Gaining a Fuller Understanding / David Allen, Ph.D.

April 24, 2014

Responding to Dr. Michael Haykin*

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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I have enjoyed reading Dr. Caner’s 3 part series on “Historical Southern Baptist Soteriology” at SBCToday and Dr. Haykin’s brief response which is posted at Andrewfullercenter.org. Both have helped me to understand the issues better.

Since I, too, have written on Fuller’s shift in his position on the extent of the atonement,1 I would like to make a few important points concerning what Dr. Haykin is claiming concerning Dr. Caner’s section on Fuller in Part Two of his post with respect to the extent of the atonement.

First, Caner is not suggesting that Fuller somehow cannot be considered to be a Calvinist. It is clear Fuller was Calvinistic and Caner knows this quite well. His point is that Fuller shifted on some of his viewpoints concerning Calvinistic soteriology, notably on the question of the extent of the atonement.**

Second, the concept of “Particular Redemption” (Limited Atonement) needs to be carefully explained. At its heart, Particular Redemption means that Christ only died for, substituted for, the sins of the elect on the cross. This was Fuller’s original position in the first edition of his Gospel Worthy. However, as Morden, Caner, and I, among others, have pointed out, Fuller shifted from this position after his debates with the General Baptist Dan Taylor. Hence, in the 1801 2nd edition of Gospel Worthy, Fuller revised the section on Particular Redemption to reflect that he now believed Christ substituted for the sins of all the world, not just the elect. I own both of these works and have compared them carefully. The section on particular redemption in the 1st edition is almost completely rewritten in the 2nd edition.2 All references to particular redemption in the sense that Christ suffered only for the sins of the elect are excised by Fuller. This marks a significant shift.

Third, additional proof of Fuller’s shift on the extent of the atonement can be found in his Reply to Philanthropos, where he admitted he had been mistaken about the terms “ransom” and “propitiation” being applied only to those who were among the elect. Now these terms were “applicable to all mankind in general . . . ,” an admission which clearly shows Fuller had abandoned limited substitution/atonement.3

Fourth, Fuller became convinced that there could be no grounds for the universal offer of the gospel apart from a universal satisfaction (provision) for sins. This is the position that all moderate Calvinists and non-Calvinists have been pressing on their high-Calvinist brothers for centuries. If limited atonement is true, there is no provision at all for the non-elect in the death of Christ. Fuller felt the brunt of this argument and could not answer it. He later confessed in 1803: “I tried to answer my opponent . . . but I could not. I found not merely his reasonings, but the Scriptures themselves, standing in my way.”4

Fifth, as a Calvinist, Fuller’s concept of redemption was still “particular” in the sense that the particularity was now located not in the extent of the atonement, but in the design and application of the atonement. As a Calvinist, Fuller believed the elect were determined in the elective purpose of God in eternity past. Thus, for Fuller, it was only God’s intent that the elect be saved. Many Calvinists and non-Calvinists become confused at this point when they don’t distinguish notions of intent and extent in discussions of the nature of the atonement.

Sixth, Haykin is partially correct that the situation with Fuller is “far more complex than a simple adoption of ‘general atonement.’” Haykin notes how Morden interprets Fuller’s view of Christ’s death as “being unlimited in provision, but by design limited in its application, which is the classic view of the Synod of Dort: sufficient for all, but efficacious for the elect.” Notice several things about this statement.

1)  Haykin does not state any disagreement with Morden’s interpretation of Fuller’s view. If he does not disagree with Morden, then he cannot disagree with Caner on this point, since Caner is merely affirming Morden’s interpretation. Either Caner, Morden, and I are correct on this specific point, or we are not. Either Christ’s death is an unlimited provision for all sins, or it is not.

2) Haykin’s point about Dort needs refinement. The Dortian delegates vigorously debated the question of the extent of the atonement such that the final canon on this point was written with enough ambiguity that all delegates could sign: those who believed in a limited provision for sin in Christ’s death and those like Davenant and the English delegation who believed in an unlimited provision for sin in Christ’s death.

3) Haykin refers to the classic view of Dort as sufficient for all, but efficacious for the elect. But again, nuance is needed here. The delegates debated the meaning of “sufficiency” in the Lombardian formula. Some understood “sufficiency” to mean it was sufficient only in its value, such that, had God intended for the atonement to be a provision for the sins of all, it could have been. Others interpreted “sufficiency” to mean an actual sufficiency, such that the atonement actually was a provision for the sins of all people (unlimited in its extent.)

Seventh, this theological issue is of immense importance for evangelism and preaching. The death of Christ for the sins of all people and not just the elect becomes the ground for the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel to the whole world. The reason is simple: How can an atonement be offered to the whole world, some of whom are non-elect in a Calvinist soteriology, when there is nothing to offer them? No atonement exists for the non-elect. If someone is not “saveable,” neither is he “offerable.”

Eighth, thus, Caner has not “misread” Fuller on this issue.


[1] See David L. Allen, “Preaching for a Great Commission Resurgence” in Great Commission Resurgence (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2010), 291-296.
[2] See Gospel Worthy, 1st ed., 132–39 and Gospel Worthy, in Fuller’s Works, II, 373–75.
[3] See Reply to Philanthropos, in Fuller’s Works, II, 496, and 550.
[4] Six Letters to Dr. Ryland Respecting the Controversy with the Rev. A. Booth, in Fuller’s Works, II, 709–10.

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* Dr. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at SBTS.

**Of significant import to this article’s topic is a 3-part post from Dr. Allen titled:
“On the Insufficiency of the Notion of Sufficiency Among Some Calvinists, parts 1-3”
part 1
http://bit.ly/1jQsNiD
part 2
http://bit.ly/QzpCmY
part 3
http://bit.ly/1igGvss