A Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 2I
David L. Allen
Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles, eds. Whomever He Wills: a Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2012), 401 pgs.
In an attempt to reconcile definite atonement with a universal gospel offer, Schrock suggests five considerations. First, “Jesus makes universal invitations in the very same context where He affirms God’s particular choice of some and rejection of others” (114). The verses he appeals to in no way support limited atonement and are more a part of the discussion concerning the nature of election. Second, Schrock raises the issue of those who have never heard the gospel. This is a thorny question no matter what view of the extent of the atonement one takes. The appeal to the Old Testament priests who made atonement and then went out to instruct the people followed by the question “did Jesus really die to make provision for the sins of all men and then neglect to send His Spirit to give them the news?” fails to convince. Are we really expected to imagine that not one single person in Israel failed to be so instructed? What is the point of this contrived parallel? The reference to sending out the priests to instruct the people can only pertain generally. Thus by analogy this would be a picture of the church going out into the world to tell all people the good news. This is no argument for limited atonement. Third, Schrock states the proclamation of the gospel was restricted before and during Jesus’ lifetime, but after his crucifixion and resurrection, the gospel offer commanded by God to be offered to all the nations. What is the reason for this? There are sheep of other folds for whom Christ died (John 10:16) (116).
Fourth, the offer is “multi-intentional.” It brings salvation and judgment. Agreed, but how does this support limited atonement and what does it have to do with a genuine offer of salvation to all, including the non-elect? Furthermore, how could the offer of salvation bring judgment on the non-elect if they are rejecting what is not there for them to receive in the death of Christ? Judgment for rejecting the offer presupposes their ingratitude in rejecting a suitable provision for their salvation, does it not? Fifth, those who hold to a universal atonement transmute grace into something of a material commodity instead of something to be heard and believed. This point is the most bizarre of all to me, and illustrates how Schrock does not understand the contradiction his position entails. His quotation of moderate Calvinist James Richards illustrates the point (117). Richards is making the powerful point that in the particularist gospel of limited atonement, God himself cannot offer salvation to the non-elect because there is no salvation to offer them – Christ did not die for their sins. They can’t be saved even if they wanted to be. But the point is they cannot be “offered” that which does not exist for them. What is being offered the non-elect? Nothing. There is no salvation available for them because there is no atonement made for them. This is the point I have argued in Whosoever on pages 98-100. Schrock appears to be blinded to the whole problem. He never mentions that this critique has been pressed by moderate Calvinists since early in the 17th century. Nor does he seem to be aware that his statement “If God offers salvation to any who meet the condition of faith and repentance, is he not able to provide an eternal redemption?” (Ibid.) is exactly what hyper-Calvinists teach: that the offer should not be made to any but those who give evidence of faith and repentance. Hyper-Calvinists teach we should preach the gospel to all, but only offer to those giving evidential signs of an interest in salvation. I think Schrock is confused on this point; I don’t think he is a hyper-Calvinist. The Scriptures teach that the offer of the gospel is made unconditionally to all; it is the benefit of salvation which is conditioned upon faith and repentance.
Schrock concludes his final section with this statement: “Thus, the message we preach is not simply a sentimental invitation for whosoever may come. . .” (118). I’ll simply juxtapose to this statement these passages from John 3:16 and Revelation 22:17-18: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Both the Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’ Anyone who hears should say, ‘Come!’ And the one who is thirsty should come. Whoever desires should take the living water as a gift.”
Schrock’s conclusion to it all is found on page 119. Those who hold to universal atonement are guilty of “maligning” definite atonement. This is the last in a steady stream of words and phrases that tend to judge the actions, even motives, of some of those with whom Schrock disagrees. Notice the following phrases Schrock employs in this chapter: “Allen prides himself on defeating limited atonement. . . .” (81); “It is the text of scripture that must be ‘defeated’ in order to deny limited atonement” (89); “many who first mocked and rejected limited atonement. . . .” (90); “a movement away from biblical truth towards universal conceptions of the atonement” (107); and “many who malign definite atonement” (119). His use of “prides,” “defeated,” “mocked,” and “malign” may suggest something of his attitude towards those who disagree with him on the extent of the atonement. Such language also appears to display the mistaken attitude of equating Scripture and one’s interpretation of it.
Notice the contradiction and irony of his last paragraph compared to much that he has written in this chapter: “May we seek to understand and appreciate the doctrine of definite atonement, not so that we can win a debate, but so that we can have greater confidence to go to the people for whom Christ died, people who today do not have street signs proclaiming the gospel to them, many who do not even know His name. Christ has died for these men, women, and children from every tribe, tongue, language and nation. We must go to them proclaiming without an asterisk: . . . Jesus Saves!” (Ibid.). The irony here is that the message “Jesus Saves” does not apply to the non-elect. Not only that, but the message “Jesus Saves” is not an offer of the gospel, nor a command to believe the gospel, nor is it an invitation to receive Jesus as Savior. The message “Jesus saves” never can apply to the non-elect. There is no remedy for their sins because Christ did not die for their sins. But even at that, isn’t it true that the bare message “Jesus saves” conveys to an unsaved audience that Jesus is both able and willing to save them all? If so, how is that functionally different from saying “Jesus died for you”? The problem I have with the preaching of high Calvinists is that even they cannot escape from implying to all their listeners that Jesus died for them. But they don’t have a view of the atonement that can support such an implication. So they fudge and say to their audience “Jesus died for sinners.” The audience interprets this to mean: “I’m a sinner, therefore Jesus died for me.” But the high-Calvinist preacher means by this statement: “Jesus died for elect sinners.” The word “sinners” here becomes a code word for “the elect only.” This is the inevitable position all who preach the gospel of limited atonement are in. Frankly, it is at best disingenuous and at worst deceptive to tell people “Jesus died for sinners” without explaining what one really means by this statement. The irony of the title and sub-title of Schrock’s chapter “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed: Why Preaching the Gospel As Good News Requires Definite Atonement” is self-evident: definite atonement is not good news to the non-elect. Definite atonement is the gospel with an asterisk, whether overtly stated or not — *Jesus died for the sins of the elect only. If you believe, he died for you — and loves you too.