>Sufficiency of the Atonement

>The following post is a forum contribution that I made in my Systematic Theology III course this semester on the sufficiency of the atonement. Enjoy and comment at your leisure!

From your notes, explain and evaluate James P. Boyce’s statement, “The atoning work of Christ was not sufficient for the salvation of man.” [James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, 367-68.]The Atoning Work of Christ is not sufficient for the Salvation of ManTaken at face value and out of context, this is a startling comment by J.P. Boyce, the founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.[1] The atoning work of Christ was effectual in that it, as Boyce puts it, “removed…all the obstacles in the way of God’s pardon of the sinner”. Without the atonement, salvation could not take place. In other words, the atonement was a work of Christ to God so that the righteous judgment of God could be atoned for at the cross instead of on the souls of humanity as a whole. The atonement declares the righteousness of God and the holiness of God. The atonement makes it possible for God to save the elect for the sake of His own glory and righteousness. As Boyce puts it, it is a “Godward” act. The atonement places humanity in a position to where they can now have a relationship with God. The atonement along with the resurrection of Christ is the Gospel’s power.Nonetheless, even if the atonement is essential for salvation, it is not completely sufficient for the salvation of the sinner. Individually and positionally speaking the sinner as a human being is still at enmity with God. If the atonement was all that was sufficient for the salvation of the unbeliever, then the atonement would have resulted in a universal salvation for all of humanity. Maybe this is what liberal theological thought would like to be the case, but it is simply not biblical. The atonement crashes down the barriers, tears the veil in two, grants access to God in a personal relationship, but it does not justify the sinner. The sinner is still a sinner. The sinner needs to hear the gospel, but because of the sinful nature in the unbeliever, that Gospel falls on deaf ears. This is the case, even though, as Boyce points out, the Gospel “has all the elements which should secure its acceptance.” This passage from Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology is focused on the effectual calling of the elect, whereby God gives to those who are to be saved “such influences of the Spirit as will lead to their acceptance of the call.” However, as Dr. Moore mentioned in the lecture on this topic, even the effectual calling itself also does not save anyone. It is by the grace of God, through faith, that one is saved. This faith involves a knowledge of the Gospel truth, an assent that the gospel is the truth, and a trust in the person of Christ for salvation. As George E. Ladd questions, “Is the Kingdom of heaven to be entered merely by taking the name of Jesus upon one’s lips and making a verbal confession?”[2] Ladd answers that question by saying, “In Christ, the Kingdom now confronts us. The life of the Age to Come now stands before us. The One who shall tomorrow be the Judge of all men has already come into history. He faces us with one demand: decision.”[3] The Kingdom of God makes a demand for a decision. Yes, the atonement was necessary for salvation, but it is not sufficient. This decision is to be resolute, urgent, radical, costly, and eternal.[4] The decision points to all the work of God in the salvation experience, including Christ’s atonement over two millennia ago, but it is a crucial ingredient. The salvation experience is a glorious and mysterious working of God in the life of the believer. One must not over emphasize the importance of one particular aspect. Each phase of salvation has its place and its effect. When one experiences this phenomenon, the believer can only say, “Amazing Grace!”

[1] All quotations of James P. Boyce come from Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 367-68 as referenced in the class lecture outline notes.

[2] George E. Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 96.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, 98-106.