In the introduction to the new book Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: Three Views, editor Mark Snoeberger frames the discussion about the extent of the atonement of Jesus Christ. In the excerpt below he discusses the debate between correspondence (exegesis) and coherence (theology).
The debate on the extent of the atonement of Jesus Christ has long been expressed as a debate between correspondence (exegesis) and coherence (theology). On the one hand, many texts suggest a general atonement, announcing, apparently, that Christ has borne in common the sins of the whole human population (Isa 53:6; John 1:29; 3:16; 12:32; 2 Cor 5:14–15, 19; 1 Tim 2:4–6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; Heb 2:9; 10:29; 2 Pet 2:1; 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; etc.). Too often those who hold to particular redemption dismiss such texts or respond with exegesis that smacks of special pleading.
On the other hand, those promoting universal theories of atonement sometimes dismiss the theological tensions that their positions raise: the nature of substitution, the problem of double jeopardy, and the specter of universalism. All too often justification for this dismissal comes in the form of the trump card of biblical correspondence: the Bible says Christ died for all people, so whether or not this makes sense, it must be true—absolutely clear statements are not threatened by the theologian’s inability to coherently harmonize them with the systematic whole. Rather, such theological antinomies stand as monuments to the mysterious character of the Creator, whose thoughts and ways far exceed those of his creatures.
This does not mean that those adhering to a definite atonement have no supporting texts or that those adhering to a general atonement have no theological concerns. They do. However, as a rule, adherents of a general atonement seem to vigorously wave the flag of correspondence (exegesis), while adherents of a definite atonement wave the flag of coherence (theology). As a result, the two groups regrettably tend to talk past each other, dismissing any disparate objections raised.
It is my pleasure to be working with a team of contributors who do not fall prey to the stereotypes just described. Each one is committed to the twin concerns of (1) fidelity to the Word of God as the norma normans non normata and also (2) theological consistency. Each grapples carefully with the objections of the others without dismissive sniping or flippancy. Naturally, they cannot all be right, and readers of this book will likely side with one essayist over the others (or dismiss all of them). This is to be expected. But we hope each author’s biblical commitments, sincere desire to understand other views, and cordial spirit will prove helpful.
Download a sample chapter here
About the Editors:
Andrew David Naselli is assistant professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary, research manager for D. A. Carson, and administrator of Themelios.
Mark A. Snoeberger is associate professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.
About the Contributors:
Carl Trueman (Westminster Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work secured the redemption of his elect alone. While infinite in value, Christ’s death was intended for and applied strictly to those whom the Father had elected unconditionally in eternity past.
John Hammett (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) argues that Christ’s atoning work had multiple intentions. Of these intentions two rise to the fore: (1) the intention to accomplish atonement for God’s elect and (2) the intention to provide atonement for all mankind.
Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) argues that Christ’s atoning work provided atonement generally for all mankind. The application of that atoning work is conditioned, however, on each person’s willingness to receive it.