How Things Used to Be Taken

We have a curious young chap, a student of music composition at the National U. who also likes to read John Owen online. So he came out of the local ABWE conglomerate (quite a large presence here with radio station and lots of property) when he became convinced of limited atonement, and wrote the leadership there a letter explaining his convictions and came over to our church.

We live close so we come home together on Wednesday, and we talk about things. Last night it was 1 John 2:2. Apparently John Owen says the apostle speaks the way he does because he is somehow speaking in a Jewish context (ironic, because this young chap also, of course, left the dispensationalism and all that rot one never could buy about how this is for the Jews and that only this little bit is not, etc.). Of course, John Owen’s–if those are indeed his arguments, I’ve not read Owen on this, but I take this chap at his word; the detail seemed persuasive and he’s an honest kid–explanations do not satisfy either him or me.

I explained that my position on limited atonement was reached through theological persuasions rather than exegetical, and he agreed with that. We always defend it as a logical implication of doctrine we cannot by any means deny. Nobody is really worried about 1 John 2:2 contradicting the logic of limited atonement, it is just a matter of how to take it. He’s only 21 but remembers the arguments nicely and is quite applied to it all–explained to me John Owen’s interpretation of other passages involved all by memory. Apparently one of the leaders in his old fundamentalist circles wants to talk to him about this worrying defection. I told the kid not to worry, that the likelihood that he himself knew the issues better than the leader were pretty high. Seriousness about doctrine or studying Scripture is not something your average fundamentalist missionary is often guilty of (I can hear them asking about John 3:16 but not much else). Our chap is coming to us because he’s becoming serious. One of his heroes is Paul Washer whose moral earnestness seems hard to exaggerate–from the little exposure I’ve had (and I encourage them to listen to Paul Washer not only for his integrity in handling the Gospel but also because they’ll get some family integrated influence, of which there isn’t a lot here; besides, he can do it in Spanish). And nothing is lost by learning to answer hard questions about what you believe–should that unlikely eventuality come about in this situation.

All that to say, not about that issue but the aftermath (I began to root around and see what interpretations there were in our defense), it is interesting how both Augustine and Calvin take the passage to be about the Church in the whole world. Augustine with no controversy, and Calvin even saying: I don’t mind a universal provision (sufficient if not effective for all: what we are taught as Amyraldians by so-called 4 point Calvinists, and the explanation you’ll read in the NAC volume), but that’s not in view here.

In other words, without the controversy in view they side with an interpretation favorable to limited atonement. I think that is awfully curious–not in the sense that I’m advancing any polemic . . . too much–they actually leave me with little more than a sort of hermeneutical blink–just observing how it falls. It was not what I anticipated.


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