Saturday, March 20, 2010

Addressing a Boettner Quote About Limited Atonement

Here is an oft-quoted statement made by a respected reformed writer, Loraine Boettner, defending the reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement:
"Let there be no misunderstanding at this point. The Arminian limits the atonement as certainly as does the Calvinist. The Calvinist limits the extent of it in that he says it does not apply to all persons (although as has already been shown, he believes that it is efficacious for the salvation of the large proportion of the human race); while the Arminian limits the power of it, for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody. The Calvinist limits it quantitatively, but not qualitatively; the Arminian limits it qualitatively, but not quantitatively. For the Calvinist it is like a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian it is like a great wide bridge which goes only half-way across. As a matter of fact, the Arminian places more severe limitations on the work of Christ than does the Calvinist." (1)

I read an Arminian blog recently which addressed this quote. While I agree with that writer that "Boettner's representation of Arminianism is demonstrably false," I disagree with some of his supporting arguments. That is to say, I found most of his points compelling, but it did not seem to me that his writing actually answered all the concerns brought forward by Boettner. As a result, I have set out to write my own response to these issues.

Let me first, though, say that I do not call myself an Arminian. However, I do agree with the view of atonement that the Arminian supports: That Christ died for all, and yet that not all will go to heaven; That Christ's death was sufficient for the salvation of all, but efficient only for those who believe; That Christ's death provided salvation for everyone, but procured salvation for those who believe. I, not calling myself an Arminian, will not speak for Arminians, but rather will speak for Non-Calvinists Christians (NCCs) who disagree with the first four points of Calvinism.

Addressing the quote piece by piece:

"Let there be no misunderstanding at this point. The Arminian limits the atonement as certainly as does the Calvinist."

Well, I would say that Calvinism certainly does attempt to limit the atonement. Boettner admits, in that statement, that Calvinists do limit the atonement of God. He puts forward the idea that NCCs also limit the atonement of God, but in a different way. How so?

We claim, as Kevin Jackson said, that Scripture teaches that God loves the world and that Jesus died for all (John 3:16, 1 Tim 2:5-6). Jesus' sacrifice was for everyone (Heb 2:9). His sacrifice is applied to those who accept it in faith (John 1:12-13). That certainly does not seem to be limited Christ's atonement, but rather giving it credit for being as extensive as it actually was. But Boetner will go on to explain why he thinks that NCC, with this broad view of the atonement, is actually limiting it.

"The Calvinist limits the extent of it in that he says it does not apply to all persons (although as has already been shown, he believes that it is efficacious for the salvation of the large proportion of the human race);"
Again, he admits that Calvinism limits the atonement. However, to say that the Calvinist believed the atonement to be efficacious for the salvation of the large proportion of the human race seems controversial, at best. All the Calvinists that I have talked to on the subject, and I know many, would say rather that few will be saved.

"Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Mt. 7:14

"while the Arminian limits the power of it, for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody."
Does not actually save anybody? Do not Non-Calvinist Christians claim that they themselves are saved? NCCs would say that the atonement of Christ, in and of itself, actually does save people. Who does it save? The elect. Who are the elect? Those who believe on Christ as Lord and Savior. We claim that the atonement of Christ does actually save the elect. We also say that election is conditional.

Do not, I urge this point, confused conditional election with synergism. I wrote a blog on it here: Link. I believe in monergism. God saves people by His own power and strength, according to His own will. We do not assist in our own salvation. God saves us. We do not save ourselves. We do not help to save ourselves. We do not assist in regenerating ourselves. But God saves only those who meet His condition, which He Himself set, according to His own good pleasure and the counsel of His will: He saves only those who believe.

Again, NCCs do not limit the power of the atonement by saying in itself it does not actually save anybody. For we say that in itself it actually does save the elect, who are those who believe. Christ died for everyone, and that is called Universal Atonement. However, not all are saved, which would be Universalism. Let me re-emphasize this point: Non-Calvinist Christians do not believe, somehow, that Christ died for everyone in such a way as saved no one. Rather, Universal Atonement teaches that Christ's death provided salvation for all, and procured salvation only for those who believe.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:14

To help this point to be understood, I will compare Jesus' atonement to the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness, which is a biblical comparison. The serpent, being lifted up, provided a way of healing for all who were bitten. It was sufficient for the healing of all of them. However, not all of them received the benefit of that offer. Only those who looked upon the serpent were healed. The serpent was sufficient for the healing of all, but only efficacious for the healing of those who looking upon it. The serpent was lifted up for all those who were suffering, but only those who looked on it accepted the healing offered by the Lord.

"The Calvinist limits it quantitatively, but not qualitatively; the Arminian limits it qualitatively, but not quantitatively."
The Calvinist does limit it quantitatively, but the Non-Calvinist Christian limits it neither qualitatively nor quantitatively. We believe that in quantity, it provides salvation for all. Yet in quality, it procures regeneration, justification, sanctification, and eventual glorification for those that believe. In quality, it is perfect and powerful. We, whose sins are covered in the blood of Christ, and who are clothes in the Righteousness of Christ, are secure in Christ forever. This is no cheapening of the atonement. In what way is this not quality?

Boettner merely misunderstands the opposing position. He believes that we limit it qualitatively because he believes that we put forward the idea that the atonement of Christ "does not actually save anybody." He is wrong, for we do not put forward that idea, and therefore do not limit is qualitatively.

"For the Calvinist it is like a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian it is like a great wide bridge which goes only half-way across."
I would agree with Kevin Jackson's answer to this point that "No one believes in a bridge that goes halfway across. The narrow bridge analogy much better describes the Arminian view of atonement than it does the Calvinist view. In Arminianism, Jesus Christ is the bridge. He beckons all to cross. Those who believe in him are the ones who cross the bridge and benefit. For a bridge to be of benefit one must cross it. A bridge is provisionally useful. Not everyone crosses a bridge, but anyone can. This is the Arminian understanding of the atonement. In Calvinism the reprobate are dead and have no way to cross the bridge, and yet are still commanded to do so. The "elect" do not cross the bridge either. They are somehow irresistibly dragged across. The Calvinist view of the atonement is more akin to an invisible and random wormhole that teleports a few lucky ones to the other side."

A complete bridge provides all with the opportunity to get to the other side, and yet only those who cross the bridge will get to the other side. This is analogous to Christ provided all with the opportunity to be saved, and only those who believe on Him as Savior will be saved. The half-made bridge is analogous to Boettner's idea of an atonement that is offered to all, but provides salvation to no one; And as I pointed out previously, we do not believe that, though he thinks we do.

"As a matter of fact, the Arminian places more severe limitations on the work of Christ than does the Calvinist."
And yet, the only "limitation" we hypothetically place on it is one in which we do not believe or teach. If we did indeed teach that Christ's atonement does not, in itself, save anyone, we most certainly would be placing a severe limitation of the work of Christ. But we do not, and thus the accusation is unfounded. We believe that the atonement is universal in scope, and provisional in application. This is what the Bible says, and this is what we believe.

1 Limited Atonement by Loraine Boettner.

Thoughts on Theistic Darwinism

Recently, the topic came up that one could believe in God and Bible, and still believe evolution.

It was suggested that rejecting evolution because of Genesis is based in a historically recent and unnecessary reading of the Bible. Well, firstly, I would say that there are many true christians who do believe in evolution, and that a christian can possibly believe it. However, I believe that a literal reading of the Scripture denies evolution. Even the gap theory, which explains that the seven "days" were not literal days, but rather ages. This does not make sense to me, because the plants would have all died within those ages before the sun. Also, I think that macro-evolution denies that man was the created in the image of God, separate from the beasts, and that he sinned as described in Genesis. From another point of view, evolution is scientifically false. There seems no reason to believe in it at all.

In any case, it got me thinking about the topic, and I remembered this article I'd read. Randy Hay wrote this piece about why he rejected the idea of theistic Darwinism, and I found it very thought-provoking and compelling. So here it is:


As you’re probably aware it is not my wont to write about Controversial Issues. Recently, however, I’ve had a couple of requests for the account of my conversion from theistic Darwinism, so I decided to go ahead and take pen in hand.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m being frivolous or grotesque in what follows. In point of fact, I had to quit writing at one point because discussing things like “Adam’s father” is more than a little disturbing. But I really think these questions need to be asked, and this is the only way I could do it.

(By the way, I don’t use the term “conversion” carelessly. Evolution is presented as almost a sort of religious belief; it’s something you’re asked to “believe in”...and those who ask the question often have a touch of fervor in their voice.)

While scientific evidence—or the lack thereof—played a part of my rejection of evolution, it was the hokey Hollywood movie Clan of the Cave Bear that led me to my actual conversion, back in the mid 80's.

In case you never saw that one, it is about a group of “early men” and Daryl Hannah. I can’t remember if they were supposed to be CroMagnon Men, Neanderthal Men or what. While Nebraska Man was actually a peccary tooth (oops, Science must have goofed) the romantic name appeals to my Midwestern heritage so I’ll call them Nebraska Men...or, better yet, Nebraska Dudes.

Anyhow, the movie is about a group of these fellows. One evening they’re sitting around the old fire, and Nebraska Dude gets an idea in his head about Nebraska Chick Daryl. Since people aren’t human yet they don’t have Orthodox marriage...and the Dude has his way with her.
The thing is—the thing that wrenched me from my world view—was the fact that she didn’t want him to.

There was question here I couldn’t evade, and that shook me to the core of my being. It was this: Was it morally wrong for the Dude to force himself on her?

If the Chickette was an animal it couldn’t be wrong. God hadn’t breathed a soul into her yet, and soulless animals aren’t morally responsible beings; how can they be victims of immorality? God supposedly created survival-of-the-species, and the species needed to reproduce to survive. In this Darwinian paradigm the Dude notched a good work.

But, cheesy as this movie was, it didn’t allow that interpretation. Nebraska Chick was crying out in agony; she was being violated, trying to escape. You were rooting for her; there was no moral ambiguity. The Dude clearly wasn’t advancing the species; he was committing a crime.

The questions rattled around in my this really what made me who I am? If these are supposed to be non-people, why is it so disturbing to see the Chick violated? If they’re actually people, how can they be “early man”?

Once you ask these questions, you can’t get away from next: when the dudes bludgeon other dudes to death is it heinous murder or Darwinian morality?

This leads to the deeper question of why would God create us through violence and death, and then suddenly reverse all the rules when we became homo sapiens? Our forebears were supposed to kill, loot and pillage for thousands of generations to make us who we are; and now we’re expected to be appalled and shocked when people do that today? Cain is a bad fellow for doing what everybody had been doing for millions of years?? One moment the earth is a nightmare of bludgeonings, starvation, rape and dismemberment, and then suddenly God makes it Paradise?

This divine flip-flopping smacks of Islam and their heaven, where it’s OK to do sins that are forbidden on earth.

You can have theories about the Dudes (or any “early men”) not being real people; but as soon as it is made a little more non-theoretical for you—as in even a B movie—that all goes down the drain. The morality and anthropology just don’t add up.


Once you start asking these questions you can’t stop.

If evolution is true, if man comes from monkey, Adam’s parents were animals. This begs the question: When Adam’s father died, did Adam mourn for the death of a human or an animal?

If Adam’s father was an animal then there was certainly no cause for grief. I was pretty sad when my rat Alfred keeled over when I was six, I must admit....but that is quite different from grieving for the loss of a human. No, you can’t have real grief over an animal the way you have grief over a person. The Fathers tell us we’re not supposed to; it’s sinful.

But try to picture it. Try to picture Adam grieving for his father the way you would mourn a rat, or even a hamster or a budgie. He heaves a sigh, grabs Dad’s foot and drags his corpse over to a hole, rolls him in and packs the dirt down, hopping up and down on it, hoping there won’t be any dogs or coons coming along to dig it up.

Is this what it means to be created in the image of God? To be begotten of a the union of animals, and to see your father pass without grief? To have no hope he will be resurrected? Wasn’t Adam a saint and type of Christ? Is it fitting for a saint and type of Christ to hop up and down on his father’s grave? Isn’t this what we’d actually expect from a Mafia guy rather than a saint?

Or perhaps I was being over-fanciful; perhaps there was no pit. Perhaps Adam simply dragged Pops off away from the camp and left him to the carrion-eaters.

The problem with that is, what happens if God turns the nightmare-world into Paradise before Adam Senior decays? Doesn’t a paternal corpse spoil the whole aesthetic of Eden? This question is even more pressing if Adam wasn’t a real person as we know it; if he was just a symbol of newly-emerging homo sapiens. If this is the case, if “Adam” is really a whole race of Dudes, then there are going to be a whole lot of corpses in Paradise; millions of guys who didn’t quite make it in time (and of course plain old non-human animals as well). Isn’t “Adam’s” first job going to be to clean up the corpses before he tends the garden? Where do you stash corpses in Eden? There can’t be any carrion-eaters after God suddenly turns the hellhole into Paradise, because death is temporarily suspended.

There had to have been corpses in the Paradise of theistic evolution; but if there were corpses then it wasn’t Paradise. And God can’t have suddenly cleaned them all up for us, because then there wouldn’t have been any fossils, which are what supposedly reveal this wonderful edifying picture of our divine origin.

Or maybe all the stuff about Paradise was symbolic; if Adam was symbolic, why couldn’t the garden be symbolic, and the angel and the sword too? Maybe it wasn’t an actual place as we think of it. But then...if it wasn’t a real Paradise then there wasn’t a real Fall; and if there wasn’t a real Fall there wasn’t a real Redemption; and if there wasn’t a real Redemption we really don’t have much to look forward to after the next beer.


Perhaps this is all the wrong paradigm. Perhaps God created our souls piecemeal, bit by bit. Perhaps the elder Mr. Adam was half man and half animal and had half a soul.

How can you have half a soul? Isn’t the body inextricably tied to the soul? Death is when body and soul are separated, and resurrection is when they’re re-united. If you have half a soul, it seems to me you can’t have more than half a body. Which half would it be, the horizontal half or the vertical half? Or would you be diagonal? I’m sure you could get a pretty impressive-sounding scientific name out of that one. (However, I’ve scrutinized Orthodox iconography and have yet to come across the figure of DiagonalMan.)

If Adam Sr. had half a soul, then his forebears must have had less: a third of a soul, a quarter, 9% or 2% or whatever. As a coffee drinker I can’t help thinking in those terms: a tall soul, grande soul, a venti soul .... or, to paraphrase Steve Martin, a half-caff double cap soul, with a twist of lemon. What about being created in the image of God? Are these percentages applicable to how much our forebears bore the image of God? What’s the ratio of soul to image? When can you say you are created in the image of the Dude, and when in the image of God?

And at what point were they human? What percentage of a soul do you need to be human? What percentage of a soul do you need to have moral responsibility? To be a victim? Did the Dude commit half a rape? If the Dude and Chick were each half-human, it must have added up to a quarter of a rape; .5 x .5 = .25. You can’t deny the math. Still, if he committed any amount of rape, didn’t he sin? How can there be sin before the Fall? Isn’t sin what the Fall is?
Getting down to brass tacks, why would God breathe 2% soul into Nebraska Dude? Why not just be done with it and create Adam?

Indeed, why create a nightmare world of death and pain in which the Dudes lope around furtively, hoping they haven’t lost their matches? Don’t we all really sense that death comes from our sin rather than a fiat of God? If you saw Clan you’ll understand what nasty things happen if you’re a dude without fire. Assuming you don’t die a horrible death by disease, ambush, saber-tooth tiger, bushwhacking or raptor, the cold will get you every time. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to live in that world. You’d be better off living in a pagan myth than the ghastly slaughterhouse of evolution. And if God did create the world a nightmare, why didn’t He just tell us about it? Why paint such an idealized picture of the world before the Fall? Why not tell us the truth about ourselves? If Scripture misleads us here, how do we know it doesn’t mislead us about other stuff?

— Not to belabor the point, I found the propositions inherent in theistic evolution so absurd I turned the movie off before it was over and became a creationist.

Adam was...well, Adam.

Friday, March 19, 2010


The Three Dimensions of Causality

When I was younger, I used to think that causality was pretty simple. Either something caused something else, or it didn't. Now, I still think it's pretty simple, but I have a more complete mental model of what I think it is. Just recently, I had chinese food with my older brother, and we discussed all sorts of intriguing concepts, including the concept of causality. The topic came up when we were discussing if God was the first cause of everything, and what that means practically. Pretty soon, we realized that I was using a much more narrow definition of "cause" than he was, but after much discussion, I came to accept a broader definition of the word. In the discussion, though, we both came to realize that there just like there are three dimensions of space, there are three dimensions of causality.

The Three Dimensions

Now, before I go on to describe what I think that causality IS, let me explain what I think it isn't. I think that there is a difference because influence and cause. A cause is something that is necessary to the chain of events - without that cause, the event would not happen. Influence is merely something that inclined things in a certain direction. For example, if I flick the light switch, I am causing the light to turn on. On the other hand, if I tell my sister that I'm going to watch House, that may influence her to stop working on homework. You can see the difference. My sister would probably stop working on her homework even without my influence; my influence was not part of the necessary chain of a events and therefore was not a cause. Secondly, I do not think that causality is passive. If something is passive, it will simply allow things to keep on doing what they are already doing. You can actively push your younger brother, and you can actively block your older brother from pushing your younger brother. Those are active. If you are a pacifist, and do not block when someone tries to hit you, you have not caused them to hit you. You were passive. So, to recap those thoughts, causality is active rather than passive, and is more than just influence: It's a necessary part of the chain of events leading up to the event in question.

So, what are the three dimensions of causality? Before I explain them, I will draw a diagram to show the three dimensions. [It'll be more awesome that way]

So, one dimention is that a cause can be either direct or indirect. If my little sister takes a toy out of my little brother's hand, she directly caused him to lose possession of that toy. Mob bosses, on the other hand, don't prefer to do their own dirty work, and make things happen indirectly. If I turn on the light, even, I am the indirect cause. I cause one plastic thing to switch positions, which causes another something to switch, and the electricity flow causes the light to turn on. On the other hand, if I punch the wall, I can directly cause it to break.

Another dimention is that some things are intentional, and somethings are not intentional. I could directly cause a car accident by going into an intersection, while the light is green, while an ambulance is running a red light, but the accidently would be caused unintentionally: I simply wouldn't have known that the ambulance was going to run that red light. On the other hand, if I'm riding bumper cars, and I go out of my way to hit your car, that would be intentional.

Finally, there are many things necessary in a chain of causation. To light a candle, the candle has to be caused to exist, and I have to be caused to exist, and I must have access to a lighter of some sort, and there must be oxygen in the room, and I must be physically capable of making the lighter work, etc, etc, etc. There are many many indirect causes to anything. The guy who made the engine of the car was (indirectly) part of the chain of causation which made the two year die after being by a drunk guy driving a speeding car. That guy was only only an unintentional and indirect cause, but was also a non-determining cause. It was not his actions that set off the chain of events or determined that the girl would die. The person who choose to drive drunk was unintentionally and directly the determining cause. A mob boss, on the other hand, intentionally and indirectly, causes people's death in a way that pretty much determines that it happens. When I turn on the light switch, the electricity is a cause (for without it, the light wouldn't turn on) but I am the determining cause.

So, every cause is a cause, and yet there are different kinds of causes. I think that all causes that can truly be called "causes" can be found somewhere on this three dimensional chart. Why does this all matter? Well, it helps one sort out in one's mind just who is responsible for what. Was it little Jonny's fault that Aunt Helen got all upset because he didn't like her baking? When he promised not to turn the lights off, and then used a stick to flip the light switch, is that a legitimate excuse? It's all food for thought.