"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Friday, August 28, 2009

Questions from Owen


I have been re-reading John Owen's Death of Death and drawing out what I believe are his questions he poses to a person that believes that "Christ died for every single person." This assertion is draw from a reading of verses that use wording such as Christ dying for all or the world. The assumption is that all (pas in Greek) or world (kosmos in Greek) mean exactly what the English equivalent means as "every single one." Owen challenges this assertion, positing instead that Christ's death is not just potentially for all, but has its desired and intended purpose, salvation, on the elect. To assert a "universal atonement" requires answering these pointed questions on what that would actually mean:

Questions from Book I:

1) Did the death of Christ accomplish the end for which Christ intended or was that aim (if it was every single person) thwarted?

2) If Christ suffered hell (separation from the Father) in substitution for all persons, why would they have to suffer hell?

3) If Christ paid for the sins of every person, why is any person made to pay for their sins again in hell?

4) If Christ's death and intercession before the Father are inseparably related [i.e. the only basis for intercession is pleading what Christ has done one behalf of those He intercedes for - Romans 8:33-34, Isaiah 53:11-12] how can Christ die for all and only intercede for some?

5) Why does Christ specify that He only intercedes for the elect (John 17)?

6) If Christ died in place for all, why are all not saved? Is Christ's death insufficient for those He allegedly dies for but wind up in hell?

7) Why is "Christ died for your sins" good news if the person it is said to might still have to answer for those sins?

8) Why would God the Father elect some, and not all, and the Holy Spirit regenerates some, but not all, yet Christ would aim to die for all? Are the Persons of the Godhead at cross-purposes, have different minds or different wills?

5 comments:

Andrew said...

"If Christ suffered hell (separation from the Father)"

How can one be an orthodox Trinitarian and hold this view? The Trinity is indivisible and inseparable, there has been, is, and always will be infinite love shared between the Father and the Son.

As well the logic seems to be:
-The bible says Christ died for all
-But that doesn't fit Calvin's atonement model (Penal Substitution)
-ergo logically he only died for the elect.

For a tradition based on attacks on scholasticism and the use of reason in theology, this seems kind of hypocritical.

Didn't mean to cause offense, just wondering about these 2 issues. I brought them up on your last post on Owen, but I didn't want to start a fight so I deleted them. Hopefully this will stay civil.

Andrew said...

to clarify, I meant the idea of separation of the Son and Father as the orthodox Trinitarian question. That he descended into Hell, is a part of the creed.

Another problem with using this logic is that if I ask you: "what is the punishment of sin" you would say "eternity in hell" and then I'd ask you: "How long did Christ suffer in Hell" and you'd respond "Three days" which shows how this view cannot be supported by logic.

Jared Nelson said...

Christ said "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

I do not pretend to know the exact metaphysics here, but there was an alienation here. I do not mean they are separated in a sense of being divided or there being a change of nature. Thanks for asking clarification, for I do not believe they can be separated that way. But Christ becoming sin (having sin imputed to him) requires that Christ is the object of wrath, not love, on the cross. Our sorrow for Christ's death is due to his enduring this, not merely the physical pain of the cross.

I have a fuller exploration of the issue "Christ as Savior of the World" that I have set to post tomorrow. It is not a mere issue of logic, but of Biblical lexicography.

But I'm a one post a day person...

Jared Nelson said...

I would not say Christ suffered hell for three days. I tend to say "He decended into hell" refers to Christ's being made the propitiation of sin, and suffering being forsaken (The Father turning away His favor and instead puring out His wrath).

I do not think it is impossible that Christ entered into the place of hell. If this were so, I do not believe this is part of His suffering, but an act of victory. But I think this is less clear, though prophecies hint at "descending into hades" so I will take it as reference to what is more clear: Christ's sufferings.

M. Jay Bennett said...

I think Andrew is right to point out the problems that separation language poses for our trinitarianism, if it is maintained that the divine nature of the Son was somehow separated from the Father. It is best to understand the creed as referring to Christ's burial when it says, "he descended into Hell."

Also, in the not-to-distant past I would have used separation language to speak of the sufferings of Christ, including his divine nature. However, lately I have preferred to speak of the suffering of Christ as something only the human nature took part in fully and directly. Only the human nature actually received the full measure of God's vindictive wrath. The divine nature, on the other hand, took part in the sufferings only partially and indirectly. The divine nature suffered a measure of grief due to the suffering of the human nature.

I know I sound like a Nestorian, but because I believe the divine nature of the Son is not comprehended by the human, I believe it is proper to maintain a distinction between the functions and experiences of the two natures. There is a sense in which the Son continued to be eternally blissful even in the midst of his most excruciating sufferings. That senses is, of course, his divine nature. There is another sense in which he really did suffer immensely for us. That sense is his human nature. And all of this happened to the one person. There's the (caution redundancy approaching) mysterious miracle of the incarnation. How can one person have two natures with one nature (i.e. the divine) by definition transcending the other (i.e. the human)? I can't comprehend this, though I can understand it. I know its not a contradiction, and I will fight tooth and nail to defend the doctrine's coherence. And I know how to speak of it in some instances. For instance when the text says Jesus grew in wisdom and stature among men, it is referring to his growth as a human being, not that he is growing with respect to his divinity. Also when the text speaks of the death of Christ, I know it is speaking with respect to the human nature but not the divine. God cannot die.

There may be other instances, however, where I am at a loss for words and that's okay. God has not revealed all of himself to men. To think that he even could is to misunderstand who he is.