A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 2C
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: What follows below is Part 2C. This follows Part 2B that appeared on Aug. 14.)
3) Non-Elect are not “Saveable.”
In Schrock’s third paragraph of footnote 13, he continues the “misrepresentation” charge and supports it by a lengthy quote from Wills’ review of my chapter. It should be noted that Schrock’s quotation of Wills has been somehow truncated when compared with the actual quotation in the original review. Having written and edited a few books, I am well aware that this kind of thing can inadvertently happen. I have inserted in brackets the missing words from the quotation so the reader can see the correct quote and get the full sense of what Wills is arguing.
Allen is right that most Calvinist preachers have held that Christ died for all persons in some sense. Calvin believed this. So did Edwards and Hodge and Boyce and Dabney. His death for all was such that any person, even Judas, if he should repent and believe the [gospel, would not be rejected but would receive mercy. Most Calvinists have held that Jesus’] sacrificial death was universal in that it made all men saveable, contingent on their repentance and faith in Christ. But Allen is incorrect to argue that such a position is not limited atonement, for these same theologians affirmed that the atonement was in important respects particular to the elect. . . . What distinguishes Calvinists from Arminians on this point is that Calvinists hold that Christ died in a fundamental sense particularly for the elect. He intended that his propitiatory sacrifice, which was sufficient for the sins of the world, should be effective for the elect alone. The key difference relates to the question of intent, not to the question of its universal sufficiency.
Amazingly, Wills does not seem to realize it, but he has just given away the farm and conceded the point for which I am arguing. Notice his definition of what it means to say that Calvinists have held that Christ died for all persons “in some sense.” Wills states that Christ’s death “for all was such that any person, even Judas,” is “saveable” should he repent and believe the gospel. That’s exactly what I have argued in Whosoever. Christ’s death is universal in that it actually satisfied for the sins of “all” (notice Will’s use of “all”) should they repent and believe, including the likes of Judas, who was clearly among the non-elect. This is precisely the position of moderate Calvinists and all non-Calvinists with respect to the extent of the atonement. Wills has seriously contradicted his own position here (unless he is himself a moderate Calvinist). It is manifestly inconsistent to say that Judas is “saveable” if it is the case that Jesus only died for (satisfied) for the sins of the elect.
Those who hold to limited atonement do not believe that Christ’s death paid for the sins of the non-elect. That is the point of limited atonement as defined at the beginning of my chapter in Whosoever. There is no remedy for the sins of Judas in the death of Jesus. Wills’ statement is false, given a limited atonement: should Judas repent and believe he could in fact not be saved because he is not “saveable” because Christ did not die for his sins. How Wills and Schrock seem blinded to this I cannot explain. How are the non-elect saveable according to their view? The logic of what Schrock and Wills are asserting is that their salvation is now contingent on some further work of atonement. If Jesus saves the elect without an asterisk, without qualification, how can others be saved through a qualification? The contradiction is astounding.
4) Intrinsic or Extrinsic Sufficiency?
The confusion continues when Wills asserts that I am incorrect to argue that such a position is not limited atonement. It most certainly is and I was careful in my chapter to define the terms clearly so there would be no confusion. As I stated in my chapter and above, all Calvinists believe the atonement is limited at the point of application. They do not all believe it is limited at the point of extent. Wills continues and states that the atonement was “sufficient for the sins of the world.” At the very beginning of my chapter I was careful to distinguish between the two uses of “sufficient” by Calvinists in this debate through the centuries: “intrinsic” sufficiency (sufficientia nuda) and “extrinsic” sufficiency (sufficientia ordinata). The former means that Jesus’ death was intrinsically sufficient enough to pay the sin debt of all people if God had so intended it to do so. When those who affirm particular redemption (as argued by John Owen) use the term, they by definition mean an “intrinsic, limited” sufficiency. Christ’s death did not actually pay for the sins of the non-elect. It could have, but it did not. “Extrinsic sufficiency” means that Christ’s death actually paid the sin debt of all people, not just the elect. All moderate Calvinists and all non-Calvinists are agreed that this is the biblical teaching with respect to the death of Christ. It actually satisfied for the sins of all. I noted that moderate Calvinists like James Ussher, John Davenant, Nathaniel Hardy and Edward Polhill all distinguish between the senses of sufficientia nuda and sufficientia ordinata, and argue for the latter (See Whosoever, 66, footnote 13). I also noted how Richard Baxter calls John Owen’s revision of the Lombardian formula (sufficient for all; efficient for the elect) a “new futile evasion” (Whosoever, 66, footnote 14). When Wills says that the death of Christ was “sufficient for the sins of the world,” he means the former (sufficientia nuda) and not the latter (sufficientia ordinata). He then states the death of Christ is “effective for the elect alone.” Correctly stated. But then he says: “The key difference relates to the question of intent, not to the question of its universal sufficiency.” Au contraire! True, the question of intent is indeed a key difference between Calvinists and Arminians. But the question of the universal sufficiency of the atonement is actually the key issue in the debate over the extent of the atonement. It is precisely the universal sufficiency of the death of Christ that is at stake. Everyone agrees that the death of Christ was intrinsically sufficient to save this world and a thousand worlds. But high Calvinists have not historically believed that the death of Christ is extrinsically sufficient to save the non-elect. They cannot believe such; the reason being there is no satisfaction in the death of Christ for the sins of the non-elect. By definition, Jesus did not shed his blood for their sins. On this view, the non-elect cannot consistently be viewed as “saveable,” even if they should repent and believe. This is the key error of Schrock and Wills in footnote 13 of Schrock’s chapter.
Finally, Schrock inserts this last sentence at the end of his lengthy quote of Wills in footnote 13: “Unfortunately Allen misses this, thus skewing his data.” Actually, and unfortunately, it is not I, but Schrock and Wills who have “missed it” and skewed the data.
5) Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, the Negative Inference Fallacy, and False Dilemmas.
Schrock turns his attention to the technical expression “given me” used by Jesus in John’s Gospel to speak of Jesus’ mission. Elsewhere this phrase speaks of the particular group of people Jesus has received from the Father. Schrock asserts, “This particular language lends strong support for definite atonement” (82). Actually, there is little, if anything in any of these kinds of statements in John’s Gospel that lends support to any position on the question of the extent of the atonement. Schrock is merely making an assumption based on his inference that limited atonement is true. At best, these statements might be used to muster support for the doctrine of election, but even then they do not directly affirm the specific Dortian understanding of election. Schrock has committed a logical fallacy here.
Schrock now turns to a discussion of John 17 and Jesus’ high priestly prayer (82-84). We begin with Schrock’s critique of Robert Lightner on this point (See his important but often neglected book The Death Christ Died: A Biblical Case for Unlimited Atonement.) Lightner calls into question John Owen’s notion (assumption) that since Jesus did not intercede for the “world” in John 17, he did not die for the sins of the world. This is a common argument in the Limited Atonement arsenal and has been addressed and answered, even by a number of Calvinists, including the likes of Richard Baxter and John Bunyan. Lightner calls the assumption “unwarranted logically” and “unscriptural.” Schrock finds two problems with Lightner’s approach. First, “Canonically, it misunderstands Christ’s priestly office, in which He fulfills all of His ministry” (83). Second, the “unscriptural” charge is “ironic because he [Lightner] takes no time to examine the office in type or fulfillment,” which Schrock will do in the next section of his chapter. Schrock states with respect to John 17:19, “that Jesus intends to die for the ones given Him by the Father” (Ibid.) (citing Owen in a footnote.). He continues, “Lightner overlooks the fact that in Christ’s priestly prayer, He limits not only His intercession but also His crucifixion. . . . Jesus prays and dies for His own” (Ibid.). The text itself does not state that Jesus dies only for those for whom He prays. No doubt, Schrock is correct to state that Jesus “intends” to die for the ones given Him by the Father. Laying aside for the moment the possibility that in context this is most likely a reference to the disciples, and even taking it as extending to the believing elect at the time, even then one is not warranted to draw the conclusion that the text means that Jesus did not die for the sins of all people, elect and non-elect. Here Schrock falls prey again to generalizing that election entails limited atonement. He assumes that if Jesus prays only for the elect, then he must have died only for the elect. The mistake here is a collapsing of the intercession of Christ into His expiation for sins. This merely begs the question.
Schrock’s approach here is refuted by Harold Dekker, formerly professor and Academic Dean at Calvin Theological Seminary, who wrote the following concerning Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
A word should be said about Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Some correspondents have cited verse 9, where Jesus says, “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me; for they are thine,” to prove that Christ loved only the elect and not the world. But does it? Whom did Jesus designate by the words “those whom thou hast given me”? The elect? This is forced exegesis. The entire context, beginning with verse 4, makes it clear that those to whom Jesus referred in verse 9 are those who had come to believe in Him at that time, the actual persons whom the Father had given to Jesus in His earthly ministry up to that point, the ones of whom He said in verse 8 that they had received and believed His words. This interpretation is also supported by verse 20, where Jesus says, “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word.” Evidently right within the same prayer Jesus prayed not only for the limited number who were in view in verse 8, but also for the many who later would come through their word to share their faith.
What, then, did Jesus mean when He said, “I pray not for the world?” In the light of the foregoing, the explanation seems obvious. Surely Jesus did not mean that He did not love the world and under no circumstances would pray for it. We must observe that it was a certain prayer, with specific petitions, which He offered for those whom the Father had given Him, and which He declared He did not offer for the world. What were these specific petitions which He prayed? Chiefly that those who had come to believe in Him would be faithful, joyful, kept from the evil one, sanctified in the truth, and unified with those who would later come to believe through them. Would there have been any point in Jesus praying these things for the unconverted world? Certainly not. That He did not do so proves nothing about His disposition to the world, not even at that moment. He was simply praying in terms of the unique relationship which existed between Himself and His disciples, a relationship which the world did not share. Neither, therefore, could the world share in Jesus’ prayer for the development and fruition of this particular relationship. However, in verses 21 and 23, part of the same prayer, Jesus did indeed pray for the world, He prayed the very thing which was alone appropriate to the world. He prayed that the world might believe — the same world about which John 3:16 teaches us that God loved it with a redemptive love, nothing less than the world of all men. To use the high-priestly prayer of Christ in John 17 as an argument for limitation in divine redemptive love is, it seems to me, clearly to misuse it.” (Harold Dekker, “God’s Love to Sinners — One or Two?,” The Reformed Journal 13 [March 1963], 14-15. See also Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 725, who argues the same point.)
On pages 83-84, Schrock refers to John 10 and the Good Shepherd motif where Jesus refers to His sheep as “his own” and to the fact that he gave his life for His sheep. Schrock concludes from this that Christ died only for those given to Him. Jesus’ statements in John 10 in no way prove exclusivity. When we are told Jesus died for his “friends,” does that prove he died only for them? Did he not die for his enemies as well? The point here is that simple positive statements cannot logically be used to infer category negations. Schrock continuously repeats the mistake of the negative inference fallacy in his chapter. I might also add that his ambiguous use of the phrases “limited atonement” and “particular redemption” in some places in his chapter leads him to commit the equivocation fallacy as well.
At the end of this section (84), Schrock cites Calvin’s discussion in his commentary on John and concludes that Jesus’ reference to the “sheep” as his “own” in light of John 6:37-39 and John 17 most likely refers “to the covenant people given to Him by the Father in eternity.” Fine. But for the reasons stated above, this is no support for limited atonement. Schrock’s last paragraph on page 84 is important. He combines John 13:1 and John 15:13. The loved ones of John 13:1 are set in contrast to Judas in 13:2. Schrock writes, “Thus, while there is in John a universal love for all the world (3:16), this does not mean that God’s saving love extends to all people. Jesus ‘loved his own’ and He died for his own. John 15 confirms this. Speaking of his particular love, Jesus says ‘Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends’” (Ibid.). Clearly, from this statement according to Schrock the recipients of Christ’s atoning love are not all people without exception, but “His friends.” This is a major misreading of John 3:16. John 3:16 appears to teach just the opposite: God’s love for the world is demonstrated in that he “sent” his Son with the purpose that “whoever” believes in Him will be saved. How can this be described as anything less than a “saving love”? God’s saving love extends to all people. God desires the salvation of all as explicitly stated in John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9. What does not extend to all people is actual salvation since that is dependent upon fulfilling God’s condition for salvation: repentance and faith. Since all people do not repent and believe, all are not saved. This fact, however, has nothing to do with a lack of God’s love for them.
Before leaving Schrock’s section on the particular nature of the atonement, I might point out that he has not attempted to incorporate or interpret any of the universal statements or metaphors found in John’s Gospel as well. Words such as “light,” “life,” “bread,” and “gift” as they appear in a general or universal context in John are important in a consideration of the question at hand. It is interesting that Scripture routinely plays up the universal aspects of Christ’s work, especially in John’s Gospel.