Last Friday at the “College for a Weekend” emphasis at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry Falwell preached a chapel message to 1828 prospective new students along with current students, faculty and staff. Under the title of “Our Message, Mission and Vision,” Dr. Falwell delcared his purpose to be to communicate who Liberty University is in order to persuade prospective students to matriculate there.
Much of what he said regarding the “message” of Liberty is praiseworthy and ought to be applauded by all Bible believing Christians. When he came to articulating their belief in the “substitutionary atonemement of Jesus Christ for all men,” however, he added a statement that I find tragic. Here it is (about 10 minutes or so into the video):
“We are not into partcular love or limited atonement. As a matter of fact we consider it heresy.”
Don’t misunderstand me, I do not regard it as unfortunate that he articulated his and Liberty University’s honest beliefs, no matter how offensive they may be to me or to others. In fact, I applaud his willingness to state clearly not only what they believe but also what they do not believe. We need more such plain speaking in our day.
What I regret is that he finds particular atonement to be “heresy.” This must mean that he and Liberty believe that those who hold to particular atonement to be heretics. Among the countless numbers of people whom he would brand with the H-word are many who would make any evangelical Who’s who list (including Bunyan, Owen, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Carey, Boyce, Mell, Dagg and Lloyd-Jones, to name but a few of the dead ones). I find this sad.
Does Jerry Falwell and Liberty University really judge John Piper to be a heretic? If we take his words seriously, as surely we ought if we are to honor him, then he believes that Al Mohler, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, D. James Kennedy, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Tom Nettles, Wayne Grudem, Sinclair Ferguson, James White and Fred Malone teach heresy.
That certainly is his and Liberty’s right to believe. I simply regret that they believe it. I do not regard my universal redemptionist brothers to be heretics because of their views of general atonement. I think they are wrong and they think the same of me. But that does not mean that we have to accuse each other of being heretics.
Dr. Falwell’s comments shed some light on the atrocious comment made last year by the president of his Liberty Seminary. Those of you who have read this blog in February of 2006 probably recall when Dr. Ergun Caner declared that “Calvinists are worse than Muslims.” I am sorry that he believes that but certainly applaud his willingness to state it clearly, since he does indeed believe it. I am all for people and institutions nailing their colors to the mast for all to see. I just wish that the flag under which he and Liberty have chosen to fly did not condemn so many faithful servants of Christ as heretics.
Perhaps I am naive, but I have a hunch that these kinds of vitriolic, dismissive and historically invalid castigations are more and more being seen not only as inaccurate but offensive to Christian brothers on both sides of the extent of the atonement question. Such inflammatory rhertoric can still incite an audience, and perhaps it will continue to draw students and revenues to institutions, but it is not helpful to the cause of Christ in either fellowship or evangelism.
It is time for this generation of believers to learn how to disagree over substantive issues without falling into the sins of slander and bearing false witness. When the Word of God that we love gets trampled underfoot by those who profess to defend it in the very process of their defense, it is more than ironic. It is tragic.