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Theologians Differ on the 'All' for Whom Christ Died

Jan 14, 2003 12:29 PM EST

A Christian college and seminary professor is disturbed that students at a Southern Baptist seminary in Kentucky are being taught that Jesus Christ died for some, but not all men.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Albert Mohler embraces traditional reformed theology, and believes that all Christians at some point must believe in limited atonement unless they are universalists.

"The question comes down to whether the atonement is limited by God's electing purpose or whether it's limited by human beings and their free decisions," Mohler explains. "I think the Scripture is very clear that God is sovereign in the process of salvation, such that God's saving work will be completed in Christ."

Instead of "limited atonement," Mohler affirms what he calls "particular redemption" -- which, he says, is based on the fact that "scripture speaks of an unconditional election of the saints in Christ, the fact that God's electing purpose is the ground of our salvation, and the fact that we are told that those who are saved are those whom God has chosen."

"Some persons would categorize that as limited atonement," he says, "but if you're going to talk about God's sovereignty and His omniscience and human responsibility, you can look at it either way."

But Dr. Elmer Towns, Liberty University co-founder and dean of the School of Religion, says Mohler does not understand the true nature of the cross.

"Jesus died for all. No man goes to hell for his sin -- people go to hell for unbelief ... they have not believed in Jesus Christ," Towns says. "Therefore, the atonement covers the sin of every person -- but that's not universalism. We must give them the message, they must believe."

Towns says very few Southern Baptist churches would buy in to Mohler's extreme Calvinist point of view, which is a distinct minority within the denomination. He goes on to say he will not hire individuals who are extreme Calvinists, because they skew Christianity. He says the God of the hyper-Calvinists is not the God of the Bible.

"A person who becomes a five-point Calvinist ultimately becomes a fatalist -- he doesn't take control of his life, he doesn't live for the best of God," he says.

"I think if you're a five-point Calvinist and you follow it through to its ultimate extreme, you become a fatalist -- and it takes responsibility and accountability out of your hands," Towns says. "Then you ultimately do what you feel, that 'this is the only thing that God wants me to do.' But people live by their own fatalistic limitations when that happens."

Towns says although Calvinism is becoming more popular today, across the broad spectrum of Southern Baptist churches and schools, the movement is not very prominent.

By James Brown