Book review: The Extent of the Atonement by David Allen

The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (B&H Academic, 2016).

by David L. Allen

Genre: Biblical Reference / Christian Theology

Size: 820 pages (and weighs in at 1.7 kg!)

What’s the big idea: David Allen makes a comprehensive biblical, historical, theological case that the majority of Christians, even within those who are considered Reformed, affirm an “unlimited atonement” as the best understanding of the extent of Christ’s saving work.

Easy to read? It was OK. It’s certainly an extensive tome on the atonement’s extent, so I’ve read through about a third of it so far. The sheer size of the book will probably appeal to those interested in the topic, rather than general readers. That being said, B&H editors have helpfully indexed the book by subject, author and Scripture passage. If you know how to search through this book, it becomes easy to read and a goldmine of information.

What I appreciated:

  • It’s comprehensive. From Irenaeus to Al Mohler, Allen surveys what every well-known (and more unfamiliar) Christian leader has believed regarding the extent of the atonement. You’ll need to discern between the historical data and Allen’s own commentary and assessment interspersed throughout. But a lot of research has gone into this book, which we can be grateful for.
  • I appreciated the tone of Allen’s work. He doesn’t play the man but seeks only to critique the positions that they hold. This kind of writing style is often lacking in the intramural debates on this topic.
  • He provides two helpful charts (p.xxviii, 766) – one is a summary of four different views of the extent of the atonement. Another is a comprehensive list of theologians and their view on this matter.
  • Part 3 of the book comprises a chapter-by-chapter critique of Jonathan and David Gibson’s From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, the most comprehensive defence of definite atonement to date. Even for someone who’s persuaded by the arguments for definite atonement, I found it helpful to understand the objections from Allen’s side of the fence. He summarises each contributor’s arguments fairly, and offers thoughtful and persuasive rebuttals.

What I would have liked to see:

  • For an 800-plus “tour de force”, there was surprisingly little discussion on OT conceptions of the atonement. For example, the Day of Atonement is only referenced twice (p402 in a discussion of Robert Lightner, and when Allen critiques the article on definite atonement in the OT in From Heaven He Came And Sought Her).
  • A bit less of an inquisitionary tone. I understand that this is meant to be a comprehensive historical survey, but Allen seems to take aim at any and every author who’s ever published about the atonement’s extent. In some cases, he pulls apart their arguments in the kind of lengthy, meticulous manner one normally associates with blog posts you disagree with (e.g., poor Paul Jarvis in p.610-12). At times, it seemed like a meeting or phone conversation would have sufficed in place of the extended critique.
  • Some more trimming. I appreciate how extensive the data is out there, but there’s no reason why some of the historical surveys couldn’t have been abbreviated.
  • Allen sometimes adopts unclear labels to describe his and other viewpoints. He insists that no Baptists can be “Reformed” in the confessional sense (p.xv), and goes so far as to call his own view not Arminian, or Moderate Calvinist – but simply, a “Baptist” perspective (p.xviii).

Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone who is interested in the debates about the extent of the atonement. Carl Trueman (an advocate of definite atonement) offers a warm endorsement: “While David Allen and I disagree on the matter, this work is an irenic and learned contribution to the topic which carries the historical, and thus doctrinal, discussion forward in an extremely helpful way. I am thus happy to recommend this work of a friendly critic. It deserves wide readership and careful engagement.”

Verdict: Not for the faint-hearted, this extensive tome about the atonement’s extent serves as a thorough, critical companion to From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.

More info:

  • Jeff Johnson offers a detailed critique of Allen’s book from a definite atonement perspective.

(I’m grateful to B&H Academic who provided a review copy of this textbook, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

 

Book review: Amyraut on Predestination

Amyraut on Predestination: The First Published Translation from the French (Charenton Reformed Publishing, 2017).

by Matthew Harding, with a biographical sketch by Alan Clifford

Genre: Church History, Theology

Size: 190 pages – a 30 page biography, some translation notes, and then 100 pages of Amyraut’s own words from Brief Traitté de la Predestination et de ses principales dependances (Brief Treatise on Predestination and Its Dependent Principles).

What’s the big idea: Never heard of Amyraldianism? This English translation of his seminal work on predestination and the atonement (which sparked three heresy trials!) will help you understand where the idea of “4 Point Calvinism” or “Moderate Calvinism” originated from.

Easy to read? Definitely. Harding’s translation is lucid and clear, and even sounds like a “French” person is saying it. I found the book easy to use when preparing a theology essay on Amyraldianism.

What I appreciated? A few things:

  • The fact that this work now exists. A lack of primary sources has been a longstanding barrier to evaluating Amyraut’s teachings accurately – for example, if you want to know what Calvin himself taught you can read his Institutes. Matthew Harding and Alan Clifford have done a service to the church by publishing the first English translation of Amyraut’s most well-known work, This will hopefully provide clearer insight into Amyraut’s teachings.
  • The biographical sketch by Alan Clifford reads well. While he comes across as very adoring of Amyraut (complete with photos of the archway he used to walk under!), it doesn’t seem to seep into hagiography.
  • Harding is a careful guide – his explanatory notes are helpful, particularly when Amyraut seems to his metaphors or says confusing things, e.g. a “predestination unto salvation” and a “predestination unto faith” in Chapter 13.
  • Amyraut’s words exude a warm and pastoral tone. It certainly helped me to gain a fuller picture of his teachings, not just as an abstract theology, but motivated by real issues from real people. It’s much harder to see Amyraldianism in this way if you’re reading him through the lens of secondary authors who seem more interested in dissecting his theology rather than listening to his words.
  • While I don’t agree with Amyraldianism myself, reading his words directly helped me to appreciate his view as a legitimate view of the atonement within the Reformed evangelical tradition.

Who I’d recommend it to: Two kinds of people – those who call themselves Amyraldians (e.g. Sydney Anglicans) but have never read Amyraut’s own teachings; and those who are wrestling with the idea of the “L” in “TULIP” (limited atonement). Don’t discount Amyraut’s views before studying him first-hand.

Verdict: Lisez-le s’il vous plaît! (Please read it!)

Get the book from Amazon or Book Depository.


(I’m grateful to Dr Alan Clifford who provided a review copy of this book, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

Quotes from Semester 1 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018

The sun sets on another semester here at Sydney Missionary Bible College. Year 2 has been harder. We’ve felt busier. God has been good amidst our failures. His Word has searched us deeply and illuminated Christ to us when we needed gospel hope. We’re looking forward to the next few weeks to connect with friends and family and prepare for the second half of the year.

As I’ve compiled previously (Year 1.1, Year 1.2), here are some quotes of what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth more than the baubles of World Cup football. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of these “proverbs” are helpful to you.


From Greek Week

“Congrats on getting through first year. You’ve done the hard yards, now you can start digging for gold.” – Mal Gill

“I pray this will be a difficult year for you, so that you’ll find your identity in Christ.” – M.G.

“Romans is just Isaiah by Paul.” – M.G.

“John’s Gospel is the simplest. But he’s also the most theologically profound. We can be profound and easy to understand.” – M.G.

“Greek is like underwear. Offers good support, should rarely be seen in public.” – M.G.

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On Theology

“If your mind is stretched, that’s OK. We’re talking about the depths of God, and He’s not going to be in simple dot points.” – Mark Adams

“There’s a difference between evangelicals and Catholics regarding attitudes about tradition. Yet we have our own popes. We’re loathe to call them that, but I suspect they function that way. You’re probably inserting their names in your head now.” – Ian Maddock, on the danger of church tradition functioning as a ruling (or co-ruling) norm in theology

“Part of me would love for you all to be carbon copies of me. But that would short-circuit your learning.” – I.M.

“Good theology is often a matter of good grammar. Leviticus tells us sacrifice is not an act of giving up, but giving to God costly acts of devition. Leviticus 1 answers the question: what shall we willingly give to the Lord for all he has done for us?” – Geoff Harper

“Natural theology offers helpful tools. But we can’t argue people in the Kingdom. We need to have confidence in the gospel.” – M.A.

“Is God three? Yes. Is God one? Yes. Is Jesus fully God? Yes. Is Jesus fully human? Yes. We shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible is full of antinomies.” – I.M. on reconciling two apparent truths

“There’s something really neat and tidy about TULIP. There’s lots in it that’s true. But there are lots more strands and threads in the Bible. We should be cautious of collapsing everything about salvation into an acronym. It’s not everything.” – I.M. on understanding Arminian objections to Calvinism

“When we can’t trace your hand, help us to trust your heart.” – Morgan Renew, a prayer concerning God’s sovereignty and the problem of evil

“We’ll get into sticky territory if we use the Trinity as a model for male-female relationships.” – M.A.

“Our culture’s obsession with sex as a core human need makes it hard for Christians to be safely single.” – M.A.

“The bible is mainly interested not in answering, ‘Who am I?’, but ‘Whose am I?'” – M.A.


On Hebrew

“[Biblical languages are vital] because on the mission field, you may end up being the only person who knows Greek or Hebrew.” – Geoff Harper

“No second hand knowledge of the revelation of God for the salvation of a ruined world can suffice the needs of ministry whose function it is to convey this revelation to men, commend it to their acceptance, and apply it in detail to their needs.” – B.B. Warfield


On missions and ministry

“After the terrorist attack in our school, people asked us: is it safe to go back? Well, God will care for us, whether we live or die.” – G.N., former missionary in Pakistan

“The first 20 years of ministry are the hardest. The hardest person to deal with is not other people, but myself, my own sin and weaknesses.” – LT Hopper, who shared about ministry with physical and spiritual arthritis

“We don’t realise how immersed in secularism we are. I was a water-logged Christian in port; or even a submarine Christian.” – Josh Apicezek, CMS France

“Religious freedom is a uniquely Christian contribution.” – Michael Kelleher speaking at the Navigate conference [read a review here]

“I was never converted out of homosexuality, but out of unbelief.” – Rosaria Butterfield at Navigate Conference

“The gospel comes in exchange for the life you love, not in addition to it.” – R.B. at Navigate conference

“[For your LGBTI neighbour to listen to you share Christ], you must have a relationship that’s stronger than your words.” – R.B. at Navigate conference

“I used to think being a missions mobiliser meant presenting Matthew 28 [Go into all the world…]. But what’s actually been more effective is to present Matthew 27 – Jesus dying as a perfect sacrifice of atonement for our sins. Then the rest will flow on from there.” – DB, missionary in South East Asia

“Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of spiritual formation.” – Dallas Willard on the importance of spiritual formation, Renovating the Heart p.2

“We don’t just learn spiritual formation to prepare for cross-cultural ministry. Entering cross-cultural ministry will lead to spiritual formation.” – Jonathan James

“For every three years you’re away, it takes a year to feel readjusted to home.” – DN, about returning from missions in Pakistan

A post shared by William Chong (@lemmingz) on


From chapels, books and life

“Our goal at this college is for God to form the image of Christ in you. We want to deliver you from barren academia.” – Stuart Coulton’s commencement address

“One of the worst catastrophes for the church is Christian leaders whose capabilities outstrip their character.” – S.C.

“For those so inclined, study and books are a lot more attractive than people and pastoral problems; indeed, because the book that is our chief study is the Bible, we may actually justify our callousness towards people by claiming the priority of the study of the Bible, when a little self-examination suggests that at least in part we are pursuing our preferences.” – Don Carson, The Trials of Theology: Becoming a Proven Worker in a Dangerous Business, p.119 [article here]

“Unity only works when we remember what God has done to make us one – it cost him His Son.” – Kit Barker, on Psalm 133

“You can’t walk away from the supremacy of Christ and doubt your forgiveness. You also can’t walk way and think Jesus is only moderately important.” – S.C. on Colossians 1:16-23 [audio here]

“I LOVE weeding! It’s like pulling out SIN!” – Heidi Sham

“[For the early Israelites,] Presenting a present to God was a bloody and self-involved affair. It’s worship with an apron.” – G.H. on Leviticus 1

“So has your character changed in any significant way? Or have you just grown fat and useless?” – S.C. on Psalm 19

What is sin? Where did it come from? How is it transmitted?

(Note: This is a practice exam response and is sketchy in some places)

Scripture presents the history of how humanity is separated from God because of their sin, and how God orchestrates a plan in order to remedy humankind’s state. But what is sin, and how has it come to us today?

1. A definition of sin

In Western culture, it is common to talk about certain socially harmful activities as sins – smoking, overeating and so on. However, biblical sin must be understood primarily in reference to God, not to personal or community standards. Therefore, Grudem summarises biblical sin as: “Any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude or nature.” This definition covers not only things we do which go against what God requires of us, such as lying, stealing or committing adultery (Ex 20:2-17), but extends to sinful thoughts such as anger (Mt 5:22) or lust (Mt 5:28), and even our very essence (Eph 2:3, Rom 5:8).

The Bible describes sin using many different words and pictures. The most common term for sin in the Bible (OT: חתא; NT: ἁμαρτια) carries the meaning of missing the mark, or falling short of something. While the idea of sin as falling short is most well-known, it is by no means the only one in the Bible. Since sin is our disposition before a Holy God, it can variously stated and described, depending on which aspect of God a writer is presenting. For example:
– If God is King, sin is rebellion (OT: פשׁע)
– If God is Husband, sin is adultery (e.g. Hosea 1:2, Ezekiel 16)
– If God is Judge, sin is lawbreaking (NT: ανομια, παραβασις)
– If God is Glory, sin is idolatry (e.g. Romans 1:23)
– If God is Wisdom, sin is foolishness (e.g. Proverbs)
– If God is Holy, sin is impurity or uncleanness (e.g. Leviticus, Isaiah 6)
The variegated images of sin in the Bible underscores both its ubiquitous nature, but also the limits of employing a single definition.

Despite sin’s variegated nature, there are three core characteristics of sin: a distrust of God’s Word (Gen 3:1), a misplaced desire (Gen 3:6a), and consequently a disobedience of God’s Word (Gen 3:6b). The prototype transgressions of Adam and Eve is seen time and time again throughout the biblical narrative – in the lives and actions of the patriarchs, arrogant judges, adulterous kings, disobedient Israel and bloodthirsty nations, and through to the moral depravity of our own generation. Behind every sin is a desire to displace God with something else that absorbs our heart and affections more – whether ourselves (i.e. pride) or something else (i.e. idoltary). Romans 1:18-32 offers an anatomy of sin, where the worship of the Creator is replaced with the worship of creation, resulting in a corrupt state that is beyond our own ability to remedy.

2. The origin of sin

Where did sin come from? To affirm the good and just character of God (Deut 32:4) we must clearly affirm that God Himself is not responsible for sin. Rather, each person is “tempted when, by his own desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:14) Yet we should not say either that sin is some kind of eternal power equal to God (i.e. dualism). If we assume the truthfulness of the historical fall of Adam and Eve (3:1-16, see also 2 Cor 11:3), then sin originated with them – firstly with the distrust, covetousness and disobedience of our first parents, yet also inside every subsequent human heart (Mk 7:20-23). Yet by assigning the responsibility to humanity, we are not then placing sin outside the foreknowledge or providence of God (who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Eph 1:11). While God is not the author of sin, He has permitted sin in His world with a predetermination to overcome it at great cost to Himself, through the cross of Jesus Christ.

3. The transmission of sin

There are a number of ways in which the sin of the first humans described in the Bible (Gen 3:1-16) affects us today. The first is that, because of Adam’s sin, all humans inherit a sinful nature (depravity). Oliver Crisp calls this “the morally vitiated condition from which all subsequent human beings suffer.” The Bible presents this inherited sinful nature as a matter of fact. For example, David, while confessing his sin, mentions in Psalm 51:5 that “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” The Apostle Paul notes that prior to our salvation by grace, we were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:3). Because of God’s kindness and restraint through civil laws, societal norms and our own consciences, this “inherited tendency” to sin does not mean that every human being is as bad as they could be. Yet without the work of Christ, every person is “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Eph 4:18)

The second way which Adam’s sin affects us today is that all humans share in Adam’s guilt – though Christians differ on their views regarding the nature of our relationship with Adam’s sin. Some argue that we inherit both Adam’s sinful nature and his guilt (Federal View). The clearest passage outlining that we inherit his guilt is Romans 5:12-21. While comparing Jesus with Adam, Paul states that “Just as the result of [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all men…” (Rom 5:18a), and that “just as through the disobedience of the man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:19) Paul’s point is that Adam served as our legal representative before God, and we are counted culpable before him (just as in Christ we can be counted righteous through faith in Him).

Some disagree that Adam serves as our federal head – often because of a moral or legal objection to the idea that Adam’s sin is imputed directly to the rest of humanity who were not there to “sin with him”. Instead, some argue that Adam’s guilt was transmitted to us because we were united to him in a real sense – we were actually in Adam when he sinned (Realist View). In this view, we are either literal chips off the block of Adam (the individualised nature argument), or were pre-existentially united to him (the fission / “Interstellar” argument), or share in his nature directly as members of the human race (the participation argument). Still others would argue that Adam’s guilt was not shared with us, but only his morally deficient nature (the Zwinglian view).

The overriding concern from those who reject the Federal View seems to be a sense of legal injustice – how can I be held guilty for Adam’s sin? This objection fails to recognise that we are also guilty before God in a real sense because we have sinned ourselves: “For there is no difference: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:23) The charge of unfairness could also apply to Christ serving as our righteous representative – how is that fair either? So an appeal to our limited sense of fairness cannot be the only criteria for assessing this point. The Bible itself does not speculate extensively on whether this sin is mediately or immediately imputed to us, but simply acknowledges that humanity shares in both Adam’s sinful nature (Rom 5:12, 17) and his guilt (Rom 5:16, 18). How marvellous it is then for God to orchestrate the reversal of sin’s penalty and effects “through the one man, Jesus Christ”! (Rom 5:17)


(Time: 2 hours… too long!)

Sources and helpful links

  • Adams, Mark. “Doctrine of Sin.” NT601 The Knowledge of God (Lecture Notes), Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018.
  • Grudem, Wayne. “Sin.” Pages 490-514 of Systematic Theology. Leiceister: IVP, 1994.
  • Crisp, Oliver. “Sin.” Pages 194-215 of Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.

What are the key elements of justification in Paul’s letters?

[Note: this is a practice essay response, and is therefore sketchy in places]

How does a Holy God forgive guilty sinners? How is one justified, or made right before God? This question lies at the heart of the entire Bible, and is answered in full by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, the NT author who writes most about the doctrine of justification, teaches that there are three main elements to justification: a removal of God’s wrath against our unrighteousness, a crediting of Jesus’s righteousness to us, and that it is received by grace through faith in Christ.

1. Justification is the removal of God’s ANGER

The first element of justification is that it is the removal of God’s settled opposition to human sin – His wrath. Paul opens his letter to the Romans by reminding them that “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:17, quoting Habbakuk 2:4). The reason that faith is the basis for righteousness is given in the very next verse: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…” (Rom 1:18) These transgressions are not merely horizontal in nature (e.g. Gentile-Jew relationships), but a self-centred rejection of God Himself (Rom 1:21) and is evidenced in all kinds of ways. Paul’s argument over Romans 1-3 culminates in the summary that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10).

It is inconsistent with God’s character and actions over history to “justify the wicked” (Ex 23:7, Prov 17:15). As a result, the fair response from God “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth” must be “wrath and anger” (Rom 2:8). Given this state of affairs, in order for God to clear the guilty and “declare righteous the ungodly” (Rom 4:5), some kind of action to turn away this wrath is required.

Paul repeatedly teaches that Christ’s death solves this dilemma; in His death, he bears God’s wrath for sin in our place. Romans 3:24-25 states that sinners have been justified (δικαιούμενοι) freely by God’s grace through Christ, of whom God presents as a propitiation (or atoning sacrifice) for our sins. This language of Christ taking our penalty as a substitute is also evident in other passages such as Galatians 3:13 (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”) and 2 Cor 5:19 (“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”) So to understand what it means to be justified, we first recognise that it involves the removal of God’s wrath against our unrighteousness.

2. Justification is a righteousness TRANSFER

Justification is not merely the removal of guilt; a mnemonic like “Just as if I never sinned” actually falls short of fully covering what occurs. According to Paul, the second element of justification is that God in Christ credits, or imputes His genuine righteousness to us. Paul summarises chapter three by stating that one is “justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” (Rom 3:28) Then, in Romans 4:2-6, citing Abraham’s response to God, Paul uses a new term, λογίζεται (reckoned, credited), to illustrate a close connection with justification. culminating in the use of both terms his summary in Romans 4:6:

“just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works

The last clause (underlined) mirrors the syntax of Romans 3:28, except that Paul swaps the term “justified” with “reckons righteousness”. This language of crediting helps us to visualise that justification is also a transfer of Christ’s righteousness. In Romans 5:18-19, Paul states that “through the obedience of the One many will be appointed righteous” – he does this to emphasise that when sinners are justified, Christ’s obedience is genuinely transferred to our account.

Therefore, justification does not only mean “just as if I’ve never sinned”, but also “just as if I’ve always obeyed” – because the righteousness of Christ’s perfect life has really been transferred to us.

3. The MEANS of justification is “by grace through faith”

How is the removal of God’s wrath and the crediting of Christ’s righteousness appropriated to us? Paul uses the terms “by grace” and “through faith” repeatedly throughout his writings to emphasise the only means of being made right before God (e.g. Rom 3:24, 4:16, 5:17, Tit 3:7, Eph 2:8). The distinction between the two is that God’s grace is the source of our justification, while our faith is the means by which we receive this justification.

For example, while explaining how Abraham was justified by faith not works, Paul explains that justification is received by “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5). Other passages in Paul’s writings clearly portray faith as the instrument for receiving a righteousness from God (e.g. Rom 3:22-30, 4:6, 5:1, Phil 3:9). This faith is also in view when Paul states in Romans 10:10 that “for with the heart one believes, [resulting] in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, [resulting] in salvation.” The appropriate response therefore, is to “declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

In conclusion, Paul’s teaching on justification is that firstly, it is a removal of God’s wrath against sin, it is a crediting of Christ’s righteousness, and that this “great exchange” is obtained through a personal response of faith in what Jesus has done on our behalf.


[60 minutes]

Sources and helpful links:

  • Thompson, Alan. “Righteousness and Justification in Paul.” NT635 Romans and Pauline Theology (Lecture Notes), Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018.
  • Thompson, Alan. “Greek Exegesis: Romans 1-6.” NT635 Romans and Pauline Theology (Lecture Notes), Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018.
  • PSALLOS, Romans album.