Wednesday, September 19, 2007

W. G. T. Shedd on Unlimited Atonement and Limited Redemption

I plan to post four essays on W. G. T. Shedd's understanding of 1John 2:2. I originally wrote these essays for another blog, but I have wanted to post this material on Shedd here for some time. Since I am currently busy reading RT Kendall (I'm nearly done), I thought I would take this opportunity to brush up this material and post it here.

I hope to show that the "reformed" understanding of 1John 2:2 is not monolithic. There is a minority report, which offers a sensible alternative to the interpretation offered by many modern reformed theologians.

W. G. T. Shedd

W. G. T. Shedd, a Presbyterian Pastor and theologian of the 19th century, wrote a 3-volume work entitled Dogmatic Theology. In this work, Shedd affirms a species of limited atonement, though he quarrels with the ambiguous use of certain terms associated with the dispute, and thus affirms, to be precise, limited redemption. I quote from the third edition (a much improved one-volume edition of Shedd's work, issued by P&R Publishing in 2003).

Since redemption implies the application of Christ’s atonement, universal or unlimited redemption cannot logically be affirmed by any who hold that faith is wholly the gift of God and that saving grace is bestowed solely by election. The use of the term redemption, consequently, is attended with less ambiguity than that of "atonement," and it is the term most commonly employed in controversial theology. Atonement is unlimited, and redemption is limited. This statement includes all the scriptural texts: those which assert that Christ died for all men, and those which assert that he died for his people. He who asserts unlimited atonement and limited redemption cannot well be misconceived. He is understood to hold that the sacrifice of Christ is unlimited in value, sufficiency, and publication, but limited in its effectual application.

Page 743 (emphasis added). Thus, for Shedd, there are both universal and particular aspects of Christ's work, and that helps us to understand the texts that speak universally. (My readers might find it interesting to compare R. L. Dabney's distinction between "atonement" and "reconciliation").

As Calvinists we ought not to overstate our case or take alarm at the idea that Christ died for all. More to come from Shedd soon.

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