Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Incongruity of Unlimited Atonement

While I hold to a version of Limited Atonement, I also hold to a version of Unlimited Atonement. As I mentioned in my first blog entry, I hold to unlimited atonement (as defined by W. G. T. Shedd,) and limited atonement (as defined by R. L. Dabney). The difference between these two theologians is partly in their definitions of "atonement." When Dabney used the term, he meant actual reconciliation, while Shedd used the term in the way that most modern Calvinists would. Despite the difference in definition, they both believed that Christ's work was for everyone without distinction. The limitation in the atonement is in the application, which is for the elect alone -- by grace through faith.

So I am a five-point Calvinist of a sort. My previous blog entry, though, was in defense of four-point Calvinism. I mentioned there that four-point Calvinism is not logically inconsistent, B. B. Warfield to the contrary notwithstanding.

There is nothing illogical here provided we keep in mind the distinction between provision on the one hand and application on the other (borrowing Dr. Kevin Bauder's terms [scroll down to find the article entitled "The Logic of Limited Atonement"]). We could better use the terms Dabney and Shedd used. They taught the same concept by distinguishing between expiation and atonement -- as per Dabney -- or between atonement and redemption -- as per Shedd.

There does seem to be something wrong with the scheme, though. Here is the problem: If we understand the eternal counsel of God properly, the Father elected certain ones to be given to the Son as his people. Thus the saving and efficacious love of the Father is bestowed on the elect alone. If we view Christ's work on the cross as being universal, then the Son died for all men, regardless of the particular love of the Father for the elect. So the Father's work in salvation is limited and particular, while the Son's work in salvation is unlimited and general. Though there may be nothing illogical about this in the strict sense, there certainly does seem to be something incongruous about it. Why would the Son do a work of sacrifice that is seemingly so out of step with the particularity of the decree of election?

The incongruity is really only a misunderstanding. If we think of God as having both a general will that all men be saved and a special will that the elect be saved (1Timothy 4:10), then we must think of each member of the Holy Trinity as agreeing with such a purpose and contributing to that purpose.

Thus, the Father loves the world in general and has a special love for the elect (compare Matthew 5:44-45, John 3:16, John 6:32, Romans 2:4, and 1John 4:14 with Ephesians 1:4 and cognates). The Son gave his life for the world and especially those that believe (compare John 3:16, John 12:47, and 1John 2:2, with Ephesians 5:25 and 1Timothy 4:10). The Holy Spirit draws all men generally, and the elect efficaciously (compare Revelation 22:17 with 2Thessalonians 2:13).

Thus there is no conflict between a general work of Christ on the one hand and a particular electing decree of the Father and the effectual call of the Holy Spirit on the other hand. Rather, there is a general love of God for all men and a saving purpose concordant with that love in which every member of the Holy Trinity participates. And there is a particular love of God for His elect people with an efficacious saving purpose concordant with that love in which every member of the Holy Trinity also participates.

More on this in the next blog entry.


Anonymous said...

Excellent! I found this very helpful. When I read Packer's Intro to Owen's Death of Death, the thing that really drew me was this unity between the persons of the Godhead in salvation. When I began to re-think the "L", I wondered if I had to give up on that unity that seemed so right and sensible. Now I'm pleased and blessed to understand how that unity is still intact.


Steve said...

Thanks for your comment, Hope. I'm glad you found the thought helpful, and I agree with you about Packer and Owen.

davidfca52 said...

I'd like to suggest what I think is the best explanation for the tensions between the Universalist passages and those teaching a limited or particular atonement. God's Wrath Postpond, by D Michael Turner can receive a partial viewing at Google books.

Scott said...

Steve, There are too many unhealthy dichotomies in your presentation as in expiation/atonement and atonement/redemption. What is the use in being redeemed if our sins have not been atoned for and vise versa. I am curious which one is universal expiation or atonement? If the atonement is then how do you interpret 1 John 2:2 which is usually interpreted by arminians/amyraldists as teaching a universal atonement? Does Christ's death take away the sins of the whole world or just the elect (John 1:29)? If the sins of the whole world the question remains why then does any one go to hell? I would commend to you my own blog on Definite Redemption. I am also curious to know whether you believe regeneration precedes faith or vise versa? Amyraldists usually hold that faith precedes but you seem to want to align yourself with Shedd and Dabney which held the traditional reformed view.

Steve said...

Hi Scott. The dichotomies you refer to are those proposed by Dabney and Shedd. They are not unhealthy; rather they aid in understanding what the Bible is saying.

I have been procrastinating on 1John 2:2 for about 2 years now ... I guess I'll have to post something on it eventually (right David?). I'm sure you won't like it.

Yes, Christ takes away the sin of the world. If you understand the distinction that Dabney and Shedd were making, this is the universalism they spoke of. But only believers (i.e. the elect) are actually forgiven because to them alone is the expiation applied.

Regarding regeneration, regeneration certainly precedes faith -- logically, though not necessarily chronologically.

Where is your definite atonement blog?

Scott said...

Steve, The blog I was referring to is at http://caledonianhighlander.blogspot.com/2009/06/definite-redemption.html you may also be interested in http://caledonianhighlander.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html although I am sure you will not agree with them.
I stand by my comment of the dichotomies being unhealthy regardless if they were thought up by Shedd and Dabney. Separating atonement with either redemption or expiation is like separating the sun from its light or heat. You have, if nothing else inspired me to study what they said to see if you are right about them. If so, it is a shame that I will have to classify them as amyraldians and not true calvinists. It seems to me you have adopted and are comfortable with a "Paradox Theology" despite your claims that it is all logical. I personally found your blog very confusing but maybe that is because you presume a familiarity with Shedd and Dabney to which I am not. Either way I know in the long run bad theology will always be confusing. Whoever David is though he is right, you need to come to a position on 1 John 2:2. Also for propriety sake, it would be better if you did not claim to be either a calvinist and especially not a 5 point calvinist as it really does add more confusion. If you are a calvinist then the term amyraldian loses its significance. I do mean this to be nice despite my bluntness and hope God grants you repentance to the truth on this matter.

Steve said...

If you classify Shedd and/or Dabney as Amyraldian, you will contribute to that woeful historical ignorance of evangelical Calvinists. But you do what you must.

No credible theologian has every classified Shedd or Dabney as Amyraldian, though I have no doubt you can find internet crackpots to support your view of Shedd and Dabney.

I wonder if you would give the label "Amyraldian" to anyone who isn't the highest of high Calvinists. Or do you have some other criteria? Do you know what Amyraut taught? And what about my views is Amyraldian?

Thanks for your admonition to refrain from calling myself a Calvinist, but no thanks.

Thanks for the link to your blog. I'll read the article and post a comment. :-)

Steve said...

Scott, you asked about my view of 1 John 2:2. I read it just the way it reads without any funny "world = elect" or "world = some of all nations" funny business. I read "the whole world" as every person in the whole world.

I posted several articles about Shedd's view of atonement v. redemption and in those posts I focused on 1John 2:2. Here are the links to those articles:

W. G. T. Shedd and 1John 2:2, part 1.

W. G. T. Shedd and 1John 2:2, part 2.

W. G. T. Shedd and 1John 2:2, part 3.

W. G. T. Shedd and 1John 2:2, part 4.

Kevin Pannebaker said...

Hi Steve.

I'm new to your site, and I'm gradually working my way through the Table of Contents. There's some really interesting stuff here.

I'm curious if you could explain a little more about what you mean when you say, "Regarding regeneration, regeneration certainly precedes faith -- logically, though not necessarily chronologically." I'm not sure I'm grasping what you mean and thought you might be able to provide an example or something.


Steve said...

Hi Kevin ... welcome to the blog and the conversation!

I remember hearing John Gerstner talking about the question of faith v. regeneration. He related an incident in which he asked one of the Dallas faculty (I believe it was Ryrie, but I'm not totally sure about that) whether regeneration preceded faith. The Dallas faculty member said something like, "No, regeneration doesn't precede faith; they occur simultaneously."

Gerstner retorted to his audience that he wasn't, OF COURSE, asking about the chronology, but the logic. Which preceded the other LOGICALLY, not chronologically.

In fact, regeneration and faith might occur simultaneously in our experience, but one might be "prior" logically. Many conceive of regeneration being instantaneous. If faith is instantaneously produced by regeneration, then regeneration and faith MUST occur simultaneously, but faith would be caused by regeneration.

So that's the simple answer.

But I'm wondering if regeneration is really instantaneous. I'm thinking that it might be a process that occurs with the ministry of the word. That's more difficult, but that's what I'm thinking about.