In 1647 John Owen published his book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ in defence of a true understanding of the gospel and against those who taught that Christ died for everybody. Tom Barnes stands in Owen’s shoes to continue the battle in 2008. Atonement Matters is an appeal to ministers and students to be robustly Reformed in their understanding and preaching of the cross. He is concerned that, for various reasons, even Reformed preachers are inhibited from preaching a full gospel.
A full gospel, he asserts, must declare a definite atonement – a saving work that is both particular (Christ died specifically for the elect) and effective (Christ died to actually save people not just to make their salvation possible). He shows that a definite atonement is clearly taught in both the Old and New Testaments.
With careful exegesis, Barnes takes up the challenge of explaining those texts of Scripture which appear to teach a general view of the atonement such as John 3:16. The author refuses to accept one popular Bible commentator’s opinion that ‘Scripture appears to affirm both positions (definite and general) in an antimony which we are at present unable to resolve’. Rather, he maintains, there is a coherent biblical doctrine of the extent of the atonement.
Barnes states that God ultimately determines who will be saved and who will not. It therefore makes no sense that Christ came as a substitute to pay the penalty for those who would never believe, whom God had determined to leave in their sin.
Faith, which is necessary for the application of salvation, is not a sinner’s contribution but is purchased for him by Christ’s death. Further, salvation is complete and secure. Christ’s sacrifice and intercession must be seen as a single ministry, so that those he prays for are those he died for. Christ is commissioned not only to receive all who come to him but also to bring them to glory.
Salvation has its source in the love of God. God’s love for the elect transcends the love he has for mankind as a whole and brings about their redemption.
With regard to evangelistic work, no one, he says, should feel any restraint in preaching the gospel to all people without exception. There is no contradiction in preaching to all when God only intends to save some. All are to be called to repent and come to Christ.
This an important book for pastors and should be required reading for theological students. The subject matter is presented clearly and logically and careful study will bring a greater appreciation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.