I will never forget the first time I sat down with my great uncle to “talk theology.” My uncle was a Methodist pastor for many years, the only time I got to see him was at family reunions, but I always had a great deal of respect for him—he was a kind and patient man. So when he asked me if I would like to talk theology with him at a family reunion not long after I had decided to go to seminary, I was very excited.
We were in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, it was a beautiful sunny day, and we sat down on the porch of the cabin that my family had rented to do one of my favorite things—talk about the Lord, but in an instant, my joy turned to remorse and deep concern. The first thing my uncle said was “Drew, I don’t believe in the atonement.”
I wasn’t sure if I heard him right because I was pretty young in my faith, but I thought surely he couldn’t be a pastor and not believe in the atonement of Christ! So I asked, “What did you say?” My uncle responded, “I don’t believe in the atonement, I don’t believe that Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for my sins.” Perhaps my response was a little lacking in tact but looking back on it, I don’t regret what I said to him. I said, “if you don’t believe in the atonement you aren’t saved.” I was young in my faith but I firmly believed that Jesus died for my sins and that whoever believed in Him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). I believed that Christ redeemed me from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for me (Gal. 3:13). I believed the gospel that proclaims while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me and whoever would believe in Him will be saved (Rom. 5:8; Acts 16:31).
My uncle went on to tell me about how he went to a seminary in north Texas when he was close to my age and while there his whole foundation for theology was shaken. He had professors who questioned the authority and inerrancy of Scripture which led him to follow a group of scholars who would later come together as “The Jesus Seminar” (Tyler wrote on this group a long time ago). They were hoping to “rediscover” the historical Jesus and behind this attempt at rediscovery was the assumption that the Jesus of the Bible couldn’t possibly be the real Jesus. This group claims to love Jesus and to believe in Him, just not everything he said and did. In order to determine what Jesus really said and did, these scholars got together and read portions of the four gospels and then voted on how Jesus-like the passage was (I am not making this up). They voted using colored marbles, as follows:
- Red marbles – Jesus actually said or did it.
- Pink – Jesus probably said or did something similar.
- Grey – Jesus didn’t do or say it, but the saying or action lines up with his ideals.
- Black – Jesus did not do or say it –the passage was added by translators years after Jesus’ death.
The Jesus Seminar even followed this meeting up with a color coded Bible, based on the votes cast. Do you see what this does? This makes man the ultimate determiner of who Jesus is and what he said. Furthermore, it should be noted the all Scripture makes the claim of itself that it is divine and authoritative—Scripture is from God not from man (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Charles Spurgeon said this of some of the more “liberal” Bible scholars of his day, “The new religion practically sets ‘thought’ above revelation, and constitutes man the supreme judge of what ought to be true.” This is the perpetual sin of man—to exalt himself over and against the Lord or at least make yourself the final arbiter of His truth . . . a god in our own image.
The Jesus Seminar was not taking the Bible seriously, but not only that, they were setting themselves above it. If Scripture claims to be divine and authoritative and you immediately claim to have the authority and power to deem some of it human—you are contradicting yourself.
If you follow the logic of The Jesus Seminar, you can see how my uncle ended up saying that he didn’t believe in the atonement, because if it is up to man to determine truth, man is immediately going to eliminate anything that makes him even the slightest bit uncomfortable. The first to go are the portions that deal with issues of sin, judgment, and punishment. Thus Jesus Seminar essentially landed itself in universalism and under their influence, folks like my uncle began preaching “another gospel” altogether (Gal. 1:6-8). Though my uncle knew the gospel, by his own theology I feared that he did not know Jesus as Lord. I told my uncle that I feared for his soul, I preached the gospel to him that day and plead with him to come to Christ and live—to me that was the only loving thing to do.
Read the Bible on its own terms before you fall to the temptation to exalt yourself over it. The gospel and consequently the salvation of souls is at stake if you don’t.