November 3, 2009

Richard Muller's Clarification on the Question of Limited Atonement in History and its Background

It is often erroneously said that the issue of "limited atonement" (or the questions, as Muller clarifies it) wasn't debated or discussed prior to Dort, or until the time of Amyraut. To the contrary, look at what Muller says at the end of this quote:
The question of the "L" in TULIP, of "limited" versus "universal atonement," also looms large in the debate over whether or not Calvin was a Calvinist. This question, too, arises out of a series of modern confusions, rooted, it seems to me, in the application of a highly vague and anachronistic language to a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century issue. Simply stated, neither Calvin, nor Beza, nor the Canons of Dort, nor any of the orthodox Reformed thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mention limited atonement — and insofar as they did not mention it, they hardly could have taught the doctrine. (Atonement, after all is an English term, and nearly all of this older theology was written in Latin.) To make the point a bit less bluntly and with more attention to the historical materials, the question debated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, concerned the meaning of those biblical passages in which Christ is said to have paid a ransom for all or God is said to will the salvation of all or of the whole world, given the large number of biblical passages that indicate a limitation of salvation to some, namely to the elect or believers. This is an old question, belonging to the patristic and medieval church as well as to the early modern Reformed and, since the time of Peter Lombard, had been discussed in terms of the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ's satisfaction in relation to the universality of the preaching of redemption.
Richard A. Muller, Was Calvin a Calvinist? Or, Did Calvin (or Anyone Else in the Early Modern Era) Plant the "TULIP"? (A Lecture Sponsored by the H. Henry Meeter Center: Oct. 15, 2009), 9. Also in Richard A. Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 60.

Even Beeke makes the following small concession:
Robert Peterson argues that the issue of the extent of the atonement belonged more to the subsequent period of Reformed orthodoxy and was therefore largely anachronistic for Calvin.21 Pieter Rouwendal shows, however, that the question of the atonement's extent was dealt with in Calvin's day, but the way that it was handled by later Reformers was foreign and anachronistic to Calvin.
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21. Robert A. Peterson, Calvin's Doctrine of the Atonement (Phillipsburg, N.J..: P & R, 1983), 90–91; Rouwendal, "Calvin's Forgotten Classical Position," forthcoming.
Joel R. Beeke, "The Extent of the Atonement," in The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth 17.6 (July–August 2009): 162.

The exact reference is this: P. L. Rouwendal, "Calvin's Forgotten Classical Position on the Extent of the Atonement: About Sufficiency, Efficiency, and Anachronism," Westminster Theological Journal 70 (2008): 317–35. Beeke probably has in mind pages 319–323. David has posted some of this article here as well

Curt Daniel said:
Moreover, it cannot be ignored that the controversy was not a new one. Some writers feel that the matter did not arise until the generation immediately following Calvin. While granting that the controversy reached fever pitch at the time of the Synod of Dort, we cannot for a minute ignore what church history plainly teaches. In the present section we have shown that the controversy did not even begin with Luther and the Reformation. It was hotly debated by the Schoolmen and even earlier by Augustine and Prosper, not to mention Gottschalk. Our opinion, rather, is that instead of it becoming a new issue when certain heterodox Calvinists such as Davenant began to teach Universalism or Dualism, the exact opposite is the case. That is to say, there was discussion from the earliest times in the Reformation about the extent of the atonement and that, barring Luther's early comments in the Romans Commentary, virtually all of the Reformers were of the Universal or Dualist persuasion. What made for the controversy was not the rejection but the introduction of Particularism.
Curt Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (PhD. diss., University of Edinburgh, 1983), 514.
It should also be obvious from what we sketched out in Section A of Chapter IX that the debate preceded the Synod of Dort. Indeed, it was an issue with the Church Fathers, notably Augustine and Prosper, not to mention the heated debates of the medieval Schoolmen. Even if Calvin or the other Reformers did not comment on the subject, this must be immediately recognized. In fact, though, Calvin and the others did mention the Schoolmen. Far from there being a silent, implicit consensus among the Reformers in favour of Particularism, the opposite was the case. From Luther onwards, we can find numerous discussions in the writings of the leading Reformers. The pattern was that the earlier ones tended to take the Universalist position, the later ones gradually shifting to the Particularist line.
Ibid., 779.

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