Reviewing Donald Macleod’s “Definite Atonement and the Divine Decree” | David L. Allen, PhD

by Dr. David L. Allen
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Donald Macleod begins a six chapter section on “Definite Atonement in Theological Perspective.” There is much helpful material in these chapters.

Probably the most significant is the interaction with the Amyraldian and Hypothetical Universalism views within the orbit of Reformed theology. This is commendable and opens the door for further dialogue to occur.

However, this interaction is not without its problems, as there appears to be a fair amount of misunderstanding and mischaracterization of these positions.

Macleod begins his chapter by noting:

“The focus of this chapter is the link between the divine intention of the atonement and its extent.” (401).

Here he rightly acknowledges a distinction between the intent and extent of the atonement, but as we shall see, he appears to misunderstand the connection between the two.

He quotes the oft quoted statement by Berkhof:

“Did the Father in sending Christ, and did Christ in coming into the world to make atonement for sin, do this with the design or for the purpose of saving only the elect or all men? That is the question and that only is the question.”

But this sends the discussion off the rails at the very beginning. Note the words “design” and “purpose.” All Calvinists, whether they believe in definite atonement or universal atonement, would affirm Berkhof’s statement, because they believe that the ultimate purpose of God in the atonement is the salvation of the elect.  

Macleod, like Berkhof, assumes that if the issue can be stated in this fashion, then the game is over. Definite atonement is established because intent and extent are assumed to be coextensive. Macleod is reading the issue through the filtered lens of Berkhof, and he appears to be reading Amyraldianism through the lens of Warfield’s mischaracterization of Amyraldianism. 

The chapter is divided into five major sections: “Arminianism” (402-06); “Eternal Predestination” (406-409); “Supra- and Infralapsarianism (409-413); Karl Barth’s Supralapsarianism; and Hypothetical Universalism (422-34). This final section is the longest sustained discussion of Hypothetical Universalism in the book.

Of these five sections, the middle three, while interesting in and of themselves, offer little help to the argument for definite atonement.

All orthodox Christians affirm eternal predestination; the debate occurs over how this is accomplished. Eternal predestination simply does not entail limited atonement nor does it contradict unlimited atonement. Even if Reformed theology’s notion of election is correct, which we can grant at the moment for the sake of argument, all that entails is that there is an atonement for the elect, not that there cannot be an atonement for the sins of the so called “non-elect.” To argue otherwise is a logical fallacy.

(Read the rest, and comment, HERE.)