Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Christmas Calvinists: A Brotherly Rejoinder
12/21/2004 - James WhiteI can't tell you how many of our channel regulars have been asking me, "So, are you going to respond to Eric Svendsen's comments on limited atonement?" Obviously, Dr. Svendsen's audience and my own overlap to a large degree, so when Eric makes comments about why he can't be a full 5-pt. Calvinist (and in the process makes comments about "extent" passages that are contradictory to those I have offered in such published works as The Potter's Freedom), it is natural that many would like to hear a "response." BTW, for those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Sproul's joke, a Christmas Calvinist is one that has "No L." Get it? No L. Noel. Ha ha ha.
The problem is, the blog article referred to does not really address my presentation regarding why I hold to particular redemption (limited atonement). I do not believe you start with "extent" passages: they are to be read in light of the purpose of the atonement, the union of the elect with Christ, the concept of mediation and intercession (and its results), and the nature of the New Covenant (i.e., the covenant in the blood of Christ). Nothing in the blog article I read touched upon these issues as they are central to my presentation of this great doctrine. And while I disagree with Eric on his comments regarding 2 Peter 2:1-2, 1 John 2:2 (TPF 274-277), and 1 Timothy 4:10, I don't see my presentation on the atonement being addressed. So allow me to note just two things briefly in response.
First, regarding 1 Timothy 4:10: This passage is not, in fact, in a soteriological context, and unless we are going to read it in a universalistic perspective, are we not forced to suggest that God is the potential Savior of all men, but really the Savior only of those who believe? Where else is the Greek term "Savior" used to refer to a hypothetical Saviorhood rather than a true one? In reality, this is a general statement about God (notice Paul does not specifically designate Christ as the Savior here). Just as God is Creator of all, even of those who do not acknowledge His creatorship, and Lord of all, even over those who refuse to bow the knee to Him, and just as He is King of kings and Lord of lords, so too, since He is the only Savior that exists, He is Savior of all men. If this term was meant in a hypothetical sense, the following phrase "but especially" would make no sense. "Malista" does not take one from the hypothetical to the real. Instead, the point is that since God is the only Savior that exists, He is the Savior of all, but only those who believe know Him in that role as Savior. Nothing in the text is speaking to the issue of the atonement, its scope, or purpose.
Secondly, I confess one segment of Dr. Svendsen's response mystifies me just a bit. He writes,
I have read all the attempts to explain this passage from the limited atonement camp and none of them is satisfying because all of the explanations simply assume that redemption in toto is something that was fully accomplished at the cross. If one does not start with that premise, then one can easily explain how someone can be “bought” (redeemed”) at the stage of the cross (Christ bore his sin), without making the exegetical leap of asserting that this is someone who had been (or will ever be) justified. “Redemption” (like the word “salvation” and "sanctification") encompasses several stages, only one of which is Christ’s death on the cross. The one who is redeemed must also believe and be justified, and then be glorified before full redemption has occurred.
I don't agree that fully Reformed soteriology ignores the fact that salvation, especially in those aspects that are by definition temporal in application, includes "stages" in that sense. I have consistently opposed those, for example, who have promoted "eternal justification," based upon the idea that if the elect were united with Christ, then it must follow that they were never the children of wrath (Paul says otherwise, Eph. 2:1-2). God applies the perfect work of Christ in time, of that there is no doubt. But I do not see how Dr. Svendsen can hold firmly to the unconditional electing grace of God, and His work of irresistible grace, whereby God raises His elect to life without fail, and yet then say that Christ bore the sin of one not so elected, did not intend to save that person, seemingly (this is where my presentation was not addressed and hence I can only ask rhetorically) intercedes for that person but to no avail (since neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit, intends to save the person, contra Heb. 7:24-25), and, even though the grounds for a perfect salvation have been laid in the work of Christ on behalf of that person, the Spirit will not apply it in regeneration. Stages of application I agree with: but I do not see how that changes the reality of the substitution and the fact that as High Priest the Son's substitutionary atonement requires further actions in behalf of all for whom Christ died (seen in the "I" and "P"). While redemption as a term can be used to describe a wider variety of things than just the soteriological result of the atonement in behalf of those who will be saved, that does not really address the reality that if Christ bears the sins of the non-elect, there is still no ground for their condemnation; further, this view disrupts, I believe, the continuity of the work of the Trinity as a whole, and the High Priest in particular. I expanded upon these themes in chapters 10 and 11 of The Potter's Freedom (pp. 228-282).
I firmly agree that the issue should be handled on the exegetical level. I simply point out that the passages that truly need to be addressed are not so much "extent" passages as they are atonement passages, intercession passages, mediation passages, accomplishment passages. This is where the strength of real, robust, uncompromising Calvinism is to be found.