Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pecuniary atonement

Furthermore, not only is the gospel call undermined, but so is God’s justice in condemning those who refuse it. Just as a non-elect sinner cannot be asked to take hold of an atonement which was not actually made for him, so he equally cannot be punished for failing to do so. How can he heap condemnation on himself for rejecting the gospel, as in John 3:18, when the gospel was never for him? Indeed, what sense is there to even speak of him “rejecting” something which was never sincerely offered him to begin with? May he not actually turn around and, without any impertinence, point out that God is manifestly dishonest to call everyone to believe a promise which is not made to everyone, and manifestly unjust to punish those who don’t believe when there is nothing for them to believe in? Yet John says, to the contrary, that “whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:10–12). Eric Svendsen further expands this point by bringing to bear passages which describe the additional condemnation of those who profess the faith, but later fall away. In part 1 of his dialog with James White, ‘When Does Our Union With Christ’s Death Occur?’ he asks, why are they condemned if the gospel was not for them? But Peter says that they deny the Master who bought them (2 Peter 2:1). 

I'd like to make a few comments on this:

1. I'm going to skip over the objection that it's unjust or insincere for God to condemn the reprobate for refusing to believe an offer that was never extended to them in the first place, inasmuch as I recently discussed that objection:

Of course, Bnonn may view that response as inadequate.

2. I don't know how Bnonn is using 1 Jn 5:10-12. Is he using that as a prooftext for unlimited atonement? Is he using that to show how a faulty view of the atonement can be tantamount to calling God a liar? Is he linking the two? Does he think 1 Jn 5:10-12 proves both? If you deny unlimited atonement, in effect you make God out to be a liar?

3. I'd simply point out that in v11, the "we" stands in implicit contrast to John's opponents. In the context of 1 John, these were schismatics who separated themselves from the churches of Asia Minor which John oversaw. 

They were denying that Christians have eternal life in Christ. Ironically, since Christ is the only source of eternal life, to deny that is to exclude yourself from that very source. If anything, this passage cuts against the grain of unlimited atonement. They stand in opposition to the atonement. They reject the atonement. Thus, they are not party to the atonement.

4. Regarding 2 Pet 2:1, that is, of course, a stock prooftext for unlimited atonement. So Bnonn's appeal to that passage is more straightforward. However, 4-point Calvinists reframe the passage by placing that within an overall doctrine of the atonement. The passage itself merely says they deny the Master who bought them. Consider all the things it doesn't say:

i) Christ died for them

ii) Christ died in their place

iii) Christ shed his blood for them

iv) Christ made atonement for them

v) Christ made propitiation for them

vi) Christ redeemed their sins

vii) Christ reconciled them to God

In other words, the passage says nothing about the death of Christ, or sin, or sacrifice, or blood atonement, or vicarious atonement, or penal substitution. To read this as a prooftext for unlimited atonement, you have to superimpose categories that are conspicuous by their absence from the text.

5. In fact, the passage trades on the metaphor of master/slave relations. Even that is very compressed. It could depict transfer of ownership. On that view, they remain slaves, but they have a new master. Or it could depict manumission: a benefactor buys their freedom. On that view, they were no longer slaves, but freemen. 

No doubt the passage indicates that Jesus did something for them. But it doesn't use atonement language or sacrificial language. It doesn't use any religious terminology. Rather, it uses a secular metaphor. 

To take a close comparison, Yahweh redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage. An act of divine manumission. That, however, wasn't the same thing as atoning for their sins. The Mosaic cultus had atonement ceremonies. But that's different from the Exodus. 

In that respect you can have three different classes of people:

i) The unredeemed

ii) The soterically redeemed

iii) The unsoterically redeemed

On the one hand, you have people who are outside the pale of special grace. On the other hand, you have people who due to their association with Christianity, have enjoyed some benefits or privileges which, however, fall short of the elect. This is like the OT distinction between pagans, nominal Jews, and pious Jews. 

6. Finally, even if 2 Pet 2:1 or 1 Jn 5:10-12 indicated unlimited atonement, that falls short of what Bnonn needs, because he has a very precise model of the atonement. He distinguishes between pecuniary atonement (e.g. John Owen), and judicial atonement. But is there any prooftext for unlimited atonement which specifies or implies that Jesus died for everyone or redeemed everyone in the sense of judicial atonement–in contradistinction to pecuniary atonement?

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