Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Atonement: Sufficient for Some, Efficient for Some

They call us Hypothetical Universalists because we assert that hypothetically everyone could be saved, all that's separating them from paradise is their own stubborn wills, and if they would but believe they would be saved. It's a derogatory term of course, sticking the heresy of Universalism in the name is a pretty cheap shot, but that's how the game is played.
Anywho it's pretty common to see those same high Calvinists say they hold to the Lombardian formula--which asserts that Christs death was sufficient for all, efficient for the elect--but when push comes to shove they'll admit they don't in fact hold to it. What they hold to instead is sufficient for some, efficient for some. And that one isn't sturdy enough to support the Gospel.

An Analogy

Thomas, Richard, and Harry are in jail for parking ticket violations. In fact everyone in their town is incarcerated for this. They owe millions and millions of dollars in so many unpaid parking tickets that the judge for the county eventually just locked everyone up because nobody had any intention of paying. Although at this point it would be more accurate to say everyone to a man is incapable of paying the monstrous debt they've run up.
Fortunately for these three, their friend is the current chair of the federal reserve, and he wants to help by getting them out of trouble. He wants to pay their debt. That's handy because him being who he is means he can literally print up as much money as he needs--he has an effectively unlimited and bottomless amount of resources to get the job done. So he goes to the judge and says, "Your honor, I want to get my friends Tom, Dick, and Harry out, and I'm leaving this enormous stack of blank checks here for this purpose." The judge replies, "Alright Mr. [Sock Puppet] I tell you what, if they apologize for the infraction and thank me for agreeing to this deal then I'll accept your payment on their behalf."
"It's a deal then. I'll let you go inform your friends."
"Thanks your honor." He says, confident the matter is settled and looking forward to seeing his friends released soon.

Now what happens if Susan sees all this all go down and wants in on the action? The judge will say to her, "Yes it is true the offering is of unlimited value but so what? He didn't make it on your behalf."
"But your honor I'm sorry I ran up the bill and I'd be so grateful if you let me go."
"That deal wasn't with you. The money is not yours, it was never intended for you, and it's not given for you. You have no right to access it and I'll hear nothing further on the matter."

The Parallel

This is exactly the situation the High Calvinist presents to us. God can neither call nor command all men to believe in His Son because there is nothing to believe in. The atonement is of unlimited value with respect only to the elect, and of no value to the non-elect, and it's false to say it's of unlimited  value for all. I suppose you could say it's hypothetically sufficient for all, but I wouldn't because that's not a good enough moniker to nail the high Calvinists to the wall with. Therefore, don't let them introduce this element into the discussion of the Sincere Offer since it's merely a red herring, a way of escaping the difficulties presented with a strictly limited atonement.
"You high Calvinists don't believe in the sincere offer. Neither do you believe that if any man believed he would be saved since the non-elect may believe and still not be saved."
"That's not true, we believe the value of Christ's sacrifice is unlimited, because He is of unlimited worth."
"That's just a distraction. His unlimited worth was explicitly not given to the non-elect, so all men can't access it no matter what they do."

"But... unlimited value!"
"You're really not even listening are you?"


Other Closing Thoughts

One potential escape is to say there's no invitation to salvation for sinners in the Bible. God never invites sinners to come and be saved, He commands them to repent. Aside from the fact that that's not at all how Scripture presents it, the mistake is that the assertion is smuggling in a hostility to men being saved, and that the command isn't given in love. That is to say, God really isn't pleased about men being invited, He's angry, and the word command better encapsulates this dynamic. But this is flat wrong. We are to understand the command in light of the offer, not the other way around.
This morning I asked my son if he wanted to go to the store with me--I invited him along. He agreed enthusiastically but then just stood there, so I issued a follow up command, "Put your shoes on and we can go!" The command was almost an invitation in itself, it was just in a different form. It was given in love just the same. The command didn't invalidate my offer or supplant it, it clarified and supported it.

Lastly, I'm convinced two can play at this naming game. Hypothetical Universalism eh? We might start calling the High Calvinsits Eutychianists. That's pretty close to what they believe even. I suspect it's time to think it over and come up with something good.  

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