The Death of John Owen’s Argument: a General Atonement means God failed to achieve His goal (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series the dilemma that Owen poses to those who reject a limited/particular atonement was explored. According to Dr. Owen the options are:

  • Universalism
  • Accepting that God had no purpose or intention behind the cross
  • Accepting that God had a purpose behind the cross but failed to achieve it

We left off with Owen acknowledging that others interpreted key passages differently than he did. Those who disagree argue that there is a distinction that must be made between Christ procuring spiritual blessings for all and applying them only on those that believe.

Some of them say that Christ, by his death and passion, did absolutely, according to the intention of God, purchase for all and every man, dying for them, remission of sins and reconciliation with God, or a restitution into a state of grace and favour; all which shall be actually beneficial to them, provided that they do believe

Owen vehemently rejects this view citing several reasons in Book II, chapter 4. Several of these seem to be begging the question as they are restating Owen’s conclusions.

  • this distinction (between the procurement of the blessings and the application of them) hath no place in the intention and purpose of Christ.
  • whomsoever Christ obtained any good thing by his death, unto them it shall certainly be applied.
  • [all the spiritual blessings] must be applied to all for whom they are obtained; for otherwise Christ faileth of his end and aim

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Later, in chapter 5, Owen seems to begrudgingly admit that there is a distinction.

I shall, then, briefly declare, that although these two things may admit of a distinction, yet they cannot of a separation, but that for whomsoever Christ obtained good, to them it might be applied; and for whomsoever he wrought reconciliation with God, they must actually unto God be reconciled.

Admittedly, Owen does not think it is possible for spiritual blessings to be procured for someone who will not eventually have them applied.  This, in his view is because “faith is given without condition to the elect.” But we will tackle that a bit later. Continue reading

Screwtape takes on a new student & tackles science

My budding student RotRing,

You may be wondering how I am still employed in the field of educating young tempters after that dismal failure Wormwood. It is with some relish that I can report that the failures of a nephew are not visited upon the uncle. At least not too harshly. You may further find yourself thinking that you are in the very unfortunate position of having someone like myself as your guide, as you seek to become more proficient at keeping patients away from our Enemy. Just remember that the student does not surpass his teacher and that the gap between you and myself is quite vast. I have, as I am sure you have heard, enjoyed a fair bit of success in the realm of tempting. You’ll have plenty of room to learn and grow.

Now RotRing, I note from your latest report that you are wondering about some advice I gave some time ago, to that dreadful nephew of mine, regarding the use of science. At that time I wrote that tempters should ‘not attempt to use science as a defence against Christianity’ as it would ‘encourage patients to think about realities they can’t touch and see’.  Each age has a distinctive set of characteristics -as you, I am sure, remember from your studies – and we must be mindful of them so that we can better craft strategies for dealing with your patient.

In this age, in which your patient is living, there is a great deal of thinking about science. This could have been a disaster for us, but without much effort on our part things have  managed to turn in our favor on this matter. When I gave Wormwood the advice about science, I also reminded him that they ‘find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes’. This is still true. Science has now made many ‘unfamiliar’ things far more ‘familiar’ to your patient. Continue reading

The Conversion Expectancy

 In letter #3 of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, we find our chief tempter Screwtape contrasting his view of what is expected of someone who has converted to Christianity with the patient assigned to his nephew Wormwood.

The patient is presented as someone who ‘thinks his conversion is something inside him’, resulting in a life of self-examination and a focus that is directed inward. Wormwood is told to encourage this.

Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious.

What are the ‘elementary duties’ that should be obvious to us? It is our living out the Christian faith. The demons have a view of Christianity that is the antithesis of the patient. They expect a conversion to result in external and outward changes. Their goal is to thwart ‘God’s inner working in us’ that is intended to bring ‘more and more of [our] conduct’ in alignment with His standards.

CSLewis

The goal of the demons then is to use whatever they can to distract us away from actually living out our faith. Continue reading