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

August 30, 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.

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).

Part 2A | Part 2B | Part 2C | Part 2D

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.

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Adam Harwood

Dr. Allen has identified a fatal flaw in the thesis of Schrock’s chapter which applies also to Gentry and Wellum’s  new book _Kingdom Through Covenant_. Their shared view wrongly understands the high priestly work of Christ through the OLD rather than the NEW covenant. 

The work of Christ finds significant discontinuity with the old covenant.  

Under the OLD covenant, the high priest made yearly sacrifices of atonement. Under the NEW covenant, Christ made the eternal, once-for-all sacrifice of Himself. The author of Hebrews argues that Christ is the perfect priest, sacrifice, and temple (chapters 8-10).

The author of Hebrews makes a sustained argument that Jesus did not come to continue the old covenant but to replace it. The first covenant is “obsolete” (Heb 8:13 ESV). 

This removes a major pillar in the argumentation of Schrock, Gentry, Wellum, and all others who would limit the atonement of Christ based on the Old Testament priesthood.

Thank you for your careful work on this topic, Dr. Allen.

In Him,


Norm Miller

Dr. Allen: Once again you have pinpointed the issues and addressed them in an unassailable manner. Perhaps that explains the lack of commentary. — Norm


    LOL… yes, I’m sure that’s it.

    It couldn’t be that this witch hunt to eradicate the Calvinists from the SBC has been shown for what it is and the sooner that the demagogues are marginalized, the sooner Gospel unity can return to the SBC for the accomplishment of our divine purpose.

    But you just go ahead and believe what you want.


      abclay, I have only read where Mohler announced that some should be “marginalized”.


      Chris,Good line of thinking there my fienrd. Very challenging thought on 3 things to rally around and 3 things to eject from ourselves.Let me begin with ejecting what I believe are the greatest negatives.First, as has been mentioned already – let’s get rid of this idea that giving to missions means participating in missions. We need to get our people into the highways and byways compelling people to come into the kingdom. We need to push short term mission projects for our people involving them in local, state, national and international works. Also, along this line – why not offer college tuition grants to our young people who are willing to give two years of mission service either here in the states or overseas? Seems like someone is doing that … hummmm, wonder who that could be.Second, again, as has been mentioned – let’s get rid of our current model of state conventions/ local associations. I would be in favor of eliminating the state convention altogether, but only if the local associational structure were beefed up. If we simply eliminated both the state and local bodies we would have an over-bloated national body. There are just some things that are handled better in the smaller bodies. The only problem with this idea, however, is that the State Conventions and the Local Associations are all autonomous from the National Convention. So when dealing with SBC issues, that doesn’t necessarily involved these other two bodies.Third, let’s get rid of the idea that mega-churches must be doing things better than anyone else. I personally believe that mega-churches are an abnormality in the Kingdom of God. What I have always taught is that when a church reaches four, five or six hundred (yes, I know, to most, THAT IS a mega-church, but bear with me) people in attendance, take one or two hundred of those and start a new church. Don’t spend millions of dollars building a building that stands empty five or six days a week. This not only plants strong churches (as opposed to the ever popular “split a church to start a church mentality”), but builds discipleship and accountability.Now, what shall we rally around?First and foremost is: missions. This is at least what everybody says. The truth is we’re not really serious about missions in the SBC as a whole. I have a niece who is at present in Richmond preparing for a two year journeyman appointment. She told us recently that during a meeting with Dr. Rankin, he made the comment that “Even if we meet our Lottie Moon goal, which we won’t, we still won’t have enough to send out all the people we could.” We have men, women and families waiting for funding but we’d rather build new gyms. Something is really goofy about our priorities. True, sending money alone is not what it takes, but the SBC was (and still is in my mind) the means through which our churches have agreed to cooperate in sending out missionaries. Many together are stronger than one alone.BTW, I strongly oppose the idea of combining the IMB and NAMB. I do believe that NAMB should be reworked, but not as a department of the IMB or some other super mission agency. We need to stop treating NAMB like the proverbial step-child and put some serious funding into church planting and ministry services.Second, theological education – true, this should begin in the local church. However, I do believe as with missions, when we cooperate together the results are much better than when we try to do it ourselves. I also like the idea mentioned earlier of working to extend theological education into the mission field. This would not be an effort to Americanize national churches, but to strengthen the leadership of these congregations where they are.Finally, we should rally around “Christ and Him crucified.” I don’t mean to sound like a cliche9 but the truth is that when we rally around Him – well, everything else seems to fall into place.Sorry it’s so long, but you did ask …Grace,


    Mr. Miller,

    With all due respect “Once again” and “unassailable” does not apply to any article written by any Traditionalist at this blog at any time to this day.

      Don Johnson


      If so, why is there no defense from our Calvinists friends?



        I’m not speaking about limited atonement, though. I don’t think that doctrine is really defensible either. I just thought it was presumptuous to say that any article is unassailable. There are always holes, always things that can be argued and pulled apart. Nothing is infallible except God’s Word.

        I’m not sure why the Calvinists haven’t written. Personally, limited atonement is where I draw the line, because it is the one doctrine of Calvinism that has scant biblical support. …but I would say the same thing about Traditionalism: The doctrine of total depravity makes Traditionalism (chiefly its teachings on the human will) unsupportable biblically.

        I am squarely in the middle between Calvinists and Traditionalists (which is where I think Scripture is too). :o)

Ron Hale

You used the word “demagogue” and one defination is: One who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”

Dr. Allen continues to give a clear critique and review of the book Whomever He Wills, he does it as a scholar and gentleman.

Only one commenter showed up appealing to popular desires and prejudices … w/0 using rational argument.

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