July 13, 2012

Robert Letham on Heinrich Bullinger's View of the Extent of the Atonement

267. Bullinger refuses logically to subordinate other areas of his theology to the doctrine of election. Thus the atonement is not qualified by election and so Bullinger's understanding of its extent is muddled and contradictory. In some passages he teaches universal atonement, Ibid., 2:196, 198, 199, 200; 3:42, 218–219; 4:68. On other occasions his language is ambiguous, Ibid., 2:159, 164, 249. Despite this unwillingness to make election a central theological structure, Bullinger's formulation of the doctrine does enable him to provide the necessary ground for his new attitude to faith.
Robert W. A. Letham, Saving Faith and Assurance in Reformed Theology: Zwingli to the Synod of Dort, 2 vols. (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 1979), 2:32.

Note: Actually it is Latham's thinking that is "muddled." Since he doesn't understand how a universal satisfaction is compatible with election, he imputes contradiction to Bullinger. At least he can see that Bullinger is espousing a universal view, unlike most other high Calvinists (Letham takes the high view) today who can't see that. Also, in this footnote, Letham is referencing The Decades of Henry Bullinger, trans. H. I., 4 vols. Edited for the Parker Society by the Rev. Thomas Harding. Cambridge, 1849.

Letham continues:
277. Ibid., pp. 18b-19. Note that Bullinger clearly espouses a universal atonement. He goes out of his way to cite testimonies from Scripture and from the Fathers to show that Christ suffered not just for a few, but for all men. "Principio pro omnibus hominibus, non pro paucis, aut pro patribus duntaxat passum esse dominum nostrum Iesum Christum..." Ibid., p. 12b. Not that all men will be saved but that though Christ... [next page missing].
Ibid., 2:33.

Robert Letham bio:
Wales Evangelical School of Theology

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