Sunday, August 16, 2009

For Whom Did Christ Die? - Michael Jensen (Amyraldian View)

According to Michael Jensen (Moore Theological College):

Like the great evangelical Calvinist preacher Charles Simeon once said: "I refuse to be more consistent than the Bible!" Christ died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). He died to reconcile all things in heaven and earth (Col 1:15-20). But, he lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). The most significant problem for the limited/definite atonement position is of course that the text of Scripture tells against it again and again. This is not in doubt! One only has to read John Owen's text-twisting in The Death of Death to realize that a system is driving exegesis. If all are not finally saved, it shall not be for any deficiency in Christ's sacrifice, but rather because of their unbelief (contra high Calvinsim). And if any are saved, it will be entirely on account of the work of the Son on the cross and the Holy Spirit effecting the regeneration of the believer (contra Arminianism). As Calvin himself writes: "Our Lord Jesus suffered for all and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him... It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world." This is not an affirmation of the Arminian view which elevates human free choice over election - though the dispute with Arminianism is not so much to do with the extent of the atonement, but more over the nature and significance of election. Anglican evangelical bishop J.C. Ryle wrote: "I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system".

28 comments:

Josh said...

Yes... the content of Jensen's beginning and closing quotes are so important! I think each interpreter has to recognize what are the appropriate exegetical tools he/she has in the toolbox. Perhaps the Bible is less like a puzzle and more like a mosaic.

John McClean said...

I doubt that Michael’s view is historical “Amyraldian”. It certainly isn’t a recasting of the logical order of the decrees so that the decree for Christ to die to save is ‘hypothetically universal’. He does not even use the language of Christ’s death making salvation possible for all.

In my view there are two questions the answers to which make me want to say more than Michael about how definite the work of Christ is. The first question is whether we would allow the doctrine of election to inform our account of the work of Christ? Since passages such as John 10:14-16, 27-30 and Ephesians 1:4-7 already make the connection, then it seems we should so we can’t simply have the work of Christ ‘for all’ in an undefined way which is particularized only in the work of the Spirit. The second question is what is achieved in the work of Christ? It seems plain that the NT considers Christ’s death and resurrection to do far more than “making redemption possible”. These two considerations push me to say that definite atonement affirms an important truth – that in the work of Christ God achieved redemption for his chosen ones - and should not be dismissed.

I think Letham’s suggestion careful defense of definite atonement as a proper theological model is compelling. (See The Work of Christ, IVP, 225-47).

michael jensen said...

The term Amyraldian is not of my choosing. To my mind, that just concedes that the 17th century way of framing the debate was the right one - which i certainly don't concede!

My question to John is: yes, that's all very well, but what do you do with the texts that don't fit?

Luke said...

Michael we can find a place for contrasting texts without abandoning the "whole counsel of God" approach. You said we might read Owen and "realize that a system is driving exegesis." I think that puts a false tension between exegesis and systematic theology.

John McClean said...

Mike Bird, thanks for letting us Aussies discuss this!

Michael Jensen,
What about the texts that don't fit?
Which texts in particular?
Some prove ‘too much’ i.e. if you don’t restrict the scope of “all” in a passage such as 2 Cor 5:14-15 then you have actual universalism, which denies other texts which teach a dual outcome. Some texts point to the universal sufficiency of the death of Christ (John 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2). Some (despite your dismissal of Owen) do mean all classes or all conditions or Jews and Gentiles. Some imply the mysterious reality that God in some sense desires an outcome that he doesn't will (2Pet 3:9; 1Tim 2:4). A mystery still if you apply election to the work of the Spirit but not the work of Christ.
I’m not saying that there aren’t 'tensions' – that’s why I like Letham’s approach. I do think that ‘definite atonement’ affirms important things that are lost in a position which only speaks of the cross and resurrection making all people able to be saved.

Dirk Jongkind said...

As for the difference between systematics and exegesis: It is telling that limited/definite/universal atonement is placed before grace and not after (with which I agree as far as we want to give a systematic, logical analysis of this doctrine). However, in the practice of Biblical exegesis, you will be hard pressed to find the order atonement->grace, rather than grace->atonement. Scripture is much less rigid than the terminology of systematics, which is why prooftexting by systematicians is so unsatisfactory. Still, I am all in favour of giving a systematic account of our faith, but Michael's 'How do you fit in those texts?' is methodologically, well, suspect.

Barry Wallace said...

I couldn't agree more!

Erick White said...

Well, it might be worth interpreting those certain texts.

For instance, when John records Jesus saying "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall never perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16), we must not read it with the systematized grid which says "world" is the "world" of the "elect".
"World" here carries the meaning of the moral corruption of the world, which emcompasses the whole arena of human existence. For example, when Jesus says "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved", we cannot fit a strictly "Elect-world" into each of these occurences of "world".

What is meant is that God sent Jesus into the world, which is the dark order of humanity. Secondly, God does not intend to send the Son into the world to condemn the world., which is of course human beings (nothing else can be conceived of being condemnable). Thirdly, salvation being given to the world is the world of humanity (nothing else in the context can be conveived of being saved- ex Rom 8).

We should then read this verse and come out saying the God loved the world (the order of human existence composed of individual human beings, all in hostility to god) by sending His Son into it, so that it might be saved.

The text doesn't give us universalism and it doesn't give us calvinism. It just states that God has loved the world (parameters are not given, only quality) by sending His Son so that it may be saved.

Therefore, we will have to cope with this character of God somehow in our thinking.

John McClean said...

Dirk, I don't think I get your point. A definite atonement view would insist that God's gracious intention is to save his people leads to the work of Christ.

Erik, I think I agree with your view of John 3. But we are seeking to find a way to speak that honours all the relevant texts. So the fact that John 3 doesn't establish the doctrine dosen't mean that other texts don't

JohnGreenview said...

Comments in the Paul Helm blog suggest Christ's death is sufficient for all and efficient for some (the elect). Efficient in what sense? Efficient I take it as a substitutionary sacrifice. Should we think of Christ's death as efficient in some ways other than substitionary sin-bearing sacrifice for the non-elect? What does Scripture mean when it says Jesus is the Saviour of all men, espeially of those who believe?

Dirk Jongkind said...

What I mean is that I believe that limited atonement follows logically from election and logically precedes grace. It makes the systematic understanding of salvation coherent. However, I do not think that the doctrine 'flows' out of the natural interpretation of Biblical texts, as often these texts are not trying to provide building blocks for a systematic theology (though I equally believe that ultimately there is no contradiction).

As an analogy take 1 Tim 2:4 (God desires everyone to be saved). Within the sphere of God's dealings with the world, in the preaching and realisation of the Gospel on earth, I believe this is completely true. All interpretations that want to limit the 'all' here to simple 'the elect' in the context of this verse are not very convincing. Still I hold that in the ordo salutis unconditional election of a limited number is absolutely true - it is only that then we are talking about a level of reality in God that is normally not addressed in Scripture. Taking the questions raised by systematising what we believe to Scripture is fine, but can be either too simplistic or lead to forcing Scripture in saying something that may be true, but is not intended at the passage under consideration. That is why I think that ultimately issues such as limited versus universal atonement cannot be decided by comparing the number of 'problem texts' for either position.

Nick Mackison said...

Michael, the most powerful rebuttal of limited atonement I ever read was in the works of Broughton Knox. He made a very strong case for the Ayraldian view, although I remain unconvinced.

From what I can gather, Knox seemed to think that limited atonement pre-supposed the necessity of covenant theology. Would you agree with this?

michael jensen said...

Dirk - I have to say that this way of arguing sounds like a concession that the texts don't support your system !

Nick - I'll check Knox's famous piece on Limited Atonement tomorrow at the office, but: yes, he would have argued that LA presupposes a covenant theology, which he would then argue is an artificial imposition on biblical theology. LA also, it seems to me, presupposes double predestination - another disquietingly unbiblical doctrine!

Nick Mackison said...

Michael, enjoyed your reflections on Schreiner's volume in the Briefing. I agree with your reservations over some of the Edswardian influences.

Regarding Knox, given that he was a non-covenant theologian, it certainly makes his rationale for infant-baptism an interesting one!

JohnGreenview said...

Michael

Why do you think LA presupposes Double predestination?

And, do you mean infra or supralapsarian double predestination? It seems to me the difference is huge.

I see Romans 9, and so election, as assuming the fall; mercy and hardening assume a fallen creation.

Ryan said...

Dirk, I appreciate your commitment to the plain meaning of 1 Tim. 2:4. However, you make a few comments that seem to contradict that very commitment: speaking of LA, you say, “it is only that then we are talking about a level of reality in God that is normally not addressed in Scripture.” Or again: “That is why I think that ultimately issues such as limited versus universal atonement cannot be decided by comparing the number of 'problem texts' for either position.” We must allow the problem texts to challenge our decision on this issue, even if it is problematic and unsystematic. Wouldn’t you agree?

Luke said...

Michael,

How do we maintain a position that has Jesus completely taking the penalty for disobedience and dealing with specific sins while not sending people to hell who have had their sins already paid for?

michael jensen said...

Daft, isn't it: that anyone would reject the free offer of sins already paid for... that's the tragedy of it, I would have thought.

Nick Mackison said...

There are passages that don't fit neatly into the LA scheme. I'm thinking of 2 Peter 2:1 where false teachers are accused of denying 'the sovereign Lord who bought them'.

anthony said...

John, you state, "Some texts point to the universal sufficiency of the death of Christ," and you cite 1 John 2:2. Interestingly, Calvin allowed the truth of the maxim "sufficient for all but efficient for the elect" while commenting upon 1 John 2:2, but yet he followed an Augustinian interpretation: "For John’s purpose was only to make this blessing common to the whole Church. Therefore, under the word ‘all’ he does not include the reprobate, but refers to all who would believe and those who were scattered through various regions of the earth." I.e., Calvin adopted an efficacious rather than sufficient interpretation of the text (and therefore limited it to the elect Church in this final manner, in order to avoid final universalism). Perhaps, following your comment, you might go along with D. A. Carson here: See pages 73-79 of his "Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God," available free at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2000_difficult_doctrine_of_the_love_of_God.pdf

1 Timothy 2:4 has come up a lot, and Calvin's comments upon this text (as found in several of his works) are too complex to completely discuss here. But he consistently refers the text to all "classes of humans," even though he links the text to the revealed Word/proclaimed Gospel. Moreover, it should be noted that both Vermigli and Kimedoncius interpeted 1 Timothy 2:4 as a reference to some of all kinds, yet seem to have held a form of "universal redemption" in their overall systems.

On the other hand. Michael, you state: "Daft, isn't it: that anyone would reject the free offer of sins already paid for... that's the tragedy of it, I would have thought." Yes. Calvin declared, "Behold the Turks which cast away the grace which was purchased for all the world by Jesus Christ: the Jews do the like: the Papists, although they say not so openly, they show it in effect. . . . And thus we see now, how men are not partakers of this benefit, which was purchased them by our Lord Jesus."

Nick, you state, "There are passages that don't fit neatly into the LA scheme. I'm thinking of 2 Peter 2:1 where false teachers are accused of denying 'the sovereign Lord who bought them.'" Calvin’s commentary on this verse explains: “Christ redeemed us to have us as a people separated from all the iniquities of the world, devoted to holiness and purity. Those who throw over the traces and plunge themselves into every kind of license are not unjustly said to deny Christ, by whom they were redeemed.” In his comments on Jude 4 (“denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ”), Calvin applies the text to “those who have been redeemed by His blood, and now enslave themselves again to the devil, frustrating (as best they may) that incomparable boon.”

John, you state, "I do think that ‘definite atonement’ affirms important things that are lost in a position which ONLY speaks of the cross and resurrection making all people able to be saved" (emphasis added). Granted, but may one be allowed to wonder more than that. Perhaps important things are lost in a position which ONLY speaks of the cross and resurrection being intended ONLY to save the elect? Perhaps the issue of intent(s) is more complex than sometimes implied. In any case, Calvin speaks in complex ways that don't seem to fit nicely into any full "system" of a theologian today, and one must let him do so in order to avoid anachronism (nor is one bound to accept all of Calvin's specific interpretations). Recommended: "Word for the Word: Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement" (Paul Hartog), available free at http://www.baptistbulletin.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/a-word-for-the-world.pdf

It reminds one of Burk Parson's comment in his book on John Calvin: “The best purpose will have been served (by reading this book) if the reader comes to the conclusion, ‘I ought to be reading Calvin himself!’”

Luke said...

Daft, isn't it: that anyone would reject the free offer of sins already paid for... that's the tragedy of it, I would have thought.

How do you avoid the logical inconsistency of Jesus dying for someone's sins and then that person being sent to hell for their sins that have already been paid for?

anthony said...

Luke: Great question. I don't mean to speak for Michael, but here are a few thoughts: Perhaps you are working from a pecuniary understanding of substitutionary atonement rather than a penal understanding of substitutionary atonement? See: http://theologicalmeditations.blogspot.com/2005/09/double-jeopardy.html
If you can, try to get a hold of Neil Chambers, "A Critical Examination of John Owen's Argument for Limited Atonement" (Th.M. thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998), 241-293. Perhaps think of it this way: In the case of the elect, before they believe (through God's sovereign working), are they not under God's wrath "like the rest of mankind," even though they have been unconditionally chosen by God from eternity past (Eph 1-2)? Under a strict pecuniary system, why are the elect still under God's wrath prior to conversion if the penalty was already paid at the cross--doesn't that imply something like "double payment"--Christ took God's wrath for them yet they are still under God's wrath (until conversion)? Once one grants that the elect are under God's wrath prior to conversion, one recognizes that Christ's work is applied to the elect within personal history. I.e., one distinguishes between Christ's work on the cross and the application of that work to the elect individual (as one unconditionally chosen by God from eternity past). Such a distinction is made not only by Calvin (who insists that until one is united with Christ by faith, one does not yet enjoy the benefits of his redemption), but by various others in the Reformed tradition (see Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism). On union with Christ in Calvin's thought, tied into the extent of the atonement, see Kevin Dixon: "Union with Christ and the Extent of the Atonement in Calvin" (Peter Lang, 2002). Your question might then be seen as pointing toward the distinction being taken to a final, eternal conclusion: Those sent to hell were never united with Christ by faith, and therefore his Gospel work was never applied to them. Calvin spoke of such persons as "doubly culpable," since they never accepted Christ's provision (see Curt Daniel, "History and Theology of Calvinism," 371). Calvin explained: "And indeed, our Lord Jesus was offered to all the world. . . . Our Lord Jesus suffered for all and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him. Unbelievers who turn away from Him and who deprive themselves of Him by their malice are today doubly culpable. For how will they excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the blessing in which they could share by faith? And let us realize that if we come flocking to our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall not hinder one another and prevent Him being sufficient for each of us . . . Let us not fear to come to Him in great numbers, and each one of us bring his neighbours, seeing that He is sufficient to save us all." Of course, in Calvin's wider theology, the unbeliever left to himself/herself will not trust Christ of his/her own accord (hence the necessity of unconditional election and God's sovereign working). Calvin: "But only those whom he has illumined do this. And he illumines those whom he has predestined to salvation" (Calvin quotes coming from Hartog, "Word for the World: Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement.")

Luke said...

Only "pecuniary" in the sense that if I'm talking about numbers, I'm talking about counting real individuals. The difficulty of reading "world" in say John 3:16 as 'everyone-regardless' is that it makes the atonement vague, universalist or provisional. Jesus died for the real sins of real people.

"Doubly culpable" could be a useful phrase in the sense that those doomed for destruction (Romans 9 style) are doomed doubly because they have been in the world, in proximity to the good-news but did not respond. The difficulty of distinguishing between Christ's work on the cross and the application of that work to the elect individual is that it threatens to divide atonement up into a universalist vague bit and an exclusive applied bit.

Martin Kemp said...

Sometimes I've wondered whether Luke 12.10 might provide a key ... despite what Christ has achieved, there is still one sin beyond forgiveness. Maybe Christ died for all people, but not all sins? The world is paid for, but not the sin of rejecting the salvation provided by Jesus.

The difficulty with this view is that individual sins are still held against people on judgement day, and not just the one sin of rejecting Jesus. Of course, the whole spectrum of sins can be seen as having a rejection of the Lord at their heart...

Just thinking aloud.

Maurice Harting said...

It is clear from scripture that the word "world" has a variety of meanings and when the Bible uses the word "world" it has to be understood in its proper context.

The word "world" in John 3: 16 or 1 John 2: 2 clearly does not refer to every human being that ever lived in time and space for that would leave hell empty apart from the devil and his demons and we would end up with "universal atonement" or "decisional regeneration" both of which are wrong. The only people that are saved as seen in 1 Peter 2: 9 are those chosen by God, belong to God, and called by God. It is God's work in the hearts of sinful men who He has chosen. Any attempt at self-righteousness, even man's exercised faith robs Jesus Christ of His glory. For He is the only Saviour and we need to be saved from that which we cannot save ourselves! To Him be all the glory, now and always!

lalaina said...

@ Maurice Harting: no sir, it is NOT "clear", now i'm gonna push it a little further... Do you mean that when Paul says "even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Romans 5:18b He did not mean ALL MEN?? i guess you'd say yes
He just meant every kind and race of man...
Now, when He said "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation" Romans 5:18a, it does NOT mean that ALL MEN actually undergo condemnation...
Thanks, you light my day, Blessings

Maurice Harting said...

Lalaina, using your understanding of "all men" would leave hell empty (aka universalism) since all would be justified, since Christ paid the penalty for all. Clearly Strong's greek lexicon explains who the "world" in John 3 verse 16 refers to ... it does NOT refer to each and every person that ever lived in this world, but to ALL those whom the Father haad given to Jesus Christ, namely the chosen ones also known as the elect or those born of God.

Tony and Jenny said...

I am sure, if we were all in Heaven right now, this column would be much shorter. In fact I think no one would be bothered to add to it, let alone read it. They would all be casting their crowns down and crying out, "For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth. ... Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!"