Ambassador of Reconciliation
11/1/15 at 11:23 PM 32 Comments

Conversation about the Atonement: Is It Limited or Unlimited? Part 5

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David Hayward

Knowing that I was engaged in a discussion about the atonement (see the first four parts, starting here), a friend gave me copies of writings on the subject by two Reformed thinkers. William G. T. Shedd was a nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian, and Wayne A. Grudem is a contemporary evangelical theologian. Grudem was the general editor for the ESV Study Bible, which is the Bible that I use for much of my study. Here I add to our conversation some reflections on the writing of Shedd, and Part 6 will be about Grudem.

Shedd opens his argument for limited atonement (pp. 739 ff) with an approach that I also noted in Joe’s writing (see Part 2)—using semantics to dance around the real problems. Shedd’s 11-page section entitled “The Extent of the Atonement” begins with nearly two pages analyzing the word extent. He notes the two senses of the word in English usage: the “passive meaning” that is equivalent to “value,” and the “active signification” that denotes “the act of extending.” With these definitions, he can say that the atonement is unlimited in value but limited in application:

In this use of the term [extent = value], all parties who hold the atonement in any evangelical meaning would concede that the “extent” of the atonement is unlimited. Christ’s death is sufficient in value to satisfy eternal justice for the sins of all mankind. If this were the only meaning of “extent,” we should not be called upon to discuss it any further….

The word also has an active signification. It denotes the act of extending. The “extent” of the atonement, in this sense, means its personal application to individuals by the Holy Spirit. The extent is now the intent. The question “what is the extent of the atonement?” now means: To whom is the atonement effectually extended?

Certainly we need to look closely at the meanings of words used in the Bible, but “the extent of the atonement” isn’t even a biblical term, and my impression of Shedd’s discussion here is that it serves to deflect attention from the fact that he is indeed putting limitations on the atonement. He can say that it is limited in its application but still maintain that it has “infinite value” (“Being an infinite atonement, it has infinite value”) so as not to appear to demean it. To me it seems that he is using fancy footwork to get around the fact that he is putting limitations on the work of Christ on the cross, in other words, trying to defend this doctrine without making God look bad.

Shedd turns next to a discussion of the preposition for (pp. 741ff).

One theologian asserts that Christ died “for” all men, and another denies that Christ died “for” all men. There may be a difference between the two that is reconcilable, and there may be an irreconcilable difference.

He says that whether the statement “Christ died for all men” is true or not depends upon how you define the word for.

The preposition for denotes an intention of some kind. If, in the case under consideration, the intention is understood to be the purpose on the part of God both to offer and apply the atonement by working faith and repentance in the sinner’s heart, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, then he who affirms that Christ died “for” all men is in error….

But he who asserts that Christ died “for” all men may understand the intention signified by the preposition to be the purpose on the part of God only to offer the atonement, leaving it to the sinner whether it shall be appropriated through faith and repentance…. When the word for is thus defined, the difference between the two parties is reconcilable. The latter means by for “intended for offer or publication”; the former means “intended for application.”

Again, the preposition for is sometimes understood to denote not intention, but value or sufficiency. To say that Christ died “for” all men then means that his death is sufficient to expiate the guilt of all men. Here, again, the difference is possibly reconcilable between the parties. The one who denies that Christ died “for” all men takes “for” in the sense of intention to effectually apply. The other who affirms that Christ died “for” all men takes “for” in the sense of value.

Shedd himself believes that the most proper use of the word for is to convey “the notion of intention rather than of sufficiency or value,” in other words, that Christ’s death actually will be effectually applied to those for whom He died. But then he takes a text like Hebrews 2:9, Christ “tasted death for every man” and says it is explained by the term “many sons” in 2:10; therefore tasting death “for every man” really means “for many sons.” And similarly, Christ giving Himself as “a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6) means that His death is effectually applied not to absolutely all, but to all those who will be sons.

Again it seems to me that with all these many words Shedd is using semantics to try to affirm the biblical principle that Christ died for all without affirming that all will actually be redeemed. All that he can say conclusively is what amounts to this rather roundabout and unenlightening statement:

Christ died for all those for whom He died.

Shedd goes on to talk more about “the distinction between the ‘sufficiency’ of the atonement and its ‘extent’ in the sense of ‘intent’ or effectual application” (pp. 742ff). He quotes the old dictum that Christ died “sufficiently for all, but efficiently only for the elect.”1 As I have commented before on this saying, “Makes for a nice little aphorism, but to say it is efficient only for the elect is just a euphemism for saying it is not efficient for everyone else. Not efficient? Not effective? It doesn’t work??” In my opinion, we demean the work of Christ on the cross if we suggest that it is inefficient in any sense whatsoever.

Shedd then quotes Puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683), whose work The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a classic defense of the Calvinist understanding of the atonement. Shedd quotes from Owen’s Against Universal Redemption 4.1.

It was the purpose and intention of God that his Son should offer a sacrifice of infinite worth, value, and dignity, sufficient in itself for the redeeming of all and every man, if it had pleased the Lord to employ it for that purpose…. Sufficient we say, then, was the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the whole world and for the expiation of all the sins of all and every man in the world…. That it did formally become a price for any is solely to be ascribed to the purpose of God intending their purchase and redemption by it.

There is a big if in these words! Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for the redemption of all and every man if it had pleased the Lord to employ it for that purpose. (Unstated implication: it did not please Him to employ it for that purpose.) Like Shedd, Owen tries to defend the infinite value of the atonement without saying it will actually have unlimited application.

Next, Shedd distinguishes “atonement” from “redemption.” “The latter term includes the application of the atonement. It is the term redemption, not atonement, that is found in those statements that speak of the work of Christ as limited by the decree of election.” He quotes some passages from the Westminster Confession, for example, “to all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, he does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same” (8.8). In other words, if Christ has died for you in the sense of application, then His work will certainly be applied to you (which really doesn’t say anything at all). Again, it seems to me that these arguments are like the work of a magician; he confuses you by showing you one thing and making you think you are seeing another—“sleight of word,” so to speak.

Shedd elaborates on the distinction between atonement and redemption by saying “the Scriptures limit redemption, as contradistinguished from atonement, to the church,” and he quotes verses like Ephesians 2:9 (“faith is the gift of God”), 1 Corinthians 3:5 (“you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man”), Acts 13:48 (“as many as were ordained to eternal life believed”), Hebrews 2:17 (“Christ makes reconciliation for the sins of his people”), Ephesians 1:14 (“the redemption of the purchased possession”), and Hebrews 9:15 (“by means of his death they which are called might receive an eternal inheritance”), as well as some Old Testament verses. He concludes that when God is called “our Savior,” it means “Savior of the church,” by which I understand him to be saying that any references to “saving us” or “redeeming all” mean “us” in the sense of “the church” or “all” in the sense of “the whole body of Christ.” For all the elaborate explanations, I can’t get around the fact that he is putting gigantic limitations on the work of Christ on the cross.

To summarize his discussion of atonement vs. redemption, Shedd suggests using the following terminology:

The use of the term redemption, consequently, is attended with less ambiguity than that of “atonement,” and it is the term most commonly employed in controversial theology. Atonement is unlimited, and redemption is limited. This statement includes all the scriptural texts: those which assert that Christ died for all men, and those which assert that he died for his people. He who asserts unlimited atonement and limited redemption cannot well be misconceived. He is understood to hold that the sacrifice of Christ is unlimited in its value, sufficiency, and publication, but limited in its effectual application.

One question that springs to mind is how Shedd’s view of “unlimited atonement” is different from the Arminian view of “unlimited atonement.” I know that they differ in their application: Calvinists believe that salvation is wholly the work of God in ordaining people to eternal life and accomplishing their redemption, while Arminians believe, as Shedd puts it, “that personal faith in Christ’s atonement is necessary to salvation, but that faith depends partly upon the operation of the Holy Spirit and partly upon the decision of the sinful will.”2 Either way, they both believe that the atonement is unlimited in value but limited in application (for whatever reason). Again it seems to me that it is an exercise in splitting hairs with little profit.

Some prefer the term “particular atonement” to indicate that Christ’s atonement is intended, by design, for those whom God has chosen. Shedd says that the idea of particular redemption means that “the number of persons to whom it is effectually applied is a fixed and definite number. The notion of definiteness, not of smallness, is intended.” He admits that “in common speech, if anything is ‘limited,’ it is little and insignificant in amount,” but he tries to say that this is not the idea when it comes to Christ’s redemptive work. Substituting the word particular is one way to get rid of the word limited, with its connotation of being restricted or constrained or circumscribed or somehow less than or inferior to unlimited. But it doesn’t eliminate the fact that such a doctrine does put limitations on the work of Christ! And it messes up the TULIP acronym. :)

Shedd then takes up the matter of election.3 He says, “The tenet of limited redemption rests upon the tenet of election, and the tenet of election rests upon the tenet of the sinner’s bondage and inability.” His point is that since fallen man is bound in sin and has no power even to believe, then his salvation is entirely dependent on the grace of God, and “redemption is limited by election,” as taught, for example, in Romans 9:16: “It is not of him that wills nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.” He explains that, in the Arminian view, “the Holy Spirit does not overcome a totally averse and resisting will, which is the Calvinistic view, but he influences a partially inclining will.”

So Calvinists believe that the total inability of man to save himself is most consistent with Scripture, as is the fact that God is “independent and sovereign in bestowing faith and salvation.” Synergism—the idea that man can contribute even partially to his own salvation—has the same effect as “plenary ability” (coming to faith being entirely man’s choice) in terms of making God dependent upon man to “do his part” before God can do His.

As I noted in my response to Joe in Part 4, I am in agreement with Calvinists when it comes to believing that our salvation is entirely dependent on God. What I said there bears repeating, because I think it is important to recognize those areas where we are on the same ground. Here is what I said in Part 4:

First, I’d like to acknowledge where Joe and I are in agreement. We agree that

Salvation does not depend on our choosing God but on God choosing us.
No one can come to Jesus unless the Father enables and draws him.
Belief in Jesus does not come from within a person but is granted by God.
Jesus will not lose any of those He died for and has determined to save.

In other words, we both agree that the Arminian concept of “free will” is not biblical. I think John 1:12-13 captures the interplay between human responsibility and God’s sovereign will:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

We are to receive Jesus and believe in His name, but in the final analysis, as the end of verse 13 makes very clear, becoming children of God is not by the will of man but by the will of God.

I also believe in irresistible grace, and I think that Calvinist explanations of irresistible grace are accurate descriptions of how God sovereignly works in the heart of man. However, there is a key difference in our understanding of irresistible grace. As I wrote in an essay on the subject:

Although we will never be able to comprehend fully the workings of God’s grace, I think the explanations above [in the essay] accurately describe how God draws a rebellious and wicked person to repentance and faith—how the Holy Spirit changes a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Where I differ with the Calvinists is that I believe nobody can forever resist God’s grace. Sooner or later, His effectual grace will do its work in every single human being. We long for it to be sooner, so we share the gospel with them. But we do not despair if it is later, because we know that God’s will that all come to repentance cannot be thwarted.

So I agree with Shedd that it doesn’t make sense that the Son of God would die for the sin of the world, “leaving it wholly or in part to the sinful world to determine all the result of this stupendous transaction.” But while he believes that the Father “determined that this sacrifice should be appropriated through faith by a definite number of the human family,” I believe that He determined that Christ’s sacrifice should be appropriated through faith by every member of the human family. Both positions are logically sound; both can be supported by Scripture. But only one recognizes the full value and power of “this stupendous transaction.”

It is true that a biblical case can be made for salvation being only for a portion of humanity, “the elect.” Shedd quotes a number of verses to show that redemption is not for all, but for “the sheep” (Jn. 10:15), “friends” (Jn. 15:13), “the children of God” (Jn. 11:52), “the church” (Eph. 5:23, 25), “his people” (Mt. 1:21, Heb. 2:17), the ones “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), the ones “given to Christ by the Father” (Jn. 10:29). There are others that might have been cited as well, like John 17:6, 9: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world…. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” It also could be pointed out that the epistles are for the church, not the world, so the promises there apply to believers.

But there is another huge set of verses that indicate the universality of Christ’s work. He is “the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14) who came for the purpose of saving the world (Jn. 3:17, 12:47). He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). In Christ God was “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive” (1 Cor. 5:22). “By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Rom 5:18). It is God’s good pleasure to reconcile all to Himself through the cross (Col. 1:20). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). For more passages and explanations of each, please see “Reconciliation: The Heart of God’s Grand Plan for Creation,” “Presuppositions and Interpretations” (3 parts), and “By the Righteousness of One,” among others.

So what are we to do if some parts of Scripture seem to conflict with others? I agree with Shedd that “Scripture must be explained in harmony with Scripture.” Shedd makes reference to some of the verses I just named and says, “Texts that speak of the universal reference of Christ’s death must, therefore, be interpreted in such a way as not to exclude its special reference.” He believes that the election of only a portion of humanity is a given fact of Scripture, and verses that suggest otherwise must be interpreted in light of that given fact. I would say, “Texts that speak of the special reference of Christ’s death must be interpreted in such a way as not to exclude its universal reference.” In other words, I see the redemption and restoration of God’s entire creation as a theme running throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, so verses that seem to limit that restoration should be interpreted in light of the given big picture. I discuss this dilemma in “Heaven: We Have a Problem,” and more than half of my 100+ blogs try to show from different angles how the full redemption of all of creation is most consistent with Scripture as a whole.

As an example, Shedd and I agree that the word world can have different meanings in Scripture, and for any particular verse we each take the meaning that best fits our overall view. Shedd says that the word sometimes refers to “the world of believers,” and he gives it that meaning when it fits his theology: “The bread of God is he which gives life to the world [of believers]” (Jn. 6:33, 51); Abraham is “the heir of the world [the redeemed]” (Rom. 4:13); “if the fall of them be the riches of the world,… if the casting away of them be the reconciliation of the world” [the church] (Rom. 11:12, 15). You can guess how I would interpret these verses.

Similarly, Shedd says that “the word all sometimes has a restricted signification, denoting all of a particular class.” So when Paul says, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22), “the ‘all’ in Adam is a larger aggregate than the ‘all’ in Christ, because Scripture teaches that all men without exception are children of Adam and that not all without exception are believers in Christ.” I readily acknowledge that the word all does not always mean “absolutely all,” but here it certainly cannot be restricted in such a way as to say that the fall of Adam is more powerful in its effect than the work of Christ! Again in 2 Corinthians 5:14 (“If one died for all, then all died”), Shedd says that “the ‘all’ here denotes the body of believers, as it does in Romans 5:18 (“As the judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so the free gift came upon all men unto justification”). Please see my treatment of the word all in the essays linked above. Here is a summary of what I said about all in the reconciliation essay:

Looking at Paul’s magnificent declaration about the person and work of Christ from eternity past to eternity future in Col. 1:15-20, which of the “alls” in this passage does not mean “absolutely all”?

From eternity past, Christ is before all things (v. 17).
In the beginning, He created all things (v. 16).
In the present all things hold together in Him (v. 17).
In the end He will reconcile to Himself all things (v. 20).

The word all in Scripture does not always mean “absolutely all,” but in this passage about the supremacy of Christ, the word παν in all its forms does mean “all without exception” in each of the eight instances where it is used:

The firstborn over all (πασης) creation (15)
By Him all things (τα παντα) were created (16)
All things (τα παντα) were created by Him and for Him (16)
He is before all things (παντwn) (17)
In Him all things (τα παντα) consist (17)
In all things (πασiv) He might have supremacy
God was pleased to have all (παν) His fullness dwell in Him (19)
Through Him to reconcile to Himself all things (τα παντα) (20)

The “all things” of verse 20 is as extensive as the “all things” of verse 16. There is a beautiful parallelism:

16: “by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth”
20: “by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven”

Just as God created everything and everybody through Christ, so He will reconcile everything and everybody through Christ.

Shedd concludes with a section entitled “Universal Offer of the Atonement,” in which he tries to answer the question “If the atonement of Christ is not intended to be universally applied, why should it be universally offered?” It is a necessary question, because given that a predetermined group of people will be saved through God’s set decree (and the rest will necessarily be lost), it doesn’t make sense that anything we do would make any difference. The first reason for making the gospel offer to all men (because “it is the divine command”) is reason enough for a believer to obey. The fact that Shedd spends nearly five pages giving a total of twelve reasons why we ought to share the gospel with all is for me a red flag that hints that the reasons for doing it will take some heavy-duty convincing. I agree that it is an act of obedience first of all, but the hope and conviction that God will fully accomplish His work of redemption gives far greater and more sensible and compelling motivations for sharing the gospel, as I will try to explain.

Let’s look first at a few points regarding Shedd’s reasons. As I implied above, the sheer volume of the words suggests that the reasons will be somewhat convoluted and difficult to grasp, and I did find them to be so. I won’t try to recap them all, but they are related to his arguments for limited atonement, which I also find hard to understand. I will comment on a few of them.

In point #4 Shedd says, “God opposes no obstacle to the efficacy of the atonement in the instance of the nonelect. He exerts no direct efficiency to prevent the nonelect from trusting in the atonement. The decree of reprobation is permissive. God leaves the nonelect to do as he likes.” To me this type of argument seems to be an attempt to get God off the hook for the damnation of the masses; He doesn’t prevent them from being saved—He just lets them go their own way. But whether their reprobation is by direct decree (where God actively causes their damnation and suffering) or by default (where He allows it to happen), the result is the same—they are born with absolutely no ability to come to Christ, and they die with absolutely no hope of ever being rescued.

In point #5 Shedd says we should offer the atonement to all because “God desires that every man would believe in it”—i.e., because the salvation of sinners is pleasing to God. He quotes Turretin who says that God “delights in the conversion and eternal life of the sinner, as a thing pleasing in itself and congruous with his infinitely compassionate nature.” What strikes me is that God wants sinners to be saved, which means He does not want sinners to remain unsaved; He is pleased by their salvation and grieved by their damnation. But if most do remain unsaved, then God does not get what He wants, and He will be forever grieved. If, as Shedd says, “God decides not to overcome by special grace the obstinate aversion which resists common grace,” then His desire for the sinner’s repentance is not strong enough to move Him to overcome by special grace the sinner’s aversion.

Point #6 is similar: “It is the nonelect himself, not God, who prevents the efficacy of the atonement.” What jumps out at me here is that human beings are able to “prevent the efficacy of the atonement,” that is, to thwart God’s desire for their salvation—sounds very un-Calvinistic! Shedd explains that “the real reason of the inefficacy of Christ’s blood is impenitence and unbelief…. The nonelect himself…is the responsible cause of the inefficacy of Christ’s expiation.” It really troubles me to hear the word “inefficacy” in the same breath as “Christ’s blood” or “Christ’s expiation,” just as it troubles me to hear “limited” in the same breath as “atonement.” Shedd believes that “nonprevention is not causation,” and he gives the analogy of a man who throws himself into the water and drowns, saying that “a spectator on the bank cannot be called the cause of that man’s death.” But what about a trained lifeguard with the ability and the equipment and the opportunity to make the rescue—would he bear no responsibility for not rescuing the man?

People ask the Calvinist, “Why bother sharing the gospel if it is already predetermined who will be saved?” People ask the Universalist, “Why bother sharing the gospel if everybody is going to be saved anyway?” For both it is a matter of obedience. But beyond that, the Universalist’s reasons, unlike the Calvinist’s, are simple, sensible, satisfying, and compelling—and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to explain or understand them. For one thing, it is a great delight to tell about this awesome God who will right all wrongs, redeem all suffering, and reunite all loved ones. I no longer have to worry about someone asking the question, “Why does a loving God allow people to suffer forever?”—a good question for which I had no good answer. Now I can call people to repentance and faith in a truly loving God who longs to redeem them. The offense of the gospel itself is still there, but not the unnecessary offense of a repugnant tradition of men (eternal conscious torment). Believing that God loves all people (see “Does God Love Everybody?”), I now personally have greater love for all people (see “Should We Love Everybody?”) and a greater desire for them to come to Christ. And just because the judgment is not everlasting does not mean it is not awful and terrifying. It is very real and very terrible, but also very purposeful and effective, completely in keeping with God’s loving character. I don’t want anyone to stand before God without being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but rather to come to the cross now and experience the blessings of knowing Him now.

My overall impression of Shedd’s piece is that he goes to great lengths to explain that Christ’s work on the cross is, but really is not, for the whole world. He spills a lot of ink to say that Christ died for all the people He died for. He goes through logical contortions to contend that God sovereignly chooses whether or not to rescue an individual from the sin that he is powerless to escape, that He decrees whether or not to grant faith that the individual otherwise has no ability to exercise, yet that He bears no responsibility for the damnation of the wicked.

As R.C. Sproul says, “Unless you are a universalist, you must agree that the Atonement is limited in some sense.” Right! Both Calvinists and Arminians limit the atonement—Calvinists by the decree of God, and Arminians by the free will of man. But if you are a Universalist, you don’t agree that the atonement is limited in any way! And by any reasonable measure, unlimited is better than limited: There is no getting around the fact that “some” is less than “all,” that a fraction of humanity is less than the whole of humanity, that saving a subset of all people is not as great as saving the whole set of people who ever have lived or ever will live.

Shedd says, “Since redemption implies the application of Christ’s atonement, universal or unlimited redemption cannot logically be affirmed by any who hold that faith is wholly the gift of God and that saving grace is bestowed solely by election.” Not true! Thankfully, we are not left with the insoluble Calvinist vs. Arminian dilemma that either God is sovereign or He is loving; there is a way to maintain that God is fully sovereign and fully loving. One can believe that faith is wholly the gift of God and that the atonement is unlimited if one believes that God has chosen to grant faith to all and thus redeem all. It is no more a violation of His holiness or His justice to redeem all through the death of His Son than to redeem some, and it is a far greater reflection of His love.

On the one hand, we will never fully comprehend all the depth and richness of the atonement. On the other hand, It’s not complicated:

Jesus died to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
His death will fully accomplish its purpose of redeeming the whole world.

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1I have heard this saying as “sufficient for all, deficient for none, efficient only for the elect” (or “only for those who believe”).

2Calvinists say the atonement is unlimited in value but limited by God’s sovereign choice. Arminians say the atonement is unlimited in value but limited by human free will. Either way, the bottom line is that it is limited in some way. As the website Doctrines of Grace puts it, “Both Arminians and Calvinists limit atonement yet the two views limit it in different ways. Arminians limit the effect of the atonement and Calvinists limit the scope. Arminians say Christ died for all, but secured salvation for none. They believe that Christ's atonement was a potential atonement only. Calvinists limit atonement in its scope. Christ died specifically for the elect. The atonement is not limited in its effectiveness, but is limited in its scope. Christ actually accomplished salvation for all whom he died for. The design is limited, but not its power. God has accomplished all that He purposed to in Christ's death."

3The whole question of the meaning of election is another huge discussion for another day. Here we will just touch on it and I will simply suggest that election is not about heaven and hell but rather about being chosen by God for His purposes.

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11/04/2015 Summary of some concerns about Shedd's treatment of the atonement:

I’ve been continuing to think about the whole question of the extent of the atonement. I’ll have some thoughts about Grudem soon, but with regard to Shedd’s chapter, I just can’t help thinking that he plays with the words to get them to say what he wants them to say to fit his theology. First, it’s the word extent. Are we talking about the passive meaning (“value”) or the active meaning (“the act of extending”)? Then it’s the preposition for. Does it mean “intended for offer or publication” or “intended for application”? And he says the word redemption “implies the application of Christ’s atonement,” so depending on how you define atonement, Christ doesn’t necessarily redeem everyone whose sins He atoned for. And when the Bible says that Jesus is the Savior of the world, Shedd would say that world means “the world of believers.” And in the many verses that talk about Christ dying for “all” or drawing “all” to Himself, the word all doesn’t really mean “all” (in the same sense as “in Adam all died), but rather “all the elect” or “all kinds of people.”

So he can make the verses say what they need to say in order to be consistent with limited atonement. Do I interpret verses to fit my theology? Of course. We all do. We take what we believe to be the fundamental, non-negotiable truths and interpret other verses in light of those basic truths. Two of my non-negotiables are: 1) God is sovereign (as any good Calvinist scholar can prove), and 2) God is love (as any good Arminian scholar can prove). The problem is that when you affirm both—and the full implications of both—you are opposed by both Calvinists and Arminians!

I’m not discounting the work of scholars, but sometimes I think they muddy the waters. And I think God intended His Word not just for the scholars, but for ordinary people who read the language in ordinary ways and can learn all they need to know about what to believe and how to behave.

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