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Dabney and Certain Objections to Effectual Redemption, (cont.,)

July 16, 2007

Now we come to Dabney’s third set of proposed objections to effectual redemption. It seems to me that the first is a moral objection, the second is a theological objection, and the last is exegetically orientated.

I have to be up front here, some of this first part I disagree with Dabney; just a little.

(B) From Texts Teaching A Seeming Universality.

The other class of objections is from the Scriptures; e. g., Those which speak of Christ as having compassion for, or dying for, “the whole world,” “all,” “all men,” “every man,” John 1:29; John 3:16; 4:42; 6:51; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 1; John 12:32; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 2:9. The usual explanation, offered by the strict Calvinists, of these texts is this, that terms seemingly universal often have to be limited to a universality within certain bounds by the context, as in Matt. 3:5; that in New Testament times, especially when the gospel was receiving its grand extension from one little nation to all nations, it is reasonable to expect that strong affirmatives would be used as to its extent, which yet should be strained to mean nothing more than this, that persons of every nation in the world were given to Christ. Hence, “the world,” “all the world,” should be taken to mean no more than people of every nation in the world, without distinction. There is a certain amount of justice in these views, and many of these passages, as 1 Cor. 15:22; John 1:29, and 12:32, may be adequately explained by them.

While I can agree with him in principle, for myself I do not believe the issue is as mysterious as so many make out. This is not to say that there is no truth in what he says here, even as he cites the strict Calvinist. Look at this phrase from Dabney: “that terms seemingly universal often have to be limited to a universality within certain bounds by the context.”

Now here is the thing to keep in mind. This is a given. This is almost what we call in Philosophy a “truism.” It should be so obviously true that thinking Christians should have no problem here. Okay, I am pressing the satire a little here. Why? The normal method of responding to Arminianism is to pose a fallacy, a false-dilemma, like this: “either world means everyone who has lived, lives, and will live, or it means all kinds of people: this is not more than, it is either A or B, it is not A, therefore it has to be B. You can see this sort of fallacious disjunction in McGregor Wright’s book, No Place for Sovereignty, p., 170, where he says Arminians believe that all means “all existing human beings.” Wright references the equally fallacious “all without distinction” versus “all without exception” phrases as well. This “logic” holds for “world” as well. Then the argument is simple, find an example in Scripture where an “all” or a “world” can not mean every one who has lived, lives and will live, and presto, here in this contested instance, “all” or “world” means some of all kinds of people, or some equivalent idea. I wish things were that childishly simple. We can all agree sometimes “all” or “world” do not mean absolutely everyone or absolutely all sinners, and sometimes they do. “For all have sinned,” for example. We can completely agree that the terms are bounded by their context.

So here is where I will disagree with Dabney. Dabney seems to want to say that the meaning of “all” is fairly well captured by the abstract idea of people of all nations. Here I want to ask him, are any non-elect people included in the abstract “people of all nations”? If Dabney says, “No,” then I would challenge him that he has used code language. To me it is a smokescreen to first stress that by such a term like “world” in John 3:16, all is meant is ‘men and women from every nation,’ but to sort of secretly believe it really is only elect men and women from every nation. For ‘world,’ my general rule–which is subject to challenge for sure–that for John, kosmos generally means ‘apostate humanity in opposition to God.’ As for “all”, this can mean 1) all absolutely (Rom 2:23); 2) all (and I mean all) without racial distinction (Rom 10:12); 3) or all men of every nation (1 Tim 2:4); or 4) in some gardens, it can mean some of all kinds of herbs (Luke 11:42), or some of all kinds of evils existing in some bad men (1 Tim 6:10). :-)

As for John’s Kosmos in 3:16, world as apostate humanity, alive and in opposition to God at any given time is fine. No one need be committed to seeing world here as even those dead and in hell, as some commentators have argued.

Here I recall James Haldane, The doctrine of the Atonement, when he discusses the import of John 3:16 asks the absurd question: “Was Pharaoah loved…?” How often have Calvinists tabled that sort of objection-problematic? Like, what is the point of that? Christ was sent into hell, to even Pharaoh, in order to save him? Who says that? What value is that, apart from positing a caricature and then beating that up. And so we come back this from Dabney: “that terms seemingly universal often have to be limited to a universality within certain bounds by the context,” and the context of 3:16 clearly and at least includes living people, not people dead and in hell.

And I have doubts “world” in 3:16 can mean for God some indefinite abstraction (I recall Warfield’s retort to that here. Instead of using broad a priori disjunctions as the basis of determining what is and is not exegetically possible, these kind of “all” and “world” instances need to be judged on their own contextual merits.

The explanation is also greatly strengthened by this fact too little pressed by Calvinists, that ultimately, the vast majority of the whole mass of humanity, including all generations, will be actually redeemed by Christ. There is to be a time, blessed be God, when literally all the then world will be saved by Christ, when the world will be finally, completely, and wholly lifted by Christ out of the gulf, and sink no more. So that there is a sense, most legitimate, in which Christ is the prospective Savior of the world.

Dabney, Lectures, p., 524.

Here Dabney expresses a post-millennial vision of the future which I don’t agree with, but I will not labour it.

I will post Dabney’s next paragraph tomorrow, Lord Willing.

To sum up, it is my opinion that the strategies of the strict school are as unnecessary as some of the strategies of the Arminian school (when, for example, they want only abstracted people-groups the objects the election and non-election). There are plenty of other exegetical options available which enables a Calvinist to be true to his or her Calvinism and, and yet also, and more importantly, to be true to Scripture.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2007 12:22 pm

    Even if that isn’t the best exegetical work for the passage at hand, I do like seeing Southern Presbys being postmil. It is too bad that combo went the way of the Dodo.

  2. Flynn permalink
    July 16, 2007 1:17 pm

    Hey Steven,

    Oh man, I am Amill, been amil all my Christian life. Post-millennialism is really really sad. They have a skewed up view of redemptive time or more directly, temporal metaphors in Scripture.

    Take care,

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