Wednesday, October 04, 2006

R L Dabney's View - Expiation is Not Limited! - Part I

R L Dabney , one of the great American Presbyterian theologians of the 19th century, was certainly no Amyraldian. There are (at least) two sections in his Systematic Theology opposing the doctrine of Amyraut. And yet Dabney makes this rather startling assertion: "Expiation is not limited." (Systematic
Theology, Banner of Truth, 1985, p. 528.)

How can a man who holds to TULIP (as Dabney plainly does) make a statement which seems on the face of it so antithetical to the central point? How exactly does this work? The question is a difficult one and will require us to put aside prejudice and emotion, at least for a time. I propose to make an attempt to explain Dabney’s answer to this question in a series of short essays.

We must start with definitions — especially since Dabney makes such a big deal of them. This is the hard part; but it is critical and will greatly repay the tedious work.

Atonement — Dabney does not like this word as descriptive of Christ’s work. Dabney gives credence to that old saw that "atonement" can be defined as "at-one-ment." (I used to scoff at this notion until Dabney taught me to behave myself.) That is, atonement — for Dabney — has a proper synonym in "reconciliation." (id, p. 503.)

Satisfaction — Instead of "atonement" as a general descriptive term for Christ’s work for sinners, Dabney perefers the word "satisfaction." Dabney prefers the word because it has been commonly used in reformed theology, and because it is general enough to include both Christ’s active and passive obedience. (id.)

Expiation — I shall quote Dabney directly: "Expiation is the sacrificial and satisfactory action, making the offended Judge propitious to the transgressor." (p. 505.) It seems to me — biased observer though I am — that most evangelicals use "atonement" to mean what Dabney means here by "expiation."

More on this tomorrow. I shall end with a quote from John Calvin. This is from his commentary to Romans 5:18: "He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God's benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him."


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