Harold Dekker (1918-2006) and the Negative Inference Fallacy in Relation to the Argument for Limited Atonement
This leads us to a consideration of the relationship between universal divine love and the atonement of Christ. If God’s love in giving Christ is universal, is the atonement universal? Or is it limited? Before answering this question we must carefully understand the terms which it uses and the alternative which is poses.
Just what is the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement? As far as the average reader of this journal is concerned, the definition of Louis Berkhof may be considered representative. We quote from his Systematic Theology: "The question with which we are concerned at this point is not (a) whether the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men . . . (b) whether the saving benefits are actually applied to all men . . . (c) whether the bona fide offer of salvation is made to all that hear the gospel . . . nor (d) whether an of the fruits of the death of Christ accrue to the benefit of the non-elect. . . . On the other hand, the question does relate to the design of the atonement. Did the Father in sending Christ, and did Christ in coming into the world to make atonement for sin, do with the design or for the purpose of saving only the elect or all men? That is the question, and that only is the question. . . . If it had been His intention to save all men, this purpose could not have been frustrated by the unbelief of man" (pp. 393-395).
In order to evaluate Berkhof’s position, let us first consider the Biblical evidence which he cites. We quote his own statement: "Scripture repeatedly qualifies those for whom Christ laid down His life in such a way as to point to a very definite limitation. Those for whom He suffered and died are variously called ‘His sheep,’ John 10:11, 15, ‘His Church,’ Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25-27, ‘His people,’ Matt. 1:21, and ‘the elect,’ Rom. 8:32-35" (p. 395). These passages do not adequately support Berkhof’s argument. In none of them is the predication regarding those for whom Christ died stated exhaustively or exclusively. They do affirm that Christ died for His shed, His Church, His people or the elect, but about the possibility that He may also have died for others these passages say nothing. Moreover, if the predications made are to be taken as limitations, consistent interpretation of similar passages results in absurdity. Then, for instance, Isaiah 58:8 teaches that Christ died only for Israel and Galatians 2:20 that He died only for Paul. It would appear that the passages used by Berkhof as proof of his position really beg the question. They are relevant to his argument only when they are first interpreted in the light of the doctrine which they are used to prove.
Scriptural evidence used by Berkhof is further brought into question by the fact that Scripture speaks also of the death of Christ as being "for every man" (Heb. 2:9), "for the whole world" (1 John 2:2), for "many" (Matt. 20:28) and "for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). To say the least, the proof texts used by Berkhof must be interpreted in connection with the foregoing. It may also be suggested that the Bible speak of the design or purpose of the atonement in differing senses, which we elucidate further below.
Harold Dekker, “God So Loved–All men!” Reformed Journal 12 (December 1962), 6.
No credit to Tony for the find.