10 Ways to Create Unhealthy Schism Over The Extent of The Atonement

November 4, 2015 — 1 Comment


On Monday, I mentioned some resources for learning more about Reformed Theology. Included in that was a brief discussion of some resources on TULIP. If you’re familiar with the acronym, you’ll know that the L can be the most contentious. I’ve known people who claimed to be 4 point Calvinists, and the missing point was the L. Perhaps due to an unfortunate label, limited atonement can be hard to swallow. I’ve hoped to be able to work through From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, but it keeps getting pushed to the backburner.

In the near future, I’m much more likely to read Perspectives on The Extent of The Atonement: 3 Views that B&H Academic graciously sent me. One of the editors, Andy Naselli has a nice overview of the book on his blog. There, you’ll find the table of contents and a video, as well as the link to the Introduction, written by the other editor Mark Snoeberger. Naselli wrote the Conclusion, which includes the list I’m posting here. It is adapted from a journal article that Naselli wrote about John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (a book I’ve blogged about here).

Since discussing the extent of the atonement, whether it is general, particular, or has multiple intentions can be tricky to do irenically (which is ironic I suppose), here are Naselli’s tongue-in-cheek ways to make it more difficult (217-227, with some modification of verb tenses):

  1. Uncharitably denigrate other positions
  2. Set up and tear down straw men
  3. View other evangelical views as heresy
  4. Insufficiently define a personal position
  5. Overemphasize the importance of the atonement’s extent
  6. Assume that only non-Calvinists can tell a non-Christian “God loves you” or “Jesus died for you”
  7. Require that others adhere to a particular view when flexibility is appropriate
  8. Give the impression that complete understanding is possible regarding the extent of the atonement
  9. Hold a personal position with sinful pride

Some of these should be common sense to avoid in theological discussion, but you’d be surprised how quickly things like that get lost once it turns to a debate. Denigrating others, charging them with heresy, and holding a position pridefully have no place in this discussion. And neither does sloppy thinking and explanations. Particularly helpful in this regard is Naselli’s warning about the phrasing “sufficient for all, efficient for some” which virtually everyone in the discussion can agree to because they explain it differently. We can and should do better in explaining how our views are both theologically coherent and biblically correspondent (see Snoeberger’s Introduction for how these concepts, which come from Van Til, are put to use).

All in all, if you’re looking to dig into this on-going discussion, this is a book to grab. Trueman is a solid defender of limited, or definite atonement. Likewise, Grant Osborne does well representing an Arminian general atonement view. Lastly, John Hammett’s multiple intention view, which has precursors in William G. T. Shedd, provides a kind of middle ground (think universal atonement, yet particular redemption, to borrow from Shedd). Like every good multi-view book, the authors critique each other along the way (Thomas McCall has to do some pinch-hitting for Osborne because of the latter’s health difficulties). And while I’m partial to definite atonement and want to really understand it more fully via From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, this is a good resource to understand it in light of other evangelically faithful positions.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

One response to 10 Ways to Create Unhealthy Schism Over The Extent of The Atonement

  1. I just finished From Heaven He Came and Sought Her . . . wonderful! Some of the chapters I had to wade through, but the insights were worth the effort.

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