Blogger Tony Byrnes blogged over at Theological Meditations: Sufficiency Analogies on the sufficiency of the atonement as understood historically in its theological development. You will note that semantics really do matter in this discussion. He makes the following comments in the post:
The efficiency, or the effectual application of Christ’s death, was thought to involve the necessary work of the Holy Spirit working through a sovereign regenerating act and the instrumentality of faith. In other words, Christ’s death, taken by itself, does not ipso facto release anyone from their sin debt. Faith (as an instrument) appropriates the benefit, and only the elect obtain it because of the Spirit quickening them in order that they may have the moral liberty (removal of the moral barrier) to do so. The rest do not obtain it because of their own remaining moral depravity, i.e., they have only themselves to blame. There are no physical or natural barriers in the way of the non-elect that blocks their pardon. Only their own stubborness is the barrier.
As the Synod Dort says:
“However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient [Tony: there are no natural barriers in the way], but because they themselves are at fault [Tony: their own moral barrier remains].”
I personally hold the view of John Owen and would state that the efficacy of the atonement is aimed solely for the elect. I believe that the regenerating work of the Spirit proceeds from the divine decree of the Father’s choosing, the Son’s definite purchasing, and thus consequently the Spirit’s applying. I therefore do believe in a hypothetical efficacy for all men.
It’s important to note that from our perspective we must function within the paradigm of the atonement being actually sufficient for all. We do not see the elect and therefore can only call all men to repentance, knowing that the atonement is sufficient for all who turn to him. Jesus promises to cast out none who come to him. The doctrinal affirmation of the divine decree in a restricted sense ought not hinder our evangelistic efforts at all. We call all to the conditions of repentance, everyone.
Tony is on to something in his understanding of the Synod of Dordt. It speaks of the atonement’s lack of application owing only to man’s inability and not so much to the divine decree to restrict the application to a definite number. Some have called this “4 1/2 point Calvinism”. The argument would be that the restriction is not owing to the aim of the cross, but rather in the application of the Spirit in regenerating only the elect. I do not agree with such a view, but it is been an interesting and controversial suggestion. R.T. Kendall wrote a thesis, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford University Press, 1979, 2d ed. Paternoster, 1997), contending for such a view and there have been some others who consider themselves 4 1/2 pointers.
I would venture to say that I function within my fallibility as to the specific recipients of the divine decree and therefore preach the Gospel freely (as opposed to hyper-Calvinism) to the all men. While we might disagree on the nature of the hypothetical efficiency, etc, it is safe to say that we are not universalists and therefore believe the terms of repentance need to be met for conversion. We both believe in man’s inability and the necessary work of the Spirit in conversion. We therefore function in like fashion, only drawing distinct doctrinal understandings of the efficiency of the atonement regarding those who aren’t converted.
© 2011, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.