Thursday, October 09, 2003

Dispensationalism and the Atonement

Dispensationalists tend to have a problem with the reformed doctrine of Limited or Definite Atonement.

Of course, as we saw last week, Calvinists have trouble with it as well, in as much as it is related to our Lord’s call. Many Calvinists insist that there is a genuine call from God to all men, while still holding to the notion that all but the regenerated elect are morally incapable of responding. There is a incongruity there that is not demanded by scripture, in fact it is countered by scripture, and it is entirely analogous to God handing a post card to a blind man and making a "genuine" offer along the lines of "If you describe this to me, you will be saved."

Oh well, no need to reopen old wounds. Today I will take a first, micro-look at the dispensationalist view of the Atonement.

First, two tangential points. Many dispensationalists claim to be four-point Calvinists (or Christmas Calvinists, a term I just learned recently in my comment section, that is Christmas as in No-L). They claim to accept all points of TULIP except for Limited Atonement. I will allow them that assertion, but in fact I believe it is cognitive dissonance. All five points are direct results of the Reformed (and biblical) view of God's Sovereignty. They stand or fall together.

The other aside is an admission: My incomplete study of dispensationalism has not led to an answer to this question: Is the nearly universal "moderate [incomplete] Calvinism" of dispensationalism an inevitable consequence or does it reflect the position of the movers and shakers, and consequently has made its way into the pews.

One thing is for sure—the strange walk between Calvinism and Arminianism is almost certainly responsible for the most important instance of dispensational fratricide: the so-called Lordship Salvation debate. This important development, which we will get to later, is largely a debate within dispensationalism, although others have joined in the fray.

So what do dispensationalists say about the Atonement?

Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of the Dallas Theological Seminary, and often hailed as a Calvinist, wrote the following:
that the death of Christ of itself saves no man, either actually or potentially, but that it does render all men savable—Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 3:185.

And Norman Geisler, another Dallas man, writes:
Therefore Christ must have died for the non-elect as well as the elect—Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free, p. 197.

I think it patently obvious that if the Atonement merely made all men savable, then the other petals from TULIP dry out and fall to the ground.

This view is in contrast to the Reformed view, which is that Christ's Atonement accomplished salvation for the elect of all ages (or, if you like, of all dispensations).

There is no good explanation, from dispensationalism (or Arminianism) as to how the Atonement rendered Abraham, Moses, and David "savable", and likewise Jezebel and Pharaoh and Judas. Only the insistence that all equally accrued the same benefit, potential salvation, from Christ's death. So it must be asserted, in spite of the difficulties, because dispensationalists insist, in the face of constant attack from detractors, that they do not teach a different salvation for Old Testament and New Testament believers.

2 comments:

  1. Disagreement over the extent of the atonement extends far beyond dispensationalism. Others such as Lutherns who predated Calvinism hold in general to unlimited atonement. Even Martin Luther himself. The issue is basically exegetical in nature. Evidently you want to link all 5 points logically together rather than based on what the teaching of Scripture really is. We formulate doctrine from Scripture and not from any pet theory no matter what it is. Essentially each side would agree that the value of Christ work on the cross is infinite and is limited in it's intended application. The basic issue is that of the design. Generally speaking dispensationalist hold that Jesus died to make salvation for the lost possible and made it certain for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The strict limited redemptionalist replies upon a number of logical fallacies in it's attack againist other points of views. It's main one is the either or fallacy. It fails to see that there can be more than 2 possible solutions. They want us to chose between possible for all or certain for the elect as if they are exclusive from one another when in fact both can be true. The John Owen argument does not fare very well either. Owen wants to create a false problem for any form of unlimited atonement regardless of it's particular design of it. I have no problem affirming Jesus died for all sins. As no one is forgiven of any of their sins including the sin of unbelief until the value of Christ blood is applied to the elect through the effectual call of the Spirit which results in a person coming to faith in Jesus. Even the elect are by no means forgiven of any of their sins either including the sin of unbelief until Christ work is applied personally to them. If we are to take John Owen at face value then the elect were never dead in traspasses and sin and never under the wrath of God or under condemnation at any point of their lives yet Scripture indicates they were subject to this just like the non-elect. Since you want to selective quote Lewis Sperry Chafer I will cite him in full context to show you did not deal with his position at all.

    "THE MODERATE CALVINISTS WHO ARE UNLIMITED REDEMPTIONISTS. The men who belong to this school of interpretation defend all of the five points of Calvinism excepting one, namely, "Limited Atonement," or what has been termed "the weakest point in the Calvinistic system of doctrine." This form of moderate Calvinism is more the belief of Bible expositors than of the theologians, which fact is doubtless due to the truth that the Bible, taken in its natural terminology and apart from those strained interpretations which are required to defend a theory, seems to teach an unlimited redemption. Men of this group believe that Christ died actually and fully for all men of this age alike, that God has ordained that the gospel shall be preached to all for whom Christ died, and that through the proclamation of the gospel He will exercise His sovereign power in saving His elect. This group believe in the absolute depravity of man and his total inability to believe apart from the enabling power of the Spirit, and that the death of Christ, being forensic, is a sufficient ground for any and every man to be saved, should the Spirit of God choose to draw him. They contend that the death of Christ of itself saves no man, either actually or potentially, but that it does render all men savable; that salvation is wrought of God alone, and at the time the individual believes. "

    " The unlimited redemptionist claims that the value of Christ's death is extended to all men, but the elect alone come, by divine grace wrought by an effectual call, into its fruition, while the nonelect are not called, but are those passed by. They hold that God indicates who are the elect, not at the cross, but by the effectual call and at the time of regeneration. "

    ReplyDelete
  2. Disagreement over the extent of the atonement extends far beyond dispensationalism. Others such as Lutherns who predated Calvinism hold in general to unlimited atonement. Even Martin Luther himself. The issue is basically exegetical in nature. Evidently you want to link all 5 points logically together rather than based on what the teaching of Scripture really is. We formulate doctrine from Scripture and not from any pet theory no matter what it is. Essentially each side would agree that the value of Christ work on the cross is infinite and is limited in it's intended application. The basic issue is that of the design. Generally speaking dispensationalist hold that Jesus died to make salvation for the lost possible and made it certain for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The strict limited redemptionalist replies upon a number of logical fallacies in it's attack againist other points of views. It's main one is the either or fallacy. It fails to see that there can be more than 2 possible solutions. They want us to chose between possible for all or certain for the elect as if they are exclusive from one another when in fact both can be true. The John Owen argument does not fare very well either. Owen wants to create a false problem for any form of unlimited atonement regardless of it's particular design of it. I have no problem affirming Jesus died for all sins. As no one is forgiven of any of their sins including the sin of unbelief until the value of Christ blood is applied to the elect through the effectual call of the Spirit which results in a person coming to faith in Jesus. Even the elect are by no means forgiven of any of their sins either including the sin of unbelief until Christ work is applied personally to them. If we are to take John Owen at face value then the elect were never dead in traspasses and sin and never under the wrath of God or under condemnation at any point of their lives yet Scripture indicates they were subject to this just like the non-elect. Since you want to selective quote Lewis Sperry Chafer I will cite him in full context to show you did not deal with his position at all.

    "THE MODERATE CALVINISTS WHO ARE UNLIMITED REDEMPTIONISTS. The men who belong to this school of interpretation defend all of the five points of Calvinism excepting one, namely, "Limited Atonement," or what has been termed "the weakest point in the Calvinistic system of doctrine." This form of moderate Calvinism is more the belief of Bible expositors than of the theologians, which fact is doubtless due to the truth that the Bible, taken in its natural terminology and apart from those strained interpretations which are required to defend a theory, seems to teach an unlimited redemption. Men of this group believe that Christ died actually and fully for all men of this age alike, that God has ordained that the gospel shall be preached to all for whom Christ died, and that through the proclamation of the gospel He will exercise His sovereign power in saving His elect. This group believe in the absolute depravity of man and his total inability to believe apart from the enabling power of the Spirit, and that the death of Christ, being forensic, is a sufficient ground for any and every man to be saved, should the Spirit of God choose to draw him. They contend that the death of Christ of itself saves no man, either actually or potentially, but that it does render all men savable; that salvation is wrought of God alone, and at the time the individual believes. "

    " The unlimited redemptionist claims that the value of Christ's death is extended to all men, but the elect alone come, by divine grace wrought by an effectual call, into its fruition, while the nonelect are not called, but are those passed by. They hold that God indicates who are the elect, not at the cross, but by the effectual call and at the time of regeneration. "

    ReplyDelete