Oct 15, 2014

Is The Atonement a Commercial Transaction?

David Allen, professor of theology, in writing against "limited atonement" said, in answer to a question:

"In a nutshell, you are assuming that the atonement is a commercial transaction rather than a penal transaction, as Scripture teaches. In a commercial transaction, if the debt is paid, it cannot be paid for again. If so, then an injustice is done."  (SEE HERE)

Allen repeats what those who believe in unlimited and indefinite atonement often say.  They say that those who believe in special (or limited) atonement make the error of seeing the atonement as "a commercial transaction."  He then says that the truth is that the atonement is a "penal transaction."

In response, I object to Allen implying that men like John Piper (who Allen is critiquing) reject the idea that the atonement was a "penal transaction."  He implies that one cannot believe that the atonement is BOTH a commercial and penal transaction. 

Further, the atonement being a penal transaction poses the same difficulty for Allen as does the atonement being a commercial transaction.  Further, there is in Scripture a mixing of these two concepts, so that they are not mutually exclusive as Allen imagines.  When a criminal is being punished for his crimes (penal), he is at the same time "paying his debt" to the state whose laws have been transgressed.  Jesus likened sin to debt when he told us to pray "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." 

Just as it would be wrong to collect a debt twice (commercial transaction) so it would be wrong to punish two men for the same crime (penal transaction), or punish one whose legal debt has been satisfied.

Allen admits that the commercial view of the atonement poses problems for Allen and his universal atonement view, so he rejects it, though the Scriptures support it.  What Allen needs to realize is that even his "penal transaction" view gives him the same difficulty.  It is "double payment" versus "double jeopardy."

1 comment:

John Hutchinson said...

"When a criminal is being punished for his crimes (penal), he is at the same time "paying his debt" to the state whose laws have been transgressed."

I believe that you have misunderstood the commercial debt theory. In a variation of Anselm's "Cur Deus Homo", which I suggest all read for an invaluable logic, even if it is a bit deficient; humanity, in its sin, has brought detriment to the natural and social order of God's cosmos. That detriment becomes a debt that we cannot repay because we always and already owe God that moral perfection, which will not incur more debt. Furthermore, we have both noetic and moral inability to not sin and incur more detriment and debt.

Christ, not because of the punishment that he judiciously suffered, but because of the infinite merits of His person and works acts a voluntary reparation of those debts on our behalf, in order to restore God's cosmos to its original virtue and glory.

This can be better and more expansively explained.

Personally, I believe in both satisfaction theories, and see both as necessary in order to the fully comprehend the satisfaction of objective principles of justice in the Justification.

It is quite incoherent and dissembling why Limited Atonement, which I believe in, should even have much to do with this aspect of the Atonement.