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Carl Trueman’s Admission that Owen’s Double-Payment Dilemma Rests on ‘Seeming’ Commercialist Assumptions

June 26, 2008

Explanatory comments:

At the out-set, my proper intention here is document what looks to be Trueman’s acknowledgment that Owen’s double-payment argument does rest on a crude commercial theory of the atonement. With that in mind, the following explanatory comments from me are secondary and should not distract the reader from my principal intention. They are offered here for the purposes of clarification.

1) The following are two sections from Carl Trueman’s, The Claims of Truth, John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology, (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1998), 139-140. For our purposes here, I will cite the immediate paragraph, then the shorter footnote, and then an extended footnote comment relevant to this paragraph. I will include these as inline texts, and not as proper footnotes. All actual footnotes are mine, as is the underlining for emphasis.

2) Trueman’s remarks here are directed to claims made by A.C. Clifford and Hans Boersma. A few opening comments needed. 1) I am not sure either Clifford or Boersma claimed that Owen subordinated, wholesale, his theology to Aristotle’s logic and methodology. 2) I am far from convinced by Trueman’s assertions here that Owen did not hold to a linear and monist teleology. I think the issue has a lot to do with Owen’s linear causality effecting a single teleology with regard to soteriological ends, proper. What is interesting is that Trueman thinks that because Owen could affirm auxiliary “ends” such as common grace1 he has dealt with Clifford’s objections. Rather, the issue is that within the divine soteriological activity itself, are there multiple ends or a single end? Set in this frame, the answer is for Owen that the work of Christ has a monist teleology (in my opinion).

3) Regarding Aristotelian methodology. I am not sure that Clifford claimed that Owen derived his theological categories from Aristotle, but that he mediated his Christological and Trinitarian categories through a specific methodology, which could be so labeled “Aristotelian.” Perhaps Clifford can correct me on this at some point.2

4) Humbly and sincerely I say that it is either the case or it is not, that Owen’s double-payment “dilemma” works on a fallacious commercialist assumption. It either does or it does not. If it does, then as it stands in his Display of Arminianism, and Death of Death,3 it is fallacious. It seems to me that Trueman is skirting this.

Carl Truman:

In light of arguments concerning the impact of ‘one-end teleology’ on Owen’s soteriology,114 it is important to grasp that Owen does not here base his argument regarding the relationship between predestination and atonement on Aristotelian logic. Instead, his argument is built upon the notion of the covenant of redemption, which defines Christ’s role as Mediator for the elect whom God has given him. This is not a concept which Owen obtains from some textbook on Aristotelian logic but a doctrine he derives from biblical exegesis. It does not mean, of course, that his exegesis is correct–one might indeed wish to fault Owen’s interpretation and application of the Isaiah passage–but, if he is in error at this point, he is guilty of bad biblical interpretation, not of a thoroughgoing subordination of theology to Aristotle. As we should expect, given our findings concerning Owen’s understanding of the principles of theology, it is the Trinitarian and Christological structures in his thought which provide the foundation for the atonement’s particularity, not some Aristotelian methodology. The atonement is limited because the covenant of redemption, the causal ground of all the acts of Christ’s mediation, is itself limited in terms of efficacy to the elect thanks to the nature of the transaction between Father and Son.115

Footnote 114: For a full discussion of this, see below, Appendix One: The Role of Aristotelian.

Footnote 115: A possible objection at this point could be that Owen does indeed seem to rely upon rational arguments in defence of his doctrine of limited atonement, as, for example, when he declares that God cannot have died for the sins of those who will end up in hell because then he would be punishing the same sin twice, which would be unfair: see Works 10, p. 173. We must, however, beware of overemphasizing the importance of this point to Owen’s case. Particularity has already been introduced into the argument via the covenant of redemption, which defines the nature of the office of Mediator, and it is within this context that such arguments are to be understood. It is… true that his point here seems to rely on a crudely commercial theory of the atonement, but we must beware of misunderstanding this in crudely quantitative terms (see Ch. 5 below) and be aware that the argument is only a subsidiary point in support of a position which is independently established on other theological grounds. Indeed, it is only in the context of Christ’s appointment as Mediator that his sufferings can be said to have any value at all, because it is only thanks to the covenant of redemption that Christ’s work can either happen in the first place, or stand in any positive connection to sinful humanity. Discussions of the intrinsic value of Christ’s sufferings which fail to set these within the Trinitarian context of mediation are alien to Owen’s theology: see Ch. 5. For an example of how failure to set Owen’s teaching in its Trinitarian context can lead to misunderstanding, see Clifford, who makes great play of the significance of commercialism in Owen’s theory of atonement, but does not set this within the Trinitarian context: Atonement und Justification, pp. 126 ff. As we shall see, far more significant in the limitation of the atonement is Owen’s emphasis on the unity of Christ’s oblation and intercession in the office of Mediator. Compared to this, the Grotian distinction3 between solutio tantidem (which Owen opposes) and solutio eiusdem (which Owen accepts) is, pace Clifford, of much less significance. In Book Three of the treatise, primacy of place in establishing the limitation of atonement is given to arguments based upon the covenants, and arguments for satisfaction are only dealt with once this basic point has been established: Works 10, pp. 236-8. At most, one can argue that notions of satisfaction and the commercial theory of the atonement play an important subsidiary role within the overall argument of the treatise. This is quite clear from Owen’s statement in Book Two that Christ’s death is the result of the covenant of grace (itself the result of the covenant of redemption, in which, as we have seen, particularity plays a central role). not its foundation, thereby explicitly making the nature of the atonement dependent upon the Trinitarian/covenantal structure of redemption: Works 10, pp. 207-8; cf. Works 11. p. 303.


1See his Appendix 1, 238-239. Trueman concedes that there is a hierarchy of goals for Owen, but that they can include ancillary ends. However, this is rather beside the point to the claims by Clifford and Boersma in my estimation.
2I think one is on surer ground in pointing out that Owen was not exactly working from an Athanasian and Anselmian Christology in his Death of Death.
3See Owen’s Works, 10:88; 10:173; 10:249; and 10:273.
3One should not get the impression that this idea was limited to Grotians or Arminians. Contra Owen’s position, see Thomas Manton’s affirmation that Christ suffered the tantundem of the punishment due to us; See his Works, 2:272.




7 Comments leave one →
  1. Donald H permalink
    June 27, 2008 6:35 pm

    I this is excellent information. Wonderful indeed.

  2. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    June 27, 2008 7:18 pm

    Thanks. Come back and visit. If you are interested in moderate calvinism, be sure to check out: Classic and Moderate Forms of “Calvinism” Documented Thus Far


  3. Donald H permalink
    June 28, 2008 5:32 am

    Yeah, I’m sorry, David I’m a.k.a the Soul Theologian. I consider myself a moderate calvinist. I although I think was mostly wearied by the hi-jacking of the “high calvinist”, I’m back to my senses.

    And your blog is definitely a catalyst for me.

    My prayer is that is the next move of God. You have done a great work.

  4. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    June 28, 2008 1:01 pm

    Hey Donald,

    Just about as I was finishing my earlier reply I wondered if this was you. I couldn’t recall your name. I was encouraged by a comment you made on your blog where you mentioned our being thrown under the bus and how wrong that was. That was very encouraging. I appreciate the kind remarks.

    I created this blog so that folk who take the moderate and classic position don’t have to walk around in shame, belittled and disenfranchised, as many highs and hypers would try to have it. We can work, walk, teach, preach in complete confidence of the historical, logical and exegetical validity of our position. The classic position has a rich tradition in which some of the most powerful and influential Calvinists have been adherents to.

    Can I ask 2 questions, tho, can I ask what you mean by being mostly wearied by the hi-jacking of the highs? And I was not sure what you meant on your blog about coming back to your senses.

    If you want to talk privately, email me with the addy: calvin and calvinism [at] yahoo [dot] com

    From me to you: You have to preach it.


  5. Donald a.k.a. The Soul Theologian permalink
    June 28, 2008 1:28 pm

    I will definitely email you David and explain.

  6. Martin permalink
    July 5, 2008 2:36 pm

    Trueman clearly overstates Clifford’s case by speaking of a “thoroughgoing subordination of theology to Aristotle”. Clifford’s main point is simply this: Owen’s method has *influenced* his theology. Trueman doesn’t really answer this. Not only does he seem to have missed Clifford’s footnote 15 on p107 in which he states “In Owen’s case, this is not to question his valid admission of constituent ‘sub-ends’ within the ‘end’ of the atonement, but to reject his thesis of a single end” but is apparently unable to conceive of a trinitarian context including multiple ends.

    Clifford did make some brief comments in response to Trueman in the appendix of his biography of Philip Doddridge, “The Good Doctor” (pp.251-253). If memory serves me correctly I think you have this work but if not I can scan it and post it?


  7. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    July 5, 2008 3:39 pm

    Thanks Martin, I didn’t know about the footnote. I will scope it out. I figured Trueman was over-stating things, as well as understating other important points.


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