Archive for the ‘Universal Redemption’ Category

Atonement Category Error

July 2, 2009

I am sure he means well, but Panta Dokimazete gives a less than ideal title to this post (link). The less than ideal title is “Unlimited/Limited Atonement.” The post correctly states the death of Christ has a general benefit for all mankind, in that it incidentally prevents their immediate destruction. However, the term “Unlimited/Limited Atonement” is less than ideal to describe this concept for two reasons:

1) Potential Confusion

The neo-Amyraldians have been using this term to describe their position, which is not simply that there incidental benefits (such as delayed judgment) to the non-elect. I realize that we do not have to cede things to groups that err, but perhaps it would be better to give them this term so that they may distinguish themselves from Calvinists.

2) Technical Accuracy – Both “Unlimited” and “Atonement” are Being Used Imprecisely

Technically, the atonement is the reconciliation – the rendering of God as propitious (favorable) toward the beneficiary. God is not rendered propitious toward the reprobate by Christ’s sacrifice. Indeed, the temporal benefits that they enjoy incidental to the salvation of the elect are only temporal benefits. Moreover, these temporal benefits – because they do not lead to repentance – actually increase the heinousness of the sin of the unbelievers, making them even more culpable (blameworthy).

Furthermore, “universal” and “unlimited” are not identical terms. The merit of Christ’s death is unlimited (though it is only impetrated for the elect – see this previous post). The incidental effects of Christ’s death, on the other hand, are merely universal.


Yes, I realize that this sounds like my nitpicking an otherwise good post (although, as I plan to mention in another post – I think Chrysostom is referring to the unlimited sufficiency of Christ’s death, not to the incidental benefits of that death). I don’t mean to detract from Panta Dokimazete’s work, and – in fact – I hope this encourages him to continue. Along the way, I’d like to help him develop the categories more clearly so as not to fall prey to the “unlimited/limited atonement” error promoted by the neo-Amyraldians out there who may seize upon the verbal match to suggest unity of position.


UPDATE: J.D. Longmire has what appears to be an identical post (link). Same comment on that one. I’m not sure who originally wrote this post, but I read PD’s before I read JDL’s.


Ponter’s Last Stand

September 17, 2008

Ponter seems to be unable to justify his position with respect to Bullinger and has reduced himself to simply insulting those with whom he disagrees. (link to insult-riddled post)
Leaving aside the barrage of insults, I’ll summarize his points (implicit and explicit), and explain why they don’t avail him any support.

1) Mischaracterization of the Criticism

Ponter asserts that: “Our opponent has made a claim that comes to this, when Bullinger, for example, uses the term ‘world’ he does not literally mean world.” That is not, of course, the criticism. The criticism is that Ponter puerilely assumes that “world” means something like “each and every person who has ever lived, is now living, or will live” whenever it suits his agenda. It’s the same “WORLD MEANS WORLD” argument that we are used to seeing from novice Arminian debaters who haven’t figured out that “world” has a broad semantic range.

Ponter cannot plead the excuse of inexperience, so Ponter’s mischaracterization of the criticism must be attributed to something other than ignorance.

2) A Second mischaracterization, and a Bit of Silliness

Ponter continues by stating, “His arguments for this naked assertion in essence, come down to this: ….” Before we get to the rest of his description it’s worth noting that poor Ponter cannot decide for himself whether the supposed position of his critic is a “naked assertion” or an assertion supported by “His arguments.”

Ponter characterizes the arguments this way: “Because the Arminian (1620s) and Amyraldian (1640s) debates had not occurred yet, the early Reformed felt no need to be careful about their terms, and so we cannot assume that by their language they literally meant all the world.” (emphasis omitted) Of course, again, Ponter has thrown in his false definition of the issue already address in (1). Furthermore, Mr. Ponter has made the argument more extreme than it is. Instead of saying that “the early Reformed felt no need to be careful about their terms,” the argument was more narrowly focused on the lack of need to be wary of an Arminian or Amyraldian misunderstanding of the Biblical terms.

Ponter then argues that, “This of course presupposes the claim that they were somehow unable to state or have an opinion on the extent of the expiation as per its substitution and sin-bearing,” but Ponter is wrong. At least, if the characterization he presents presupposes what he claims, it is only because he has chosen to attack a straw man. In fact, there is no presupposition that the Arminian or Amyraldian controversies were necessary to in order for one to have an opinion regarding the extent of the expiation Christ made (with or without the further detail of substitution and/or sin-bearing) or in order for one to state an opinion in that regard. In fact, I myself illustrated Knox (or at least his adversary) speaking to the issue before those controversies.

Ponter than argues that: “Our opponent therefore claims we must assume that by “world” they meant it in a non-exhaustive sense,” but again Ponter is wrong. Ponter’s invalid induction is premised on his multiple straw men. Furthermore, it’s not my intent to suggest that one must “assume” anything. Instead, one must not read the Arminian and Amyraldian controversies into earlier writers. One can readily establish that the word “world” had a broad semantic domain not only in Scripture but in the writings of the Reformers. With that in mind, to make an infantile assumption that a given usage of the word happens to carry the precise meaning helpful to one’s case is to engage in what can only be pleasantly described as wishful thinking.

Ponter than continues with his rebuttal of his caricature of the criticism placed against his position. He states, by way of preface, “Well, firstly, it is nonsense. The discussion now has well and truly gone into twilight mode. Let me posit a few common sense rejoinders.” Only the straw men, however, are nonsense.

Ponter claims, “1) Just because a topic was not debated, does not mean a given person could not have had an opinion on a given subject. Or that they could not have explicitly meant what they quite apparently said.” The first of these two points is – of course – fully acceptable, since Reformers (such as Knox) did have an opinion and did express their opinion. They didn’t have an opinion on the controversies per se, and of course they couldn’t have – without the gift of prophecy. The second of these two points just begs the question. It is only “quite apparently” the case that they said what Mr. Ponter would like to imagine they said, because Mr. Ponter has an axe to grind. In fact, (at least in some of the instances we’ve explored) they simply used a word that has a wide semantic domain, and Mr. Ponter has made the common lexical error of just picking a definition that suits him.

Ponter next asserts, “2) However, we do know the topic of limited atonement was debated in Bullinger’s time. It was clarified by Prosper in the 5thC. It was debated again by Gottschalk in the 9thC. It was settled and clarified again by Lombard in the 12thC. Lombard’s synthesis was reaffirmed by Thomas in the 13thC. We know that Bucer debated it in the 16thC, in some form or another. We know that Trent condemned limited atonement in the 16thC. So the issue was known to the Reformers.” This is, perhaps, the most bizarre of Mr. Ponter’s claims.

The Council of Trent, one may recall, stated their doctrine of “universal atonement” in terminology that would be more amenable to a hypothetical sense than to an actual sense,

Him God hath proposed as a propitiator, through faith in his blood, for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world. [Chapter III] But, though He died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated. For as in truth men, if they were not born propagated of the seed of Adam, would not be born unjust, – seeing that, by that propagation, they contract through him, when they are conceived, injustice as their own, – so, if they were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just. For this benefit the apostle exhorts us, evermore to give thanks to the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins.

Note especially the term “proposed” and the clear acknowledgment of the fact that “not all receive the benefit of His death.” In fact, if we dig deeper into Trent, we discover not only that it does not affirm a universal redemption of mankind, it in fact opposes the Reformed doctrine of complete redemption of the elect, for it canonizes: “CANON XIV.–If any one saith, that the satisfaction, by which penitents redeem their sins through Jesus Christ, are not a worship of God, but traditions of men, which obscure the doctrine of grace, and the true worship of God, and the benefit itself of the death of Christ; let him be anathema.”

And again, the unlimited satisfaction for the sins of the elect is opposed by Rome who states, “CANON XIII.–If any one saith, that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is nowise made to God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, by the punishments inflicted by Him, and patiently borne, or by those enjoined by the priest, nor even by those voluntarily undertaken, as by fastings, prayers, almsdeeds, or by other works also of piety; and that, therefore, the best penance is merely a new life; let him be anathema.”

These absurdities are – of course – the very things opposed by the Reformers (Bullinger and others). Thus, Trent hardened itself not into an Arminian or Amyraldian view (per se) but into an anti-Reformed view in particular with respect to the scope of the redemption and satisfaction made by Christ for the very elect. In point of fact, the original Arminians and Amyraldians would certainly have agreed with the Reformers (and against the unscriptural Tridentine notions) that Christ’s redemption and satisfaction for the elect were universal and complete – leaving no sin to be satisfied through penance, indulgences, or Purgatory.

Ponter continues with more of the same, “We also know unlimited expiation was being defended in the 1570s by Kimedoncius no less: against the Socinians and Universalists. That indicates the issue was already getting attention before then, in order to warrant Kimedoncius’ dedication of an entire book to the defense of the doctrine. We know that Ursinus is defending, what Richard Muller calls a non-speculative hypothetical universalism against the Socinians (recall Richard Muller identifies Ursinus, along with Bullinger and Musclus as holding to this form of non-speculative hypothetical universalism).”

It’s not really clear whether Ponter understands what non-speculative hypothetical universalism is.

Mr. Ponter continues: “3) Our opponent has assumed the onus or burden of proof here, as he must show that they never could have spoken of the extent of the expiation in literal or actual universal terms, denoting all mankind literally. Of course, his problem is, if just one example of an exhaustive use of “world” could be found, his whole thesis is imploded. That is why he has got to such absurdities.” Of course, this criticism only applies to the caricature, not to the actual argument. In fact, the opposite is the case. The onus is on Mr. Ponter to prove his thesis that Bullinger taught Universal Atonement – not on his critic to rebut him.

To be continued …

Short Response to so-called Evangelical Universalism

May 14, 2008

There is a new book out, entitled “The Evangelical Universalist.” Its premise appears to be that Christ will save everyone, and that he will do so through the preaching of the gospel. (link to review/author interview) While one can appreciate the softness of heart that would motivate such a conclusion, it is not a Scriptural conclusion.

That there is a hell, a place of eternal death and corruption, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched is taught clearly in Scripture, from the very lips of Jesus (Mark 9:43-48, relying on Isaiah 66:24).

Moreover, Paul clearly states that those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will be punished with “everlasting destruction” (ολεθρον αιωνιον) in 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

While we must preach the gospel without regard to how many God chooses to save, we may be touched in our empathy for our fellow sinners and spurred on to spread the gospel, by the fact that those who do not repent and believe will perish forever and by our knowledge that the means to their salvation is the preached Gospel of Christ.

Therefore, we should call all men to repentance from sin and faith in the risen Lord, by whom alone there is victory over death.


Reconciling Universal Redemption with Limited Decree to Save

March 28, 2008

I had asked:
How is purchasing a redemption for both believers and non-believers consistent with decreeing to save only believers?

Dan (aka Godismyjudge), at Arminian Chronicles replied (link to Dan’s reply):

1) the decree to save believers should not be understood as foreknowledge of individual believers (i.e. Sue and John, but not Robbie), but rather the formula that anyone who believes shall be saved

2) that decree was preceded by a decree that Christ, by His death, shall be the basis of salvation (this decree can’t be limited to the elect, because is explanatorily prior to the decree of election)

3) the decree regarding Christ’s death means salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death

I answer:

I don’t find Dan’s answer very clear, partly because he uses words that either have different meanings to him than to me or have no standard meaning (such as “foreknowledge” and “explanatorily”). Allow me to try to explain Dan’s position for him.

As to (1-2), it seems to me that Dan is trying to say that the decree to purchase redemption for mankind universally was a first decree, and that a decree to apply that redemption to the class of believers was a second decree, and that God’s advance knowledge of who would be members of that class follows the second decree. I think that by “explanatorily prior” Dan means what we call “logically prior.” Thus, we should not read a temporal sequence into the order.

I hope that if I have misunderstood Dan, he will correct my misunderstanding. Assuming I have correctly understood him:

a) The order seems purposeless or at cross purposes;
b) For example, the first decree seems to be aimed at a purpose to save mankind universally, whereas the second decree seems to be aimed (at least in part) in saving mankind only partially;
c) The attempted escape is to place God’s advance knowledge of the membership of the class of believers posterior to the second decree, but
d) It doesn’t seem credible that God would make the second decree without first knowing whether it would save anyone, because He Himself is bound by His own decrees.
e) Another attempted escape might be to argue that the first decree was only aimed at making all men savable, but
f) A similar criticism arises that the second decree still seems counter to the first decree by providing a barrier to the savability of men, and
g) There is a real question about whether there is any Scriptural basis for an intent to make mankind “savable,” as distinct from “saved.”

Thus, it does not really seem that (1-2) of Dan’s reply help resolve the apparent conflict, or – at best – they simply move the conflict someplace else.

As to (3), it seems that “the decree” referenced is supposed to be the first decree. This would seem to begin to take escape (e) discussed above. Additionally, since the first decree does not include any decree for application of the benefit of Christ’s death, it actually does not mean “salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death.” In fact, it does not mean that salvation is possible for anyone at all, since it does not include any way for the benefit of Christ’s death to be applied to men.

Alternatively, “the decree” in (3) might be aimed at pointing to the second decree. If so, then the same criticism from (f) as well as (d) above would apply. A decree to save those who fit within a formula is inherently discriminatory, with the formula being the discriminator. Unless there is some kind of expectation that everyone would fall within the formula (which apparently, per (3), there was not) then the formula does not mean “salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death.”

Indeed, one could (though why they would, I have no idea) insert between Dan’s second decree and the advance knowledge a recognition of human total inability to meet the formula. Then, it becomes clear that a decree that Jesus die for everyone (in the abstracted way Dan posits in his first decree) is not sufficient to make “salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death.”

I’m guessing that Dan’s ultimate order would look something like this:

1. Decree to create.
2. Recognition of the fall.
3. Decree that Christ will die.
4. Decree that Christ’s death will be applied to those who have faith.
5. Decree that it will be “possible” for anyone to have faith.
6. Recognition of who actually has faith.

Embedded within (5) would be a decree to give all men prevenient grace, or something like that.

There are a number of problems with this expanded order, though.

(a) The idea of creating without having the purpose of the creation mind already seems odd. One pictures the person in Dan’s order saying to himself, “So I’ve got this creation, what should I do with it?”

(b) The idea of the fall being something that is only recognized once there is a decree to create does not seem fully consistent with God’s omniscience. Even if this could be escaped by middle knowledge, though …

(c) The idea of the knowledge of who will believe being recognized somehow separately from the fall does not seem fully consistent either with God’s omniscience or middle knowledge.

In short, I’m not sure how Dan’s explanation doesn’t just make matters worse for the Arminian or Amyraldian.


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