Interview with Andrew David Naselli and Mark A. Snoeberger, PERSPECTIVES ON THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT: THREE VIEWS

Published on February 9, 2015 by Fred Zaspel

B&H, 2015 | 256 pages

Just what was the death of Christ designed to accomplish? We (evangelicals) agree that he died as a substitute for sinners, but did he offer himself as a substitute for all people, or for the elect only? And if for all, then will all be saved?

Unless you’re brand new to the world of Christian theological discussion you already know that not many questions stir more heated debate than this one! And in these debates it is our ignorance of the “other side” that often becomes most evident! And this, of course, is the value of the various “Perspectives” and “Views” books that have become common in our generation. And a helpful resource they are, acquainting us with a clear and reasoned presentation and defense of each side in the discussion.

Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: Three Views is the latest in this genre, and editors Andy Naselli and Mark Snoeberger are to be congratulated on bringing together – with Carl Trueman, Grant Osborn, and John Hammett – a three-way discussion of this disputed topic. Now in a single volume Christian readers can acquaint themselves with all sides of the debate. Today they are here to talk to us about their book and their subject.


Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
Perhaps it will be helpful if first you would clarify for us the precise issue in question here. What, exactly, is the point under debate?

Naselli & Snoeberger:
The basic question that this book asks and answers is “What was God’s redemptive intention when he sent Christ to the cross?” Assuming a penal substitution view of atonement (as all the contributors do), it more specifically asks, “For whom did Christ make penal substitution?”


Books At a Glance:
What are the positions taken up by the contributors to your book?

Naselli & Snoeberger:
Carl Trueman argues for a definite atonement: Christ died to actually secure the final salvation of his elect alone. Christ was a penal substitute only for his own sheep.

Grant Osborne (and Tom McCall) argues for a general atonement: Christ died to make salvation available to all people without exception, with individual human freedom standing as the final arbiter of actual salvation. Christ was a penal substitute for all, but some have chosen to reject his vicarious work on their behalf.

John Hammett argues for a multiple-intentions view of Christ’s atonement: Christ died to make salvation available to all (the universal intention), to actually save some based on God’s elective decree (the particular intention), and also to redeem every sphere of creation (the cosmic intention). Christ was a penal substitute for all in at least some sense, securing common grace, the free offer of the gospel, and the availability of forgiveness; but he was not a substitute for all in an absolute or comprehensive sense.


Books At a Glance:
Essentially there are two answers to this question: either Christ died as substitute for the elect only or for everyone. Yet within these two there are further varieties – would you survey them for us?

Naselli & Snoeberger:
Way back in his Plan of Salvation (1915), B.B. Warfield detailed eleven views of the atonement, and they have only multiplied since. Here are some common views circulating today:

The commercial view is the tightest view, arguing that Christ’s death was a commercial transaction with limited value. He suffered only and exactly as much as he needed to suffer for his elect, and no more.

Amyraldism and hypothetical universalism represent similar but distinct views that hover between the poles of definite atonement and universalism, though the nuances are too complex to detail in a format like this.

Of course we also have the third of John Owen’s “treble option,” namely, that Christ paid the penalty for only some of the sins of all people (most visible in Romanism, but with Protestant variations that see Christ as the solution to all sins except the sin of unbelief).

Others see Christ as substituting not for individuals, but for specific classes of people (e.g., Israel and/or the Church), with salvation accruing to those who attach themselves to these institutions.

Pure universalism is the very loosest view, arguing that Christ’s death actually saves everyone. This is scarcely an evangelical view, if at all.


Books At a Glance:
Even though all sides agree that this is an “in house” debate, this discussion is often marked by a higher than usual degree of emotion and intensity (which, thankfully, your contributors have managed to avoid). But in the Introduction you give some helpful explanation for this depth of emotion that each side feels. Can you summarize for us what each side often sees at stake?

Naselli & Snoeberger:
On the one side are those who worry that (1) a definite atonement may compromise the authority of Scripture (e.g., biblical statements that Christ loved the whole world, died for all, and commissioned the church to evangelize everyone). This leads to a very powerful concern: (2) a limited atonement will stifle evangelism.

On the other side are those who fear some of the possible theological implications of a universal atonement: (1) universalism, (2) intra-Trinitarian conflict, and (3) the loss of substitutionary atonement (i.e., that Christ didn’t save anyone but merely made it possible for people to save themselves).


Books At a Glance:
Is it usually the case that these concerns are well-founded?

Naselli & Snoeberger:
No


Books At a Glance:
In order to keep a check on our rhetoric it is important that we keep the issue in perspective. So please clarify for us what there is of central and essential importance that all of the contributors hold in common with respect to the atoning work of Christ.  

Naselli & Snoeberger:
All of the contributors to our book are committed to the absolute authority of Scripture, a penal substitutionary view of atonement, the unity of the Trinitarian mission, and the responsibility of all believers to evangelize unbelievers. In short, we stand united against every concern that we list above in response to your question, “Would you summarize for us what each side often sees at stake?”


Books At a Glance:
What was your goal in producing this book? What do you hope it will accomplish?

Naselli & Snoeberger:
While each contributor no doubt hopes that his perspective will gain “market share” in the marketplace of ideas, the foremost goal of this project is not agreement, but understanding. We hope to correct misrepresentations, deconstruct caricatures, and help people accurately understand the issues and perspectives. This, we hope, will lead to further dialogue on the topic that is cordial rather than schismatic.


Editor’s Note:  See the publisher’s interview with Andy Naselli here.

 

Buy the books

Perspectives On The Extent Of The Atonement: Three Views

B&H, 2015 | 256 pages