More Thoughts on Limiting Atonement, and the ‘Hidden God’ Back Behind It

I’m kind of in the mood to write some blog posts simply off the top, so that’s what this will be just as the last one.

I want to stay on the theme of my last post in regard to reflecting upon the classical Calvinist conception of the “L” in the TULIP; or focused on Limited Atonement (particular redemption, etc.). In the last post I briefly touched upon what this doctrine implies about who God is; in this post I want to extend that reflection. If God arbitrarily limits his “justifying” or efficacious love for a group of individuals whom he elects for eternal salvation; and further, if he ensures that love by dying ‘just’ for these elect individuals what might this suggest about this type of God? Let me offer some thoughts on what I think.

One thing this says about this type of God is that he is always already Deus Absconditus (the ‘hidden God’); that who he really is remains hidden back in some ‘remote’ ‘secretive’ will resident in the inner recesses of his transcendent life. In other words, limited atonement, logically grounded in idea of ‘Unconditional election’, requires that God has an unrevealed life unto himself that may or may not be reflected in the revelation of Jesus Christ; for all we know Jesus simply becomes the INSTRUMENT by which this ‘hidden God’ up back behind the decree (absolutum decretum) executes and accomplishes this arbitrary salvation for the elect. In other words, what the framework that produces limited atonement suggests (and more strongly, requires) is that there is no necessary relation between God in se (in his ‘inner life’) and God ad extra (his ‘outer life’ revealed in the economy of the Incarnation). Since limited atonement is purely a product of a forensically conceived doctrine of salvation, what Jesus does really has no ontological necessity to it; what he does could simply be what God requires as a ‘payment’ for the sins incurred by the elect. In other words, limited atonement theology does not ontically or personally require that God be present in the act or work of salvation—the work of salvation can be abstracted from the person of salvation (i.e. presumably, God’s life) in this schema, even if the piety of those holding this framework protests to the contrary. But how are we to know since the reality of salvation remains hidden? We have Jesus, in the limited atonement scheme, saying something about God’s justice, potentially, and even his mercy; but we really don’t have any insight on God in regard to who he actually is in himself. Love is not required in this framework, since what is being satisfied in this construct is God’s sense of wrath and justice; love or not-love could or could not be present as the underlying reality motivating this move of God—but to be sure love is not required necessarily in this schema.

Maybe you can see what I mean about how limited atonement says something about God, but only in a negative (via negativa) way. We are left only with the possibility of making inferences about what type of God would elect just a segment of his crowned jewel of creation, and then make sure that only these few individuals were the ones he bought and paid for by sending his Son Jesus Christ into the world to accomplish that kind of arbitrary act based upon God’s secret will. We can see how who we think God to be is tied into these subsequent doctrines; particularly if of necessity these doctrines (like limited atonement) trade on a concept of God and his ostensible ‘sovereignty’ that keeps him Deus absconditus (hidden) rather than Deus revelatus (the ‘God revealed’). Left to the negative, to the “limiting” concept of atonement that we are in the L of the TULIP we can only surmise certain emphases about who this God might be at base (in se). What we come up with is a God who is shrouded by a brute concept of power and sovereignty who indeed creates (for who knows what reason why), presumably because this is what this kind of power left to itself does, “creates,” and a God who based upon this type of sovereignty leaves himself hidden in the act of salvation to the point that his whole framework of salvation does not require that he actually be touched in the process (which is why he works through decrees). All we can do in light of this framework is ascribe pious hopes upon this God; i.e. that he actually is a God of love, grace, and compassion (but even then we still have to recognize that these are merely anthropopathisms wherein we attribute things to God from our own personal experience of what indeed it means to be ‘personal’ and relational). There is nothing in the limited atonement conception of God that requires that he be any way other than arbitrary, ad hoc, and at most a juridical God who relates to his creatures more as suspects in a court of law rather than his bride in the marriage bed.

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