“A Reply to Some Comments on My Eight Posts
on Dr. Ascol’s chapter in Whomever He Wills”

October 16, 2012

David L. Allen
Dean, School of Theology and Professor of Preaching
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas

Post 1 | Post 2 | Post 3 | Post 4| Post 5 | Post 6 | Post 7 | Post 8

As I have read the comments regarding my posts on Dr. Ascol’s chapter, I thought it might be helpful to respond for clarification’s sake. First, I will offer a few summary statements as to the main points I was attempting to make in these posts. Second, I will attempt to respond to questions and/or statements made specifically about what I wrote. I will not be responding to tangent comments that are not directly germane to the content of my posts. Third, I will attempt to speak to questions asked directly to me that I have not already answered in the comment thread.

These eight blog posts revolve around a specific chapter in the book Whomever He Wills (2012), which is a response to the book Whosoever Will: a Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (2010). It would be helpful if one were to read my chapter in Whosoever Will entitled “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” (pp. 61-107) and then read Dr. Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational for Evangelism and Missions” in Whomever He Wills (pp. 269-289). This will provide some important background and context for my engagement with Dr. Ascol’s chapter in these posts.

Let me also suggest that it might be helpful to reread the eight posts on Dr. Ascol’s chapter at one sitting. The only reason they are posted in eight parts and not in one part is the space constraint for blog posts which generally is recommended to be not more than appx. 1200 words. The eight posts are easily accessible via the links above. Most of the questions in the comment thread are answered in one or more of the eight posts.

As Baptists, Dr. Ascol and I agree on far more than we disagree on. The crux of our disagreement surrounds two issues: 1) our viewpoints on Calvinism, specifically with respect to unconditional election, irresistible grace, and limited atonement, and what is entailed by these in regard to preaching, evangelism and missions. (My focus in these posts has been primarily on the issue of limited atonement and its entailments); and 2) our viewpoints on Baptist historiography and the degree to which Baptists were committed to so called “five-point” Calvinism since the beginning of the 19th century.

I. In my chapter on the extent of the atonement in Whosoever Will along with my posts on the chapters by David Schrock and Dr. Ascol in Whomever He Wills, I am attempting to argue the following points:

1. Biblically, limited atonement, which asserts that Christ died for the sins of the elect only, is a flawed concept and contradicts the biblical testimony that Christ died for the sins of all.

2. Historically, limited atonement was not part of the doctrinal platform of the first generation of reformers on the Continent or in England, nor was it a part of the doctrinal platform of most if not all of the second generation Reformers such as Calvin, Bucer, Bullinger, etc. Limited atonement has been a source of dispute within the Reformed camp since it was first systematized by Beza after the death of Calvin.

3. Historically, within the Reformed tradition, many Calvinists such as Davenant, Baxter, Bunyan, Charnock, Preston, Howe, Jonathan Edwards, Chalmers, Charles Hodge, Robert Dabney, Shedd, Ryle, along with many others, rejected outright (our did not teach)  limited atonement.

4. There is often little or no recognition of the historical record with respect to differences over limited atonement within the Reformed tradition by many Calvinists, especially young Calvinists, in and outside of the Southern Baptist Convention. The gatekeepers of Calvinism in Evangelicalism today are virtually all committed to limited atonement with little or no statement acknowledging that belief in an unlimited atonement in the sense of an unlimited satisfaction for sins by Christ on the cross is not only historically well represented in their tradition, considered to be well within the boundaries of orthodox Reformed theology, but was in fact the view of Christian history until the late sixteenth century.

5. Calvinists who affirm limited atonement need to respond to the biblical and theological arguments made by fellow Calvinists who reject limited atonement. My observation is that this is seldom done in published works or on the internet.

6. With specific reference to Baptists since the beginning of the 19th century, and Southern Baptists since 1845, there was never agreement on the so called “five points” of Calvinism, particularly limited atonement.

7. Limited atonement negatively impacts preaching, evangelism and missions because it 1) diminishes God’s universal saving will, 2) eliminates the bold proclamation that “Christ died for your sins,” and 3) undercuts the ground for the universal offer of the gospel.

II. Responding to Comments/Questions specifically about what I wrote.

1. I am well aware of the Calvinist influence on Baptists and on the key founders of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have read Dr. Tom Nettles’ work By His Grace and For His Glory, along with several other Baptist histories. This influence is not in question. What is in question is whether all these men affirmed “five-point” Calvinism. Some of them certainly did. What is also in question is whether the people in Southern Baptist churches at the time of the founding of the SBC predominately held to “five-point” Calvinism. I don’t think they did.

2. Arguing against unlimited atonement by positing that the word “all” in the New Testament does not always mean “all without exception” is a weak, shop-worn argument that has been addressed numerous times by Calvinists, Arminians, and non-Calvinists since the 17th century. I am aware that not all occurrences of “all” in the New Testament mean “all without exception.” I have stated this clearly in both my chapter in Whosoever Will and in my posts on David Schrock’s chapter. However, contextually, some of the occurrences of “all” when speaking about Christ’s death do mean “all without exception.” We should remember that it only takes one clear statement that Christ died for the sins of all people to establish unlimited atonement with respect to extent, no matter how many statements also affirm that Christ died for a limited group of people such as the church. The arguments by Calvinists themselves against limited atonement need to be addressed by fellow Calvinists commenting on this blog. I get the distinct impression from some commenters that they think all arguments made against limited atonement are made by so called “Arminians.”

3. Sometimes comments are made referencing Calvinists such as John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Fuller, and Charles Hodge, as men who held to limited atonement. I have provided evidence (in my chapter in Whosoever Will as well as these recent posts) that such is not the case. This evidence has not been refuted, but merely ignored in the comment thread.

III. Questions/Comments posed directly to me.

1. “Now is the proposal being made of no freedom for the believers in the original, founding theology [of the Southern Baptist Convention]?”

Not at all. I am on record in numerous places stating that there has always been room and should always be room in the SBC for Calvinists. My involvement in this discussion all along has been to voice disagreement with some aspects of Calvinist theology, not to suggest that all Calvinists should be “run out of Dodge.”

2.         “To Dr. Allen: Are you willing to toss out the folks who are not only the successors but the actually descendants of the Sovereign Grace believers who created the churches and associations from which was launched the SBC and its earliest institutions? If Jesus died for everyone, why didn’t He say so when He said He gave “His life a ransom for many?” Many does not mean every one without exception; it has the connotation of a large number. And what about Jesus winning the woman of Canaan with<“I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” Her response was one of worship, what would yours be? Do you think man merits or deserves to have Jesus die for him? What about Jesus using terms which indicate that the woman was depraved, unclean, reprobate, as the term “dogs” certainly suggests? She agreed that He was right, saying, “Truth, Lord.” Then argued from that that the dogs eat the crumbs and no one minds or insists that they have taken the children’s bread. O yes, and what about the fellow who pleaded his inability to believe, “Help my unbelief?” Strange is it not that he should plead what is denies by our traditionalists today, even the total depravity and disability or inability that that fellow pleaded as reason for Jesus to help him?

The first question is addressed in #1 above. With respect to Jesus’ statement about giving His life a “ransom for many,” this is one of the places where Jesus did indeed say he died for the sins of all. Where is the linguistic evidence that “many” does not mean everyone without exception? None is provided. The commenter is correct that “many” connotes a large number. The statement of Jesus is an allusion to Isaiah 53. “Many” is a Hebraic linguistic idiom for “not a few” and simply cannot be used to affirm limited atonement. Even Calvin in his comments on Isaiah 53 and Romans 5:18-19 affirmed that in these places “many” means “all.” With respect to the incident with the Syro-Phoenician woman, I am at a loss to understand the point being made above. Nothing in that account supports limited atonement. Nor do I agree that the statement “Lord I believe; help my unbelief” supports a definition of total depravity that includes total inability. After all, the man did say “Lord, I believe” before he said “help my unbelief.” I don’t see how that can be construed as an argument for total inability.

In conclusion, I hope this serves to answer lingering questions and to clarify what I wrote. May God help us all dialogue about this issue with genuine Christian grace and ultimately for His glory.