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

August 13, 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.

(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 2A. This follows sequentially Dr. Allen’s “Part 1” that appeared on Aug. 10.)

In Part 2 of this review, I intend to cover the first two sections of David Schrock’s chapter “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed: Why Preaching the Gospel as Good News Requires Definite Atonement,” 77- 119. Schrock replies in part to my chapter in Whosoever Will: a Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism entitled “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” (61-107). Schrock’s chapter is divided into five sections: “Christ’s Death is Particular,” “Christ’s Death is Efficacious,” “Priestly Arguments for Particular and Effective Atonement,” “The Covenantal Nature of the Atonement,” and “The Universal Impact of Definite Atonement.” I intend to offer a detailed two-part critique of Schrock’s chapter. What follows is the first installment covering his sections “Christ’s Death is Particular” and “Christ’s Death is Efficacious.” By way of clarification throughout this review, with respect to definitions, the phrases “limited atonement,” “particular redemption,” and “definite atonement” as used in Schrock’s chapter and by me in this review all should be defined to mean that “Christ died only for the sins of the elect.” The “limited” in “limited atonement” refers to the limited sin-bearing nature of Christ’s death; he only satisfied for the sins of the elect.

Let me note at the outset that my trenchant critique below and in a subsequent post should not be interpreted to mean that I do not love and respect David and the other men in this book with whom I disagree. Some of them I know personally; the others I hope to get to know in the future. I appreciate their ministries while disagreeing with some of their doctrine. I have taken no pleasure in pointing out what I consider to be major problems with David Schrock’s chapter. Since it is, in part, a response to my chapter in Whosoever, I felt it was important to respond. Dialogue and critique are valuable within the Southern Baptist family and within the larger Christian family. I consider David a brother in Christ, as I’m sure he feels the same way about me. This is not personal. I hope he will feel free to respond to my critique should he desire to do so. I wish him well as he concludes his PhD studies and as he pastors his church. My prayer is that as students, pastors, laypeople, and others read his chapter and mine, they will compare both and judge both within the light of God’s only true source of truth outside of the Lord Jesus Christ – the Scriptures.

1) Misunderstanding of Amyraldian and Moderate Calvinism.

Schrock’s chapter title is intriguing. What does he mean by “no asterisk needed” and preaching the gospel “requires” definite atonement? Answers to these questions will become clear as we proceed. Schrock believes that “those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16) must embrace and declare a cross which actually saves, and the only view that will support such preaching in the long run is definite atonement” (78). Schrock informs us that he will use the term “egalitarian” for all views of the atonement other than the definite atonement view (Arminian, Amyraldian, Molinist, and modified Calvinist [his categories]) because all these views assume that Christ’s death makes equal provision both for those that would at some point believe, as well as those that never would be brought to belief (Ibid.). He states that all these views “fail” because “they articulate a view of the atonement that is indefinite” (Ibid.). This is the first of many serious errors in the chapter. The Amyraldian and moderate Calvinist views (and probably the Molinist view as well) do not promote a view of the atonement that is indefinite. As Calvinists, along with many non-Calvinists, those who have held and hold today these views very clearly affirm a definite atonement in that the intent of Christ’s death was to secure the salvation of the elect. There is nothing indefinite here. Amyraldians and Hypothetical Universalists (the two are not always nor necessarily identical) affirm that while the sufficiency of the provision is equally for all, the intention to apply it is not. To lump together Amyraldians, Molinists, and Hypothetical Universalists with Arminians is historically inaccurate and faulty. One has to wonder whether Schrock understands the positions of Amyraldianism and Hypothetical Universalism, both legitimate positions within Reformed orthodoxy (see my footnote 19 on page 68 and footnote 60 on page 78 in Whosoever.)

For clarification’s sake, with respect to the extent of the atonement there are three possible options:

1) Christ died equally for all. (Arminian and non-Calvinist position [this distinction is explained in my chapter in Whosoever.]).
2) Christ died unequally for all in that he died for the sins of all, but with special intent to save the elect only (Amyraldian and/or Hypothetical Universalism position).
3) Christ died only for the elect (High Calvinist/hyper-Calvinist position of Limited Atonement).

Notice that options 1 and 2 agree in affirming that Christ died for the sins of all people. The only difference is in the question of intent. Option 3 collapses the question of intent and extent and makes the two identical. Christ died only for the sins of those whom he intends to save. Schrock is making the argument for 3 above and the onus is on him to prove it and/or to disprove 1 or 2.

Schrock makes another significant mistake when he asserts that all these views above borrow “the theological capital of definite atonement” (78). This is historically anachronistic since the limited atonement view developed in history within the Reformed camp after the hypothetical universalist position. As I stated in Whosoever, “The controversy that occurred within the second and third generation of Reformed theologians did not involve the rejection of limited atonement but the introduction of limited atonement” (“The Atonement: Limited or Universal?”, 77).

I presume Schrock’s nomenclature “modified Calvinist” intends to convey the same thing as the more common term “moderate Calvinist.” In general use, a “moderate Calvinist” is one who rejects the more strict and narrow “L” in the Tulip acrostic. In footnote 4 on page 78 Schrock informs us, rightfully and thankfully, that he is not arguing that definite atonement is the gospel.

Schrock moves from these opening remarks to the first of five sections in his chapter: “Christ’s Death is Particular.” He asserts “Textual proof for definite atonement begins with the straightforward statements that Christ died for a particular people” (79). He lists Matt. 1:21; Titus 2:14; Acts 20:28; and Ephesians 5:25-27, and in a footnote he adds Romans 5:8-9; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:1-19; Galatians 1:3-4; Titus 3:5-6; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18. With respect to Titus 2:14, Schrock states, “In this case, Paul goes further. He explicitly speaks of a people “redeemed” and “purified” by His death, for His own purposes” (79). Schrock appears to be following Smeaton in his general line of argument here (see footnote 7). It would not be at all unusual to have these kinds of texts in the Bible when many of them occur in epistles addressed only to believers and not to the “world” as a whole. This is a point often overlooked in the discussion.

Notice here and throughout Schrock’s chapter his continual use of vague terms like “His people,” “the people of God,” “a people,” “all who are His,” “His peculiar people,” “them,” “they,” “His own,” “the ones given Him,” “His sheep,” and “us.” This kind of generalization blurs the distinction between believers and all the elect in the abstract. If you think about it, the “elect” are actually in two groups: 1) those who have believed, and 2) those yet to believe. Schrock often conflates these two. But the texts he cites above pertain to believers. Schrock takes what is true of believers and then seeks to apply this to all the elect as an abstract class.

For example, see my critique of Sam Waldron and John Murray on this issue on pages 13-14 of my “Calvinism: A Review” http://www.baptisttheology.org/documents/CalvinismaReview.pdf.

Finally, concerning these texts, not a single one states Christ died only for the group mentioned in context. To infer such is to commit the negative inference fallacy (more below). When Paul says in Galatians 2:20 that “. . . I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me,” are we to infer that Christ died only for Paul? There are two sets of texts in the New Testament with respect to the extent question: 1) Christ died for “all,” the “world,” and “everyone,” etc.; and 2) Christ died for His “sheep,” “friends,” and “church,” etc. The first group includes those in the second group. The second group includes people who comprise a subset of the first group. It only takes one clear statement in Scripture that Christ died for the sins of all people to confirm unlimited atonement no matter how many statements indicate Christ died for a limited group of people. Likewise, it would only take one clear statement in Scripture that Christ died only for the sins of the elect to confirm limited atonement. There is not one single statement in Scripture that overtly states Christ died only for the sins of the elect. There are easily a dozen New Testament Scriptures overtly stating Christ died for all people.

Schrock next taps D. A. Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (16-21) and avers: “However, against egalitarians who indiscriminately universalize God’s variegated love, Christ loves His bride in a way that He does not love the merchants of Babylon who prostitute themselves with the Great Harlot (Revelation 17-19)” (79). The problem with this statement is that Amyraldians and moderate Calvinists don’t indiscriminately “universalize” [I presume Schrock means to say “equalize” by his use of “universalize”] God’s variegated love. It is true that most Calvinists distinguish degrees in God’s love in that they affirm an electing love and a general love. Many non-Calvinists would affirm the concept of degrees in God’s love. One might say there is a sense in which no evangelical is properly an “egalitarian.”

(Ed.’s note: This concludes Part 2A of Dr. Allen’s post. Coming tomorrow: Part 2B.)