Friday, June 03, 2016

Batteries included

Recently I got into an impromptu debate on limited atonement with a 4-point Calvinist. Here's my side of the exchange:

"I do not think this imputation happened at the cross! The very reason I can make this argument is because I see imputation in the Bible happening because of who our federal head is—and we become represented by Jesus when we exercise faith. That is why justification is by faith—it is the point at which imputation occurs…When I say that God must treat individuals in history according to whether their guilt has actually been imputed to Jesus in history, I am simply saying that God must treat individuals according to whether they have actually exercised faith. That is the historical point of imputation…I don't believe *anything* was imputed to Jesus at the cross. I believe he was treated as a sinner and suffered the wrath of God that is due to any and all sinful human beings. He did so with the intention of that atonement being imputed to his elect in due time (or, of course, to satisfy the imputation of the OT elect which had already occurred)."

i) What, exactly, is the difference between Jesus being treated as if he's a sinner by suffering God's wrath on their behalf and in their stead for their culpability, and having the guilt of sinners imputed to him?

ii) How is it unjust to make disbelief in Jesus punishable if he didn't redeem the reprobate, but not unjust to make belief in Jesus punishable If the guilt of the reprobate is never imputed to Jesus? 

iii) If faith is a necessary condition for the imputation of guilt to Jesus, then Jesus never actually made atonement for the reprobate, right? 

iv) It's true that justification is contingent on faith. Where does Scripture say redemption/atonement is contingent on faith? It's striking that in the very context of justification by faith, Paul says Christ died for us at the time we were still unbelievers (Rom 5:1-11). 

v) Prooftexts for unlimited atonement include passages about Christ "dying" for people. But Bnonn is says the death of Christ is not when atonement was made. He's entitled to draw further distinctions, but that greatly complicates the scriptural proof for unlimited atonement that indexes the atonement to the death of Christ, when, in fact, Bnonn doesn't think the death of Christ atones for the reprobate.

"The difference is simply that God does not forensically declare Jesus to be bearing the guilt of sinners when he punishes him on the cross. He punishes Jesus in the way he would punish any sinner, but without making some legal transfer."

Isn't God punishing Jesus with a view to Jesus bearing the guilt of sinners and making some legal transfer? It's not punishment for its own sake, but punishment with that end in mind.

"Because the whole point of the gospel offer is to let Jesus take your guilt, because he can. He is a legitimate federal head for you, whether you are elect or reprobate."

I thought you said that's contingent on faith. "We become represented by Jesus when we exercise faith". 

Are you distinguishing representation from federal headship, as two different things, of which the former is contingent on faith while the latter is not? If so, what's the basis for that distinction? A federal head is a type of representative. 

Later you say "He made atonement for all people in the sense that he may legitimately represent all people just as Adam does."

Since Adam was a federal head, that suggests you're using "representative" and  "federal head" synonymously in this comment thread. If so, how can he be a legitimate federal head for the reprobate if, by your own admission, that's contingent on faith–which they can't exercise?

"I think you'd need to cash out what you mean by Jesus making atonement."

Actually, I think the onus is on 4-pointers to spell that out. I'm simply using the same terminology they do: Universal atonement. Christ redeems everyone. Christ died for everyone. 

"I think you're conflating 'had something imputed to him at the cross' with 'made atonement,' which is the basic problem that keeps cropping up whenever I talk to 5-pointers about this."

Don't 4-pointers unpack the atonement in terms of imputation?

Let's further explore Bnonn's position:

i) In 5-point Calvinism, the Redeemer has a preexisting relationship with those to be redeemed. Election grounds their solidarity. Due to that preexisting bond, Christ can act as their representative. He is in a position to act on their behalf and in their stead. 

ii) 4-point Calvinism has to decouple election and redemption. Bnonn does it by reversing the relationship. Jesus is not their representative at the time he dies. Rather, he only becomes someone's representative (or federal head) if they exercise faith in him. 

This raises the question of the sense in which Christ dies for the reprobate. If he's not their representative at the time of his death, then in what respect is he dying on their behalf or in their place? Or is he dying on their behalf? Is he dying in their stead? Or is he dying for them in some other way?

iii) Since, moreover, he's not dying with a view to saving the reprobate, then in what respect is he dying for them? Or perhaps I should ask, for them? 

iv) Apropos (ii-iii), according to Bnonn, their merit is not imputed to Christ and his merit is not imputed to them unless and until they believe in him. ("Merit/demerit" is my language, not Bnonn's.) Yet, given limited election, that dual imputation was never even available to the reprobate. By divine design, they are preemptively excluded from ever sharing in that dual imputation. 

According to Bnonn, the Gospel offer would be insincere, and God would be unjust to punish refusal, unless universal atonement is true. Yet, according to Bnonn, the imputation of their demerit to Christ and Christ's merit to them is contingent on an act of faith which God has foreordained that they will not be able to exercise. How can the sincerity of the offer, and just condemnation for refusing the offer, be conditional on faith if God has predestined the nonfulfillment of that condition? How is that supposed to be an improvement on what's objectionable about 5-point Calvinism?

We have a circular relationship where Christ didn't actually atone for their guilt unless and until they meet an impossible condition (faith). By divine foreordination, they cannot satisfy the necessary condition to make it the case that Christ atoned for their guilt. God withheld that from them. So, once again, how is that supposed to be an improvement on what's objectionable about 5-point Calvinism? If anything, in 4-point Calvinism, God extends with one hand what he snatches back with the other. 

If that's not Bnonn's position, what is his position?

To make one brief point: it's not merely that the reprobate are "morally unable to obey the command"; rather, due to predestination, it's metaphysically impossible.

"I've dealt with this before. There is a categorical difference between people being morally unable to obey a command, and there being no actual grounds for them to obey it."

Other issues to one side, that doesn't escape the circularity of your position. On your own construction, there are no "actual grounds" inasmuch as the grounds only become actual in response to faith. The grounds hinge on a wholly unrealizable condition: faith.

From my vantage-point, it's hard to even give a coherent statement of the Amyraldin position, but here goes: the argument seems to be that for the gospel offer to be sincere, and for disbelief to be justly punishable (in relation to the reprobate), some suitable provision must be made for the reprobate in the atonement.

But among other problems with that contention: the provision is illusory inasmuch as the provision that's said to be necessary to ground divine sincerity and reprobate culpability was never available to the reprobate, even in principle. As Bnonn explains, the supposed provision is only actualized by faith. Nothing was actually imputed to Christ at Calvary. 

So it's like offering a thirsty man chilled water. You point him to a drinking fountain. He can even see ice crystals form around the gushing water. But when he leans over to drink, he bangs his head against a plexiglass lid. Between him and the drinking water is that impenetrable barrier. In reality, the drinking fountain is inaccessible to the thirsty man. 

Between the reprobate and the supposed provision is the impenetrable barrier of predestination.

Another difficulty is that even if we grant, for discussion purposes, that God makes some sort of provision for the reprobate in the atonement, the provision for the reprobate is decisively inferior to the provision for the elect. Given that dramatic inequity, I don't see how someone who finds the inequity of 5-point Calvinism objectionable would logically find the inequity of 4-point Calvinism unobjectionable.

"Could you explain what you mean? In principle, the reprobate certainly could exercise faith; it is only the pragmatic facts of the actual world that prevent it."

Actually, it's the antemundane fact of predestination. God has decreed that no reprobate will exercise faith. They cannot act contrary to the decree. Foreordination prevents it. 

"Is there a modal confusion here? Conversely, under the 5-point view, in principle the reprobate cannot appropriate the atonement, because the pragmatic facts of the actual world prevent it, inasmuch as atonement does not exist for them."

That comparison operates at a different level. And in any case, since I don't think that's a problem for my position, so what? As a 5-pointer, I don't that position unjust or insincere. Since the 4-pointer does, I'm attempting to respond to him on his own terms by taking his objections to a logical conclusion or drawing analogies.

"Btw, this is only one side to the coin. In my view, the assurance of salvation is actually the bigger issue here, but it seems to get eclipsed by this discussion of God's sincerity."

You yourself made God's sincerity a big issue in your multipart series on the atonement, in objection to limited atonement. 

"If he tried to drink, wouldn't he therefore be regenerate?"

That overworks the analogy. The point is that an inaccessible provision (or whatever you wish to call it) furnishes illusory grounds.

For the elect, application is included in the atonement. Atonement is made for them to effect propitiation, payment of sin, &c. It's a package deal: batteries included.


  1. "To make one brief point: it's not merely that the reprobate are "morally unable to obey the command"; rather, due to predestination, it's metaphysically impossible."

    Are you talking about the reprobate being metaphysically unable to believe in Christ? I have read many writers who would say differently, Edwards/Van Til/Frame have made points that the reprobate are morally unable to believe but they are not metaphysically incapable. I would have to dig out a sermon by Edwards where he was making the point that the command to believe is not like the command to walk for a paraplegic.

    Unless I am not understanding this brief point. Could you comment more on this please. Thanks.


    1. In Reformed theology, there's spiritual inability. That has reference to an inability due to original sin. Yes, Edwards distinguishes between natural and moral inability. He says even the unregenerate retain the former kind of freedom.

      However, I'm referring to predestination. In Reformed theology, it's impossible to act contrary to what God has decreed. That operates at a different level.