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

The links to the series no longer work, so here are a few interactions from his blog:

Review of Henri Blocher, Chapter 20, Systematic Theology of Definite Atonement in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

Review of Henry Stange’s Chapter on Those Who Never Hear the Gospel in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

Review of Sinclair Furguson’s Chapter on Limited Atonement and Assurance in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her”

Review of John Piper’s Chapter in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her,” Part 1

Review of John Piper’s Chapter in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her,” Part 2

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 Early Church Affirmed Free Will (in the Libertarian Sense) Against the Determinism of the Gnostics

Augustinian sympathizer Alister E. McGrath admits:

‘The pre-Augustinian theological tradition is practically of one voice in asserting the freedom of the human will.’

This is actually true for all the divergent branches of early church theology, in all areas into which the church was carried…Not a single church figure in the first 300 years rejected it and most of them stated it clearly in works still extent.  We find it taught by great leaders in places as different as Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Carthage, Jerusalem, Lycia, Nyssa, Rome, and Sicca.  We find it taught by the leaders of all the main theological schools.  The only ones to reject it were heretics like the Gnostics, Marcion, Valentinus, Manes (and the Manichaens [the followers of Manes and the sect that Augustine had been involved with for nine years prior to his conversion to Catholicism]), etc.  In fact, the early Fathers often state their beliefs on “freewill” in works attacking heretics.  Three recurrent ideas seem to be in their teaching:

1. The rejection of freewill is the view of heretics.

2. Freewill is a gift given to man by God – for nothing can ultimately be independent of God.

3. Man possesses freewill because he is made in God’s image, and God has freewill.”

(Forster and Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History, pg. 296, italics mine- the entire section [pp. 289-344] called “Early Teaching on Free Will and Election” is excellent in documenting early church beliefs in contradistinction to the later radical novelties of Augustinian and Calvinist teachings, among other things).

Also See: Church History and Calvinism

J.I. Packer Calls Arminianism “an intellectual sin of infirmity”

In other words, Arminians are just stupid Christians who refuse to mature intellectually.  Here is the quote:

Calvinism is the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ, whereas Arminianism is an intellectual sin of infirmity, natural only in the sense in which all such sins are natural, even to the regenerate. Calvinistic thinking is the Christian being himself on the intellectual level; Arminian thinking is the Christian failing to be himself through the weakness of the flesh. Calvinism is what the Christian church has always held and taught when its mind has not been distracted by controversy and false traditions from attending to what Scripture actually says. (taken from: J.I. Packer and Arminianism)

Roger Olson rightly concludes, “So, to him, Arminianism is sin.”  And we are told that Calvinism is supposed to promote humility in its adherents!?  However, it seems to me, again and again, that Calvinism’s “natural” effect is to promote pride and smugness in those who come to embrace it.  And of course, Packer’s last sentence is demonstrably Historically false (see here for several posts on the subject).  What is truly sad and alarming is that this comes not from misguided internet Neo-Reformed types, but from a mainstream Calvinist scholar.

Jack Cottrell: Did The Early Christian Fathers Teach Calvinism?

Did the Early Christian Fathers Teach Calvinism?

by Jack Cottrell on Monday, July 25, 2011 at 12:59pm

QUESTION: Some say that the doctrines of Calvinism did not begin with John Calvin, nor even with Augustine (died A.D. 430). Rather, they claim that the TULIP doctrines are present throughout the writings of the church fathers from the beginning. One Calvinist who says this is Michael Horton, in an appendix to his book, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Baker, 2002). What do you say about this?

ANSWER: I have read a large portion (not all) of the pre-Nicene, Nicene, and post-Nicene fathers, and have done so with my Calvinist and non-Calvinist sensors on full alert. I believe that my conclusion is valid, that the Calvinist TULIP doctrines originated with Augustine and thus were not present in the pre-Augustinian fathers.

I surveyed the texts cited by Horton, and I saw nothing that moves me to change my mind. It is not easy to evaluate the texts that he cites from the church fathers, since he gives no bibliographical data other than a writer’s name and an approximate date. He does not say what English translation he is using, and he seems to have made no attempt to check the translation against the original Greek or Latin version.

I decided to do some checking myself. Under the cited texts that allegedly support “unconditional election,” Horton quotes Clement of Rome, claiming that Clement’s letter was written in A.D. 69 (several decades earlier than most scholars would put it). Part of the quote says, “Seeing then that we are the special elect portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness.”

I found this in chapter 30 of Clement’s letter. The Greek says, hagiou oun meris hyparchontes poiēsōmen ta tou hagias mou panta. The fact is that there are no Greek words corresponding to “special elect” in this statement of Clement. The whole concept of election is read into this quotation. Also, we should note that the context of the statement has nothing to do with election.

Another citation from Clement, in support of perseverance of the saints (the P doctrine), is given thus by Horton: “It is the will of God that all whom He loves should partake of repentance, and so not perish with the unbelieving and impenitent. He has established it by His almighty will. But if any of those whom God wills should partake of the grace of repentance, should afterwards perish, where is His almighty will? And how is this matter settled and established by such a will of His?”

I had a very difficult time trying to find the section from which this quote supposedly comes. The closest I saw is in chapter 8. Here Clement cites several OT texts where God declares his desire for wicked Israel to repent, especially using Isaiah 1. Then Clement says, “Desiring, therefore, that all His beloved should be partakers of repentance, He has, by His almighty will, established….” The text ends here; it does not say what God has established; the translation I used adds the words, “these declarations,” i.e., the OT quotations. The Greek text reads: pantas oun tous agapētous autou boulomenos metanoias metaschein estērizen to pantokratorikō boulēmati autou. The “quotation” as cited by Horton does not even come close to what the original is saying. To say that it supports “perseverance of the saints” is pure fantasy; it also ignores the context.

Another ancient document cited several times by Horton is the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, which he dates as A.D. 70 and attributes to “Paul’s sidekick” in the Book of Acts. (Few scholars, if any, agree with this.) He cites this statement from Barnabas as supporting “Human Inability” (i.e., Total Depravity): “Learn: before we believed in God, the habitation of our heart was corrupt and weak.” This translation seems to be correct, but the only thing it establishes is that “Barnabas” believed that the hearts of men are depraved, which is not the same as TOTAL depravity. The citation thus proves nothing.

Horton says the following quote from “Barnabas” teaches Unconditional Election thus: “We are elected to hope, committed by God unto faith, appointed to salvation.” I could find this statement nowhere in the Epistle of Barnabas. But even if it were there, the description of Christians as “elected” is not Calvinism; this is fairly common NT language. The Calvinist twist is to add the word unconditional, and there is nothing of this nature in the alleged quote which Horton attributes to Barnabas.

To cite one more quote, Horton says this statement from Barnabas shows that he believed in Irresistible Grace: “God gives repentance to us, introducing us into the incorruptible temple.” This translation seems to be correct, but again, this is saying nothing more than what is affirmed in the Bible, i.e., that God gives to us the opportunity to repent. (See my book, The Faith Once for All, pp. 199-200.) To say Barnabas is hereby affirming the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace not only reads too much into the statement; it also ignores the context of it.

It is extremely poor scholarship to lay out a string of quotations, as Horton does, with little documentation, with apparently no checking of the wording against the originals, and with no consideration of the contexts of the statements. It is also important to take account of the overall teachings of these writers, which will put the cited quotations into perspective. E.g., while the church fathers certainly speak of Christians as being “elect” or as being predestined to salvation, it is clear from their overall teaching about the subject that they believed God predestines according to his foreknowledge. (See my earlier Facebook note, “When Did Calvinism Begin,” published in early June 2011.)

As a theological student, when I first read the apostolic fathers, I made notations in the margins of all the passages that contradict the doctrines of Calvinism. The margins of my old Lightfoot edition are full of the letters T, U, L, I, and P, indicating statements that show that these writers did NOT believe in the five points. These are the kinds of statements that Horton’s list ignores.

HT: Steve Witzki


For more on this subject see the following posts: https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/category/church-history/

Lack of Historical Precedent For Calvinistic Perseverance

Read Steve Witzki’s excellent article here.  The article will also link you to an article by Calvinist John Jefferson Davis who also traces the doctrine back no further than John Calvin.  While the truthfulness of such doctrines must ultimately be decided through careful exegesis of Scripture, the novelty of Calvinist doctrines like inevitable perseverance should not be discounted (and personally I would find such things very troubling if I were a Calvinist).  Nor should Calvinists continue to make wild claims that their doctrines represent historical Christian orthodoxy.  Such claims are simply false.

Related posts:

The Early Church and Calvinism

Tim Warner, “Perseverance of the Saints”

Tim Warner, “Eternal Security?”

Church History and Calvinism

Much of Church History at Odds with Calvinism (Part 2)

Be sure to check out this article at SEA on the comparative lack of historical precedent in Calvinism as well as some insightful discussion on the origins of Calvinistic determinism:

Church History and Calvinism

Are Arminians Semi-Pelagian?

Given the fact that a certain Calvinist has recently asserted as much and refused to receive correction on the matter, I thought it would be helpful to direct anyone interested to the following excellent article on the subject at SEA:

Are Arminians Semi-Pelagian?

We can also add the following quote by Calvinists Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams:

Does the antipathy between Calvinism and Arminianism suggest that Pelagius, the arch-opposite of Augustine, is the proper ancestor of Arminianism?  Calvinists have often sought to paint Arminianism in Pelagian colors.  Associating your opponent with a position that the historic faith has repeatedly judged heretical can only help one’s cause.  However, the allegation that Arminianism is Pelagian is unfortunate and indeed unwarranted.  From Jacob Arminius and the ‘Remonstrance Articles’ on, the Arminian tradition has affirmed the corruption of the will by sin and the necessity of grace for redemption.  Arminianism is not Pelagianism….The Semi-Pelagians thought of salvation as beginning with human beings.  We must first seek God; and his grace is a response to that seeking.  The Arminians of the seventeenth century, however, held that the human will has been so corrupted by sin that a person cannot seek God without the enablement of grace.  They therefore affirmed the necessity and priority of grace in redemption.  Grace must go before a person’s response to the gospel.  This suggests that Arminianism is closer to Semi-Augustinianism than it is to Semi-Pelagianism or Pelagianism. (Why I Am Not An Arminian, pg. 39)

At least there are some scholarly Calvinists out there who are more interested in accuracy than smear tactics.