Miscellanies: On the Extent of the Atonement, ‘From Heaven He Came and Sought Her’, The Power of Dogmatic, and Galatians 3:16

I am still reading David Gibson’s and Johnathan Gibson’s just recently released book on ‘Definite Atonement’ (aka Limited AtonementFrom Heaven He Came and Sought Her. I am at chapter 8, but skipped ahead and brownjesusskimmed Jonny Gibson’s first (of two) chapter, which attempts to deal with the particularistic texts as well as the universalistic texts offered by Scripture. I am not going to review what he has written, yet (because I haven’t finished his chapters in full, yet). I will say, though, that my general impression is (and unsurprisingly) that Gibson’s theological assumptions are largely framing his way into his exegesis of said passages, and thus his exegetical conclusions—although to be fair he takes a less triumphalistic approach, and simply argues from a more minimalist (and easier) thesis, which is that even if he can’t definitively prove that definite atonement is present in the universalistic passages, that at least in a complementary way, these passages can be read together with the particularistic passages in a way that, at least, demonstrates that they are open to the more definitive particularistic passages (which is where Gibson’s theology comes in again; i.e. his privileging of ‘definite atonement’ theology, which becomes the frame for him).

Anyway, this is as far as I am going to get into commenting on his chapter at this point. In lieu of further commentary on the aforementioned book, and to make this post even more disjointed (even if thematically it is coherent); let me share something I posted on my Facebook wall last night off the top (as a quick reflection on the topic of limited atonement as it related to my Scripture reading last night, and in particular involving Galatians 3:16). Here is what I wrote:

Limited atonement/particular redemption/definite atonement; my view in summary:

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed, He does not say, And to seeds, as referring to many, but rather to one, And to your seed, that is, Christ.” Galatians 3:16

Atonement is limited to Christ’s life, not to the many. Atonement, the resurrection life that is produced by dying, going into the ground, and rising up as the first fruits of the harvest, the firstborn from the dead is the One particular Person who reconciles all into the Father by His shed blood. Atonement is definitely limited to Christ alone, and Christ is for all without exception, or He is for none. The Father’s choice was limited to His Son, and His Son’s choice was for humanity; His assumed, and in His assumed, ours.

My way into this discussion, then, in contrast to Jonny Gibson’s way in, is going to start with Christ as the ‘analogy of faith’ by which I order and regulate my reading of Scripture. Some might argue that this is a dogmatic/systematic theological imposition and thus eisogetical approach toward engagement with the text of Scripture. But I would counter by agreeing that, indeed, it is a kind of dogmatic or confessional engagement with the Text, but then, so is everyone’s engagement with the Text. And for my money, if engagement with the Text of Scripture is necessarily Dogmatic (as it is, indeed: even reading Scripture as Scripture admits and presupposes that we are starting from a necessarily Dogmatic or Confessional frame with a our respective doctrines of Scripture), then it is best to be intentional about that, and to be as Christianly Dogmatic about such things—while honoring the integrity and contours of the Text—as we can. It seems better to me, then, to start things out (when approaching Scripture), with a doctrine of God, which leads to and from (dialectically) a doctrine of Christ, which leads then to a doctrine of creation, which leads then to a doctrine of theo-anthropology, which leads then to a doctrine of Scripture, etc. In other words, lets be very up front about what informs our Confessionalism (and Gibson is, really), and proceed from there. It just happens, then, that if we follow the theology of Jonny Gibson’s Dogmatic theology out to its conclusion, that there is a major flaw (one that Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth never tire of calling out); viz. (for Gibson’s approach) that creation predicates God’s grace instead of vice versa (I would have to argue for this later, and have done so suggestively in other posts ad infinitum).

So I digressed. What I put up on Facebook was simply to note that God’s choice in election (to use the classical language), has to do with His choice of His Son, and both of their choice for the Son to elect humanity for Himself. This is where the “tension” of Scripture finds repose and resonance, and this is where this discussion ought to stay; in Christ. I’ll leave this here for now.

This entry was posted in Biblical Interpretation, Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Christian Dogmatics, Christology, Critiquing Classic Calvinism, Doctrine Of Creation, Doctrine Of God, Doctrine of God, Election, Evangelical Calvinism, Jonathan Gibson, Reflection, Salvation, Soteriology. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Miscellanies: On the Extent of the Atonement, ‘From Heaven He Came and Sought Her’, The Power of Dogmatic, and Galatians 3:16

  1. Excellent summary. Galatians 3:16 is going to be my go to passage from now on. I love how Christocentric it is. Thanks, Bobby.

    ps. Unrelated news: I got my U.S. visa today. I’m moving to Los Angeles:)


  2. Bobby Grow says:


    There is more work to be done on Galatians 3:16, and trying to fit it into a text that might speak to election. But I do think there is something pretty profound presupposed in this text, and as a text I think, in the least, what it does is ground God’s “choice” for the nations in His Son, in the Messiah; and thus ought to cause us to re-think, maybe, how we engage with this doctrine–and to do so biblically and christ-centeredly.

    That is awesome about your visa! Praise the Lord!


  3. Cal says:

    I think this goes to say that Christ is the ‘speculum electionis(sp?)’ (mirror of election) and that followers are elected, as Bullinger put it, not directly but into Christ. Any theological opinion unhinged from Christ goes into insanity. Thus has ‘justification by faith alone’ and faith for the Lutherans, holiness for the Wesleyans, and election for Calvinism. All end up collapsing into themselves and creating false images of God. This isn’t exclusive or definitive, but a general feel for things over the centuries.

    As Jacques Ellul put it: “[Jesus] is Himself, Himself alone, the answer, the goal, and the Kingdom of God present on Earth”. Or as Paul put it, every blessing is in Him.



  4. Bobby Grow says:

    Yes, Christ is the image, and we are images of the image reflecting God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Good insight, Cal. I think the Lutheran vantage point and sola fide has been adequately thickened by Barth, and the Calvinist perspective on election by Barth and Torrance, and the Wesleyan, again, by Barth and Torrance, and maybe even some of the Puritans (dare I say!).

    Ellul is right. Jesus is the reason for the season.


  5. MARK MCCULLEY says:

    Nettles (By His Grace and For his Glory) quotes Andrew Fuller: “We could say that a certain number of Christ’s acts of obedience becomes ours as that certain number of sins becomes his. In the former case his one undivided obedience affords a ground of justification to any number of believers; in the latter, his one atonement is sufficient for the pardon of any number of sins or sinners.

    Nettles explains that Fuller “misconceives the biblical relation of imputation. Justification should not be considered as analogous to atonement but rather to the imputation of Adam’s sin”.

    More from Nettles’ refutation of Andrew Fuller and “sufficient for all”.

    Error one: it’s tantamount to identifying the doctrine of effectual calling with atonement. What one really means by definite atonement is that the difference is not in the atonement but in the Spirit’s work of calling.

    “A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”


  6. MARK MCCULLEY says:

    Donald Mcleod, p202, the Person of Christ, IVP, 1998— Christ’s humanity is that of every human. But He is not every human. He is the man, Christ Jesus, and the only humanity united to him hypostatically is his own. This must control our understanding of the vicarious humanity of Christ.

    Who are the “we” and the “us” referred to by Torrance? Was Judas Iscariot born again at Bethlehem or Adolph Hitler baptized by the Spirit in the Jordan or Joseph Stalin raised from the dead? It was not the human race but the specific personalized humanity of Christ that suffered under Pontius Pilate.

    Christ is true God, but he is not the whole godhead. Christ is true human, but he is not the whole of humanity. The humanity of Christ was hypostatized in the person of the Son, not in the person of the Father. Godhead was united to manhood not in the person of Everyman but in the person of Jesus Christ.

    The hypostatic union did not by itself secure the theiosis of every human being. In fact, the hypostatic union did not by itself secure the theiosis of even our Lord’s human nature. He was glorified not because He was God incarnnte but because he finished the work given him to do (John 17:4).

    It is perfectly possible to be human and yet not be in Christ, because although the incarnation unites Christ to human nature it does not unite him to me.

    We become one flesh with Christ (Ephesians 5:31). However, that language occurs in a context where Paul compares the relationship between Christ and the church (the elect) as a marriage.


  7. MARK MCCULLEY says:

    The brothers Torrance accuse those who disagree with them of “using logic” and then themselves attempt to use logic to show that their paradigm is correct–they use different words and think they have proven a difference.

    The hidden “logic” ( premise?) is that—though God did not have to love any of “us”— if God does love any of us, then God must love us all.

    Of course it’s true that Christ’s death is not what causes God to love anybody, but it’s also true that God was never ever going to love anybody apart from Christ and His PROPITIATORY death for that person (I John 4:10 ). Indeed, God was never ever going to love anybody except some sinners, which is why God ordained “the mystery of iniquity”.

    The Lord of everybody is not the Savior of everybody.

    The one and only Savior (no other sacrifice for sin remains, Hebrews) is not the universal Savior.

    the Torrances can say that Jesus believed for us, or repented for us, but they have no Bible texts which prove that. But that (logical?) construct of unified vicarious action (adapted from Mcleod Campbell) is only a logical means to a logical antithesis—the flat denial that Jesus Christ paid legal satisfaction for anybody or was punished for sins He bore.

    The Torrances sneer at, disapprove of penal satisfaction, as an external forensic thing. But they never show that “made sin” in II Cor 5:21 means anything other than imputation of guilt.


  8. Bobby Grow says:


    Why do you provide all of these quotes in a comment? Just make a pointed point, with a question, or comment, or whatever; but it is rather confusing to try and follow what you are trying to communicate by simply dropping these quotes.

    No, TFT is not against the usage of modal logic; that’s nonsense. He works from an analogy of faith frame and his Theological Science (or dialectical and his dialogical) V. the classical approach which is analytical.

    TFT’s view of vicarious humanity etc. is based upon his understanding of the homoousion and then employed as a hermeneutical lens for engaging in theological exegesis. I could claim the same thing for anyone, even you. We all engage in theological exegesis, it is just that some are more up front and honest about it than others.


  9. MARK MCCULLEY says:

    Romans 16: 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

    My theological (dogmatic) inference—The Bible nowhere reveals any ontological change affecting all humanity as an effect of the incarnation.. Not all humans are “in Christ”, and the non-elect will all die “in Adam”


  10. Bobby Grow says:

    Well, I would argue that all humanity is in Christ ontically, but not all are in him epistemically or by faith (which I see more than just epistemically, but as a matter of ontic reality in an actualistic way … so I think dialectically).

    The Bible nowhere reveals the Trinity in the kinds of definitive or explicit way that you are using to discern things about salvation as well. If you think from the homoousion, the vicarious humanity of Christ must be central to a theory of atonement (ontological theory). It is simple theo-logic.


  11. MARK MCCULLEY says:

    I would like to find a Bible text that says that Jesus Christ believed for another person, or that Jesus Christ repented for another person. Given the absence of such texts, I don’t know how you can know what you think you know. Nobody I know is denying either the humanity of Christ or the vicarious nature of His life and His death and His resurrection. But Torrance denies that the legal guilt of sins needs divine punishment, and therefore denies vicarious penal atonement.

    If the incarnation is already the atonement (the word of course is a modern word), then what was the “theo-logic” of Christ’s death? If we reduce that “accomplishment” to the wrath of human sinners, and thereby exclude the wrath of God, can we be sure that we ourselves are saying and thinking the same thing as what the inspired writers were saying and thinking?

    In other words, it might sound good to you, but would the apostles be surprised to find out that’s what happened when Christ poured out His soul unto death at the cross?


  12. Bobby Grow says:

    Would the apostle’s be surprised to find out about the Trinity? The answer to that question would go along way towards answering the questions you have posed to me. Especially when you keep repeating the idea about the Bible explicitly saying certain things; when you know yourself that the Bible does not explicitly support many of the things I presume you endorse theologically. And this is the point; we are seeking a grammar that most faithfully proximates the implications of Scripture, and its reality in Christ.

    The problem you and I are going to continue to have is that we operate, apparently, from different theories of revelation. So trying to discuss this in any meaningful way without first identifying how that impacts our hermeneutic and our subsequent exegetical conclusions will be deleterious.

    The theo-logic of Christ’s death is what TFT calls the ‘logic of grace’ … the same logic that He created from, and recreated from in the Incarnation. Plus, TF does not reduce the atonement to the incarnation, he has nuance; and he sees the climax at the cross. Indeed, his point is that unless the cross deals with the depth dimension of our sinful heart, that it will only have forensic impact and only deal with the consequences and not the cause of sin. And so I would argue that it is the trad forensic reduction that lies on a Procrustean bed and not the one TFT argues for.

    It sounds good to me, because it offers better explanatory power–given the human condition, in light of a God/world relation–than does the trad (post Reformed orthodox) offering.


  13. Bobby Grow says:

    And Mark, Galatians 2:20 provides you with exactly what you are looking for:


    I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” KJV


  14. MARK MCCULLEY says:

    The context of Galatians 2:20 is forensic, and so there is some serious exegetical question about if the text says “Christ lives in me” or “Christ lives in regard to me”. Carson makes the argument for resurrection based on justification in his essay on imputation, p 74, What;s At Stake in Current Debates on Justification.

    Even though I deny that faith is an instrumental condition before justification, when I look at Gal 2:16, 3:22; Romans 3:22,26; Phil 3:9; Ephesians 3:12 together, I cannot deny that the ” faith of Christ” usually means the human act of believing.

    Faith does not only mean “not works”. Often in key gospel texts, like Romans 3 and 4, faith refers to an individual elect person hearing, understanding, and believing the gospel.

    We need to get behind the rhetorical “dualism” soundbite which says that Christ is the subject and thus not the object of faith The majority view (oppsed by Dunn and Silva) says we should read all these verses as saying, “Christ’s faith.”

    The Reformed people who take this view remind us that God gives us faith, that God is the source of faith. Of course I agree that faith is God’s gift of cognitive knowledge to the elect. But Christ does not believe for us. Christ makes us both able and willing to believe the gospel so that we do believe the gospel.

    Christ indwelling in us does not believe for us, and so I disagree with those Primitive Baptists who are universalists (anonymous Christians) who deny that the elect need to hear or understand or believe the gospel.

    But many who agree with me that the elect need to believe the gospel
    still insist that “faith” in these texts means “Christ’s faith”, either in the sense that He is the source of my faith, or in the sense of Christ Himself believing.

    James 2:1 tells us, “show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Christ is the object of faith. Our believing is in/toward Christ and not specifically toward His act of believing. Instead we are directed.to Christ and Him crucified, bearing sins and making propitiation.

    Romans 3:3 . “Does their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God? The gospel is about Christ’s death as that which satisfies God’s justice, and the gospel reveals the righteousness that God’s justice demands. Justice demands death because of the elect’s sins imputed to Christ. To believe that gospel promise is to believe in that death. We can’t have a gospel which speaks generically about God’s faithfulness without talking about expiation and propitiation.

    Romans 3:25,. “God put forward Christ as a propitiation by his blood to show God’s righteousness, to be received by faith.”Not all “receiving is faith (see Romans 5:11, 17) but the receiving in 3:25 is by humans who have been given by God to believe.

    God does not justify all sinners, but only of those sinners who have faith in Christ and His propitiation. This language no more makes faith the condition of salvation than does John 3:16.

    Some Reformed people, to avoid making faith a condition of salvation, tell us that the continual faith in the gospel by the elect is a “work of man”. They do this in order to show that the elect are saved not by believing but by the work of Christ.

    For example, they quote John 6:28-28, “ What shall we do to do the works of God? “ Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom He has sent.” Then they claim that the James text says it’s Christ’s faith that saves. Some of them even claim that it’s Christ’s faith AND NOT CHRIST’S DEATH which is Christ’s work. (But not all make that antithesis).

    II Peter 1:1,“ To those who have obtained faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    Romans 4:24-25 “IT will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised up for our justification.”

    1. Christ and His death are the IT, the object of faith. Faith is not the IT. Not our faith. Not Christ’s fatth. Christ and His death are the object of faith. Christ and His death are the IT credited by God.

    2. We can distinguish but never separate His person and work. Also we can distinguish but never separate his death and his resurrection.

    3. God counts according to truth. God counts righteousness as righteousness! a. The righteousness counted as righteousness is not our righteousness (not our acts of faith) but legal solidarity with Christ’s death when Christ legally marries the elect., This marriage is not to all humanity at the creation or the incarnation.

    4. Justification is not simply the righteousness of Christ, but the righteousness of Christ (His death imputed by God in time to the elect.

    Romans 6: 7 For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.


  15. Bobby Grow says:


    I wouldn’t say that Christ believes for us, per se; but I would say that his vicarious life for us is the same Spirit anointed ground from whence we can say yes from his for us as our high priest, our mediator. I see Christ as both object and subject of saving faith; both elect and elector; both God humbled and humanity exalted.

    Who said anything about denying expitiation or propitiation? God forbid! I am not sure you have read Torrance’s books Incarnation, Atonement, and Scottish Theology; it does not seem as if you have, it seems as if you are fighting a bogey-man Torrance, and not the man Thomas Torrance.

    I am somewhere between Barth and Torrance on issues involving human agency grounded in Christ’s vicarious humanity. John Webster has an excellent book on human agency in the theology of Barth, and then George Hunsinger’s book entitled How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology is also excellent on such things. Indeed, I was going to do my PhD research on the vicarious humanity of Christ and human agency with special reference to the theology of Thomas Torrance; unfortunately because of funding and logistical issues that continues to be on hold.

    I think we are at somewhat of impasse. Pax.


  16. MARK MCCULLEY says:

    We certainly have different agendas to make us comfortable. The context of Galatians 2:20 will not allow us to play creation and incarnation over against law and justice (what you despise as “contract” legalism.

    Galatians 2: 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

    mark: Works of law being any works done by us, even if enabled by the Spirit, even if only to “stay in” or “maintain”. The double mention of faith not being to say that one is Christ’s faith, but rather to put the emphasis on “as many as believe”, including Gentiles.

    Galatians 2: 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

    mark: “I died to the law” is not a result for all humanity as a a consequence of a redemptive-historical change in covenants, but by means of legal solidarity in “death for me” As in II Cor 5;14-15, there are not two deaths, one by Christ, and then one in us, but one death legally distributed to all those for whom Christ is the substitute.

    For if the grace of God were though creation already, then Christ died to no purpose. If the grace of God were complete already at incarnation, then Christ died to no purpose. if law could now simply be ignored, then Christ died for no purpose. Righteousness not being through our law satisfactions does not deny that the righteousness of God comes by Christ’s death as satisfying law.

    Too bad Paul uses the individualistic “I”. But of course we now know that people back then weren’t “individualistic”. For instance, they did not deny God’s imputation of Adam’s guilt to humanity. Nor did they attempt to escape the forensic counting of Christ’s death as penalty for some sins.


  17. Bobby Grow says:


    When I said we were at an impasse, that was code for: I’m done with this exchange. Your arguments are circular in my view. I have lots of posts where I have engaged with all of this stuff and more–at least at the depth that I’m going to on a blog. If you want to believe that God’s primary MO is through Law, that’s up to you. If you want to live with the metaphysic that hermeneutically places creation before covenant thus collapsing God into creation being shaped by the absolutum decretum that’s up to you. But at this point your continual cycle of repeating yourself with me is totally fruitless. This thread is over.


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