Universal Atonement?

I confess I like Greg Boyd. I know, I know. I am not supposed to, and I bet the doctrinal police will write my blog off for such a confession, but I do. I've read three of his books and enjoyed them very much. I think all American Christians would benefit from reading his The Myth of a Christian Nation. I have listened to many, many of his sermons. I think it is important for pastors to read and listen broadly. It helps keep the world big. I listen and read many "outside my tribe," but one of the things I love about Greg, in particular, is that he is theologically driven. Now, much of it is not my theology. Some of it is far from it, but I appreciate how he seeks to wrestle with Scripture even when I think he tapped out too soon.

All that to say, I was listening to one of his sermons recently from 2 Corinthians 5. He is not a universalist but does "empathize" with it because of passages like this one and a couple others. I hear this sort of reasoning from these key passages frequently so thought I'd blog my thoughts on them. Here are the three main passages:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:15 "And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised." (HCSB)
  • Romans 5:18 "So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone." (HCSB)
  • 1 Corinthians 15:22 "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." (HCSB)

We have all heard the "Bible says all. All means all, so I believe it" kind of reasoning, but it is not quite that simple. If these "alls" are all without exception then the verses prove too much and universalism must be true. In other words, the only Evangelical options for these verses are universalism or definite atonement. If Christ was put forward as a wrath-bearing substitute for all without exception, then there can be no wrath for anyone. If he died for all without exception, then there will be life-giving justification for everyone. If he was the substitute for all without exception, then all without exception will be made alive. These verses pose a real problem for those who hold to exclusivity and a universal atonement.

So is universalism true? Hardly. That's an alien worldview imposed on the Bible. What's the solution then? Once one understands the corporate personalities of Adam and the Last Adam, these verses make perfect sense.

Let me paraphrase the verses: Jesus died for all whom he represents, so that all those he died for would no longer live for themselves. It would make no sense to say that Jesus died for all without exception so that all without exception should no longer live for themselves. If that were true, according to this verse, the cross of Christ is a failure because there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who live for one: self.

With regard to Paul's "Christ/Adam" theology, he is referring to the "all" within their respective representative heads. Adam is the representative head of all humanity; Christ is the representative head of the new humanity, the elect. So the verses are saying that there is condemnation for all represented by Adam but life-giving justification for all represented by Christ, the last Adam. In Adam, all under his headship die but all under Christ's headship are made alive. So, universalism is at odds with the rest of Scripture and universal atonement proves too much and leads to universalism. In my humble opinion, only a definite atonement makes sense of these three verses.