A Boisterously Reformed Polemic Against Limited Atonement

In this relatively short, sometimes humorous, often sarcastic defense of unlimited atonement, Austin Brown takes the strict particularist (limited atonement) adherents to the woodshed. Terming his view classical moderate (unlimited) (p. 5), which he defines as Christ paying an objective price for the sins of humanity, yet not dying with equal intent for all men. Brown believes the particularists have mutilated Scripture to promote their theology. Both sides will cite the Lombardian formula (p. 7), “Christ’s death is sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect,” but define differently the word “sufficient.” For the strict particularists, Christ’s death could be sufficient for all people had He chosen to make it so, but in fact He did not. As a result, most of humanity would be classified as the “non-died-fors” (Brown’s unique term) (pp. 11-12).

With such an understanding of the atonement, the gospel cannot legitimately be offered to the non-elect because Christ did not die for them. This flies in the face, Brown maintains, of multiple biblical passages that offer the gospel universally to the non-elect who nevertheless reject it (pp. 20-25). In support, the author presents the inability analogy which states that there is a difference between moral inability and natural inability: “The non-elect are morally unable to believe because of how much they don’t want to believe. It’s their preference.” (p. 26). The particularists retort that the limited view leans into universalism, is guilty of “double jeopardy,” and creates confusion in the Trinity (p. 41). These are the three platforms upon which the limited view rests, rather than the plain reading of Scripture (p. 41). Brown’s intention in this work is to dismantle these three platforms in order to win the debate.

Brown maintains that particularists must use their theology to remove all universal offers of the gospel found in Scripture (pp. 44) and redefine words such as “world” and “all” to mean all kinds of people rather than all people (pp. 47-62, 126-127). And they must do this in defiance of a number of Calvinistic theologians, including Calvin, himself (pp. 70-77). Regarding the tired double jeopardy argument, Brown points out that even the elect are under the wrath of God until they come to faith (p. 105) and that the illustration does not correspond to reality. Brown argues that injustice, which is at the heart of the double jeopardy accusation, refers to the same person paying twice for the same crime. But if someone else paid for a person’s crime and the criminal refused the payment, it is not double jeopardy because two separate people suffer (pp. 111-112). Thus if Christ paid for our sins; but we reject His pardon, it is not double jeopardy.

As for the Trinity, John Owen bases his famous trilemma argument on what he considers the impossibilities of God having multiple intentions for the atonement. That is, God could not have intended for Christ to die in one sense for all humanity and in another sense for the elect (pp. 99, 118). If Christ died for all, then universalism is required. If He died for the elect only, then strict particularism is necessary (some, known as hyper-Calvinists deny any universal call to salvation (pp. 83-87)). Brown rebuts by arguing that God had multiple intentions in Christ’s death, which in no way conflicts with His divine purpose (pp. 90-91), and that there is absolutely no text of Scripture which states that Christ died only for the elect (p. 172).

Brown exegetes the key New Testament passages at play in the debate demonstrating that the unlimited view is the best interpretation in each case: 1 John 2:2 (pp. 123-129), 2 Peter 2:2 (pp 130-134), 1 Timothy 4:30 (pp. 135-142), Romans 3:21-24 (pp. 143-157), and John 3:16 (pp. 47-54, 126-127).

Appendix A provides an excellent chart of the four views of the extent of the atonement (pp. 173-176), and Appendix B offers useful quotes by Calvinists who support the unlimited view (pp. 177-183), including an exceptional one by J.C. Ryle (p. 182). The book closes with a fictional offer of a High Calvinist doll with a pull string on the back which, when pulled, says repeatedly, “If Christ paid the sins of all, then no one can ever be in hell.” Sadly, the James White doll is currently out of stock. Highly sarcastic but extremely funny.

At any rate, A Boisterously Reformed Polemic is an accessible defense of limited atonement that this reviewer believes offers much to the discussion. If readers can accept Brown’s humor brought to a serious topic (no problem here), then they will appreciate this book.

by Austin Brown (Pensacola, FL: Austin C. Brown, 2022), 200 pp., paper $12.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel