December 1, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

Limited Attention?

Recently, a debate over limited atonement happened between Matt Slick and Sam Shamoun. In my estimation, Sam won the debate and it wasn’t close. Sam was nice enough to provide his notes to Slick prior to the debate. Slick looked out of date and even with knowing Sam’s arguments ahead of time wasn’t able to respond to them sufficiently.

The behavior was childish and equivalent to the way political debates appear. It was no different than teenage boys trying to dominate the other. They constantly overtalked each other and used little rhetorical statements to manipulate the audience. Slick would attack Sam’s familiarity with theological issues and Sam would respond in condescending manners. Slick dodged questions that were difficult for his theology to give an answer and Sam answered questions.

Sam’s debate note are here:

Matt Slick’s entire case was set on the “Double Jeopardy” argument. This argument is based on the various elements of penal substitutionary atonement. We have an agent that represents and is punishment for the deeds of another individual. Sam presented various defeaters for Matt’s arguments. I’ll quote his arguments and give brief responses:

Col. 2:14, “[Jesus] having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

What is canceled?  Two options, the Moral Law and the Sin Debt.  Let’s examine these.

The moral law

Only those who have died are freed from the Law.  The law here is conceived of as a bill of debt.

Rom. 7:4, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ…”

Romans 4:15, “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.”

If there is no law because it has been canceled, then there can be no violation, no sin and people can’t go to hell.

Only those who have died in Christ, have died to the law and if we have died to the Law there is no law, no judgment that can condemn us.  This applies only to Christians.  But it is said that we died with Christ 2000 years ago.

If our sin debt is what is paid for on the cross and Col. 2:14 says that it is canceled, then it is either canceled for every person who ever lived or it is only canceled for the elect.

I’ll state what I agree with Sam’s quote and summarize his major contention. I agree with Sam that these options lead to the same conclusion. That being if one interprets the “certificate of debt” being either the Law or a metaphor for the collection of human sins leads us to the Double Jeopardy argument. The person that ties these interpretations of Col. 2:14 with universal atonement can’t explain why anyone goes to hell.

The Moral Law interpretation is simply mistaken. The Law continues to have some continuing authority and that seems hardly disputable:

Furthermore, the context is about eliminating our trespasses (verse 13). This suggests that even if it were to refer to the Law, then it must be the cancellation of our violations of the Law would be what is spoken about. Sam goes on to quote from David Allen’s work on the atonement. So, they will be treated as Sam Shamoun’s arguments:

This argument fails at a number of points. First, notice that the text does not explicitly affirm limited atonement. The argument made is a deduction based on certain premises. But some of these premises are false, as we shall see.

This is the case with plenty of doctrines of the Christian faith. Is this Sam Shamoun’s own attempt to form the Deedat challenge? The Trinity is based on the biblical context of Monotheism and the divinity of three persons that aren’t reducible to one another. That is the same with doctrines of Classical theism, Penal Substiruiary atonement, Eschatology, etc. Is Sam going to reject these views on the same basis?

Second, Paul is addressing believers. Paul is not addressing the status of people outside of Christ. The argument collapses virtual union with Christ on the part of all those who will believe in the future and actual union with Christ, which only occurs at the moment of salvation. In the context, clearly Paul is talking about believers. He tells them about the legal basis of their forgiveness, but he is not telling them that “having wiped out” the certificate of debt is equivalent to forgiveness, any more than John the Baptist’s saying that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” (which simply means carrying sin away, like the scapegoat of the Old Testament) ipso facto means forgiveness of sin. Again, redemption accomplished must be distinguished from redemption applied, as the NT does.

Sam is correct that Colossians is written to believers, but that is consistent with the Double Jeopardy argument. The person purposing universal atonement has already agreed the atonement was for everyone. Thus, this aspect of the atonement was for everyone (regardless of whether one believes or not). He must either posit that the atonement was different for unbelievers in such a way that it becomes not atonement at all (thus falling into limited atonement) or they must deny any guilt still remains upon the unbeliever(thus hell is unwarranted).

They are also confusing the issue, the argument doesn’t stipulate that unbelievers must be SAVED (justified) or redemption applied. The argument should be argued that the unbelievers have a divine pardon, but remain in their sinful state or fallen condition (but not guilty of any sin). Thus they have nothing to be condemned to hell over. It doesn’t state that they must receive union with Christ apart from faith.

Third, the argument entails justification at the cross, an antinomian or hyper-Calvinist error. At the cross, Christ did indeed satisfy the legal debts all people have. But nowhere in Scripture are we told that at the point of the atonement we are ipso facto forgiven of our sins when Christ suffered the penalty we deserve.

Does Sam even hold to Sola Fide anymore? Where does Sam even stand on these various issues? Slick points out a distinction between atonement and justification. Didn’t he apostatize to the Assyrian Church of the East? These are related doctrine but they are not identical. Atonement is the event where a substitute is presented as an offering for sin and receives the due punishment for the offenses of the guilty party. Justification is the legal declaration of that pardon. But justification has two parts, aka double imputation. This is not merely where our sins are imputed to Christ, but also we receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Why would these things have to happen during the atonement? What is the significant difference between “satisfy the legal debts” and being “forgiven of our sins”? An atonement just is an attempt to satisfy God’s retributive justice. When does Sam think Christ atoned for his sins, 2,000 years ago or when he believed?

Fourth, the argument overlooks the problem of how all those who ultimately believe that their sin-debt was canceled at the cross, can, while still in their unbelieving state, be under condemnation and threatened with eternal damnation, as Paul says they are in Eph 2:1-3? The argument entails that none of the unbelieving elect (those who will believe on Christ at some point) are in a damnable state, at least since the time of the cross, which is simply false.

This is a common problem in regard to both Calvinism and Classical Theism. It seems that divine judgment is upon the elect because their remaining in their state inherited from Adam, but it is the case that the fallen state is destined to be removed by regeneration. The atonement occurring in Christ’s time doesn’t undermine the idea that God saves people with other conditions. Just because Christ atoned for you doesn’t entail that you’re saved from other steps in the salvific process. The notion that redemption is accomplished and not applied (ever) is the issue. In Calvinism, the elect is born atoned for, but they still are children of wrath because they are born unregenerate.

The notion that they can be threatened with damnation is purely hypothetical. They are challenged that if Christ did not die for them, then they are chosen for damnation.

Paul expressly states that Christ reconciled the whole entire creation that he brought into existence by making peace through the blood of his cross. The Lord accomplished this work all by himself apart from anyone having to believe or repent.

Matt Slick’s worst point in the debate was over Colossians 1:20. He wouldn’t admit to basic things that are obviously true.  The “all things” are parallel and they are in the context of the universal effects of the creation (from old to new). Slick’s objection regarding Satan was a valid question but not a knock-down argument because Sam retort basically resolves the issue in his atonement theory. Slick was avoiding interpreting those verses and denying things that are obviously true. Slick, on another show, stated that he denied that “all things” refer to the totality of everything that isn’t divine because it would imply that Satan is reconciled and that God created evil. I asked Matt if he was an Augustinian in regard to the ontological status of evil. He denied that position and opted for a theory where evil isn’t merely a privation of existence. The issue with this theory is it entails that evil is uncreated.

Sam Shamoun’s mistakes are simple in regards to Col. 1:15-20. The problem is not that it refers to everything, but rather what he takes reconciliation to mean. He reduces that merely to a soteriological meaning. That idea isn’t plainly evident from the text, but we have good reason to think that it is much wider in its meaning. Eph. 2 uses the phrase in another way about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. In fact, it is incoherent to talk about rocks, sticks, and water (or any other inanimate object for that matter) as atoned for. These things aren’t agents and they can’t sin. So, the passages could hardly have such a narrow usage in focus. Rather than saying Jesus died for rocks sins to be forgiven, we can say that Christ’s death on the cross accomplishes not only the redemption of his people but also the renewal of creation. Sam has to expand the meaning or have an incoherent interpretation. The text simply goes beyond soteriological lines and into eschatological talk about the kingdom to come. That means it is consistent with limited atonement because it can just be the case that God is simply atoning for the elect and through his death setting up final cosmic renewal where everything will be set right.

There were more arguments in this debate, but nothing that needs to be said for now.