February 24, 2012

Stephen Strehle on Calvin's View of the Extent of the Atonement

Although I am not impressed with Strehle's dissertation, as he gets some things wrong and some things right, I will include this quote on my blog for reference purposes:
Now that the theological system of Calvin has been outlined with respect to his soteriology, his specific statements on the extent of the atonement, as was the case with Luther, need not be checked, since his system demands an unlimited interpretation of Christ's redemptive work. Individualistic salvation is not frozen to the even of the cross, but relates to the victorious power of the present redeeming Priest-King, in being baptized into His efficacious being. The extent of atonement is discovered, not in the intention of an event, but in the extent of the Savior's power. The atonement is unlimited, because Christ is the Savior only by virtue of the fact that He has gained the lordship over all hostile forces within the divine economy. Therefore, Calvin rejects magna illa absurditas, that Christ died sufficiently for all, but only efficiently for the elect, concurring with the witness of John, that Christ is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.1 Christ did not just die for part of the world, but for the whole human race,2 even for that part which perishes.3

Although many Calvinists consider the total pattern of Calvin's theology, especially considering his doctrine of predestination, to fit better within a limited conception of atonement,1 Calvin himself certainly does not recognize these implications. On the other hand, Amyraldianism espouses the exact opposite conclusion with respect to Calvin, pointing out that the division between the universal and special redemptive wills of God in Calvin's theology leads to the unlimited conception of atonement.2 The fact of the matter is that predestination and the volitional composition of God only become associated with the debate in a subsequent era and in actuality should be considered separate issues. Certainly, Luther and Calvin, who both strongly adhere to the biblical doctrine of predestination, find no contradiction between their universalistic design of redemption and the eternal election of mankind. It is true that Arminianism is a ground for advocating an unlimited conception of atonement, but it is not true that Calvinism, i.e. predestination, is a ground for advocating limited atonement. These conclusions will hopefully be verified in the next two chapters."

1. CO 8:336: "Argute se ratiocinari putat, quum dicit: Christus propitiato est pro peccatis totius mundi. Ergo extra mundum reprobos constituant oportet qui a Christi participatione arcere eos volunt. Ne valeat in praesens communis illa solutio: Christum sufficienter pro omnibus passum esse, efficaciter tantum pro electis. Magna illa absurdme nihil habet momenti. Per quascunque mundi plagas dispersi sint fideles, expiationem Christi morte partam ad eos Ioannes extendit. Id certe non obstat, quominus reprobi in mundo electis permixti sint. Controversia etiam caret, Christum expiandis totius mundi peccatis venisse. Sed confestim occurrit illa solutio: Ut quisquis credit in eum non pereat, sed habeat vitam aeternam. (Ioann. 3, 15). Nec vero qualis sit Christi virtus, vel quid per se valeat, nunc quaeritur: sed quibis se fruendum exhibeat. Quod si in fide consistit possessio, et fides ex spiritu adoptionis manat, restat, ut in numerum filiorum is duntaxat ascitus sit, qui futurus est Christi particeps. Nec vero aliud Christi officium commendat evangelista Ioannes, quam ut morte sua in unum congreget Dei filios (Ioann. 11, 52). Unde collingimus quamvis per ipsum offeratur omnibus reconciliatio, perculiare tamen esse electis beneficium, ut in vitae societatem colligantur. Quanquam dum omnibus offerri dico, non ita accipio, quasi ad omnes legatio illa perveniat, qua mundum sibi reconciliat Deus, teste Paulo (2 Cor. 5, 18): sed ad quos pervenit, ne eorum quidem cordibus indifferenter obsignatur, ut rata sit. Quod nullam esse acceptionem personarum garrit: discat primum quid significet Personae nomen: tum nihil faceset nobis molestiae ex ea sententia."

2. Calvin Mtt., Mk., Lk., 11, 213: Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race."

3. CO 54:165: "Car ce n'est pas peu de chose, que les ames qui ont este rachetees par le sang de Iesus Christ perissent."

1, Roger Nicole, "Moyse Amyraut (1595-1664) and the Controversy on Universal Grace (1634-1657)" (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1966), pp. 18-21.

2. Calvin Ezek. 18:25: "We hold, then, that God wills not the death of a sinner, since he calls all equally to repentance, and promises himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent. If any one should object--then there is no election of God, by which he has predestined a fixed number to salvation, the answer is at hand: the Prophet does not here speak of God's secret counsel, but only recalls miserable men from despair, that they may apprehend the hope of pardon, and repent and embrace the offered salvation. If any one again objects--this is making God act with duplicity, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, God's will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it, as far as our senses are concerned. Besides it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish." OS IV, 554: "Porro non agitur hic de arcana eius voluntate qua omnia moderatur et in suum finem destinat. Quanvis enim tumultuose Satan et homines contra ipsum ferantur, novit tamen incomprehensibili suo consilio non solum flectere eorum impetus, sed in ordinem agere ut per eos faciat quod decrevit. Sed hie notatur alia Dei voluntas, nempe cui respondet voluntarium obsequium." cf. Calvin Gal. 5:12; 2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 18:32; Lk. 14:23.
Stephen Alan Strehle, The Extent of the Atonement Within the Theological Systems of the Sixteenth and Seventheenth Centuries (Th.D. Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1980), 92-95.

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