February 6, 2006

A Critique of Matt Slick on Limited Atonement

Matt Slick says this on the subject of limited atonement:
Limited Atonement:

Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect. Support for this position is drawn from such scriptures as Matt. 26:28 where Jesus died for ‘many'; John 10:11, 15 which say that Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matt. 25:32-33); John 17:9 where Jesus in prayer interceded for the ones given Him, not those of the entire world; Acts 20:28 and Eph. 5:25-27 which state that the Church was purchased by Christ, not all people; and Isaiah 53:12 which is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion where he would bore the sins of many (not all).
My Observations:

First, notice how the statement begins with a strictly limited statement. It is said that Jesus dies "only" for the elect. There’s an implicit dilemma set up from the beginning. Either Jesus dies ONLY for the elect, or he dies for everyone equally. This is a false either/or dilemma. The classical Calvinistic position that Jesus dies for all but especially for the elect, another version of limited atonement, is not even considered.

Secondly, Matt contradicts his first statement by then asserting that Jesus’ sacrifice was "sufficient for all." One might ask what this means. Is he merely commenting on the infinite worth of Christ’s person? Or is he saying there is something really available to all men on condition of faith? If he is just expounding on the infinite worth of Christ’s person by saying his death is "sufficient for all," then he is asserting something that is no more significant for non-elect human beings than is true for demons. If, however, he’s asserting that Christ’s death is really applicable to all in this world on condition of faith, then one might ask if he intended it to be sufficient for all on condition of faith. If Jesus did intend for his death to be sufficient for all, then the first proposition is false. He didn’t die "only" for the elect. One could maintain that he intended to suffer sufficiently for all as the basis for the indiscriminate offer, but he suffers especially for the elect, because the Godhead intends on applying the eternal benefits of Christ’s death to the elect alone by means of the Holy Spirit’s faith-producing work in regeneration. This is the classical Calvinistic position not considered in Matt's false dilemma.

Thirdly, can Matt possibly say that Christ’s death is sufficient for all in this world? Or would he have to say, with John Owen and the other strict advocates, that his death "could have been" sufficient for all had God so intended? Can he only assert a kind of hypothetical sufficiency in the sense that in another logically possible world God could have given Christ to bear the guilt of people? It seems to me that he can’t say that Christ’s death is sufficient for all in this actual world, for he argues that Christ only bears the guilt of the sin of the elect in the death he dies. Further, if Christ’s death is not really sufficient for all in this actual world, what does that say about the sincerity of God when he offers Christ to all in the external gospel call? Is he holding out an empty plate to the non-elect when he invites them to come to eat at the gospel feast? Wouldn’t such an idea be a cause for thinking God is insincere and hypocritical in the gospel call? This is no small charge.

Fourthly, Matt Slick cites several texts to support his statements about "Limited Atonement" (which really means "Strictly Limited Atonement"). The texts referenced are Matt. 26:28, John 10:11, 15 (associated with Matt. 25:32-33), John 17:9, Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25-27, and Isaiah 53:12. I have dealt with the John 17:9 passage elsewhere, so it needs no comment here. In the case of every one of the other passages, negative inferences are made. Since Christ said he dies for "many," it’s inferred that he didn’t die for all. Since it’s said that Jesus dies for his sheep, it’s inferred that he didn’t die for the goats. Since Paul asserts that Christ died for the church, it’s inferred that he didn’t die for all people. The same inference made from Matt. 26:28 concerning the "many" is also made with the "many" in Is. 53:12. There are at least 5 negative inference fallacies that are made. What do I mean by a negative inference fallacy? D. A. Carson says this about the particular fallacy:
It does not necessarily follow that if a proposition is true, a negative inference from that proposition is also true. The negative inference may be true; but this cannot be assumed, and in any case is never true because it is a negative inference.
D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 115.

Or, as another writer puts it:
Simply put, the negative inference fallacy says if a proposition is true, it does not follow that a negative inference from that proposition is also true. It may or may not be true, but if it is true, it is not so by inference from the original proposition. In conditional format, (3) "If A, then B," does not imply the negation, "If not A, then not B." For example, "if a man is a resident of Oregon, then he is a resident of the United States," does not imply "if a man is not a resident of Oregon, then he is not a resident of the United States."

Most interpreters do not have difficulty with the simple conditional. Inferring "if not A, then not B" from "if A, then B" would be too blatant an error. However, when multiple conditions exist (If A and B, then C), then the situation becomes somewhat more treacherous, and the tendency to infer the negation (If not both A and B, then not C) increases significantly.
So, one cannot necessarily conclude from the bare positive statements about Christ dying for the "many," the "church," and the "sheep" that he therefore did not die for others in some sense. In fact, if one wants to assert that Christ’s death is really sufficient and applicable to all, then it follows that he died for all in some sense. The bogus nature of the negative inferences become even more apparent when put in contrast to the statements of scripture that imply that Christ did die for all, such as John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 2 Pet. 2:1, etc. The negative inference fallacies are indicative of a mind overreacting against the Arminians who seek to negate a Calvinistic understanding of unconditional election by the universal passages. The strictly limited view and the completely unlimited equal-for-all view are both false. Christ did die for all, but not in the same sense or with the same intent. The dilemma that posits either 1) Christ dying only for the elect alone or 2) for all with equal intent is a false dilemma.

The true and biblical position is that Christ intended to suffer sufficiently for all, but especially intended it for the elect. The special intent issues in an efficacious application in the case of the elect alone through the instrumental cause of faith granted by the Holy Spirit. The High Calvinist strict reaction is totally unnecessary for maintaining a true sovereign grace viewpoint with respect to Christ’s death. If they would return to the paradigm in Calvin (which he got from scripture), they would see the balance. Until they do so, they will only encourage non-Calvinists to remain imbalanced and reactionary themselves. The non-Calvinists are without excuse for their errors, but let us who are Calvinistic not exaggerate our case beyond what scripture and sound reasoning warrants. Remember, Arminianism was birthed in reaction to the high supralapsarian Calvinism of Beza. James Ussher has a relevant comment to the point. He says, "Neither is there hope that the Arminians will be drawn to acknowledge the error of their position, as long as they are persuaded the contrary opinion cannot be maintained without admitting that an untruth must be believed, even by the commandment of him that is God of truth, and by the direction of that word, which is the word of truth."

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