Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles, eds. Whomever He Wills: a Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2012), 401 pgs.
This post and the subsequent four which will follow are a continuation of Dr. Allen’s review and critique of David Schrock’s chapter on the extent of the atonement entitled “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed” in Whomever He Wills (hereafter WHW).
Dr. Allen considers Schrock’s section addressing the typological symbolism of Christ’s high priestly activity as evidence for definite atonement (90-99). As a reminder for clarification, with respect to definitions, the phrases “limited atonement,” “particular redemption,” and “definite atonement” as used in Schrock’s chapter and by Dr. Allen in this review should be defined to mean “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. 1. Priestly Argument for Definite Atonement:
Schrock informs us that “whatever the Bible teaches about Christ’s priesthood will determine the nature and extent of Christ’s atonement” (90). He examines Old Testament priestly typology and suggests from it support for limited atonement. “The power of the argument is found in its comprehensive view of Scripture and the unity of the person and work of Christ” (91). This statement is footnoted citing William Cunningham’s Historical Theology and John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. I found this interesting since Stott did not adhere to limited atonement. Noting that the Old Testament high priest always offered sacrifices for specific sinners, Schrock concludes with respect to Jesus as the antitype “it is unmistakable that the high priest represents a particular people” and from this Schrock draws the further conclusion that the atonement is limited in its extent.
Schrock adduces four lines of evidence in an attempt to prove his point: 1) the priestly garments, 2) the location of the atonement, 3) the sacrifice itself, and 4) the relationship between intercession and atonement. With respect to the garments worn by the high priest, Schrock notes the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were engraved on his ephod, “thus indicating his particular service for these peoples and not others.” He concludes, “In this regard, the priestly attire ‘visualizes’ the particular nature of the atonement.” Upon careful reflection, this analogy breaks down and actually works against Schrock’s argument. Are we to assume that each and every member of each of the twelve tribes of Israel was genuinely a recipient of the benefits of the sacrifice made by the high priest such that upon their death they were “saved” and went to heaven? If just one did not, Schrock’s analogy breaks down. I know of no Calvinist who would affirm such. In fact, it appears even Schrock himself does not affirm it since he mentions on page 105, “Under the Old Covenant, myriads of ‘redeemed’ Israelites died in the wilderness (Psalm 95), but now in the New Covenant, Christ has purchased redemption, justification (and faith), sanctification, and glorification for His particular people.” By placing “redeemed” in quotes, Schrock informs us he is assuming those who died in the wilderness were not genuinely “saved.” Were these not members of the twelve tribes whose names the high priest wore on his ephod? Did the high priest make sacrifices on the Day of Atonement for them? It would appear so. Schrock seems to contradict his own analogy. By the way, the context of Numbers 14 which describes the debacle at Kadesh-Barnea actually indicates God forgave the sins of those who rebelled (14:20) and that the deaths in the wilderness over the next 38 years represented temporal discipline of God’s covenant people and should not be interpreted salvifically. (See my Hebrews, in The New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010], 253-70; 365-69, for the argument in favor of this understanding of the text.)
Schrock then turns to the subject of the location of the atonement in the Old Testament.
He argues that typologically, the blood was applied to the altar in the Old Covenant, so that God is propitiated. Likewise Jesus applied his blood to the true altar in heaven (Hebrews 9:23-28). Thus all whom Jesus as High Priest represented in his death are reconciled to God. Christ “is not making a mere provision for the salvation of all men by somehow qualifying all men for salvation, if only they will believe” (93). “Christ is effecting propitiation before God as He applies his blood to the altar in heaven reconciling a God whose wrath goes out against each sin committed by those people whom Christ is representing. Consequently, temple typology rejects general atonement” (94). The major problem here is the conflation of the extent of the atonement with its application. Schrock’s appeal to the typology of Christ as our High Priest simply cannot carry the freight he wishes to place on it. His description of dying for sin in general and dying for the specific sins of specific people borders on equivalentism, the notion that there is a quantum of sufferings in the death of Christ that corresponds exactly to the number of sins of the elect whom He represents (see footnote 1, page 62 of my “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?”, in Whosoever Will [hereafter Whosoever]). Only a minority of high-Calvinists affirm equivalentism. Schrock’s final statement “Consequently, temple typology rejects general atonement” is a false conclusion in that he has not proven his premises upon which it rests. He merely extrapolates from typology to limited atonement.
Schrock’s third category is the Old Testament sacrifices. He asserts that these different offerings “explain what Christ did on the cross, and when the question of extent/intent is applied to them, it becomes evident that they are harbingers of a particular redemption” (95). His major point here is that since the sacrifices of the Passover and Day of Atonement are only for those in the “covenantal community,” then “there is nothing universal or general in these sacrifices which typify Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7)” (Ibid.). Schrock says that those who affirm unlimited atonement may suppose that the high priest represented elect and non-elect in Israel in the Old Covenant, then Jesus the antitype will die for all people in the New Covenant as well. He thinks this confuses the issue in two ways. First, the high priest does not represent spiritual Israel, but Israel according to the flesh. “When egalitarians read categories of elect and non-elect back into the OT priesthood, they confuse the matter by conflating Christ’s spiritual headship with Israel’s ethnic constitution” (96). Second, “Christ will effectively save His covenant people in a way that the Old Covenant priests never could” (Ibid.). Finally, Schrock compares Hebrews 10:14 with Hebrews 2:12-16 and concludes, “While taking on flesh and blood, Christ’s obedience is not for all humanity, it is for His particular people. . .” (Ibid.).
Several points can be made here. One must be careful with typology so as not to overreach. The type/antitype construct was never intended to account for all details of comparison/contrast between the two. Second, the fact that the Old Testament sacrifices were for all people in the covenant community actually argues for the opposite of limited atonement. If an Israelite under the Old Covenant was not ultimately redeemed, it was not for lack of atonement but for his own unbelieving heart. Third, I agree with Schrock that we should not read categories of “elect” and “non-elect” from the New Testament back into the Old. However, this seems to be precisely what he is doing in his argumentation. Neither should we read Old Testament categories of the sacrificial system into the New unless we have specific biblical justification to do so. Fourth, Schrock’s two objections simply don’t help his case in that they provide no evidence for limited atonement with respect to Jesus’ sacrifice. Finally, his statement that Jesus assumed human flesh not for the sake of humanity but only for the sake of the elect is misguided and also rests on a faulty conclusion. Note the difference in Schrock’s view and the classical Christological view of the early church Fathers who said Christ suffers for the sins of all with whom he shares human nature.