Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 views (Review)

Published: RTR 74, no. 2, 2015

Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 views

Andrew David Naselli and Mark A. Snoeberger, eds, Nashville: B & H, 2015.

This multiple perspective book looks at ‘the extent of the atonement’, or as the question is better framed, ‘For whom was Christ a substitute?’ Three views are dealt with: definite atonement (Carl Trueman, Westminster), general atonement (Grant Osborne, Trinity Evangelical) and a multiple intentions view (John Hammett, Southeastern Baptist). This is not a historical survey, so there is no evaluation of Calvin’s so-called ‘classical’ view, with its qualified-to-hesitant employment of the medieval formula, ‘sufficient for all, efficient for some’, and neither is the connection between Calvin and Beza and Amyraut explored.

For Trueman, the atonement is efficacious, seen in connection with the single, still continuing priestly work of Christ (a Calvinian and Owenian theme). For Osborne, the Cross provides (not accomplishes) atonement for all but applies it to none. For Hammett, the Cross both provides atonement for all and accomplishes it for the elect. (The slipperiness of the language used here is noted.) The contributions argue along well-worn lines: universal atonement with its prooftexts but inability to explain what atonement is that it can be stored like medicine in a cabinet, and limited atonement with its Owenian theologising and efforts to take the exegetical higher ground. The editor has allowed the multiple-intentions view to stray into non-satisfaction intentions, unfairly making this third position look more robust. Of particular interest is Trueman’s affirmation that the high Calvinist believes in evangelism. ‘I have no problem telling somebody, “Christ died for your sins,” if I have made it clear how that statement connects to the overall biblical teaching on salvation’ (p. 59. Cf. p. 204, for the hypothetical universalist, ‘what does it mean to say, ‘Christ died for you,” when he died for everyone?’).

For those just entering into the atonement debate, this could be a reasonable place to turn.