is not rejecting the Gospel.

Rejecting SA is rejecting a human attempt to explain the Gospel, an attempt that fails in several ways.

Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word; hold loosely the ideas and philosophies of people. We’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by faith in John Calvin, Augustine, or anyone else. Please don’t forget that.

Doctrine and the Gospel

I saw this quote on the internet the other day:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

I fully agree that you are saved by the work of Christ on the cross or not at all (as long as the resurrection is included). No problem there.

But the idea that my belief in the Gospel equals my belief in a man-made attempt to explain what Christ did, crosses the line.

Substitutionary atonement is not the Gospel. It’s the Calvinist/Reformed understanding of the Gospel.

If this quote is true, then only Calvinist/Reformed people can be saved.

This is one example of many I have seen and heard over the years. This is not an issue with substitutionary atonement; it’s an issue with overstating your case.

The fact that you can read your doctrine into the Gospel does not mean that your doctrine IS the Gospel.

One of the main problems Jesus Christ had with the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day was the demand to adhere to their ideas rather than adhering, by faith, to God Himself.

Believing what people say is not believing the Gospel! Believing a person’s summation of the Gospel is not believing the Gospel!

You do not have to have 100% agreement in doctrine with some elite group in order to get into heaven.

Furthermore, substitutionary atonement was not codified until about 600 years ago. Are we to believe that no one was saved before the Reformers showed us what the Gospel was?

Your job is to know the Lord Jesus Christ. To grow in your love for Him and all He has done and will do for you.

All of this is based upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection. It is not based on adherence or conformity to a group’s doctrine.

The temptation to say “Only people who agree with me are saved because I’m the only one who knows what the Gospel is” ruins people, leads to self-righteousness, and divides the Church.

Stop doing that.

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

That’s a direct quote from the Bible and there are other verses like it. None of these verses say “believe what some guy theorized about what Jesus did and you will be saved.”

Know Christ yourself. Know His Gospel. Pray and talk with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. People can help you understand the Gospel (Ephesians 4 makes that clear), but nowhere is salvation promised to those who agree in totality with some random group.

Deal with God. He’s your Judge. Deal with the Word of God, for by His Word you will be judged.

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
–Matthew 15:8-9

Grace To All

Calvinism is Greek philosophy read into a handful of Scriptures. If Calvinism is true, then a massive amount of verses in the Bible are not.

Here’s one:

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
–Titus 2:11

The King James Version above is not the best. It gives the idea that God’s grace that brings salvation has appeared to all men. That all men saw its appearance.

The correct translation of the Greek is better expressed in the New American Standard:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,

or the English Standard Version:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,

I mean, even the NIV gets this one right!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

The grace of God, which brings salvation to all men, has appeared. All men can receive God’s grace. It hasn’t just appeared to them; it can actually save them. Not just some of them, but ALL of them.

It is not saying that all men will be saved, but that all men can be saved by God’s grace, and His gracious salvation has appeared–referring to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. Everyone can approach the Father through the Son.


Not just a chosen few only.

Grace is there for everyone to be saved.

The offer of salvation is legitimately made to all people. Not just by us with God ordained means, but legitimately by God who desires all men to be saved.

Titus 2:11 rejects Limited Atonement forcefully.

I like Titus 2:11 way more than I like sticking with some guys theories.

Materialism and Free Will

It’s interesting to ponder why so many intellectuals are so intent (with their own free will) on proving that they have no free will. As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead pointed out ironically, “scientists animated by the purpose of proving themselves purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.” In my view, this is connected to the general nihilism of our culture, the collapse of values which has followed from materialistic science. Such absurd views could only arise – and make any kind of sense – amidst the climate of meaninglessness and confusion that scientific materialism has given rise to.

This is from an article in Psychology Today, not even a remotely Christian publication.

The premise of the article is why a flawed, yet oft repeated, psychological study is used to support the notion that we have no free will.

The author speculates that the false study is used because materialism (the view that only physical things are real, there is no spiritual component to life) desperately needs there to be no free will in order to justify sin.

OK, they didn’t exactly put it like that!

The reason why the experiment has been so enthusiastically embraced is surely because its apparent findings fit so well with the principles of materialism. It seems to prove what materialism implies: that human beings are automatons.

If we are automatons, doing what we’re programmed to do with no choice of our own, there can be no sin, accountability, judgment, or other such higher things. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die and none of it was your fault!

A denial of free will is nothing but an embrace of antinomianism. There should be nothing outlawed, as we can’t help what we’re doing anyway.

The Bible, in my opinion, flies directly in the face of such teaching. It’s one of the reasons why people don’t like the Bible and the Gospel.

Denying free will, responsibility, and judgment may make you feel better while living on earth, but what will you do in the end?

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
–Galatians 6:7-8

Who Does God Show Mercy To?

I recently saw this quote on the internet from R C Sproul, recently deceased Calvinist extraordinaire:

If God only exercised justice to a fallen race everyone would perish. But God chooses to grant mercy to some.

I cringe at the way he says this. According to Calvinism, God only extends mercy to the elect.

A verse that popped into my head immediately upon seeing this quote was Romans 11:32

For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

God has done, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what was necessary to provide mercy to every single living soul ever on this planet. Jesus Christ was the propitiation for the sins of the world. In fact, that’s an important verse:

And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
–1 John 2:2

Christ provided a way for every sinner in the world to receive mercy. This was no disingenuous offer either. Nor was it some semantic thing where it was offered to “all” but “all” means “the elect.” There is no way “the world” here can mean the elect, otherwise who is the “our” in 1 John 2:2?

God extends mercy to all. Sproul, an adamant Calvinist, does not believe this is true. God only genuinely extends mercy to some.

God’s extending of mercy to all does not mean all are saved; it just means all could be saved.

Why are all not saved? Because not all take God’s mercy. This is not God’s choice to damn them (God desires all men to be saved), but a sinners’ refusal to submit to God’s mercy.

God doesn’t choose to grant mercy to some. God chose to show mercy to all, but not all take it.

Sproul is choosing his words carefully. Calvinism is a heartless doctrine. Calvinism cannot legitimately offer salvation to all. They can’t tell everyone that God will be merciful to them.

I know the defense: we don’t know who is saved, so we offer it to all. True, but you’re still lying when you say ALL can be saved when you believe SOME can’t be.

To grant means to formally bestow. Grant is a word that is emphasizing what God does. He either chooses to grant it to you or He doesn’t. It’s up to Him. Therefore, He doesn’t grant it to all.

The Bible is very clear that God offers mercy to all. The Bible is also clear that most don’t take it because they deem it unnecessary, they believe they’re doing just fine on their own.

But to those humble few who are tired of sin and see the light of the Gospel shining in the darkness, they come with desperation to receive the refreshing waters of life to quench their soul’s thirst.

That is the Gospel and how it works. Don’t fall for the Calvinist philosophy that blasphemes the character of God and contradicts Scripture.

Satan, the World, and God’s Will

Satan is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, and the prince of this world. The Bible says all these things.

Satan is fighting against and thwarting God’s will. We have been equipped in Christ to resist the temptations of the Devil and to stand opposed to him and his deceptions.

Many oppose this teaching, thinking that if Satan has power and can thwart God’s will, then in some way Satan has more power than God, or that God’s sovereign power is limited by His own creation who can overpower Him.

I find this objection lacking.

God granted this power to Satan, God sets the bounds of what Satan can do, as shown in the Book of Job. God gives His creation freedom within His determined boundaries.

God is still ultimately in control. At no point can Satan, or any part of creation, go beyond those boundaries God has set.

God has given us free will and also gives us the consequences of our actions. Satan rebelled against God’s authority because he wanted more. God gave him some. We’ve seen what Satan has done with it.

God has given people authority on this earth as well. We can resist God and His will. We do it all the time. Before Calvinism hi-jacked Christianity, we used to define sin as “anything contrary to God’s will.”

The fact that we can sin and resist God and His will does not mean we have more power than God, nor does it mean God’s power is subtracted from. God allowed us to do this!

We are created in God’s image. God has free will and so do we (within the bounds given us by our Creator). God uses His will to always do righteousness. We do not. God has provided a means of salvation where we can be recreated in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in.

God created us to obey Him. We rebelled. Humanity reaped the sowing of rebellion: creation itself now fights against us through the Fall and the Curse.

Satan is still trying to thwart God’s will. Satan does so by deceiving people and using creation to continue to fight against the Creator. Observe the following:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
–1 John 2:15-16

Satan, who can’t create anything himself, has to use what is already created to trap us. So John tells believers not to love anything on this earth! If you love something on this earth, Satan will use that thing against you.

He will turn that created thing, morally neutral in itself, into that which can destroy your soul.

The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are NOT OF THE FATHER!

There’s something else going on down here that is against what God wants. God does not use created things against you. He does not tempt people to sin with earthly things.

If Calvinism is true, then these verses are not. If God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, then the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life have to be from the Father, because all things are, according to Calvinism.

So, again, this is where the Calvinist starts to define different kinds of God’s will and God ordaining means as well as ends, none of which actually answer the basic problem.

If God ordains the means, then again, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life must be from the Father! Push it back as far as you want and you are still in the same place of admitting that God actually is the one who is making you do the lust and the pride.

Again, Satan is redundant and God’s character must adapt characteristics of the Devil if Calvinism is true. In what sense is God still righteous? In what sense is John talking sense when he says there are things here that are not of the Father? Why would Jesus Christ tell us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven if God’s will is already being done here?

I’ll wrap it up with a quote of 1 John 5:19, I’ll even use the Calvinist’s favorite ESV to do so:

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

The world is a problem to us precisely because it is under the control of the god of this world. Satan is using created things to keep you from worshiping the Creator. We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11).

I fear that Calvinism keeps people ignorant of Satan’s devices and this will not work out well for the church.