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DEFINITE ATONEMENT IN THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Chapter 15 — Definite Atonement and the Order of Decrees
(Donald Macleod)

The focus of this chapter is the link between the divine intention of the atonement and its extent. Was it the eternal design of God that the cross should redeem every human being? Or was it his design to redeem the elect, a multitude so vast that no one can count them (Rev. 7:9), but still only a proportion of the human race? Donald Macleod takes up these questions and responds in conversation with Arminianism, the Reformed confessions, Karl Barth’s unique presentation of “purified” supralapsarianism, and Hypothetical Universalism. With warmth and clarity, Macleod offers a fluent account of the centrality of God’s elect multitude to his administration of the universe.

Chapter 16 — The Triune God, Incarnation, and Definite Atonement
(Robert Letham)

The doctrine of definite atonement affirms that, in accordance with the loving eternal decree of the triune God, Christ the Son took human nature in the incarnation, and offered himself through the Holy Spirit to the Father so as to make atonement for his elect people. Entailed in this is an unbreakable connection between the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of the Son, and the atonement. At the heart of this connection is the doctrine of the indivisibility of the being and acts of the triune God. Respectfully but firmly, Robert Letham engages three prominent models of the atonement that exhibit either discord in the Trinitarian relations (Amyraut), inversion of the divine attributes (J. B. Torrance), or theological incoherence (T. F. Torrance). The chapter ends with a positive statement about how the incarnation and atoning death of Christ is the outflow of a loving decision by the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Chapter 17 — The Definite Intent of Penal Substitutionary Atonement
(Garry J. Williams)

Penal substitutionary atonement rightly understood entails definite atonement. Conversely, insistence on an atonement made for all without exception undermines belief in penal substitutionary atonement. This chapter illustrates these connections by means of a close engagement with two advocates of the view that the atonement itself was intended for all and was narrowed only in the limitation of its application to believers (James Ussher and D. Broughton Knox). With discussion of select New Testament texts and detailed exegetical work on Leviticus 4–5, Garry Williams demonstrates the specificity of the atonement in Scripture, before applying his findings to Ussher and Knox. The exercise exposes the inherent weakness in Ussher’s understanding of human nature as the object for which Christ atoned and Knox’s flawed account of Christ’s penal suffering as indistinguishable. By contrast, penal substitutionary atonement in Scripture is definite atonement, made for the specific sin and sins of particular people.

Chapter 18 — Punishment God Cannot Twice Inflict: The Double Payment Argument Redivivus
(Garry J. Williams)

The double payment argument is often rejected on the ground that it depends on commercial concepts that are inapplicable to the atonement. Garry Williams examines whether the argument is so inextricable from commercial concepts and their dangerous implications that it must be abandoned. He cuts fresh ground in exploring the grounds and gaps of the commercial metaphor in relation to the atonement. In conversation with Socinus, Grotius, Owen, and O’Donovan, he demonstrates that a mutually informing combination of the metaphors of God as ruler and creditor should be employed in the doctrine of the atonement, and that punishment is not simple restoration, restitution, an identical return for sin, or quantifiable. Rather, it is an answer returned to specific sins committed by specific people, or else it is meaningless. When God has given an answer to a sin, it has been given; therefore, God cannot twice inflict punishment. The payment metaphor expresses this deeper argument from the nature of punishment.

Chapter 19 — The New Covenant Work of Christ: Priesthood, Atonement, and Intercession
(Stephen J. Wellum)

One crucial biblical-theological issue at the center of the doctrine of definite atonement is the priestly work of Christ. Yet, many who affirm that Christ’s work is a priestly work, including general atonement advocates, deny the repeated argument by defenders of definite atonement that Christ’s high priesthood necessarily entails a particular redemption. Setting the discussion within the methodological context of typology and covenant, Stephen Wellum skillfully presents the unified work of the Old Testament priest, comparing and contrasting it with the work of Christ, our Great High Priest. In doing so, he argues that as the Great High Priest of the new covenant, Christ offers an atonement for a particular people and effectively secures everything necessary to bring those people to eternal salvation.

Chapter 20 — Jesus Christ the Man: Toward a Theology of Definite Atonement
(Henri A. G. Blocher)

Commencing with a necessary prolegomena on systematic theology and its essential components, Henri Blocher helps to set definite atonement within a framework of proper theological method. A glance at past exchanges highlights motives and arguments for and against definite atonement in writers such as Augustine, John Calvin, Andrew Fuller, and Charles Hodge, as well as Karl Barth and Bruce McCormack. A central section then revisits issues that appear to be cardinal in debate: the use of Scripture, the love of God, Trinitarian harmony, the universal preaching of the gospel, personal assurance, “double payment,” and the sufficiency of the atonement. The final two sections offer suggestions which may contribute new material to the debate: (1) Blocher provides a moving explanation of the representative nature of Christ’s substitutionary death; (2) he irenically argues that we respect historical sequence by allowing openness to terms such as “all” and “world” to bear their full weight in relation to Christ’s death.