Can we declare to all men that Christ's sacrifice effectively redeems them? The Calvinist must say no; Christ has actually saved only the elect. The Arminian must also say no; Christ has only made a pro vision whereby all men could be effectively saved if they do something right, that is, believe or accept Him.
The bad news that inevitably spoils this "good news" is that the sinner can never be really sure he is one of Calvinism's effectively saved "elect." Neither can the sinner be sure that he has believed or accepted the gospel properly enough so that Arminianism's provisional salvation is effective for him. If he doesn't respond properly, Christ's sacrifice remains a mere provision that accomplishes nothing.
According to Punt, ever since the third century the Christian church has imbibed a simple but false assumption. Punt labels it Premise A--"All persons are lost, on the road to hell, except those whom the Bible says will be saved." Calvinism refines this assumption by identifying the exceptions as the elect; Arminianism refines it by identifying them as those who do something--believe. Punt suggests that this basic assumption is nonbiblical.
Punt says the good news is that all per sons are saved by the sacrifice of Christ and will go to heaven, the only exception being those whom the Bible specifically says will be finally lost. In other words, Christ actually accomplished salvation for all men, except those who personally, finally (persistently), willfully, choose not to have God in their knowledge. Punt claims that both Calvinists and Arminians have missed this focal point of the true New Testament good news.
This good news premise blows through Punt's pages like a fresh wind that almost takes one's breath away. The biblical evidence he marshals is impressive, and strongly suggests that the apostles turned their world upside down with a gospel that contained considerably better good news than our versions of it convey to day.
Consider, for example, that troublesome passage in Romans 5:18 that has kept theologians at sword's point for centuries: "As one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men" (RSV).
Simply stated, this text can be under stood in four ways:
1. Calvinism says that this means that Christ's "act of righteousness" is effective only for "all the elect."
2. Arminianism says this text reveals that salvation is only "provided for all persons"; its effectiveness is contingent entirely on the response of the sinner.
3. Universalism says that Paul's words mean that "all persons" will be saved at last.
4. Punt believes that Paul's words mean that there is indeed an effective and accomplished "acquittal and life for all men" (see 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:19), with the exception only of those whom the Bible (in its broader context) declares will not be saved. Scripture excludes from salvation only those, who, in addition to their sin "in Adam," willfully and finally reject or remain indifferent toward whatever revelation of Himself God has given to them.
The Bible reveals no final or contributing cause of salvation other than God's initiative of grace. Likewise, there is no final or contributing cause of condemnation other than man's rejection of God's grace. We will never comprehend this placing side by side of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. We accept both simply because both are revealed in the Scriptures.
A wholehearted acceptance of Punt's premise would revolutionize evangelism and make the message so palatable that multitudes who now shrug their shoulders at Christianity would begin to see in it what the ancients saw when the apostles enlightened the world. Perhaps this salient recovery of a long-neglected New Testament truth will be effective. If we are willing to believe this good news, our missionary outreach to the world will feel its impact.
Here is a book that will challenge keen theologians; but it is so clearly and simply written that it will also warm the hearts of lay readers. That too is very good news.