A Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – 2F

August 31, 2012

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.


By appealing to Hebrews 2:12-15 apart from its context in Hebrews 2:5-9, Schrock fails to mention the significance of the quotation of Psalm 8:4-6 in Hebrews 2:6-8, followed by verse 9 which speaks of Jesus “tasting death for everyone,” the grammar of which indicates that Christ’s death was substitutionary in nature and universal in extent. Schrock’s notion that Jesus’ taking on human nature shared by all is merely coincidental to the fact that the elect are human is the argument John Owen and many Reformed theologians have made in an attempt to support limited atonement. Attempting to interpret the quotation which speaks of all humanity immediately followed by Christ’s death as being “for everyone” using the more limited terms found in Hebrews 2:12-16 is backwards. The former governs the latter, not the other way around. Interestingly, unlike John Owen who used Hebrews 2:14 to counter universalism by arguing limited atonement, John Calvin made no such use of Hebrews 2:14 to counter the same objection. For Calvin, what separates the elect from the non-elect is saving union with Christ, not limited atonement. Schrock refers to Hebrews 9 several times in this section of his chapter in an effort to connect the priestly activity of Christ with limited atonement. It is also interesting to see what Calvin himself says about Hebrews 9: 28: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” Commenting on this passage, Calvin stated, “He says many meaning all. . . as in Romans 5:15. It is of course certain that not all enjoy the fruits of Christ’s death. . ., but this happens because their unbelief hinders them” (Calvin, Hebrews, 93-94. See Kevin Kennedy, Union with Christ and the Extent of the Atonement, 75-103 and my brief excursus on Calvin and Hebrews 2:14 and 9:28 in my Hebrews, 233-35.) Calvin universalizes the term “many” rather than restricting it like most do who defend limited atonement. Linguistically, “many” conveys the semantic concept of “more than a few,” and in Romans 5:15 it is clear that “many” means “all” without exception as Calvin rightly noted.

Schrock’s final category in this section concerns the issue of Christ’s priestly intercession. His footnotes illustrate that he is dependent on William Symington’s On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ. The key proposition Schrock is attempting to defend is this: Christ’s atonement does not extend beyond those for whom he intercedes. Since I have basically addressed this in previous parts on Schrock’s chapter, I’ll simply refer the reader to my comments at those points.

2. The Covenantal Nature of the Atonement.

Schrock’s fourth major section of his chapter concerns the covenantal nature of the atonement (99-105). Jesus’ death is rightly noted to inaugurate the New Covenant, which the New Testament, especially Hebrews, affirms. Appealing to Hebrews 9:15-22 Schrock suggests there is a “textual restriction on the extent of the atonement” in verse 15 where those who are “redeemed” are also those who are “called.” Here Schrock continues his error of conflating thus confusing the atonement with its application. In the last sentence in this paragraph, Schrock notes that this passage in Hebrews “limits Christ’s atoning benefits to those who are in covenant with Him – the non-elect remain outside Christ and under the judgment of God” (101). Notice the key word, “benefit,” in this statement. Here Schrock gets it right. All Hebrews is saying is that the application of the atonement is for those who are in covenant with Christ; nothing is said in this passage about the extent of the atonement being limited. Schrock has drawn a false conclusion. Schrock states, “Christ’s atonement did not simply make forgiveness possible; it decisively effected forgiveness and cleansing.” Of course this is true. But the question is when did forgiveness and cleansing occur? At the cross? In eternity past? No, forgiveness occurs at the point of faith, as the Scripture teaches. Christ’s atonement does indeed make forgiveness possible for the “elect,” but it is not “effective” for them until they believe. Again, nothing here mandates limited atonement.

Under the heading “The Newness of the New Covenant,” Schrock writes, “Those who oppose particular redemption pay little attention to the covenantal structures of the Bible, and thus universalize the covenantal blessing of forgiveness, making it conditional upon faith” (103). This is an astounding statement given the New Testament is replete with verses that state salvation is conditioned upon faith. No one receives the covenant blessings unless he believes. Schrock states that “making application of Christ’s universal atonement dependent upon faith strips from Christ the honor of finishing and applying the covenant to each person individually” (Ibid.). How can this be when it is God himself who conditions the reception of salvation on faith? Schrock’s statement that “egalitarians” “believe Christ purchased full forgiveness for everyone” is patently false. All who believe in universal atonement, moderate Calvinist or otherwise, believe that full forgiveness is possible for everyone since Christ substituted for the sins of everyone, but actual forgiveness is only applied to those who believe. Whatever one’s view of election, only those who are in the covenant by virtue of union with Christ experience the covenant blessings of forgiveness. Again, this in no way mandates particular redemption.

Schrock quotes approvingly Bruce Ware who notes in the New Covenant “there is no category for unbelieving covenant members” (104). He then follows this quote with this statement: “Conjoined with a monergistic view of salvation, such a view of the New Covenant necessitates a particular and definite atonement” (Ibid.). I’m sure that this conclusion will come as some shock to Bruce Ware, who as a Calvinist himself rejects limited atonement! Only three sentences later, Schrock gets it right when he states, “. . . all who are joined to Christ in His death will receive the blessings of this better covenant.” Exactly. The blessings of the covenant require union with Christ. But Schrock in his next sentence fades back into the error of a commercial view of the atonement assuming “For those whom the Savior died, He truly saved!” (Ibid.).

This is illustrated in the final paragraph of this section of Schrock’s chapter where he speaks of Christ’s death as having purchased faith. This is one of the linchpin arguments of John Owen for limited atonement. For Owen, not only is redemption purchased, but the means of redemption, faith, is also purchased only for the elect. Like Owen, Schrock treats faith like it is some kind of commodity one can purchase. He seems unaware of the number of Calvinists who have critiqued this notion in Owen. The best recent critique is Neil Chambers, “A Critical Examination of John Owen’s Argument for Limited Atonement in ‘The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,’” (Master’s Thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998. I have quoted some of Chamber’s critique of Owen on this point in my chapter in Whosoever, 88-89.). One might also read Richard Baxter here as well, who responded to Owen by pointing out that Scripture never says that Christ died to purchase faith. (Richard Baxter, Universal Redemption of Mankind by the Lord Jesus Christ [London, 1694], 42-43.) Nowhere does Scripture say Christ’s death purchased faith for the elect. Like so many high-Calvinists, it appears Schrock has mistakenly bought into a commercial theory of the atonement lock, stock and barrel.

 

 

 

 

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volfan007

Wow, I’m amazed that no Calvinists seem to want to comment on the last 2 posts by Dr. Allen. I guess they have no answer for such an academic, exegetical treatment of these issues.

Thank you, Dr. Allen, for these past 2 posts. They’ve helped me to understand these things in a better way.

David

    Norm Miller

    David:
    I’ve heard rumblings that a significant number of Calvinists are ignoring more than just a critique of this book. — Norm

Godismyjudge

“This is illustrated in the final paragraph of this section of Schrock’s chapter where he speaks of Christ’s death as having purchased faith.”

Christ bought us, not faith. We need to be saved. Faith wasn’t under condemnation and faith didn’t need to be rescued.

God be with you,
Dan

Sam

So many articles about limited atonement. That, of course, is the easy one to deal with. You actually have Scripture on your side when you write against it.

How come Traditionalists are not posting articles each day about unconditional election? Could it be that it is unassailable? You may find it MUCH more difficult to overthrow that doctrine, since Scripture is on the side of Calvinism on that one.

    Robert

    To quote John McEnroe: “You can’t be serious!”

    Sam do you really believe that the deterministic conception of uncoditional election is “unassailable”????

    Unconditional election can only be found in scripure by means of eisegesis/reading it into scripture. This is best seen via the example of how theological determinists/calvinists interpret Romans 9. Romans 9 is dealing the with issue of first century Jewish unbelief/rejection of the righteousness of God found through faith in Christ. The first century Jews for the most part had rejected this and instead thought that they would obtain righteouness and be acceptable to God, justified by their keeping of the law. Paul addresses this issue in Romans 9-11 (which needs to be interpreted together, not isolating certain passages away from the context of Romans 9-11). The theological determinist ignoring the context and the issue Paul is dealing with in
    Romans 9 substitutes unconditional election for Paul’s concern. So then everything Paul talks about in Romans 9 becomes a discussion of unconditional election which is not at all what Paul was intending to discuss. Is this mistaken intepretation/exercise in eisegesis “unassailable”? Not at all, you just have to get back to the actual issue Paul was concerned about. Many non-calvinists have discussed this, you might want to check out what Arminius said about Romans 9 as it is readily available on the web and Arminius clearly sees the proper cotext. Once you take away Romans 9 from the theological determinist, there is not much left for them to use to support their mistaken doctrine of unconditional election. If you examine the Old Testament you will not find unconditional election of individuals to either salvation or damnation. In the New Testament there are a few proof texts that determinists try to use to prop up unconditional election. But all of them (including Romans 9) when properly interpreted do not yield unconditional election at all. And if you look at church history you will find that the vast majority of Christians across all traditions never held unconditional election and rejected it when it was presented by determinists. The case for unconditional election is only strong if we allow it to be read into biblical texts rather than exegeted out of biblical texts.

    Robert

    Mary

    Sam, if you were really interested in Traditionalism and Election it’s not that hard to find. Peter Lumpkins has a recent post on it.

      Sam

      Mary,

      I am honestly bored with all the divisiveness that the new or Neo-Traditionalism has brought about. I enjoy theology, but I tire of fighting with brothers in Christ.

        Mary

        And Sam many of us are tired of all the divisiveness the Calvinists have brought to our convention because of their need to reform it. Traditionalist are responding to that divisiveness. Many of us were minding our own business in our churches but the New Calvinists have insisted we’ve been doing it wrong and now they need to take over and do it right.

          Sam

          Mary, well, I’m not sure where I fit in all this. I neither consider myself a Traditionalist, nor a Calvinist. I lean toward Calvinism (which is why I usually take their side in these debates) but I think the truth lies in the middle somewhere between both views. I guess my objection is: If we truly consider each side Christians (I do. I believe Calvinists and Traditionalists are all part of the body of Christ), then why all the bickering? But if there are some who consider the other side to be non-Christians, then why have any fellowship?

          Debbie Kaufman

          No you weren’t minding your own business Mary. This isn’t your first battle, um I mean cause.

    holdon

    “unconditional election? Could it be that it is unassailable? ”

    Of course not.

    The term “unconditional election” is nonsensical in itself. You cannot choose if there are no conditions. Out of a 100 perfectly equal balls, you cannot choose any one of them. You can pick; but not choose. But election is deliberately choosing; not random picking.

    Election (and choosing) in Scripture express exquisiteness: a perceived quality in the eyes of the one who chooses. It is such in the OT as well as in the NT.
    Thus a “chosen people” means so much as a “choice-people”. The qualities of the object as how God sees them are brought out. (this has nothing to do with merit; that is a completely different thought)

    If Christ is the Elect of God, it was not that He was just “picked”, blindly and unconditionally. No, He was “choice” material. He was exquisite in God’s eyes.

    This perceived exquisiteness, makes the chosen object(s) perfect for good use. Abram was chosen for a “good use”. So, Christ. So, Paul. So we all.

    Election as such has nothing to do with saving certain people from perishment and not others. It has to do with God having good reasons (having found “choice material”) to fulfill His purposes. If God has elected us; who would dare find fault with Him? The meaning of that verse goes way beyond salvation, giving us with Christ also all things.

m. b. woodside

All,

I ‘ll offer ten reasons why the comments are so few on SBCToday lately . . .

10. Cals/Trads are tired of fighting.

9. It’s football season.

8. Dr. Allen writes in such a winsome and pervasive way, its hard to argue with him.

7. All the SBC pastors are busy trying to come up with a meme of Clint Eastwood’s RNC speech to impress their contemporary services with tomorrow.

6. Everyone is hanging out at SBC Voices.

5. The Calvinism advisory committee secretly called all commentors and told them to stop commenting.

4. Calvinists are heeding the advice of their own and tempering their rhetoric.

3. It’s hopeless to try and convince a Trad of anything

2. It’s impossible to keep SBC men’s attention on anything other than sports, nascar or hunting and fishing for more than three months.

and the number one reason there are no commentors . . .

1. Junior high and high school are back in session and most commentors have school during the day and homework at night.

Sola Deo Gloria and Woo Pig Sooie!

m.b.

    Sam

    Thank you m. b. woodside. This is one of the best posts I’ve read here in sometime.

    Norm Miller

    Funny stuff, M.B. However, my take on your list
    10. Trads never tire of defending the faith
    9. Cowboys beat the Superbowl champ Giants at home.
    8. Must agree.
    7. Much prefer RC Rubio as opposed to ‘Dirty’ Harry.
    6. SBCToday was recently ranked higher than Voices.
    5. You’ve confirmed my suspicions. Cs are staying away in droves, and there’s much less argumentation.
    4. Not sure how you know that. They ain’t here. They are reading, though, as analytics confirm.
    3. Sorry, but you’ll never convince me of your point #3.
    2. You left out motorcycling. For me, it’s 12 mo./yr.
    1. Such a tragedy. The library at Beeson burned down and destroyed both their books — and one of them hadn’t been colored in yet!

    And YES, Go Razorbacks!

    n.m.

Robert

Hello Dr. Allen,

I enjoyed your contribution on the atonement issue in the Whosoever book. I have also enjoyed and appreciated your posts on this subject here at SBC today as well.

I was wondering do you have any plans for any book length treatment on this subject of atonement?

Thanks for your quality material and keep up the great work!

Robert

David L. Allen

Robert,

Thank you for the kind words. I do indeed have plans for a book on this subject! I have been researching this issue now for five years and am in the process of collating and writing. I’m hopeful to have a completed manuscript by end of year with publication by end of 2013.

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