U.S. Christians make a lot of claims about being "Bible believers," but mostly they are Bible praisers. They honor and say wonderful things about the Bible, but they really don’t pay much attention to what it says unless it agrees with what they’ve been told by whatever favorite denomination or teacher they have.
Example 1: Limited Atonement
I was explaining radical (5-point) Calvinism to my son earlier in the week. Calvinism is marked by five central beliefs, called "the five points of Calvinism," which spell out TULIP. The five points are:
- Total Depravity
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints
I cover Calvinism on my Christian history site, so I won’t address all those points here. I just want to use "Limited Atonement" as an example of "Bible believers" who, despite the wonderful things they say about the authority of the Bible and its divine inspiration, are unmoved by what the Bible actually says.
Five-point Calvinism is not a rare belief. It is the official belief of Reformed Churches (250,000 US members), some Presbyterian churches, some Baptist churches, and others scattered throughout Protestant denominations. John Piper, a very popular teacher endorsed by the Harrises (leaders of The Rebelution); John MacArthur, well-known author, radio host, and head of Grace to You ministries; Mark Driscoll, pastor of "emergent" Mars Hill Church; plus authors and historical figures like Arthur Pink, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and R.C. Sproul are or were noted 5-point Calvinists.
This means that all of them have defended the doctrine of limited atonement, which teaches that Jesus only died for Christians (the elect), rather than for the whole world.
Here’s a couple things the Bible says about that idea:
If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the atonement for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 Jn. 2:1-2)
Is there actually anything else to talk about once we read a passage like that? Is it really possible even to suggest that John would have accepted the idea of limited atonement when he said that Jesus is the atonement for the sins of the whole world and not just ours?
We both labor and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Tim. 4:10)
Do I even need to comment on what that says?
God is not slow as some men reckon slowness, but he is patient with us, not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)
Calvinists argue that "all" and "all men" and "the whole world" are references to believers only because they are the only people that God "knows." The rest God does not know, so they are not part of "all men" or "the whole world."
I can’t even argue with that except to say that I’d be embarrassed to make such an argument out loud.
I’m not sure what to say about great men like George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon, that they could be deceived by such nonsense. These were not men who ignored the Scripture when it came to obeying God, unlike most U.S. Christians, who make excuses why we should not obey the "extreme" things Jesus taught.
I am sure, however, that "limited atonement" is an excellent example of strict believers in the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scriptures simply ignoring what it says. Their tradition is far more important to them than what Scripture says.
Example 2 and 3: Works and One God
I’ll give a second and third example. Try quoting either one of these verses in a strict "Bible-believing" church and see if you can avoid being labeled a heretic:
For us there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 8:6)
So we see that a man is justified by works and not by faith only. (Jam. 2:24)
Are those isolated verses? Contradicted by "the historic Christian faith"?
No. Try these on to match those two verses:
God … will repay everyone according to their deeds; to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good he will repay eternal life. (Rom. 2:5-7)
But be careful. Don’t quote those things publicly. Most "Bible believers" are not Bible believers but tradition believers, and you will be regarded a heretic.
You can see well-documented, primary source discussions of the early church’s universal position on the topics of works and the Trinity at my Christian history site. You can get to either from the doctrine page.