Monday, May 05, 2008

Grinding the Grain: Responding to the Substance of Trey Austin's Arguments

Having disposed of the chaff in an earlier post (link), we may now turn to the grain portion of Trey's recent post responding to questions I had posed as to the view of my theological opponents (or are they?) regarding the atonement.

I was a little disappointed to see that Trey decided to answer only the questions upon which I had noted agreement to an affirmative answer, and not to answer those questions that I thought might possibly highlight differences between us, the series of questions beginning "Or do you mean more that" here. Those were, in essence, the softball questions to which I hoped both sides of the matter could find harmony and agreement, and (to be clear) Trey affirmed each of those unifying questions.

Trey, however, provided some further commentary on the questions which thankfully provides some basis for highlighting the distinctions between the theology he is presenting and the theology that I am presenting.

To highlight those points, let me comment on a few (I hope, representative) things Trey says:

"This [i.e. "that Christ’s death was really and actually sufficient here and now not only for the elect but also for many more and anyone else"] can’t be true if, as some people explain, God put on the crucified Christ the particular sins of particular people and no others. "

This is a point where we differ. The intrinsic infinite value of Christ's death is dependent on its nature: i.e. the fact that Christ was the God-man, the fact that Christ was innocent, and the fact that Christ's death was voluntary. We can derive this knowledge from the Old Testament sacrificial system, in which animals were selected based on certain intrinsic attributes. Christ is the "lamb without blemish" and so forth, that has - by virtue of his nature as victim - infinite sufficiency.

Imputation is an application of that sufficiency.

To provide an analogy, suppose that you have a priceless Monet painting and you are in a bazaar seeking to buy food. There are a few corndog stands, a few cabbage vendors, and some folks selling rice by the bag. Whether you apply the value of painting to purchase a single corn dog, or whether you apply the value of the painting to buy all the food for sale in the bazaar, the painting has the same intrinsic value.

It would be improper to judge the entire value of the painting by that for which it was traded, just as it would be improper to evaluate the entire sufficiency of Christ's death by the sins of the particular people for whom Christ died. The bartered-for item sets a lower bound on the value, but not an upper bound. Christ's death is super-sufficient: it is intrinsically sufficient not only for those whose sins were imputed to Christ, but as well for those whose sins were not imputed to Christ.

"Note: you can hold to limited atonement without holding to limited imputation; and that’s the heart of this debate"

Part of the debate certainly is whether it is proper to call a view "limited atonement," if the view encompasses unlimited imputation. Trey, however, does not set forth what he fully intends by this statement (in fact, it appears as a parenthetical), and consequently there's little space to rebut its underlying unexpressed contentions.

"how could Christ’s work be really and truly sufficient for any person who is not elect, if their sins were never “paid for” in any sense, even provisionally"

I've omitted the question mark, because Trey seems to think this is a rhetorical question. The problem is that, as illustrated by the painting above, the sufficiency of the ransom is not determined by the thing ransomed. Christ's death is sufficient to set all mankind free, though it was not applied to that end.

To ask, "how could Christ's work ... be sufficient ... if their sins were never paid for," is to ask "how could the painting be sufficient if it were not used to buy that bag of rice of there but only the corn dog?"

To add the qualification "even provisionally," causes one's eyebrows to arch, but Trey doesn't trey to explain how something can be "provisionally" paid for, and so we need not explore that odd avenue at this time. Who knows but that we might find it not odd at all, if he explained it.

"And thus, as the one who is offering Christ sincerely, he [God] must have a real substance by which to say, “If you come, you will be saved.” If there were nothing in Christ for the non-elect, nothing of his work applicable to them, then when God offers salvation to the non-elect through his ministers, he would be lying. "

I've left of Trey's rhetorical negation. Nevertheless, Trey seems to insist that God ground the conditional offer of salvation one way (by over-imputation, as it were) rather than another (by grace). The statement, "If you come, you will be saved," is a true statement if everyone who comes is saved. That is so, quite regardless of whether Christ's work is applicable in any way to people who don't come.

This is rather elementary: what makes the statement, "If you come, you will be saved," is a sincere intent on God's part to save everyone who comes. It has really nothing whatsoever to do with the way that God accomplishes that salvation.

What Trey seems to have overlooked is the "grace" side of the picture. No one comes, unless Father draws him. The gospel offer is not a statement that everyone has the ability to come, or that Christ has provided salvation for the reprobate. The gospel offer is a conditional statement, and is true if God intends to honor his promise.

"had there been nothing in Christ or what he did for them or that was applicable to them, then they rejected nothing"

They rejected the command of God. The refused to turn from their sins. They refused to come to Christ. The rejected the way of salvation.

"I think we both agree that God has decreed to apply Christ’s redemptive work to the elect alone and to no others; that is not in disbute [sic] at all." (italics carefully preserved)

Well, perhaps that is the case. Nevertheless, there seem to be suggestions from Trey's side (perhaps not from Trey himself) that God decreed to "provisionally" apply Christ's work - or that God decreed to actually apply Christ's work in such a way so as to impute the sins of both elect and non-elect to Christ. That looming question-mark was the reason for the unanswered questions I posed in my original post. (incidentally, not every question-mark means that there is heresy lurking behind - it just means something is unclear)

"Take dogs, for instance. Dogs aren’t answerable for failing to come to Christ, and they accrue no guilt for rejecting him. That’s ridiculous example, you might say. I know; it is—not only because dogs aren’t rational beings, but also becasue [sic] they’re not willful sinners. But the point still remains that Christ died in *NO* sense for dogs. "

That's certainly Trey's point, but it is not the relevant point. Dogs are not commanded to repent and seek salvation. No one is commanded (as such) to be saved by Christ's blood. Instead, men are commanded to avail themselves of repentance and faith - and without the grace of God, they refuse, thereby increasing their condemnation as rebels.

"If the strict particularists are correct (i.e., like those whom Dabney opposed, who said that, had God elected more, Christ would have had to suffer more for those in particular; their scheme being a “so much for so many” kind of commercialism), "

I'm not convinced that "strict particularists" is necessarily an adequate description of those whom Dabney opposed by opposing "so much for so many." While certainly some few strict particularists would hold such a view, the view is more common among inconsistent universalists, who make arguments such as that Christ must have "paid for" each and every actual sin or the atonement was not sufficient for such sins. In fact, it is a "commercial" mentality "so much for so many" that seemingly underwrites the objection that if certain sins were not imputed to Christ, that Christ's death was not sufficient to purchase forgiveness of those sins.

Regardless, though, of whether Dabney stands on my side of the aisle (for the time being), we do reject the "so much for so many" formulation. I reject it, and I know that Dr. White rejects it. In fact, even Dave Hunt rejects such a formulation. Apparently, Trey rejects it as well - which is good, and I'm glad of that.

Nevertheless, though it was not a "so much for so many," Christ's work was a payment, and a particular payment for particular people. It was (and is) a sufficient price for more than was purchased - and for more than could have been purchased (since its intrinsic sufficiency is much greater than the combined sinfulness of all humanity). Nevertheless, it is a ransom: Scripture says so.

"Clearly Paul makes a distinction between Christ being savior of all men and being savior for all who believe, but even while he makes that distinction, there is obviously some overlap in the core of his meaning, which is to say that it is a difference in degree of salvation (i.e., available as savior as opposed to being an effectual savior), not a difference in kind of salvation (i.e., temporal “salvation” vs. eternal salvation)."

I don't think Trey could make out an exegetical case for the idea that it is a difference in "degree of salvation," as opposed to a difference in "kind of salvation." The idea of someone being saved from hell to some "degree" and not to the uttermost is a puzzling concept on its own. Trey, however, has not attempted to provide an exegetical explanation, and perhaps he really meant something other than "degree" in such a sense as 50% is a degree half way between "not at all" and "fully." I've addressed this verse elsewhere, such as at item (23) on this list. For now that brief explanation should suffice.

Trey notes that another view of the same verse is "they ["many" early Reformers] in fact favor of interpreting it as an affirmation that Christ is the only Savior available to men through whom they might be saved"

This interpretation is not so entirely implausible that we would want to break fellowship over the difference. Indeed, it is a true statement that Christ is the only Savior available to men through they might be saved. Nevertheless, considering the verse within the context, and more carefully analyzing the Scriptural use of the terms involved, we have come to realize with (as Trey seems to admit) many of the Puritan scholars that the view of the verse as distinguishing between salvation merely of the body, and salvation of both the body and soul is what is best understood to be under discussion.

As I best understood, from the discussion in the chaff portion of Trey's post, we should not expect to see any follow-up from him on this. Nevertheless, I hope he will thing again of his position of non-interaction, in favor of constructive dialog, debate, and explanation.

After all, since we are both writing in public, even if the other of us is not edified, perhaps those who read will be edified. Perhaps also, Trey might considering answering the more difficult questions that were posed in the original post, the series of questions beginning "Or do you mean more that" here, questions where we may (or perhaps not?) part ways. The object is not to divide, but to explain. After all, it would be a shame for merely semantic difference to divide Christian brethren.

To God be the glory,


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