John Owen on Effectual Atonement

I normally try and shy away from tackling tricky topics in something as short as a blog article, but . . . a) we just talked about this with our guided reading group so its fresh in my mind; b) these notes are really to help me put my thinking somewhere; c) Owen is just very good, and is simply the best case to engage with as far as I can see.

So I’m not claiming that what follows is the last word, and would request respectful engagement – this ain’t a hill I’m going to die on. That said, here, in a few hundred words is a few hundred pages of Owen from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. 

  • Either Christ’s death pays for the elect or it pays for all.
  • If it’s the latter then why do some end up in hell? Is that double-payment?
  • No, says the Arminian – the benefits of Christ’s death are conditional.
  • Ok, so what’s the condition?
  • Answer: Belief
  • Interesting, says Owen . . . so . . .
    • Why belief? Is unbelief a sin? (implied answer is yes) So why should that particular sin be a hurdle to the saving benefits of Christ’s death? Why doesn’t Jesus’ death cover my unbelief?
    • Second, is belief not one of the benefits of Christ’s saving death, rather than a condition for reception of said saving benefits (cf. Eph 1:3)
    • Third, if we concede that faith itself is a blessing received as a fruit of Christ’s death is that faith received absolutely or conditionally. And if there’s a condition upon reception is that condition met absolutely or conditionally (etc etc etc!)
  • Conclusion: as unpalatable as it might seem, it is better to recognise that in God’s sovereignty the Redeemer is sent to redeem not the entire world, but his own bride.

Now, I’m very happy to hear arguments to the contrary, provided they’re put with the grace befitting the Christian. Anything else will be removed!


5 Levels of Leadership

Here’s an outstanding talk on leadership by John Maxwell

He outlines five levels of leadership as follows:

Level 1 – position (right) – people follow you because you have a title and they have to!
Level 2 – permission (relationships) – people follow you because you’ve invested in relationship and they want to. Level 2 leaders good at listening, observing, learning. They have a servant attitude – love to serve. Relationships are foundational because leadership is influence.
Level 3 – production (results) – at this level not only do people follow you because they want to, and because they like you, but you’re seeing results.
Level 4 – people-development (reproduce) – here people are not just getting results but are growing in their role. People development is linked to recruitment, positioning, and equipping (best way to equip is do it, do it with someone, they do it while you’re with them, they do it, they teach it – all five steps key).
Level 5 – pinnacle (respect) – comes from long-term success that gains the respect of others.
A highly recommended talk – well worth 30 mins with your lunch or coffee.

The Three Gods of Death


Dennis Olson’s little commentary on Deuteronomy, entitled Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses, contains some wonderfully insightful gems. Here’s one he picks out in Deuteronomy 7-10. Following hard on the heels of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 (‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’), the author presents some of the other ‘gods’ that might threaten Israel’s allegiance to YHWH:

  • Militarism – “You may say in your heart, ‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ . . . remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharoah” (Deut 7:17-18)
  • Materialism – “You may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut 8:17-18)
  • Moralism – “Do not say in your heart, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’ . . . Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness.” (Deut 9:4-7)

Many commentators note that Deuteronomy 6-11 is an exposition of the first commandment given in Deuteronomy 5. The big threat to the people of God is spiritual amnesia, hence the repeated call to ‘remember.’ And the temptation when they forget God is to trust instead in might, wealth, or their own righteousness. These instructions, given to a community some three millennia ago, seem strikingly relevant today. The danger of forgetting God’s care, provision, and mercy is always there. Further, our temptation to find our security or well-being in some sort of pursuit of power/position, standard of living, or self-righteousness is not difficult to spot. The antidote is simply to remember the grace and mercy of God. The regular provision for that can be see in the instruction of Deuteronomy 12, but that’s a subject for another time.

The Mystery of Mankind


Here’s an interesting book tracing scientific development since the publication of the human genome in 2001. It was thought that this discovery would explain the wide variety in form and attributes of the millions of species on the planet. In fact it raised a lot more questions about things we don’t yet understand. This book well illustrates the phrase, ‘The more we know, the more we realise we don’t know.’ Examples abound through the book, but here’s a quote from the closing pages:

“Might further scientific investigation vindicate Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection as the explanation for the infinite beauty and diversity of the natural world? Might biologists at some time in the future penetrate the impenetrable Double Helix to reveal how the genes of a snowdrop determine its delicate form and colour, so readily distinguishable from those of a tulip or any other form of life, or find in the 2 per cent of the genome that separate us from our primate cousins those random genetic mutations that gave rise to the non-material mind, and confirm as ‘mere illusion’ our perception of ourselves as free autonomous beings? The answer to all these questions must be ‘no’. We are not just a mystery to ourselves, but our existence as the sole witness of the splendours of the universe is its central mystery.”

I don’t profess to understand much of the science – a lot of it is way over my  head. But I did enjoy the sense of wonder at the beautiful mystery of our world.

How Google Works


Here’s a few notes from the book How Google Works. In outline the book discusses the importance of organizational culture, strategy, hiring, innovation, and communication. There’s lots of nuggets in there, but it all feels a bit higgledy-piggledy, so hence the reason why I’ll pick out a few bits and bobs instead of attempting a fuller summary. You can decide for yourself whether you want to buy it and find our more:

Here’s some good thoughts on hiring:

  • Hire people who are better than you
  • Hire people who add value to your culture
  • Hire people who will get things done
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic and self-motivated
  • Hire people who work well with others
  • Hire people who are ethical and communicate openly
  • Don’t hire people who only think about problems
  • Don’t hire people who just want a job
  • Don’t hire people who prefer to work alone
  • Don’t hire people who only live to work
  • Don’t hire people who are political or manipulative
  • Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate and don’t settle for anything less.

Here’s some good thoughts on meetings:

  • Meetings should have a single decision-maker/owner
  • Meetings should have a clear focus or purpose
  • Meetings should have an actionable outcome
  • Meetings are not like government agencies – they should be easy to kill
  • Meetings should be manageable in size
  • Meetings should begin and end on time
  • Meetings should be ‘attended’ – i.e. no multi-tasking, multi-screening etc.

And here are a few other nice quotes:

“The tailwind of Google’s marketing and PR engine and brand wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome a headwind of mediocrity”

“Offices should be designed to maximize energy and interactions, not for isolation and status”

“no amount of strategy can substitute for talent . . . What is the single most important thing you do at work? Hiring.”

“The world’s best athletes need coaches, and you don’t?”

Lencioni, The Advantage


Here’s a really useful book by Patrick Lencioni entitled The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. As the subtitle suggests, Lencioni’s big thesis is that healthy teams are fruitful teams. To get there he suggests four disciplines as follows:


  1. Build a cohesive team. Lencioni summarizes, in this chapter, another book he’s written called Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He argues a healthy team needs to trust one another (really), do conflict well, are committed to one another (rather than in competition), hold one another accountable, and achieve good results. He explains through the chapter how to begin to work towards these, and how they relate to one another.
  2. Create clarity. This is achieved by answering the following six questions
    1. Why do we exist?
    2. How do we behave?
    3. What do we do?
    4. How will we succeed?
    5. What is most important right now?
    6. Who must do what?
  3. Overcommunicate clarity. Lencioni states, ’employees won’t believe what leaders are communicating to them until they’ve heard it seven times.’ Therefore we need to keep reminding ourselves of the answers to the six questions.
  4. Reinforce clarity. This is about turning communication into a culture. Lencioni discusses how this can be achieved over time through recruiting, training, managing etc. He also has a really helpful final chapter on ‘the centrality of meetings’ – and how he uses different sorts of meetings to keep his teams on track.

In essence it’s a book about communication, and the power of good communication to build a healthy culture in which people flourish. There’s a lot of really helpful wisdom in this book and I’d certainly recommend it as the type of thing to read and discuss as a team. Enjoy!