Saturday, August 12, 2006

Time to Stop Making the "L" a Litmus Test for Reformed

About a year and a half ago, I carried on a dialogue with James White on the extent of the atonement. The entire series may be found under NOTABLE SERIES in the sidebar to the right, but here are the links:

Christmas Calvinist
Limited Atonement or Intentional Atonement?
A Brief Aside
When Does Our Union with Christ's Death Occur? (Part 1)
When Does Our Union with Christ's Death Occur? (Part 2)
When Does Our Union with Christ's Death Occur? (Part 3)
The Limited Atonement Debate in Historical Perspective

Since that time, it appears, that debate has been reopened by some other bloggers. One of the resources that came up in the discussion is a very helpful outline from Bruce Ware, Professor of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ware calls his position (II.C on the outline) alternately "Un/Limited Atonement," Multiple Intensions View," and "Four Point Calvinism"--though I have doubts about the third title since it is also used by those who see no multiple intention.

In any case, Ware argues for his "multiple intentions" view in a virtually identical way as I argue for what I have called "4.5 Calvinism." I would add to that outline the historical evidence that many of the earlier reformed writers also held to this view (including Calvin himself), and that full-blown five-point calvinism did not begin to hold sway until much later in the game.

So, when someone refers to 5-point calvinism as "the reformed view," I have to ask, According to whom? Without doubt, there are many in the reformed camp today who hold to all five points of TULIP. But that certainly has not been the historical reformed view (see my final installment to that debate at this link); and so it is an error, plain and simple, for anyone in that camp to claim their view is "the reformed view."

It is time for us--as those who fully affirm the complete and utter sovereignty of God, the divine decree of God that he has determined all things that shall come to pass, and the election of those God has chosen from the foundations of the world through no action, potential merit, or foreseen effort of their own--to stop making the "L" a litmus test for reformed theology. If you prefer to hold to the "L" (though I think you are on exegetically precarious ground to do so), well and good. I embrace you as a reformed believer who is in error on that point. But the minute you make statements like the "L" represents the reformed view--and anyone who denies it is some kind of Arminian--then you are speaking in a historical vacuum, preferring theological ramifications to exegetical observations, and unnecessarily alienating those who are otherwise your allies. In a word, you marginalize yourself by drawing a circle around "reformed" that excludes all but a small minority of those who enthusiastically affirm the sovereignty of God in the redemption of man.