The Extent of the Atonement A Historical and Critical Review – A Review
by David Allen. B&H Academic, 2016.
I’ve heard it said, and I’ve said, that one always needs to keep up with those who you disagree with, as well as those who disagree with you. And most often, they are the same people. For me, this is much easier said than done, as I am a stubborn and opinionated person. And, as a Five-Point Calvinist, when the idea of reading about a subject dear to me that is written by someone who vehemently disagrees with Calvinism, the difficulty is multiplied. Calvinists tend to be very zealous regarding the Five-Points, T.U.L.I.P., sometimes to the detriment of themselves and others. So, when I saw the opportunity to review The Extent of the Atonement by David Allen, I paused for a few minutes. Then, I swallowed my pride and pulled the proverbial trigger to review the book.
And I am glad I did.
In The Extent of the Atonement, David Allen splits his work into three parts. The first part is “The Extent of the Atonement in Church History” where he walks us through four eras of church history (Early and Medieval, Reformation, Post-Reformation, and Modern) and how the atonement is viewed in those areas. The second part is “The Extent of the Atonement in the Baptist Tradition,” where Allen addresses the history of the atonement in English General and Particular Baptists, North American Baptists, and Southern Baptists. The last part is two chapters: The first being a critical review of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, and the last chapter are his personal conclusions on why he believes the case for unlimited atonement is biblical and historical as compared to that of limited atonement.
When the package first arrived containing the book, I was amazed at the size of the work. Not necessarily the number of pages, but the physical size of it. It’s a sturdy book, one that I could probably take to a fight and knock someone out with. I thought to myself “Why so much?” Well, once I dug into the work, I completely understood the need for such a vast work on the atonement. I’ll openly admit that my reading is limited in comparison with many, however, I must say, that David Allen has penned an extensive historical survey on the atonement that is truly and incredibly comprehensive. Comprehensive to include theologians and historical figures from church history as early as the second century all the way through the 20th. And most notable for me is how David Allen treated those with whom he disagrees on the atonement: with the utmost dignity and respect. Too often do we see theologians on both sides of the Calvinistic debates dragging each other through the mud. Not here. Not anywhere close to The Extent of the Atonement.
I highly recommend that pastors and Christian academics alike should purchase this book, even if you disagree with David Allen’s stance on atonement (unlimited atonement). It will highly benefit anyone who reads it (and, for me, when I re-read it in the coming weeks and months).
Now, for where I find weakness with David Allen’s positions within this book. First, let me give you this disclaimer: I am a Five-Point Calvinist who strongly holds to the position of Limited Atonement. There are many points within The Extent of the Atonement that I take issue with, wherein I find weakness to Allen’s position. There is one however, that I find that stands out more than the rest, and that is Allen’s staunch stance that men such as Edwards, Hodge, Fuller, and others are actually not Five-Point Calvinists, but Four-Pointers. And he does this through the sufficiency versus efficiency idea, however, he leaves out the efficiency. The words that these men, and others, have stated regarding how the work of Christ on the cross if sufficient for the salvation of all does not, in any way, show or state their denial of Limited Atonement. Using this technique to make a point, especially one that could potentially have eternal ramifications, puts a bad taste in my mouth in the same way when someone accuses me of saying something that I simply never said (and having worked many years in child-welfare, that has happened quite a few times).
Through the entirety of this work, Allen seeks to disprove limited atonement by building up a strong enough case for unlimited atonement. To use legal terminology here, he seeks to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that unlimited atonement is the only biblically and historically based option for the extent of the atonement. In my opinion, he fails to make that case. Standing on shaky ground built upon the foundation of misleading one regarding the positions of dead men, David Allen does a great job on proving the sufficiency of the atonement for atoning for the sins of all mankind. However, he does not show the intent of the atonement to be for everyone, when in-fact there are verses regarding the elect and God’s people whom He has given to Jesus.
In Conclusion, The Extent of the Atonement by David Allen is an excellent and comprehensive work on the Atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The academic and historical value of this work will long be remembered and valued amongst those who read it. And while I disagree with his conclusions, David Allen has given me a lot to think about. This is one of those books that I need to read, and then read again. And maybe again. If you are ready and yearning to learn more about the atonement, this is a must-read.
Disclaimer: The Extent of the Atonement was sent to me by B&H Academic for the purpose of writing a review.
This book review is also posted on The Reformed Outlook blog and can be viewed by clicking HERE.