Friday, February 8, 2008

YouTube Discussion on a Line About the Atonement in Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis"

I posted the following:

And I got the following comment:
I think what Rob Bell meant was that all the people in hell were forgiven and God loves them and Jesus died for them... HOWEVER they chose not to believe in him. That makes his statement true because God loves everyone and Jesus died for everyone's sins. I don't see this as limiting the power of atonement either because the power of atonement is TREMENDOUS but it cannot save someone who is not willing to accept that they need to be saved and that Jesus is the one who died to save them.

YouTube won't let me post my full reply, so I linked to this page in order to display it:

Hi Katiedid,

Let me provide the preface that I like Bell's work, and "Velvet Elvis" is one of my favorite books. I liken it to "Mere Christianity".

Now, of course I agree that the power of the atonement is "TREMENDOUS", so let's start with our common ground. I believe the atonement accomplishes several things, including (but not limited to) payment in full to God for the debt incurred by the sins of His sheep. In fact, the atonement is SO tremendous that it fully redeems those to whom it applies!

In light of this tremendous view of the atonement, I find myself unable to agree with Bell's claim, that those in hell are forgiven by God. You see, if the atonement pays the debt of those in hell to God in full, then on what grounds were they sentenced to an eternity in repayment? If the atonement is so tremendous that it redeems those to whom it applies, then how do they remain in rebellion? If the atonement is so tremendous that it reconciles man with God ("at ONE ment"), then how are those in hell under God's wrath?

It is precisely because I believe in the power of the atonement that I find myself believing that only God's sheep receive it. Both views seem to place limits on the atonement: Bell's view (sometimes called "Unlimited Atonement") appears to limit its power; my view (often called "Limited Atonement" or "Particular Redemption" by Reformed thinkers) limits its extent.

You may still disagree with me, but since I did a poor job of communicating in my video, I wanted to clarify my position. To be honest I was just messing around with YouTube - I didn't think anyone was going to come across my little video!

So this leaves me able to agree with most of what you write. Jesus died "for" every single human, in the sense that it is true to say that the atonement "is available for" everyone in some sense. However His death only bore the sins of His sheep (and not the sins of those suffering for their sins in hell). If Jesus paid for a man's sins, and then God sentenced that man to hell for his sins, hasn’t God then required double payment? But God is just!

Therefore He came with the specific purpose of laying down His life for His sheep.

I totally agree that those not willing to accept that they need to be saved and that Jesus is the One who died to save them, are on the wrong track.

In summary: I can basically agree with everything you write, I just happen to maintain the narrow point that Jesus did not die "for" everyone in the sense that He did not pay for everyone's sins. As it concerns paying for sins, He died only for His sheep.

If someone wants to know whether he or she is one of Jesus' sheep, such a person can make the decision to follow Christ in a single heartbeat, and thereby become one.

Either way, it is much more important that Jesus is God, died for our sins, and God raised Him from the dead. Praise God that all we need to do is trust in Jesus, and He will give us abundant life, starting today.

Thanks for the comment.

Love your brother in Christ,


  1. Louis, I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say. Obviously youtube doesn't give enough room to write a full response and I realized that I used some improper grammar (but that's ok, no one's perfect). I also think that you have misinterpereted the bible to think that Jesus only bore the sins of his sheep. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for ALL, to be testified in due time"

    I believe the bible does not contradict itself, Christ died for ALL, past, present, and future. He experienced everyone's sin because in the end, what really is sin? It's a separation from God. That's why Jesus asked "Why have you forsaken me?" because he did not feel his fathers presence because sin had completely cut him off from his Father. I could only imagine how terrified Jesus was on that cross, in his last few hours, feeling so alone, not something he would be use to because his connection with God was so strong, he even said "I and My Father are one" in John 10:30.

    That is what makes his sacrifice so tremendous. And the best part of his sacrifice is that ANYONE can recieve the gift of eternal life if they believe Jesus is their savior and come to know him as their savior. That is why I agree with Rob Bell, I actually believe all of the people who have to die an everlasting death will be those that God loves but, I guess here's where I don't exactly agree, he has not been able to forgive them because they never asked to be forgiven.

    Thank you for the reply! I hope we can keep going back and forth with this discussion because I love being able to discuss God whenever possible. =)

    Love your sister in Christ,


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