Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement
Naselli, Andrew David and Mark A. Snoeberger, eds. Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015. 242 pp. $24.99.
This book offers the three mainstream views on the question, for whom did Christ die?
Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, defends the definite or limited atonement view. Trueman contends that Christ only died for the elect, and that his atonement is not offered to every individual person. Rather than exclusively taking the road most traveled (election), he builds much of his case on sacrifice and intercession in the Old Testament and its parallels with the sacrifice and priestly intercession of Christ. In preaching, he argues that the definite atonement view allows the preacher to boldly proclaim that their sins have been dealt with once and for all, and that their salvation is guaranteed via God’s particular redemption.
Grant Osborne, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, offers the general or unlimited atonement view. Osborne makes the case that Christ died for every individual, everywhere, and that God grants every person the ability to choose salvation. He notes that while definite atonement proponents often turn to election as the basis for their view, he prefers the Wesleyan Arminian route of placing stress on the Holy Spirit’s work of sin-conviction and choice-enablement. Both views are equally logical, he says, but the general atonement view is more biblically viable. In preaching, he contends that the general atonement view allows for the genuine, universal call for every individual to believe.
John Hammett, Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, espouses the multiple-intentions view. In this go-between view, he makes that case that Christ’s atonement is universally intended for all and particularly applied to the elect. He also adds a third layer, positing that Christ’s universal atonement extends to redemption of creation—the atonement is not only individual, but cosmic. In preaching, he proposes that the multiple-intentions view is the best of both worlds—it validates the offer of salvation to all and ensures the salvation of the elect.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
While the theological developments and nuances are crucial to the debate, it’s the person-to-person ministry on the ground that matters in the end. Indeed, theology should always result in real life application. It’s simply impossible to separate belief from action in these matters for at least two reasons.
First, when preaching or teaching on texts like 1 Timothy 2:1 or 4:10, it would behoove the teacher to know how to handle such a text both theologically and practically. This book offers the range of views on such crucial texts, but more than that, it shows how the broader theological discussion shapes exegesis of different passages. As Trueman rightly notes, this debate is as much a theological matter as it is an exegetical matter; no amount of proof-texting will settle the question because one’s position on this topic is influenced by his or her view of the grand narrative of Scripture.
Second, is it absolutely necessary, disingenuous, or a bold-faced lie to look any person in the eye and say, “Christ has died for you”? Each contributor offers a different response to how this works out, and where one lands on this issue will directly impact how he or she exhorts and counsels others, or how one trains others to read the Bible.
It is clear that the editors and contributors have a heart for ministry. Every chapter includes practical application and concern for how to preach the gospel in light of the atonement debate. The contributors (rightly) agree that preaching the gospel to and calling for repentance from every person who hears is necessary, and to shirk that responsibility would be disobedience.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
This book is a valuable addition to any pastor’s library because it discusses a theological debate that applies directly to preaching, teaching, discipleship, and evangelism.