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On the atonement

20 February 2013

In my latest entry in the ‘shorter but more regular’ category, I harken back to the days when The Molinist was specifically a theology blog (and I a theology student) with a link to and question about a discussion on a favourite theology blog of mine. The most recent post on Theology Forum is an interesting discussion of the tenability of penal substution within an Arminian theological framework. In ‘Punished Twice Over?’, Steve Duby examines the suggestion that..

…penal substitutionary atonement without either particular redemption or universal salvation does involve a double punishment on the part of God and therefore does raise significant questions about the righteousness (and wisdom) of God.

The discussion raised a few questions in my mind, beyond even the big but perhaps off-point issue of ‘how many Arminians believe in penal substitution?’ Most interestingly it was the issue of whether Arminian theology allows for the problematic being described. Though far from an expert on Arminian soteriology, I am an Arminian, and a theologically-educated one, and I fail to see how Arminianism can coexist with a theology either of particular salvation or of necessarily universal salvation.

While I could discuss almost without end the degree to which Arminius’ distinct soteriology was motivated by Molinistic philosophical-theological considerations vs theological-proper assertations about the divine attributes (which sort of comparative historical question is sliding right into my area of expertise and is a question on which I intend one day to publish), I think it a fairly uncontroversial statement to make that Arminius asserted (specifically in his Private Disputations) that divine love demands that salvation be offerred equally to all and divine love that individual salvation be dependant upon every human being individually. While there are any number of interesting implications to these assertitions on which Arminius himself does not touch, not least because many, such as the dialectic of individual and corporate salvation and post-colonially inflected questions regarding salvation of non-Christians, would simply not become issues for centuries after his death, both were directed squarely at predestinarianism and limited atonement and both explicitly rejected the total abnegation of human agency in salvation (in favour of human-divine synergism).

I am unsure whether any necessary Arminian objection is to be raised to the notion of penal substition. While it offends a sensibility or two of this particular Arminian they don’t seem particularly or specifically ‘Arminian’ ones. Still, I would propose to problematise the above critique by Duby on the grounds that Arminian soteriology allows for neither particular redemption nor (necessary) universal salvation. Whether this problematisation speaks to the substance of Duby’s critique rather than to its theoretical subjects turns upon the question which I raised above but did not touch upon further: how many Arminians believe in penal substitution?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 February 2013 8:00 pm

    This post reminds me why I hardly ever read your posts here when it was “specifically a theology blog” – I seldom had any idea what you were talking about. I am sure it is brilliant, though. Keep up the good work.

    • 20 February 2013 8:06 pm

      I’m reasonably certain that was a compliment, so, thank you?

      • 20 February 2013 8:10 pm

        Very much so! I am sufficiently educated that I can tell your posts, although inscrutable to the uninitiated like myself, are potent outbursts of fervid thought on your topic, not just some word salad of undigested jargon. I truly believe you know whereof you speak.

  2. Aaron Salazar permalink
    4 March 2013 6:12 pm

    I found your blog some time ago, and while I consider myself a Molinist, your level of expertise overshadowed mine, so I forbore to interact. On the topic of the Atonement, however, I wanted to say a few things. First, I believe a logical proof can be formulated which shows that a deterministic (and thus Calvinist) framework is entirely incompatible with the doctrine of election. Second, many Calvinists have objected to the supposed confusion in whether or the atonement possessed actual or merely potential efficacy, and on such grounds, refuse to admit a universal atonement (John Owen, and his famous argument comes to mind.) They would say that if it is actual, then it cannot be universal, thus eliminating all non-Calvinist soteriologies
    I happen to think it the other way around. the U in TULIP is actually incoherent and arbitrary, per the logical proof I spoke of above. Roger Olson, an Arminian theologian, has noted in his book on Arminian theology has mentioned that not all subscribe to the Penal Substitution theory. Some do, some don’t, so there’s no real agreement, except that it has to be universal.
    Some have opted for a nuanced approach of a universal application of the atonement in which Jesus didn’t die for everyone, but for each person individually. Roughly, anyway.
    I happen to think that the Old Testament systems of sacrifice, exemplify a universal scope with a specific application.
    As I said, your expertise is far greater than mine, so if I offered nothing new, let me know!!

    • 9 March 2013 4:55 pm

      Apologies for letting your comments sit unanswered for so long. I have been pondering on them since you posted (which I in no way a mask for being too busy to respond to comments, don’t be ridiculous). I’ll respond to each comment individually.

      I would be interested your logical proof! Might you be able to share it, ideally in a propositional syntax (mathematical logic is hard)?

      I am by no means an expert on Arminianism, especially contemporary Arminianism, though early modern Arminianism, particularly in the person of Hugo Grotius, is a major aspect of my current research. I’m familiar with actual/universal dichotomy argument but only vaguely. Much better known to me is the ‘Christ died not for all but for each’ argument, which I roundly reject. Universal particular atonement is, in my view, fatally anthropocentic, making the economy of salvation entirely about human persons going to heaven, rather than humanity being the instrument of making the earth a heaven.

      I’m glad you finally elected to interact! Don’t let a perceived lack of expertise deter you. I do not presume to teach here but just to reflect and explore and those are activities far more productively engaged in with help!

      • Aaron Salazar permalink
        11 March 2013 2:20 am

        Pressed for time and data, but I wanted to respond. To identify some characteristic in something, we subject it to certain criteria to determine whether or not we are justified in claiming that we perceive that characteristic; this is pretty much given as a metaphysical intuition. When I studied the notion of objectivity, subjectivity, and arbitrariness, I tried to formulate criteria for these. The Criterion for Arbitrariness is as follows:

        Any standard which entails the simultaneous acceptance and rejection of identical entities is arbitrary.

        Calvinism’s unconditional election entails such a standard.

        Therefore it is arbitrary.

        There’s more to it, but that’s the basic proof.

        As a non-Calvinist, I believe Scripture teaches that the Atonement was universal in scope. There are many ways to formulate this, I haven’t necessarily committed myself to any of them, I just believe that John 3:16 entails a universal scope with reference to ‘world’ and that John Owen’s argument was flawed.
        The Criterion merely entails a logically elimination of all deterministic, and therefore Compatibilistic and thus Calvinist, interpretations of the extent of the Atonement. So long as the options consist of Compatibilism (determinism) and libertarianism (in whatever form), then libertarianism is logically required.

  3. Aaron Salazar permalink
    4 March 2013 6:26 pm

    As for a ‘double-punishment’ with God, this involves a rejection of the severity with which Calvinists accuse all non-Calvinists of. For God to remain holy, he only must remain objective (something I think Calvinism inadvertently abandons), he doesn’t need to be fair. I don’t believe non-Calvinist soteriologies result in ‘double-punishment’ but even if they did, so what? Is the Calvinist really going to respond with ‘it’s not fair’?
    A proper distinction between objectivity and fairness needs to be in play. The double-punishment argument, also, is a legal objection, not a theological one. Legal precedent, in fact, has pointed out that this very thing has happened. A man once rejected his pardon and was executed. Either way, I think the argument is a loaded one at best, and a fallacious one at worst.

    • 9 March 2013 6:02 pm

      Here I would just like to ask a couple of clarificatory questions, before I attempt to respond:

      (1) How do you, or, indeed, do you, understand ‘objectivity’ within a theology proper of am omnibenevolent God?

      (2) Could you unpack your legal/theological distinction for me?

      I think I will be better equipped to engage with your thoughts here if I understand these points a bit better.

      • Aaron Salazar permalink
        11 March 2013 3:17 am

        I hold definitions to be pretty much universal, and so objectivity, in it’s most fundamental form, would have a universally applicable definition. Objectivity is the presence of an unchanging standard. Depending on the extent or constraints on an objective standard (how strict, and such), fairness is derived from it.
        Fairness is a corollary of objectivity. I don’t think you can have fairness in a non-objective context. Objectivity is the logical precursor to fairness, and is typically casually prior.
        Also, fairness distinguishes between degrees of conformity between entities accepted by an objective standard, and is attended by commensurate differences.
        God is objective, but He is not always fair. I don’t believe any moral qualms are raised that are not answered by the presence of an objective standard. The key text that comes to mind is Matthew 20:1-15. In it we have the presence of an objective standard, and the acknowledgement and rejection of fairness, along with the sovereign claim that God can distribute His resources as He pleases.
        For the legal one, my (probably limited) research has shown that Calvinists (such as James White) claim that it would be unjust for God to consign one to Hell, even for rejection of the Gospel, if God’s wrath was expiated. It has been formulated either as a ‘fairness’, or ‘legal’ objection. The ‘fairness’ objection is fallacious, not to mention disingenuous, and the ‘legal’ argument is answered by legal precedent. The instance I mentioned was quoted by Kenneth Keathley in Salvation and Sovereignty, A Molinist Approach. A man was once executed for rejecting a pardon granted him.
        Overall, however, the objection is a confused conflation of propitiation and its purpose, and libertarianism.

        While I’ve done my best to be scrupulous in my ‘research’ I can’t boast of any formal instruction, so if I’m ignorant of something which might have been obvious otherwise, feel free to correct/inform.

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