Limited Atonement and Unlimited Polemics, Conclusion

2013/07/29

Continued from post on 7/26/2013…

Torrance introduces a red herring about limited atonement leaving some sin to be dealt with on page 185. He speaks of divorcing the Atonement from the final judgment. There is no real issue here because the final judgment does indeed address sin. Men are judged according to their works and since unbelievers have not the covering of the righteousness of Christ, nor the renewing to live aright in Christ, they have nothing to withstand that judgment. There is no conflict at all here with limited atonement. In fact, a final judgment following a truly universal atonement is senseless.

Calvinists are not the only objects of Torrance’s penchant for disturbing conclusions about views he does not hold. Arminians, according to Torrance, “divorce the action of the cross from the love of God, dismember Christ, separate his person from his work and destroy the atonement and the incarnation.” At this point he takes up a popular form of rhetorically charged but logically weak reasoning. The Arminians and the advocates of limited atonement are, says Torrance, two extremes of rationalism. He is not arguing much better here than, “If you disagree with me, you haven’t bowed your reason before God.” He even says so. The old chestnut applies here about the preacher writing a marginal note to himself in the text of his sermon, “Argument weak here: pound pulpit with fist!”

Torrance also refers to “the Scholastic Calvinist” and discusses the view that the Atonement was sufficient for all– efficient for the elect. The term “scholastic” may be forgivable because he references Wolleb (Johannes Wollebius) at this point. However, on the following page, Torrance dismisses the Reformed view that the extent of the atonement is rooted in God’s eternal counsel by talking of “a philosophical or metaphysical conception of irresistible grace and of absolute divine causality.” This is again unfair and pedantic; the Reformed tradition has adduced strong Biblical arguments for the design of the atonement grounded in election of the church in Christ. Advocates of limited atonement also have a strong case based on the substitutionary nature of the Atonement. Torrance’s polemics softens its task by panning other theological views with the label “philosophical.” In contrasting Scottish theologians Samuel Rutherford and John Brown of Wamphray on the one hand and English non-conformist John Owen on the other, Torrance again makes the bizarre accusation that Owen’s view (that the Atonement flows from the nature of God) attacks the nature of God. As with many of his accusations against limited atonement advocates in this section, this conclusion about Owen’s view is suspended in air.

Torrance makes some formulations with which the Calvinist can agree. Torrance and Calvinists are on the same page when he discusses the relation of the Atonement to the church. Yet, he fails to accurately describe the Reformed view. He only succeeds in attaching ambiguous labels and falsely implicating limited atonement in various hideous errors. To say that he stretches in his critique of limited atonement would put it mildly. In the end, Torrance’s discussion fails to remove limited atonement from serious consideration in the doctrine of the Cross.

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