Friday, June 20, 2014

Arminian limited atonement

You might think the title of my post is oxymoronic. Surely "Arminian limited atonement" is a contradiction in terms. Surely unlimited atonement is both an Arminian essential as well as a position that differentiates Arminianism from the dreaded Calvinism. 
But that depends. Depends on what else an Arminian might like to include in the package. Suppose you're an Arminian annihilationist (e.g. I. H. Marshall, Randal Rauser, Scot McKnight, Clark Pinnock). Well, in that event, maybe something has got to give. Maybe you need to relinquish unlimited atonement to make room for annihilationism. Does conditional immortality logically commit the annihilationist to limited atonement? Case in point:

Glenn Peoples  
Hi Scot. Thanks so much for your interest in this project! 
The second argument is not quite as stated here. The argument is that all the dominant views on the atonement - and certainly those that are taken seriously by Evangelicals - involve some type of substitution or exchange. 
So Jesus stood in for others in some way (e.g. as a penal substitute, or a ransom in the stead of the captives). But in standing in for those who are saved through him, what did Jesus do? 
The answer is that he died. That presents us with a vivid picture of what would come to all humanity were it not for the saving intervention of the one who stood in our place. Our lot would be death - like the death that Jesus suffered for us. The death of Christ makes best sense if the wages of sin is literally death. And so that is what will in fact finally come to those who are not saved through Christ. 

Glenn Peoples 

Scot, It's conditionalism in the sense that it posits the fate of sinners as death. So they don't receive life. If they reject the cross, then nobody has stood in their place, and so they will receive the death that sin brings about. However, those who embrace the cross have someone who stood in their place: Christ. He took our death upon himself, so that it is no longer our fate. As We say in the liturgical churches: Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life. Jesus' death shows us, to put it bluntly, what hell is like. 
As it turns out, some traditionalists - especially those who believe in penal substitution - have realised this implication. They see that if Jesus took the place of sinners, and Jesus literally *died*, then annihilationism / conditionalism is helped, for it presents the fate of sinners as literal death. Those traditionalists respond, not by embracing conditionalism, but, alarmingly, but denying that Jesus' death atones for sin, claiming instead that Jesus endured the spiritual wrath of God on the cross prior to his death. 
So receiving immortality is conditional on having Christ die for us (or, if that sounds too Calvinistic: it depends on having that death appropriated to us). Otherwise we would receive the death that he died.


  1. Your case in point is not at all clear. Care to elucidate the logical connection you see? Or are you just pouncing on Glenn's charitable acknowledgement of McKnight's theology on a point which he takes to be irrelevant to what he's saying? Incidentally, McKnight is not known to be a conditionalist/annihilationist.

  2. Actually, it's not *my* point, it's *Glenn's* point. So, if you disagree with the connection, then your beef is with Glenn, not me. Follow the bouncing ball.

    Incidentally, McKnight is known to do very sympathetic posts on annihilationism.

  3. McKnight has published posts sympathetic to conditionalism, but rejects the view at present. It is a factual error to call him an annihilationist.

    Glenn's point is *not* that an Arminian must give up unlimited atonement to be a conditionalist. He was just using language consistent with his view (and mine), and then offering up alternative language that would resonate more with McKnight.

    1. Exactly. Glenn is not making any point that there is or could be a "connection" here with limited/unlimited atonement, as though one might have to "logically commit" to one. He's portraying in passing the opposite idea: it just doesn't matter either way.

    2. So you're accusing Glenn of duplicity to sell the product. Thanks for the clarification.

    3. Steve, so that anyone reading this can see you're not being duplicitous yourself, can you point out how it might be considered "duplicitous" to do what Chris said? Specifically, for it to make any sense at all that Chris is "accusing Glenn of duplicity" by him first using language consistent with one's own theology, and then charitably referring to how one's conversation partner would understand it?

      In case you might want me to likewise explain why I'm suggesting you could be duplicitous here, it's obvious, but I'll make it explicit: you're intelligent enough to know that Chris did the very opposite of "accusing Glenn of duplicity," yet you pretend he did otherwise. Wow. (I certainly apologize if I'm wrong in thinking that you were going for something rational rather than irrational for the sake of ironic humor. I take it as given that you're not just being yet another Christian jerk, so I have exhausted all possibilities I think.)

      You've failed to show that your "Arminian limited atonement" OP has any point, because your *own* "case in point" was supposed to show that *Glenn* had some point about a view of the atonement which one might have to "relinquish." It's obvious that he was making the *opposite* point in passing. I make mistakes on a daily basis. Hopefully you're not too proud to acknowledge yours whenever they occur.

    4. Well, while we're on the subject of duplicity, you and Glenn are theological politicians. You are attempting to forge a movement in favor of annihilationism. In the furtherance of your goal, you paper over theological fissures in your fragile alliance. My post upset you because I drew attention to Glenn's impolitic argument. That runs the risk of causing a split within your coalition, by driving a wedge between Arminians and annihilationists, where the extent of the atonement becomes the wedge issue. So you rush in to perform damage control.

      Glenn made a political gaffe. In politics, a gaffe is when a politician inadvertently lets slip what he really believes. At that point, Peter Grice parachutes in, playing the role of press secretary, to "clarify" the original statement.

    5. Indeed, while we're on the subject of pretending we're not still on the subject of substantiating the elementary mistake in the OP and the irrational charge of duplicity (while ironically being duplicitous)... nothing to see here, folks. Politics. Tell them that. Squirrel!!

    6. Peter Grice

      "I take it as given that you're not just being yet another Christian jerk."

      I must humbly decline your generous nomination as I find myself in the presence of far worthier candidates for that honor like yourself.

    7. Thanks, Steve. I was worried you might misread that as saying the opposite! But thanks again for the kind words.

  4. Hi again Steve. It's encouraging to see you so frequently take an interest in what I have to say about this subject. I can only hope that the biblical evidence will "rub off" on you and you'll be encouraged to rethink hell for yourself.

    As you'll note, my point was to explain the argument as follows: Jesus saved people by taking their place, and he died. hence, unless people are saved by Jesus, they will finally die.

    As I noted, this can be construed within an Arminian or Calvinist framework. If one is a Calvinist, they will think that you're lost and will die unless you are one of the people for whom Christ died. If you're an Arminian, you'll prefer to describe this by saying that you're lost and will die unless you have that death appropriated to you by faith.

    In other words, being an Arminian or a Calvinist makes no difference here.

    So it would be a mistake to think that I was somehow requiring that one adopt a Calvinist view of the atonement in order to appreciate the way the atonement supports annihilationism. Hopefully I've managed to clarify that for you.

    All the best

    1. You've managed to clarify that, for political reasons, you engage in doubletalk to build a coalition for annihilationism.

    2. Steve, I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I have said that the annihilationist argument from the atonement is compatible with limited atonement and unlimited atonement.

      I'm sure the fault is mine, and I should have been clearer in some way. Can you please help me by explaining what, in this explanation, appears to be doubletalk?

      Thanks so much Steve, I'm grateful for your feedback.

    3. BTW, it's revealing that you recently congratulated Peter Enns on his promotion. Nice to see you illustrate Groucho Marx's adage:

      "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

    4. What you've now done is to try to walk back from your original claim, which you made to McKnight, where you said receiving immortality is contingent on Christ dying for, making penal substitution for, standing in place of/in the stead of, the recipient. So, by your original logic, the extent of the atonement would be the differential factor between those who do and do not receive immortality. That is how you grounded immortality.

    5. Steve, I said: "So receiving immortality is conditional on having Christ die for us (or, if that sounds too Calvinistic: it depends on having that death appropriated to us."

      To date (i.e. in a very short time since making this claim), I have yet to feel even slightly inclined to back away from it.

      But the truth is, Arminians believe that you are saved if the death of Christ is applied to you. Of course, they believe that it is applied to you for a different reason, but they still believe that the death of Christ is the only means by which a person can be saved.

      Steve, I truly apologise for misleading you about what I believe, and I'm really pleased that you pulled me up for it. Thank you so much. For the record - and this is what I said at McKnight's blog (or at least, attempted to say (again, thank you so very much for the assistance)), is that immortality is conditional on having the saving benefit of the death of Christ as a substitute applied to you. Now, as we know, there is a divergence of opinion as to how that benefit is applied to you. But as I tried to make clear (by stressing that this can also be parsed in Arminian terms), this question does not at all answer the question of whether or not the atonement is limited or universal.

      Again, I really appreciate you kind help, Steve.

  5. Steve,

    Do you have any text you could give me to show I Howard Marshall defends annihilationism ??

    1. Wanderson,

      In case Steve doesn't have time to reply, or doesn't know, Marshall hasn't written a defense of the view per se, at least to my knowledge. One of the places in which he tips his hand, however, is in "Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate." There he speaks of the current rethinking of Hell in the direction of conditional immortality—"annihilationism" is often used pejoratively—and footnotes this personal disclosure: "I consider that the case for understanding hell as the state of total destruction is well-founded." I will post an excerpt below, but again, it's not a published defense.

      Marshall also gives a back cover endorsement to the book that Scot McKnight is currently working through, "Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism." It is published under an academic imprint of Wipf & Stock, and serious scholars are reading and endorsing it (full disclosure: I wrote the introduction). The upshot of this in the present context is that the likes of I. Howard Marshall have inspected the work of Dr. Peoples and commend it, such that this blog post issues instead from a bubble. Here is Marshall's endorsement:

      "This volume is to be welcomed and recommended for its usefulness in gathering together some of the most significant contributions from leading scholars and preachers who question whether the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked is a correct interpretation of the biblical teaching."

      And here is the aforementioned excerpt, with which Marshall identifies himself:

      "In the last couple of decades there has been a re-thinking of the traditional doctrine of eternal punishment among some evangelical scholars. There have been two facets in this discussion.

      The first is a recognition that the Bible does not teach the immortality of the human soul, but regards immortality as the gift of God. Therefore, people are not naturally immortal.

      The second is the recognition that there are types of imagery by which the Bible presents the fate of those who do not inherit eternal life, one suggesting conscious torment that never ends, while the other suggests an irreversible act of destruction. While traditional theology has interpreted the latter imagery in the light of the former, one current trend is to argue that the former way has priority in interpretation, not least because the concept of a God who consigns some human beings to endless, conscious suffering is irreconcilable with what we know of the love of God. There are some writers who seem to confuse this understanding of the nature of hell with ultimate universalism, but the two concepts must be kept distinct. The proposal is relevant because acceptance of this understanding of hell as destruction rather than as eternal suffering removes one of the arguments for universalism, namely that the alternative makes out God to be a monster and also makes it hard for the saved to be happy in heaven while they know that other people are suffering in hell."

      I hope this was the sort if thing you were after. Richard Bauckham is another high profile Bible scholar who is both conditionalist and Arminian.

    2. Just another quick reference. In his 1983 commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Marshall was disinclined to take 2 Thess 1:9 in support of annihilation. However in 2007, he wrote in his "Aspects of Atonement" that “I would be more inclined to argue that this does not mean eternal, conscious punishment, but rather final, irreversible destruction than I was when I listed these possibilities...” One can detect from this that he was then undergoing, or had already undergone, the rethinking process he described elsewhere.

    3. In "Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate" (p61) he further writes, "Therefore, the proposal that God will destroy death and hell is helpful, but I would amend it by saying that the destruction of death includes the destruction of those who have died."