Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: Calvin Quotes

When a theologian presents a doctrinal view that few, if any, Christians in the history of the church have held, then this may raise questions as to whether such a view can be correct. If the doctrinal view in question is one that is important to the Christian faith, doesn’t it seem that many other Bible students would have come to this same view in the past? In Death by Love Mark Driscoll seeks historical support for his position by claiming John Calvin as a major theologian who held to the Un/limited view of the atonement.

It must be noted that Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement is a highly controversial matter in the subject of Church History. (The classic works that examine Calvin’s relation to the doctrine of Limited atonement are R.T. Kendall’s Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649- arguing that Calvin held to universal redemption- and Paul Helm’s Calvin & the Calvinists- arguing that Calvin held to particular redemption, or Limited atonement.)

Driscoll focuses on Calvin’s comments concerning a handful of verses, such as Galatians 5:12 and Colossians 1:14. In response to Driscoll’s presentation I would like to note two things:

1. Mark Driscoll might be wrong about Calvin’s views: It may be that Driscoll is wrongly assuming an Arminian understanding of “world” and “all” in Calvin’s quotes. In other words, if I (and others who hold to Reformed soteriology) are correct in that “world” and “all” should not be automatically understood as “every individual ever to live” in the biblical text, and if Calvin is using biblical language when he uses “world” or “all,” then it may be that in the quotes offered by Driscoll, Calvin is NOT intending to say that Jesus expiated the sins of every individual ever to live.

2. Mark Driscoll might be right about Calvin’s views: Calvinists (and here I refer to “5-point Calvinists,” i.e., those holding to Limited atonement) do not believe in an infallible Calvin. Calvinistic Baptists in particular acknowledge that many quotes could be offered from Calvin to prove that he held to “baptism” of infants, yet because (we would argue) Calvin does not properly base this view in Scripture, we depart from Calvin at this point. Likewise, if Driscoll has not proven his case for Un/limited atonement from the proof texts he offered (and I believe he has not, as examined in yesterday’s post), then it does him no good to turn to Calvin and say, ‘Well, John Calvin believed this.’

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