A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 2B

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.


(Ed.’s note: Dr. Allen’s “Part 2” is approximately 8,000 words in length. SBCToday will therefore publish Part 2 in 2,000-word (approximate) increments. These shorter installments will be signified thusly: Part 2A; Part 2B; etc. What follows below is Part 2B. This follows sequentially Dr. Allen’s “Part 2A” that appeared on Aug. 13.)

2) Dabney Misread.

Schrock cites my appeal to the negative inference fallacy, and my citation of Dabney. He says my point would be well-taken if these “bare positive statements” [texts which speak of the extent of the atonement “for His people” or “for the church.”] were all there was (80-81). Notice his next move. He follows by saying “However, these texts are but visible geysers forced to the surface by the power of God’s plan to save a particular people. As we will see below, the fountainhead of these verses is God’s covenantal relationship with His particular people” (81). Nothing here mitigates or refutes what I have said at all. Schrock footnotes J. Ramsey Michaels (Ibid.). He then quotes Michaels: “Most references to Jesus death in John’s gospel have to do with its benefits for believers, of Jesus’ own disciples, and are thus fully consistent with ‘particular redemption’ as the early English Baptists understood it” (81-82). Again, this has nothing to do with the price of tea in China. We are not talking about the benefits of the atonement being limited only to those who believe. All agree with that. Nothing in Michaels’ statement contradicts the notion of an unlimited atonement. Nothing in God’s covenantal relationship with His people, i.e., believers, mandates particular redemption either, but Schrock promises more on this later, so we will address this issue later as well.

Schrock’s critique of my “negative inference fallacy” and the Dabney citation is given in a lengthy footnote (80-81) where he appears to be dependent upon Dr. Greg Wills’ critique of my chapter in his book review published in New Orleans Baptist Seminary’s The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 7.1 (Spring, 2010), 15-18. This critique deserves a detailed response, for both Wills and Schrock have made a significant error at this point. With respect to the negative inference fallacy and the extent of the atonement, the burden is on Schrock to prove that a simple positive can entail a universal negation. This is his claim. Schrock’s problem is to prove from Scripture that Christ died only for some people’s sins (a limited imputation of sin). But he offers no proof for that proposition.

Schrock quotes Dabney as saying “Christ died for all sinners in some sense.” Schrock neglects to point out that Dabney means by this that Christ’s death accomplished universal expiation for sins. Dabney makes this clear just a few pages later on page 535 of his Lectures in Systematic Theology, which I noted on page 83, footnote 78 of my chapter “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” in Whosoever. Schrock refers to the “context” of the Dabney quote in an effort to refute my understanding of Dabney. Schrock quotes from pages 527, 528, 529 and 533 in Dabney’s Lectures, but apparently fails to see the direct statement by Dabney that Christ expiated the sins of all people. Here is Dabney’s statement on John 3:16 in context on page 535 of his Lectures:

Verse 16: Christ’s mission to make expiation for sin is a manifestation of unspeakable benevolence to the whole world, to man as man and a sinner, yet designed specifically to result in the actual salvation of believers. Does not this imply that this very mission, rejected by others, will become the occasion (not cause) of perishing even more surely to them? It does. Yet, (verse 17,) it is denied that this vindicatory result was the primary design of Christ’s mission: and the initial assertion is again repeated, that this primary design was to manifest God, in Christ’s sacrifice, as compassionate to all. How then is the seeming paradox to be reconciled ? Not by retracting either statement. The solution, (verse 18,) is in the fact, that men, in the exercise of their free agency, give opposite receptions to this mission. To those who accept it as it is offered, it brings life. To those who choose to reject it, it is the occasion (not cause) of condemnation. For, (verse 19,) the true cause of this perverted result is the evil choice of the unbelievers, who reject the provision offered in the divine benevolence, from a wicked motive; unwillingness to confess and forsake their sins. The sum of the matter is then: That Christ’s mission is, to the whole race, a manifestation of God’s mercy. To believers it is means of salvation, by reason of that effectual calling which Christ had expounded in the previous verses. To unbelievers it becomes a subsequent and secondary occasion of aggravated    doom. This melancholy perversion, while embraced in God’s permissive decree, is caused by their own contumacy. The efficient in the happy result is effectual calling: the efficient in the unhappy result is man’s own evil will. Yet God’s benevolence is cleared, in both results. Both were, of course, foreseen by Him, and included in His purpose.

Lest doubt remain, here are two more direct quotations from the very context of Dabney’s Lectures from which Schrock himself quotes.

In 1 John 2:2, it is at least doubtful whether the express phrase, “whole world,” can be restrained to the world of elect as including other than Jews. For it is indisputable, that the Apostle extends the propitiation of Christ beyond those whom he speaks of as “we,” in verse first. The interpretation described obviously proceeds on the assumption that these are only Jewish believers. Can this be substantiated? Is this catholic epistle addressed only to Jews? This is more than doubtful. It would seem then, that the Apostle’s scope is to console and encourage sinning believers with the thought that since Christ made expiation for every man, there is no danger that He will not be found a propitiation for them who, having already believed, now sincerely turn to him from recent sins. (525)

Schrock quotes from Dabney’s page 528 as noted above. Here is Dabney’s statement on that very page stating as clear as a bell his belief that Christ died for the sins of all people: “Redemption is limited, i.e., to true believers, and is particular. Expiation is not limited.” (528).

It is quite clear that Dabney believed “Christ made expiation for every man” and not for the elect only. Many other references could be given from his writings. Schrock’s misreading of Dabney at this point and throughout is a major problem in his chapter.

Schrock then continues to say that Dabney “also argues for the particular efficacy of the atonement.” Exactly right! Dabney sees a distinction between “extent” and “application” which Schrock misses. Schrock continues to quote Dabney: “There is no passage in the Bible which asserts an intention to apply redemption to any other than the elect.” Note carefully Dabney’s use of the word “intention” and “apply” here. Dabney believes as do all Calvinists that God’s intention in the atonement is that it be applied only to the elect. But Dabney clearly believes that Christ’s death expiated the sins of all sinners – the extent question. Schrock makes the false assumption that my references to the universal aspects of Dabney’s statements refer to common grace. He is missing or ignoring Dabney’s own stated position of universal expiation of sins. Part of what might be driving Schrock’s misreading of Dabney here is the failure to understand that many 19th century Calvinists distinguished between expiation and redemption. Expiation was unlimited whereas redemption was limited only to the elect. One sees this same distinction in the writings of Shedd as well as Dabney. Schrock is setting up a false either/or distinction and attempts to shackle Dabney with it. More importantly, this either/or distinction is not supported by Scripture.

Schrock continues quoting Dabney: “Christ’s design in His vicarious work was to effectuate exactly what it does effectuate.” Notice again Dabney’s use of the word “design.” “Design” and “intent” are synonymous. Christ’s design in the atonement is that it would actually bring about the salvation only of the elect. Dabney believed that the atonement was limited in its intent and application, but not in its extent. However, Schrock wrongly concludes from this last statement by Dabney “that Dabney argues for a limited atonement with ‘temporal’ (read: non-salvific) effects.” This is a major misreading of Dabney since he is clear here and elsewhere in his writings that he affirms a universal sin-bearing in the death of Christ. Schrock has confused and thus conflated the issues of intent, extent, and application.

Schrock then continues in his footnote, “Allen’s quotation implies that Dabney supports his egalitarian view, but such is not the case. Allen makes definite atonement appear to be a matter of logical gymnastics, but in fact, Dabney and his Reformed brethren pay very careful attention to the whole counsel of Scripture in order to affirm the particular saving and particular non-saving effects of the cross of Christ” (80-81). He then concludes this first paragraph of three in this footnote by citing pages 15-18 of Greg Wills’ review of Whosoever (see above), the section which deals with my chapter on limited atonement. My point in the Dabney quotation is to show that he held to unlimited atonement with respect to extent. Dabney does more than “imply” this; he states it. It is not a matter of “logical gymnastics” but of straightforward statement on Dabney’s part and on mine. Of course Dabney, as I do, affirms non-saving effects of the cross. That is not the point.

Schrock continues paragraph two of his footnote: “Unfortunately, this is but one example where David Allen misrepresents those who defend definite atonement. Confusing matters, he puts defenders and opponents of particular redemption in the same list and concludes, ‘All were Calvinists, and all did not teach limited atonement.’” He then notes that I explain myself in a footnote where I point out that what they are not teaching is a limited imputation of sin to Christ, which is the hallmark of particular redemption. Schrock will attempt to substantiate this charge of misrepresentation in the next paragraph of his footnote by lengthy appeal to Wills’ review.

Before turning to Wills, I will address the charge of “confusion” in my list of Calvinists who reject limited atonement. My list contains no Calvinist who is a defender of the strict and narrow view of particular redemption. Schrock is mistaken and is assuming he has proven that Dabney does not believe what I am saying he believes. Furthermore, I presume Schrock is affirming that at least some of the names in my list are accurately represented as rejecting limited atonement. If that is the case, then he needs to deal with these. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that my list of dozens of Calvinists contains a few errors. Fine. Let’s throw those out and deal with the remaining Calvinists on the list who are, in fact, affirming unlimited atonement with respect to extent, and who are clearly acknowledged to be doing so by Reformed theologians/historians such as Richard Muller, Robert Letham and Robert Godfrey. Knowledgeable Calvinists know that there are many such Calvinists in the history of Reformed theology. What of them and their arguments? It is primarily their arguments I am using in my chapter. I cannot find a single place in Schrock’s chapter where he concedes the point that there is and has been debate on this issue within the Reformed camp. Schrock demonstrates no apparent awareness of the complexity and diversity within the historic Reformed tradition. Hence, I am at a loss to understand what Schrock is referring to when he speaks of “confusion” in my list of names. Either he has failed to comprehend my statement which he just quoted making clear the distinction between affirming a limitation in the application of the atonement (which all Calvinists and non-Calvinists affirm) and a limitation in the sin-bearing of Christ for all people, or he is unaware of the history of Reformed theology on this subject. When I have carefully quoted and referenced in footnotes dozens of cases of Calvinists who affirm unlimited atonement with respect to extent, the burden of proof is on him to show whom I have placed on the list who is actually a defender of limited extent. Showing in Dabney’s writings where he affirms limitation in the intent or the application of the atonement while ignoring statements where he affirms universal sin-bearing does not cut it and is, in fact, poor theological method.

Since Schrock is dependent for his criticism in this section on Wills, let us now turn to him. I must admit to a bit of frustration with Wills’ review. He doesn’t deal with the facts of my  chapter. For example, he skirts the point of Christ dying for the sins of all men in my Calvinistic sources. He does not address my documentation about sufficiency. Like Schrock, he appears to miss altogether Dabney’s points about universal expiation. Rather, Wills ignores all of this and asserts his own opinions. My chapter does not engage in “universal aspects” of the atonement without carefully defining what is meant. I am speaking of the fact that Jesus died for the sins of all men, including the non-elect. I explicitly make clear in my chapter the number of major Calvinists of the past and present, almost fifty in fact whom I mention, cite, discuss or quote, who affirm this specific universal extent of the atonement. Wills seems to ignore my purpose statement on page 65, i.e. “The focus of this chapter is primarily on the question of the extent [as clearly defined by “sin-bearing”] of the atonement.” Wills attempts to yank the whole conversation back to the “intent” question while completely ignoring the significance of what these previous Calvinists said about the extent question. There is no doubt that Dabney believed and taught universal expiation of sins by Christ’s death on the cross. I carefully documented this in my chapter in Whosoever. To miss this is a serious error on Wills’ part. His vague reference to “universal aspects” in my chapter is nonsense, and is logically nothing more than a red herring.

As I made clear in my chapter, of course Dabney, along with all Calvinists, believes in a limited intent and application when it comes to the atonement. That is not in dispute. The fact is, Dabney and others believed in an unlimited extent as well, which is the point Wills and Schrock have missed altogether. It seems their theological grid simply cannot account for the possibility that Christ died for all with respect to extent and only for the elect with respect to intent. This is a huge blind spot in many high Calvinists.

In summary with respect to Dabney: 1) he rejected the double-payment argument of Owen, 2) he interpreted John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 to refer to Christ dying for the sins of all people, i.e., all people without exception, not merely all people without distinction or all classes of people, 3) he clearly stated that Christ died for the sins of every person in the world, and 4) he argued against Owen, and other Calvinists such as Turretin by name, stating his disagreement with their notion of limited atonement.