Thursday, October 26, 2006

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

Dabney distinguished between expiation, which is Christ's work on behalf of sinners, and atonement, which is actual reconciliation -- "at-one-ment".  Here is a quote from Dabney's Systematic Theology apropos to the subject:

It seems plain that the vagueness and ambiguity of the modern term 'atonement,' has very much complicated the debate.  This word, not classical in the Reformed theology, is used sometimes for satisfaction for guilt, sometimes for the reconciliation ensuing thereon; until men on both sides of the debate have forgotten the distinction.  The one is cause; the other effect.  The only New Testament sense the word atonement has is that of katallage, reconciliation.  But expiation is another idea.  Katallage is personal.  Exilasmos is impersonal.  katallage is multiplied, being repeated as often as a sinner comes to the expiatory blood: exilasmos is single, unique, complete; and, in itself considered, has no more relation to one man's sins than another.  As it is applied in effectual calling, it becomes personal, and receives a limitation.  But in itself, limitation is irrelevant to it.  Hence, when men use the word atonement, as they so often do, in the sense of expiation, the phrases, 'limited atonement,' 'particular atonement,' have no meaning.  Redemption is limited, i.e., to true believers, and is particular.  Expiation is not limited."

Page 528.  Sorry about the transliteration of the Greek.  I don't care to figure out how to do Greek fonts for the blog.

Many modern day Calvinists of the Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist variety would balk at this, but Dabney clearly doesn't wish to limit the expiatory work of Christ.  The reconciliation that is the effect of the expiation clearly is limited to believers; but Christ's work itself is not limited.  Here is where the old formula, "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" seems just right.  The expiation is sufficient for all, intended for all, and offered to all.  Whereas the reconciliation effected by that expiation is efficient only for believers and intended only for believers.  How this interacts with the doctrine of election is the subject for the next blog.

To close, here is Calvin's comment, in part, on 1John 2:2, where he approves the formula "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect":

"Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage...."

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

My Agenda

Yes, I have an agenda, and I want you to know it before we go any farther. Here, in bold print, is my agenda. I want my readers to accept that a 5-point Calvinist can say the following things:

God loves all men.
God desires the salvation of all men and offers salvation to all by faith in Christ.
Christ died for all men; he died for you.

The last item on the agenda is particularly important to me as it affects the way I describe Christ’s work to others. Though I am not and have never been the pastor of a church, I have had many opportunities to preach in churches over the past 20 years. Until a couple of years ago, I was perplexed about what to say when preaching the gospel. What do I say about the death of Christ? Do I say nothing? Absurd! Do I say “Christ died for you” if I think that he might not have? Again absurd. Do I say “he died for sinners” when my audience might properly draw the conclusion that since they are sinners, Christ died for them?  Absurd — and dishonest (I make no accusation here — I speak only for myself) if I really am trying to hide from the consequences of belief that Christ did not really die for many in my audience.

To present the gospel freely, I believe we must be able to say "Christ died for you, and if you believe on him, you will be saved." The freedom to say exactly that is a great relief.  And it is perfectly in keeping with historic Calvinism.

That’s basically it.  There are some additional items that might qualify as pet peeves but are only tangentially related to the main topic.  I’ll squeeze them in anyway.  My main pet peeve — which I will address early and often — is the matter of the power of prayer.  Prayer does change things, and I can prove it from the Bible.

So there you go.  That’s the goal, the road map, the telos.  Have fun!

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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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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Controversial Calvinism

Calvinism is controversial. Further, the view that I will espouse in this blog will be controversial with many Calvinists. It is primarily those folks I wish to address. Calvinism as it is held in many conservative churches and denominations, is destructive of true doctrine and the Christian faith to a greater or lesser degree. I shall point out the deficiencies (as I perceive them) along the way.

I am a conservative evangelical, and hold to all the doctrines that label implies. I am a Baptist. I also call myself a Calvinist; that is, I hold to the doctrines of grace, as they are called: TULIP — Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. I must make an important qualification: I hold to the doctrine of limited atonement as it is defined by R. L. Dabney; I also hold to the doctrine of unlimited atonement as defined by W. G. T. Shedd. The first sign of life in the Calvinist mind is a willingness to grapple with the distinction made by these great American theologians of the 19th century between the work of Christ on behalf of the world and the application of that work to the individual believer. These men used different definitions for their terms and drew somewhat different conclusions. Wrestling with those definitions and distinctions will bring about a blessing, though one may be permanently afflicted with a limp. Much more on that to come in this space.

How would one label my position? The critic will be tempted to reach for the term “Amyraldian”; the difficulty with that label is that Amyraut’s work is not widely known, but his position has been vaguely equated with “four-point” Calvinism. I don’t know Amyraut’s position well enough to affirm or rebut this, but I doubt it is accurate. I am identifying more closely with Calvin, Shedd, Dabney, and Charles Hodge — would the critic call them Amyraldian?

How about “moderate Calvinism”? Certain authors, who shall remain nameless, have so abused that term as to make it useless. I oppose high Calvinism as held by many Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist theologians. I more strongly oppose the hyper-Calvinism of the Primitive Baptists and the PRC — as well as anything that has the whiff of hyper-Calvinism in it; unfortunately, much that is considered normal Calvinism these days has that malodorous essence. So I guess we’ll go with “historic Calvinism.” I hope to be able to explain and justify that label.

Enough for a brief introduction. We shall take up the cudgels tomorrow. I leave you with a quotation from John Calvin’s commentary on 2 Peter 3:9:

So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost.