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.