Friday, October 6, 2017

Response to Jonathan Williams and the Admins of CFDD

I began the following response a few years ago and decided recently to finish. The administrators of the Facebook group Calvinism Fellowship Debate and Discussion (CFDD) banned me and other moderate Calvinists for defending our view of the atonement. The following letter was posted at CFDD after we were removed.

Dear Members,
       
We are aware that a divergent view of the atonement has been promoted in CFDD. While it might initially appear to only be a different position on the extent of the atonement and some deeper teachings about the atonement, please be aware that this disagreement is much more serious.
          
1. Firstly, this divergent view of the atonement that is being promoted as a Calvinistic understanding of the atonement, is in opposition to Calvinism.
           
Boettner explained the Reformed view, that "Christ's redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation." Whereas, one proponent of this divergent view said that "it goes beyond Scripture to say faith is purchased by the death of Christ. It is an extra biblical concept."
   
No Scripture is provided. Why not, Jonathan?
          
WRT the relationship between atonement and faith, it depends on how one sees the relationship. I do not deny the co-extension of the two; I simply do not agree with the direct method that high Calvinists seem to assume, as if Christ directly purchased faith by His death, as he purchased redemption. High Calvinists cannot explain this direct purchase much less provide Scriptural support for this.
          
George Smeaton acknowledges this distinction is regarded as Calvinist in his book The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement, pp. 542-543. Smeaton writes of Baxter's view: "These words of Baxter made it as plain as did the Synod of Dort that the atonement merited its own application: 'He whose sufferings were primarily satisfaction for sin, were secondarily meritorious of the means to bring men to the intended end; that is, of the Word and Spirit by which Christ causeth sinners to believe; so that faith is a fruit of the death of Christ in a remote or secondary sense.'
     
I would agree with Baxter, and Dort, that the special intent in the atonement to save the elect guarantees faith and all else necessary for the enjoyment of the benefits of Christ's atonement. The Scripture that I use to support my view is the a fortiori in Ro. 8:32,  "
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" It is an indirect result rather than directly purchased. There is no Scripture that teaches a direct purchase.
          
2. Secondly, this divergent view of the atonement is unbiblical to the extent that its very promotion is dangerous. To quote one proponent of this divergent view:
          
i) "the sin he bore was general, singular, any manner and type of sin; not specific individual sins."
ii) "The sin that Christ bore was any and all kinds of sin not individual sins."
          
Calvin, in your eyes, would also be 'dangerous' for his 'divergent' view: "'Who taketh away the sin of the world.' He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ." (Calvin, Commentary, John 1:29)
          
I suppose R.L. Dabney was also a proponent of this 'divergent' view and likewise 'dangerous': "The only New Testament sense the word atonement has is that of, reconciliation. But expiation is another idea. Katallagh, is personal.  Exilasmov, is impersonal. Katallagh is multiplied, being repeated as often as a sinner comes to the expiatory blood: exilasmov is single, unique, complete; and, in itself considered, has no more relation to one man's sins than another. As it is applied in effectual calling, it becomes personal, and receives a limitation. But in itself, limitation is irrelevant to it. Hence, when men use the word atonement, as they so often do, in the sense of expiation, the phrases, "limited atonement," "particular atonement," have no meaning. Redemption is limited, i.e., to true believers, and is particular. Expiation is not limited." (Dabney, Systematic Theology, 43, 7, pg. 528)
          
iii) For clarification, this proponent was asked, "So, Christ did not bear specific individual sins - he didn't bear Peter's denial of Jesus specifically, Thomas' doubting of Jesus specifically, Paul's persecutions of Christians specifically? Just ensuring I'm understanding you correctly." The proponent of the divergent view responded, "correct". While it is essential that the Person and Work of Christ be a specific quality (only the atonement of Christ could pay for any sin), His work also had to be a certain quantity (He had to really pay for each and all of my sins by His one sacrifice). As the Scriptures teach us:
          
i) "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" - 1 Corinthians 15:3
ii) "who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" -Galatians 1:4
          
These texts do not say that He paid for each and every individual sin of yours quantitatively. The texts address intent behind His death - i.e. ~for~ our sins; they do not indicate the nature of the atonement for our sins. They do say that His death paid for each and every individual sin of certain ones at Calvary.
          
iii) "He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the
people." - Hebrews 2:17
iv) "who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered
up Himself." - Hebrews 7:27
v) "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." - 1 Peter 2:24. 3. 
          
Nor do these texts say that He bore each and every individual sin of yours on the cross quantitatively. You have read that into the text.
          
There is no text of Scripture that teaches that the atonement was a certain quantity - i.e. that at Calvary He only paid for each and every sin of the elect quantitatively.
          
R.L. Dabney issued the same challenge in his day:
"He demands that we shall say Christ was only the elects’ substitute, and bore the guilt only of the elects sins. We reply, show us the place where either the Bible or the Confession of Faith says so." (Southern Presbyterian [Columbia, S.C.] New Series 2, no., 4 (1863) [no page numbers])
          
Conclusions:
i) From proponents of this divergent view, you will likely hear false dichotomies between a "qualitative" and a "quantitative" atonement, a "legal" and a "pecuniary" payment, and limited
expiation and justification by faith alone. While these arguments appear intellectual, please know that they are easily refuted.
               
If they were easy to refute, you would not have removed those making these arguments. The fact is that these are Scriptural distinctions. They are distinctions that Calvinists have made since the Reformation.

The atonement accomplished by Christ, is applied by faith, upholding the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
             
Faith would be moot in your view. Your sins were paid for at Calvary. A second payment cannot be demanded. What is applied upon faith given your view? You simply make these assertions without thinking them through.
             
Jesus Christ is the sacrifice of infinite value, Who [sic] the atonement is sufficient in virtue of. You require the same Savior and the same redemptive work as your neighbour, upholding the truth that you can say to all men, "I urge you to trust in Jesus Christ alone, who is able to forgive all of your sins".
          
If you have a quantitative view or a pecuniary view of the atonement; you cannot say to all that there is forgiveness available to them without being inconsistent. If, as you say, "His work also had to be a certain quantity," then there is no additional quantity of payment for the sin of some men and they would not be able to be forgiven.
          
ii) As the Scriptures above demonstrate, the divergent view that includes the belief that "The sin that Christ bore was ... not individual sins" is very dangerous, especially when it is being promoted as a legitimate Calvinistic view. For these reasons, the admins have decided that we will no longer permit this divergent view of the atonement to be promoted in CFDD.
          
The Scriptures you provided above do not demonstrate anything of the sort; nor do the Canons of Dort. In fact, Scripture teaches that the sin Christ dealt with was qualitative - Jn. 1:29 & 2 Cor. 5:21. This was the view of notable Calvinists such as R.L. Dabney and C. Hodge. This view was also represented by delegates at the Synod at Dort.
       
You really should broaden your perspective of Calvinism beyond Boettner. He can be confusing. I could quote many things from him that would support the moderate Calvinist position.
Here is one excerpt. After reading this you might be inclined to put Boettner in our camp. 
       
"While the value of the atonement was sufficient to save all mankind, it was efficient to save only the elect. It is indifferently well adapted to the salvation of one man to that of another, thus making the salvation of every man objectively possible; yet because of subjective difficulties, arising on account of the sinners own inability either to see or appreciate the things of God, only those are saved who are regenerated and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The reason why God does not apply this grace to all men has not been fully revealed." (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Limited Atonement, part 3)