Dr. David Allen Reviews and Critiques “From Heaven He Came And Sought Her”, The Latest Calvinist Defense of Limited (Definite) Atonement

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Excerpt from conclusion:

While the book [From Heaven He Came And Sought Her] will likely be too much for some laypeople to digest, I would encourage all theological students, pastors, and scholars to take the time to read it and digest it. It is probably the most comprehensive defense of definite atonement available. On the surface, it looks formidable, but it has a soft underbelly and is vulnerable to a number of criticisms.

It only takes one clear statement in Scripture that Christ died for the sins of all people to confirm unlimited atonement no matter how many statements indicate Christ died for a specific group of people. Likewise, it would only take one clear statement in Scripture that Christ died only for the sins of the elect to confirm definite atonement. There is not one single statement in Scripture that overtly states Christ died only for the sins of the elect. There are easily a dozen New Testament Scriptures overtly stating Christ died for all people.

The burden is on the authors of this book to prove that a simple positive statement can entail a universal negation. This is the book’s claim. The hill which the authors must climb is to prove, exegetically from Scripture, that Christ died only for some people’s sins (a limited imputation of sin). If exegetically, DA fails, then no amount of theological flying buttresses will support it.

We are also told that Dr. David Allen is himself presently working on a new book on atonement.  We will be sure to promote it when it comes out.

Related posts and articles:

I. Howard Marshall: The Theology of Atonement

I. Howard Marshall: For All, For All My Savior Died

Robert Picirilli: The Extent of the Atonement

Robert Picirilli: Salvation by Faith, Applied

Albert Barnes on the Extent of the Atonement

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation “A”: Atonement For All 

3 Part Series on Provisional Atonement

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation vs. The T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism

While Calvinists like to play with flowers (or MUPPETS?), Arminians prefer to deal with the FACTS.  For an excellent and detailed summary of what Arminians believe and why, be sure to check out The FACTS of Salvation: A summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace!!

I just wanted to share some brief notes about my article, “The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace,” recently published here at the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. It comes to about 25 pages and is a summary of Arminian theology with substantial scriptural support using the acronym FACTS. It is meant to be a positive presentation of the Arminian position and so does not typically get into debate over the various Scriptures appealed to, but mostly assumes a particular interpretation of them.

We occasionally get requests for Scripture citations to support our statement of faith. We have never felt it necessary to add Scripture references to our statement of faith since the website is largely dedicated to giving scriptural support for the distinctive elements of Arminian theology. But this FACTS article now provides that in a substantial way in one article. May the Lord use it to bless his church and advance his truth. [link]

Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity Gets it Wrong: Examining the So Called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism”

About a year ago I engaged in a conversation with someone who kept misrepresenting Arminian and Wesleyan teaching while insisting that his claims were “historical facts”.  This person kept making reference to the “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism” to back up his claims.  I had no idea what this could be a reference to since I was not familiar with any document written by Arminius or the Remonstrants that went by such a name.  As it turns out, the so called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism” is a sub-title given under the heading “Arminianism” in Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity.  Below is a critique proving that these 15 tenets are far from representative of Arminian theology.  

The 15 Major Tenets of Arminianism are:

1. Human beings are free agents and human events are mediated by the foreknowledge of God.

I suppose this might be considered a feature of Arminianism, but the wording is hard to follow.  What does it mean that “human events are mediated by the foreknowledge of God?”  Arminians certainly affirm that some human actions are truly free.  Arminians also affirm that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all things, including truly free human choices and actions.  If that is what is meant, then the point is accurate; but it is worded very poorly and could be easily misconstrued.

2. God’s decrees are conditional, not absolute.

I don’t think this accurately reflects Arminianism at all.  One would first need to define “God’s decrees”.  Are we speaking of eternal decrees?  If not, then there are certainly decrees in Scripture that prove to be conditional (e.g., the decree that the priesthood would continue forever through Eli’s line, which was revoked due to Eli’s disobedience and failure to deal with his rebellious sons, 1 Samuel 2:30-33).  If the decrees in view have reference to eternal decrees, then the Arminian could say that God’s decrees are absolute while also affirming that they encompass conditions.

For example, the Arminian could say that God decreed from all eternity to endow His creatures with the power of free will and to hold them accountable for their choices and actions [1].  That would still be an “absolute” decree.  If an “absolute” decree has reference to an unchangeable and irresistible eternal decree that determines everything that will ever happen (including every human choice, sinful or otherwise), then Arminians do indeed reject such an “absolute” view of God’s decrees.  Still, the “conditional” aspect of #2 is imprecise and does not necessarily comport with any standard Arminian view of God’s decrees.  I can’t imagine that any Arminian would consider #2, as worded, to be anything even close to a “major tenet of Arminianism.”

3. God created Adam as innocent.

True.  Is this supposed to be in contrast to Calvinism?  Did God create Adam guilty in Calvinism?  I would say this is a major tenet of theology in general and not just Arminianism.

4. Sin consists in acts of the will.

Correct.  James 1:13-15 establish that well enough.  However, if this is meant to say that Arminians do not believe that we have a corrupt (sinful) nature, then this is entirely false.  All Arminians fully affirm man’s depravity and some (though not all) even affirm racial guilt (which is not the same as affirming total depravity).

5. Only the pollution, not the sin of Adam, is imputed to his
descendants.

As above, this is true of some Arminians, but not all.  Personally, I do not believe that God holds Adam’s descendents responsible for Adam’s sin.  However, I agree with all Arminians that Adam’s sinful nature is passed on to all of his descendents (though I am not sure “imputed” is the best way to express this).

6. Man’s depravity is not total, and his will is inclined toward God and good.

This is entirely false.  Such a claim has never been a feature of Arminianism.  Man’s depravity is total in Arminianism so that the will is not inclined towards God and good.  Point #6 is the opposite of what Arminianism teaches. [2]

7. The Atonement was not necessary but once offered is available to all.

This is worded so awkwardly it is difficult to grasp what is being asserted (just as many of these so called “tenets” so far).  However, the Arminian would certainly object to the idea that the atonement “was not necessary.” I suppose this might be a description of the governmental view of atonement which some Arminians have held.  But even then, I doubt that many (if any) of those who hold the governmental view would say that the atonement was “not necessary”.  At any rate, Arminius held to penal-satisfaction (and for that reason saw the atonement as wholly necessary) as did Wesley and numerous other Arminians throughout history.  Therefore, if this is a reference to the governmental view of atonement (accurate or not), it cannot be rightly called a “major tenet of Arminianism”.   As far as the atonement being a provision available for all, this would indeed be a “major tenet” of Arminianism.

8. The Atonement does not actually effect the salvation of human beings but merely makes it possible.

False again.  The atonement makes salvation possible for all and “effects the salvation” of those who repent and believe the gospel.

9. Salvation becomes effectual only when accepted voluntarily by penitent sinners.

Here #8 is contradicted by #9.  If the atonement “does not actually effect salvation” (as #8 claims), then it cannot even “effect” salvation on the condition of voluntary acceptance.  Again, I do not care for the wording of #9.  I would prefer to say that the free gift of salvation is received by the God enabled exercise of faith in the person.  Still, there is nothing in #9 that the Arminian need object to.

10. Regeneration is determined by the human will, not divine decree.

Arminians believe that regeneration is received by faith, but caused by God.  Faith precedes regeneration in Arminianism as it receives the free gift of new life from God and enjoys this life as the result of being joined to Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit through faith.  If “determined by the human will” is meant to say that man regenerates himself, then the statement is false and misrepresents Arminianism. Only God can regenerate just as God alone can justify.  To say that justification and regeneration are by faith does not mean that the one who trusts God is doing these things to himself, any more than it can be said that the one who receives a gift also gives the gift to himself or provided the gift in the first place. 

Does this mean that regeneration is not determined by “divine decree?”  Not at all.  The Arminian affirms that God decreed from all eternity to justify and regenerate sinners on the condition of faith in His Son.  Therefore, regeneration is determined by “divine decree.”

11. Faith itself is a good work.

It is ridiculous to claim that this is a feature of Arminianism, let alone a “major tenet” of Arminianism.  The Arminian agrees with Paul that faith is not a work and in no way merits salvation.  Rather, faith receives the free and undeserved gift of salvation (Romans 4:4-8).  For this reason salvation by faith is salvation by grace (Rom. 4:16).  The Arminian also acknowledges that faith is impossible if not for the gracious enabling work of God in the sinner.  For this reason, even faith can be considered a gift from God.

12. There is no distinction between common grace and special grace.

This is hardly a major tenet of Arminianism.  Many Arminians do make such distinctions, but understand “special grace” differently than Calvinists and, apparently, the misinformed architect of these so-called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism.”  The Arminian would likely understand “special grace” as that special working of God that makes faith possible while the Calvinist would see this same working as irresistible.  The typical Arminian understanding of “common grace” is roughly the same as the Calvinist view (i.e. as that grace which restrains evil in this world, etc.).

 13. Grace may be resisted.

Yes, this could be rightly classified as a “major tenet” or Arminianism.

14. The righteousness of Christ is never imputed to the believer.

This is false.  Arminius affirmed the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the condition of faith as have many (if not most) Arminians since.  Some Arminians deny that Christ’s so called “active” obedience is imputed to the believer, while still maintaining that Christ’s “passive” obedience is imputed for righteousness.  Other Arminians affirm that both Christ’s active and passive obedience is imputed to the believer (e.g. Free Will Baptists). 

There are some from the Wesleyan tradition who would add “imparted righteousness” while still holding to a form of “imputed righteousness” as well.  It seems to me that there are some from the Wesleyan tradition who might deny that the imputation of righteousness can rightly be called “the righteousness of Christ”, though from my readings of Wesley, I am confident that while Wesley denied the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in the “active” sense, he affirmed it in the “passive” sense.  Regardless, it can hardly be accurate to say the rejection of Christ’s imputed righteousness is a “major tenet” of Arminianism when its founder and so many of his theological heirs fully affirm that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer.  It would be far more accurate to say that Christ’s imputed righteousness to the believer is a “major tenet” of Arminianism.

15. A believer may attain full conformity to divine will in this life, but may also fall from grace and be lost eternally.

Again, this is worded very strangely.  If this is meant to say that true believers can yet abandon faith and be eternally lost, then this might be considered to be a major tenet of Arminianism.  Unfortunately, Arminius never took a stand on the issue (though Arminius seemed to believe that apostasy was both theoretically and scripturally possible and argued against the contrary view [of inevitable perseverance] in his response to Calvinist William Perkins- see pp. 272-289 in Arminius Speaks). [4]  Likewise, Arminius’ first followers (the Remonstrants) initially left the question of apostasy open to debate, though they eventually took a stand on the issue against the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance. 

If “full conformity to divine will in this life” has reference to entire sanctification, then this could only be rightly called a feature of Arminianism rooted in the teachings of Wesley.  Many Arminians hold to progressive sanctification and Arminius did not take a stand on the issue (though he did not deny the possibility of entire sanctification for the regenerated believer so long as it was emphasized that such could only be possible through total dependence on the empowering grace of God). [5]

Therefore, it doesn’t seem quite accurate to say that either claim in #15 is a “major tenet” of Arminianism.  For this reason The Society of Evangelical Arminians does not prevent Arminians who hold to inevitable perseverance from holding membership in the society, nor does it take a stand on the possibility of entire sanctification.

[This unfortunate and inaccurate listing of “major tenets” is found under “Arminianism” in Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 47]

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[1] A. W. Tozer expressed this view of divine decree very well in the following quote:

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God)

In Arminius’ descriptions of the divine decrees he twice uses the word “absolute” to define these decrees:

“The first absolute decree of God concerning the salvation of sinful man, is that by which he decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue.”

“The second precise and absolute decree of God, is that in which he decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for His sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevered to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent persons and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ.” (From “A Declaration of the Sentiments of James Arminius Part 2” in Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God, pg. 63).

[2] James Arminius wrote:

“In this [depraved] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but imprisoned, destroyed, and lost.  And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they are excited by Divine grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.  For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing”…..The mind of man, in  this [depraved] state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14),…” (From “Public Disputation” in Arminius Speaks, pp. 3, 4, brackets mine).

[3] James Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law…” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pg. 78)

[4] James Arminius wrote:

“But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.”

“Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish.  Yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them [the passages that seem to teach the possibility of apostasy] which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding.  On the other hand, certain passages are produced [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pp. 69, 70, first brackets in second paragraph mine.  Unfortunately, Arminius did not live to participate in such a “convention”, and the “Synod of Dort” that his followers participated in proved to be nothing less than a kangaroo court.)

[5] James Arminius wrote:

“But while I never asserted that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life, I never denied it, but always left it as a matter which has still to be decided.” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pg. 71)

Provisional Atonement Part 3: The Integrity and Justice of God in the Gospel Offer

In this post we will defend the premise that only a universal provisional atonement view can maintain the integrity of God in the gospel offer and the universal command to repent. The Bible is clear that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). But what is the basis for this repentance? Repentance means for us to change our minds and hearts from one direction to another. With regard to spiritual repentance it is a total spiritual reorientation. It is coupled with faith in Scripture because it is essentially the same motion of turning away from sin towards God viewed from two different perspectives. Repentance focuses on the turning from and faith focuses on the turning to, or the end goal of repentance, faith in Christ (Heb. 6:1; Acts 3:19, 26). So when the Bible says that God commands all men everywhere to repent, it is speaking of spiritual repentance which issues in faith towards God in Christ.

The problem for the Calvinist is that spiritual repentance is impossible without atonement. No one can effectively turn from sin and towards Christ in faith outside of the provision of atonement which provides the means for the forgiveness of sins. This is clearly highlighted in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:12-19. Notice especially the language being used in verses 18, 19 and 26. In verse 18 Peter speaks of Christ suffering death according to prophecy, and in verse 19 he says, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Repentance is directly tied to Christ’s death and the consequent possibility of “returning” to God on the basis of that death. So if God commands all men everywhere to repent, then Christ must have died for all as noted above. But more than that we see in verse 26 that Peter tells these Jews that Christ was raised that everyone of [them] would be turned from their wicked ways (another way of describing repentance). So it looks like this,

18 “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.
19 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; . . .
26 “For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” (NASB emphasis mine)

Forgiveness, then, is provided for all through the death and resurrection of Christ, but only those who repent and believe receive that forgiveness. That describes the Arminian position of universal provisional atonement perfectly and makes sense of the gospel offer while preserving the integrity of the message and the one making the offer (ultimately, God). Also, it seems clear that the command to repent can only make sense against the backdrop of the atonement and the universal provision of forgiveness resulting from the shed blood of Christ. Unless Christ’s blood was shed for all then there is no basis for commanding all to repent.

Repentance is useless outside of the genuine provision of forgiveness in Christ. But because of the universal forgiveness provided for in the atonement, repentance becomes a genuine means to attaining life and avoiding eternal death (Acts 11:18; 2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, it really only makes sense to command anyone to repent and believe if the reality of the provision of atonement and forgiveness stands behind that command. For this reason Peter instructs all of those within the sound of his voice that Christ’s death and resurrection was for the purpose of “all” of them turning away from their wickedness towards faith in God, that “times of refreshing might come from the Lord” (Acts 3:18, 19, 26). Here we find a clear Biblical mandate, in accordance with Peter’s expressed language directed to “all” who were listening, for telling anyone that Christ died for him or her so that one might repent and be saved, something that would be impossible if the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement truly represented the Biblical view [1].

But there is much more than this in Scripture to support the necessity of universal provisional atonement in connection with the command to proclaim the gospel offer to all mankind without qualification. It is important to note that the main issue in the New Testament concerning forgiveness and life versus condemnation is that of faith versus unbelief. Forgiveness and salvation result for those who obey the gospel and put faith in Christ while condemnation results for those who refuse and reject the gospel offer. John makes this clear repeatedly in his Gospel, most notably,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God… Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John. 3:16-18, 36, ESV)

It would seem that the primary reason that one is condemned in the New Testament is because he or she rejects the provision of forgiveness offered in Christ. Paul makes it clear that one finds justification and redemption “through faith in His blood” (Rom. 3:25). So it is not just a matter of refusing to believe that Christ is the Son of God. Rather, it goes much deeper in that one is essentially rejecting the all important testimony of God concerning His Son, that one is saved through faith in His blood and that through His blood life abides in His Son as a provision for all (1 John 4:9, 10, 14; 5:10, 11; John 5:26; 6:32, 33, 51, 53-58). The one who rejects Christ is primarily condemned by God for that rejection (John 3:16-18, 36; 5:24, 39, 40; 2 Thess. 2:10-12; Acts 14:36). That person will be judged for all of his sins because he has refused the way of escape and the genuine offer of forgiveness provided by God in Christ. For that reason the unbeliever heaps condemnation on himself in his rejection of Christ. As Dr. Robert Picirilli notes,

Unlimited atonement is the view that best accounts for the blame attached to men for rejection of Christ. The point is that Scripture condemns people not just for their sins but also for not putting faith in Christ and thereby being delivered from their sins. Any sinner – having heard the gospel or not – can justly be condemned for his sins; but if the death of Christ made no provision for the salvation of the non-elect, he cannot be justly charged with unbelieving rejection of Christ.

In other words, the Bible is not saying, “You have sinned and will remain in your sins without hope or atonement and receive your just reprobation in hell”- which would certainly be just. But the Bible says again and again, in effect: “You sinned and on that account deserve hell. Worse still, you have rejected the atonement made for your sins by the death of Christ, the atonement that could in fact be your deliverance. Your reprobation in hell is therefore all the more tragic and deserved.” (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pg. 118)

This point was likewise forcefully made in The Opinion of the Remonstrants, one of the earliest Arminian confessions concerning universal provisional atonement:

Only those are obliged to believe that Christ died for them for whom Christ has died. The reprobates, however, as they are called, for whom Christ has not died, are not obligated to such faith, nor can they be justly condemned on account of the contrary refusal to believe this. In fact, if there should be such reprobates, they would be obliged to believe that Christ has not died for them. (emphasis mine)

This same point is powerfully driven home by the explicit language of the apostle in 1 John 5:10-13 where John says that believers are those who accept the witness (or testimony) of God concerning His Son and unbelievers are those who reject that witness, effectively making God a liar. And what is that witness?

“And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.”

So the testimony that unbelievers reject is the testimony that eternal life has been provided in Christ (which certainly is grounded in the atonement). By rejecting this testimony (that God has provided life for them in Christ), they have “made [God] a liar”. This can only be true if the testimony concerning provision of life in Christ is true for them. They have made God out to be a liar by rejecting this testimony of God’s provision in Christ (this is the same thing being expressed in John 3:16-18, 36). But if Christ did not die for them nor provide eternal life for them then they have not rejected that provision and God is not made out to be a liar since the testimony would not, then, apply to them, but would in fact be a false testimony. They should therefore rather be commended for refusing to believe falsehood and God’s “testimony” concerning His Son would in fact prove to be a “lie” after all, contrary to the plain teaching of 1 John 5:10-13. Picirilli, citing William S. Sailer, puts it well,

In perusing [the argument that one is condemned for their rejection of Christ’s provision of atonement], Sailer comments specifically on 1 John 5:10, 11, which explains the condemnation of the unbeliever as because he has not believed the witness that God has borne concerning His Son: namely, the witness that God gave eternal life in His Son. He then asks: “If Christ died only for the elect and for no one else, why should these non-elect souls believe this witness concerning Christ? If, on the other hand, Christ has indeed died for them and yet they refuse to believe on Him- then their refusal is a heinous thing.” (Picirilli, 118,119)

Only through the atoning blood of Christ are we saved. We are called on to trust in Christ but Christ can only save because of the shed blood; to trust in Christ for salvation is to trust in His shed blood (Rom. 3:35). We must therefore believe the testimony concerning the provision of life in Christ and His atoning blood is part of what renders that testimony valid. But one cannot put faith in His atoning work if His blood was not shed for that person. In order for the testimony to be valid, Christ’s blood and the life that results from it must be provided for all. Otherwise, God has provided a false testimony for most of humanity, and then condemns them for rejecting that false testimony. It is at this point that the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement reveals itself as wholly absurd and in opposition to any semblance of integrity or justice in God. The command to repent and believe the gospel becomes a stunningly cruel act of divine mockery and falsehood on the part of a perfectly just God who defines Himself as truth and love. This is compounded further when we consider it in the context of the Calvinist doctrine of total inability as Picirilli again notes,

Calvinists don’t deny that the Bible offers salvation to all and that we are accountable to preach the gospel offer to all. But I think they have failed to be logically consistent here: salvation cannot be truly offered to any for whom Christ did not die. Suppose I said to a paralyzed child, “If you’ll just reach out your hand and take it, I’ll give you this candy.” That sounds to me more like mockery than an “offer”! (The Extent of the Atonement)

This is a good analogy, but I do not think it goes far enough. In Calvinism, not only are the non-elect incapable of responding positively to the gospel due to their depravity and God’s refusal to make a faith response possible, but also condemned for rejecting an atonement that was neither provided for them nor intended for them! So it would be more like offering a paralyzed child a bottle of pills with the promise that they will cure his paralysis on the condition that he would just reach out and take it, all the while knowing that there is nothing in the bottle to cure his disease even if he could reach out and take it!

Thankfully, the Bible does not present us with such a scenario at all, but rather teaches us that Christ’s atoning death was provided for all on the condition of faith in His blood and that God, truly desiring for all to be saved, enables all who hear the gospel to respond positively to that provision and receive forgiveness (1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 2:4; John 12:32). The offer is genuinely well meant and a live option after all. In view of this wonderful Biblical truth the message of the gospel truly presents good news to all since provision has been made for all and all can truly embrace that provision through faith. Therefore, the integrity, justice, and character of God are preserved and God is magnificently glorified in His love, grace, and mercy for all mankind through the giving of His Son for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2; 4:14; John 3:14-18, 36; 6:32, 33, 51; 12:32; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 4:10; Heb 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 22:17; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Titus 2:11; Rom. 1:14-16; 5:6, 17, 18; Mark 16:15; Matt. 24:14; 28:19; Acts 1:8; 17:30, etc.).

Conclusion: We have seen in this series that there is every reason to accept the plain meaning of the universal language of those passages which speak directly to the scope of the atonement, and no reason to submit such passages to tortured exegesis. We have seen that provisional atonement in Christ stands up to Calvinist objections. We have seen that the Calvinist limited atonement view suffers from numerous theologically and exegetically fatal difficulties. The Arminian view alone can accept, without reservation, the testimony of Scripture with regards to the extent of the atonement and the universal gospel offer. The Arminian can also maintain a penal-satisfaction view of the atonement conditioned on faith union with Christ in whom alone satisfaction has been made for the forgiveness of sins, and through whom alone the benefits of the atonement can be imputed to the believer on the basis of the believer’s subsequent union and identification with Christ and His death [2].

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[1] I am indebted to New Testament scholar Brian Abasciano who pointed this implication of Peter’s sermon out to me during personal correspondence. Another excellent passage which gives such clear Biblical mandate is 1 Cor. 15:3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” Paul’s declaration that “Christ died for our sins” was the substance of his initial gospel message to the Corinthians which they received and on which they “have taken [their] stand” (vv 1-2). Therefore, Paul saw nothing inaccurate in telling unbelievers, without reservation, that Christ died for their sins (as “your sins” is naturally included in “our sins”).

[2] Again, it was pointed out to me in personal correspondence with Dr. Brian Abasciano that within the context of faith union with Christ joining us to the benefits of the atonement which are found only “in Him” (Eph. 1:3, 7; Col. 1:13, 14, 20-23; 1 Cor. 1:30; see Part 1 for more on this), we can even fully affirm those texts that Calvinists hold up in defense of limited atonement, even according to the particular emphasis they assign to such passages (i.e. passages which state that Christ died for His sheep, the church, his friends, etc.). This is true because there is a sense in which Christ’s atonement was made only for the “elect” (i.e. believers) since one becomes elect through faith union with Christ, the elect One. So satisfaction was really only made for those who will come to be joined to Him, but since anyone can be joined to Him through faith, it is still true that Christ’s death serves as a universal provision for “all”, “every man” and “the world”, etc, in accordance with God’s desire for all to be saved. Since Christ (and the satisfaction that resides in Him through His death) is available for all we can truly say that Christ’s death was specifically for the sins of the church (His body) and yet fully affirm that anyone can benefit from that death and atonement by becoming a part of Christ’s body through faith (which God makes possible for all who hear the gospel, as demonstrated above), at which point the death of Christ, and God’s satisfaction with that death, is imputed to the believer so that God’s wrath towards that individual is fully averted.

Karate Expert Dan Phillips Gets Body Slammed on 1 John 2:2

Calvinist Dan Phillips posted on Karate Exegesis, using 1 John 2:2 as an example, trying to use the old John Owen Trilemma argument to make his point.  He was then body slammed through the mat (in his meta) by what appears to be a  four point Calvinist:

Karate Dan writes in a portion of his post (please see the post for full context),

“I didn’t think you did. But that means you have a real problem with this verse, don’t you?” we could continue. “John writes that Jesus Christ is — not ‘would really like to be,’ or ‘wishes He could be,’ or even ‘stands ready to be,’ but is — the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. What is a propitiation?”

Our friend, an astute soul that he is, replies, “A ‘propitiation’ is a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God.”

We agree. Then with knitted brow, we ask, “So, if you’re right about ‘the whole world,’ then John is saying that Christ has turned away the wrath of God for the sins of every human being ever born — you, me, Judas, the Beast, the False Prophet — everyone.

“On that understanding, how can anyone be under God’s wrath, which Christ propitiated? How can anyone be in Hell? Why are they there? For what are they being judged and punished?”

“For their unbelief,” our friend may offer.

“Oh, I see. Is unbelief a sin?” we ask innocently.

Our friend may nor may not allow as much. If he does not, we could add, “From what I read, unbelief certainly is a sin. Or is it not a moral issue to call God a liar (1 John 5:9-10)? See,” we can conclude sympathetically, “you have a real problem. On your view, either unbelief isn’t a sin, in which case God is a liar; or everyone’s going to Heaven, in which case, again, God is a liar; or Christ really isn’t a propitiation for all the sins of everyone without exception — in which case, one more time, God is a liar. Do you think God is a liar?”

Maybe now our friend might be willing to consider that the text is capable of a better construction.

We might help him open up to the possibilities with another question: “I think it’s your idea of what John means by ‘world’ that is giving you such trouble. Can you think of any verses where ‘world’ unambiguously means ‘everyone who ever was born or ever would be born’? I can certainly think of many that do not. Maybe that isn’t the best way to read that verse?”

At the very least, he’ll now know that, if the verse is a problem for Calvinists, it isn’t a problem for us alone. If he’s honest, that is. (And why would we have dishonest friends?)

Later in Dan’s meta Ynotton Y lands a fatal counter attack with:

Moreover, the double payment argument that you’re using to suggest your opponents must be universalists is even deemed weak by Dr. Carl Trueman, not to mention Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, W. G. T. Shedd, John Davenant [of the Synod of Dort], and the Puritian Edward Polhill, among others. Our Lord’s death does not function like pecuniary debt payments. It’s penal, not commercial. You’re leaning on commercial causality to get your strictly limited conclusion. Moreover, you’re not yet dealing with the fact that your argument is a double-edged sword. As I said on my blog:

“Wasn’t Dan under God’s wrath when he was in unbelief [Eph. 2:3], despite the fact that Christ died for his sins? Didn’t Dan stand under the condemnation of God when in unbelief [John 3:18], despite the fact that he was one of the elect for whom Christ died? Was God making sham threats about perishing to unbelieving Dan in the gospel call, since Dan was never really in a damnable state? On Dan’s system, it would seem, the elect are never damnable and the non-elect are never saveable. The elect are not receiving sincere threats and the non-elect are not receiving sincere offers, by implication. If Dan rejects this thinking or conclusion, then on what basis was he subject to God’s wrath and standing condemned? Because of his unbelief? Well, didn’t Christ die for that unbelief? We could say to Dan as he says to his opponent:

“On that understanding, how can any of the elect be under God’s wrath, which Christ propitiated? How can any of them really be subject to damnation and therefore sincerely threatened with perishing? Why do the unbelieving elect stand condemned? For what are they being judged and punished?”

“For their unbelief,” Dan may say.

“Oh, I see. Is unbelief a sin?” I ask innocently.

“From what I read, unbelief certainly is a sin.” I can conclude sympathetically, “you have a real problem. On your view, either unbelief isn’t a sin, in which case God is a liar; or none of the elect can be under God’s wrath, in which case, again, God is a liar; or Christ really isn’t a propitiation for all the sins of the elect— in which case, one more time, God is a liar. Do you think God is a liar?”

Dan would not accept the view that all of the elect are justified at the cross, or in eternity, but he has opened to door to that position in order to get the conclusion he wants, i.e. a strictly limited atonement based on the commercial causal categories involved in the double payment argument. If Christ can be the propitiation for the sins of all of the elect and yet they, when in unbelief, can stand condemned and be subjects of God’s wrath, then why can’t Christ also be the propitiatory sacrifice for more than the elect?”

I think this effectively deals with Dan’s “double payment” and “universalist” argument.  Dan had no response except to refer the commenter to a previous comment he made which he imagined answered the counter-argument.  It was pointed out that Dan’s previous comments did not even begin to address the counter-argument, and Dan had little more to say (except for some Karate avoidance tactics).

[this post was updated 7/16/09 in order to narrow the focus and context to Dan's charge of double payment and universalism with the argument that unbelief is atoned for in Christ's death, rather than the meaning of "whole world" in 1 John 2:2 (since I disagree with both Dan and YnottonY on the meaning of "whole world")]

Provisional Atonement Part 2: Provision is Consistent With Foreknowledge

As we noted in our last post [Part 1] Arminians see the atonement of Jesus Christ as being provisional in nature.  Not only is the atonement provisional but it is more specifically provisional in Christ Jesus.  Only those who come to partake of Christ partake also of the atonement available through union with Him.  Since we come to be in union with Christ by faith we also come to benefit from the atoning benefits of His blood through faith (Rom. 3:25).  The atonement is one of those gracious spiritual blessings that we come to share in when we are united to Christ by faith  and is probably foundational to all of the other spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3, 7).  When we understand the atonement as provisional in Christ we can accept all the universal passages concerning Christ dying for all or making propitiation for all while avoiding full blown universalism (the belief that all will be saved).

We saw in “Part 1″ that this answered John Owen’s argument concerning unbelief being atoned for by Christ’s sacrifice, and the supposed implication of universalism for the Arminian.  We noted that since atonement is provisional in Christ the unbeliever’s unbelief is atoned for only when the unbeliever turns to Christ in faith and is therefore joined to Him, thereby partaking of the provision of atonement that resides in Christ alone (Eph. 1:3, 7, 13; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 3:25; 5:1, 2; 8:1).  Furthermore, Owen’s Calvinism falls to the same objection.  If unbelief is atoned for unconditionally for the elect as Owen suggests, then the elect would be born saved.  They would be saved even in their unbelief since their unbelief was atoned for at the cross (according to Owen).  This leads to theological absurdities and is plainly contradicted by passages like Ephesians 2:1-3 which make it clear that we are all under God’s wrath (and therefore not saved) prior to being justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  As soon as it is seen that Scripture presents the atonement as provisional, all of Owen’s cherished arguments fall to the ground.

Calvinists like puritan John Owen also object to the atonement being provisional on the grounds that if the atonement only “provides” salvation then it ultimately saves no one.  This is clearly false since this provisional atonement has saved countless thousands throughout the ages.  The provisional nature of the atonement does not mean it doesn’t save nor does it mean it can’t save.  It means only that those who come to be in union with Christ by faith will alone benefit from that atonement. 

The Calvinist objection is further defeated when we realize that even for the Calvinist the atonement must be provisional in nature.  If this were not the case then anyone whom Jesus died for would be born saved [1].  Most Calvinists rightly reject this as unbiblical based on those passages which tell us that we are all born under God’s wrath (as noted above).  While the Calvinist believes that the atonement will infallibly be applied to those God unconditionally elected from eternity, it still remains that the atonement is provisional until that time when it is actually applied to the sinner.  Since Calvinists must acknowledge the provisional nature of the atonement this leaves the door wide open for the Arminian view.  The issue cannot be provision but the certainty of application.  For the Calvinist it is a certainty that God will apply the atonement to all those whom He has unconditionally pre-selected and for the Arminian it is a certainty that God will apply the atonement to all those who will trust in His blood (Rom. 3:25; 5:1, 2).  Both hold that the atonement is provisional and both hold to the certainty of application.  The only difference is that the Calvinist holds that this application is unconditional while the Arminian holds that it is conditional.

Calvinists will sometimes appeal to the hypothetical possibility that not a single person would have benefited from the atonement if it were both provisional and conditional.  But this is plainly to deny God’s foreknowledge.  Even before God created the universe He foreknew those who would trust in Christ’s blood and so be saved.  But even if no one ever put trust in Christ His sacrifice would still serve as a means of provision and the outworking of God’s amazing love and grace.  If all rejected that blood it would be truly tragic but neither God’s love nor His grace would have failed as a result.  That man rejects God’s love and grace does not make His love and grace void in any way.  To think that it would seems to be far too man centered, especially for those who hold to Calvinism and claim to disdain “man centered” theology.  It would make the significance of God’s love and grace dependent on the creature’s reception.  But God’s justice would be vindicated and His love and grace fully displayed even if every one of His creatures turned their nose up at the provision of Christ’s shed blood.  But again, such a “hypothetical” is hardly relevant since it simply has no basis in reality and God always knew what the reality of the situation would be.

Still others object that Christ would not shed His blood for those He foreknew would reject that provision.  The first problem with this suggestion is it presumes to know what God would and would not do.  This is again a surprising objection coming from those who hold to God’s sovereign freedom to do just as He pleases (and of course Arminians believe God has the freedom to do as He pleases as well).  But if God has indeed revealed that He provides atonement for those He foreknows will reject that provision, we might simply respond with the favorite Calvinist response to such objections, “Who are you O’ man to talk back to God?”  But no such response is necessary.  We can see from Scripture that God makes provisions even for those He knows will ultimately reject those provisions and this alone defeats the objection.  This truth can be seen in the parable of the banquet described by Jesus in Matt. 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24 [2].

In both of these accounts, it seems obvious that the feast was prepared for those who would refuse the invitation (specifically the Jews). The invitation went out to them and the invitation was genuine. They refused the invitation and angered the king (not specified as a king in the Luke account). Now if the feast was not intended or prepared for these Jews, then why was the king angry with them when they would not come? According to the Calvinist objection, he never intended for them to come and made no provisions for them. Look at Matt. 22:4. After the initial invitation was refused, the king sent his servants a second time saying,

“Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”

Those invited refuse again and mistreated the servants. The king is enraged. He then says,

“The wedding banquet is ready; those I invited did not deserve to come.”

Notice the reason why the guests were refused was not because the dinner was not provided for them, but because they refused the invitation, and thereby proved unworthy to attend.

If the banquet had not been provided for them, then the king had no right to be angry with them for not attending. After all, according to Calvinism, the king never intended for them to attend, and was therefore being dishonest when he told the guests that the dinner had been prepared for them.

The issue, then, is not foreknowledge, but the genuineness of the offer and the integrity of the One making the offer.

The Arminian understanding of foreknowledge is that God knows as certain all future events without necessarily causing those events. This does not mean that those events foreknown by God become artificial or meaningless because God knows them. They are still very real, and God’s interactions with us are still very real and completely genuine.

The king made the dinner even for those who (since the king represents God) he had always known would reject it (see Matt. 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29 and note that the “sons of the kingdom” are “thrown out”.  This is a reference to the Jews who reject Christ and they are called the “sons of the kingdom” because the kingdom and the feast were intended for them, and yet they will not receive the kingdom nor partake of that feast). God is just, however, and because He is just He cannot condemn men for refusing something that was never provided for them.

The argument from foreknowledge falls flat in the face of the parable of the wedding feast.  One could argue that the parable does not reference the atonement specifically but it is hard to conceive of anyone having genuine access to the feast if not for the atonement (especially considering Matt. 22:10-13, cf. Rom. 5:1, 2). Nor do I see how the feast could have even been provided without the atonement in view.  It might serve as an interesting parallel to John 6 where Christ calls himself the bread of life that gives life to the world (verse 33), while only those who eat and drink of that provision (by faith) receive the life that resides in Him (John 5:26; 6:47-58).  But even if it could be demonstrated that the atonement is not in view in these passages, the principle of genuine provision comporting with foreknowledge is still fully expressed.  So again, the objection to provisional atonement based on God’s foreknowledge loses all force.

But what of the way that Matthew closes the parable in verse 14 with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”?  Does this teach Calvinism and undermine the usefulness of the parable in defense of provisional atonement?  Not at all.  It conforms perfectly to the Arminian conception of universal provisional atonement that is received and applied by faith.  The feast was prepared and provided and the invitation went out to all (starting with the Jews and then going out to the Gentiles).  All of those who are invited are therefore the “called” while those who respond are the “chosen”.  They did not respond to the call because they were already “chosen”.  Rather, they are chosen because they responded to the call (invitation).  This is the natural way to read the text.

The idea that the response was the result of being already chosen needs to be read into the text and conflicts with the fact that the feast was prepared for all those to whom the invitation went out (even those who rejected that invitation).  Therefore the designation of “chosen” is reserved for those who respond to the invitation.  In other words, election is conditional just as Arminianism has always contended.  Not only is it conditional, but it is conditioned on faith since it is by faith that we receive Christ (John 1:12) and come to be joined to Him (the elect one) by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:3, 4, 13).  This is probably the meaning behind the man not dressed in proper wedding clothes (Matt. 22:11, 12).  The man was rejected and thrown out because he did not attend the banquet under the right conditions.  He tried to make his way in on his own terms (“works” or the assumption of unconditional election as a descendent of Abraham, cf. Matt. 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29; Rom. 9:30-33; 10:3) rather than on God’s terms (“faith”, cf. Rom. 1:16, 17; 4:1-16; 10:6-13; 11:17-23).

In “Part 3” we will take a closer look at the necessary connection between provisional atonement and the integrity of the gospel message.

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[1] F. Leroy Forlines has an excellent treatment of the provisional nature of the atonement in his book, The Quest for Truth, pp. 206-207.

[2] I am indebted to puritan John Goodwin for recognizing the significance and relevance of the parable of the marriage feast in relation to the intention and provisional nature of the atonement.  He treats the subject in Redemption Redeemed, pp. 128-131, ed. by John D. Wagner.

You Might Be Arminian If…

Are you an Arminian?  You may be surprised to discover what doctrines you can affirm and still come out firmly on the Arminian side of the fence.  James Leonard has provided a nice little quiz at SEA to clear up confusion and demonstrate that many who know little concerning the A vs. C controversy might find that they fall on the side of Arminianism.  And why not, since the Bible so naturally leads to such conclusions?  Take the quiz here.

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