Wednesday, April 19, 2006


This blog is not now and by God's grace alone never will be a blog about Calvinism. But I have bumped into a number of people similar to me in many ways who have wrestled with the biblical basis for and the implications of limited atonement, or particular redemption, if you prefer. As many have pointed out, unless you're a universalist, you inevitably do hold to some form of limited atonement.

John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is viewed as one of the greatest apologies for limited atonement in church history. Personally, I think that puts a negative spin on a work that is really quite positive in the way it magnifies the grace of God by showing that Scripture teaches that Christ's atoning sacrifice actually secures the deliverance of the elect, not merely makes it possible.

My historical theology class read The Death of Death for a weekly assignment last week. Since it was sandwiched between two other weekly assignments that were Book 1 of Calvin's Institutes, and Edwards' Freedom of the Will (which is tougher reading than Owen for me), I wasn't able to read as thoughtfully as I might have liked. As it was, it took between 10 and 12 hours.

You can download a PDF of the book here. Unfortunately it doesn't include what several have told me is an excellent introduction to the book written by J.I. Packer, but you can access that here. Owen's book is worth a read. I'm still thinking through things myself, but I was intrigued by Owen's exegesis of the "all" and "world" passages. Whether you agree with him on L or not, "All" is certainly not always all, and that is not all "all" means.

Also, Jason Robertson at Fide-O has a brief summary of Owen's argument here. HT: Daniel Phillips.

By the way, I'm interested to hear about any flaws in Owen's exegesis or reasoning from anyone who's actually read the book. I've got a few passages marked for further though myself, and I'd be curious if anyone else has chewed on the same ones.


Paul said...

Owen's work is virtually unrivaled. I have been thinking about this issue alot recently, and it is a difficult one to discuss with people because of the implication that have been inferred by people about it over the years. It would go a long way in helping people discuss this issue if they understood exactly what you have said: "unless you're a universalist, you inevitably do hold to some form of limited atonement."

Jim in Texas said...

I've read Owen's book (except the final 1 page, which was missing). I find some serious flaws.

He believed anyone who disagreed with him was deceived, foolish, blinded. I don't have my notes in front of me, so can't quote his exact words, which were not as generous as what I've used here.

He also argued repeatedly that if Jesus didn't die for a limited number, and if not all are saved, then there was no certainty that his death would redeem anyone. However, that assumes that there is no predestination. It also assumes that the Lord's foreknowledge could not see that some people would believe and be saved. A similar argument, but less flawed than Owen's, would be, "If Wal-Mart has 1000 stores open all day tomorrow in the USA, there's no certainty that anyone will buy anything at any of them, so they may be open in vain." We all know that's bogus reasoning, and Wal-Mart has neither foreknowledge nor the ability to predestine.

Owen also strongly argued that "the world" in John 3:16 is the world of the elect, but I believe he slipped once in his final pages and used John 3:16 as evidence that God really loves the (whole) world.

I cannot refute much of Owen's reasoning, and I'm not really sure whether I believe in limited atonement. At this point, I'm content to say that the NT seems plain in its teaching that Jesus died for the world, for all men, and especially for the elect.