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Feb 01, 2013


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David L. Allen

Fascinating stuff, Dr. Gifford! I have enjoyed this series very much. I think you have uncovered some serious issues with Augustine's hermeneutical and exegetical method. I am in the process of digesting it all and certainly look forward to your final installment. On a related note, and contrary to many Reformed interpretations of Augustine, I find it interesting that he did not assert a limited substitution for sin with respect to the extent of the atonement, but rather affirmed Christ died for the sins of all people. His comment about Christ "redeeming" Judas is especially strong (see his Exposition of Psalm 69 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, ed. P. Schaff (1888; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 8:309. He also speaks of Christ dying for the sins of "the whole world" where in context it is impossible to understand "world" as anything less than all humanity (for example, Ibid., 8:471-72). Though Augustine gets it wrong on Romans 9, I think he gets it right on the extent of the atonement.



I thought to share this with you. It is an excerpt from Montague Brown's (St. Anselm College) work entitled:
'Augustine On Freedom And God'

"Augustine wrote much about the relationship between God’s activity and human freedom. Early
and late in his career, he insists on two truths: God is the cause of every activity and we have
freedom of choice. He does not mean that our actions are both determined and free. If this is
what compatibilism means, then Augustine is not a compatibilist. He simply insists on human
freedom and denies that God’s providence takes it away. But neither does he mean that our free
actions are not caused by God. This would be a metaphysical impossibility as well as heretical.
If being free from God is what libertarianism means, then Augustine is not a libertarian. The best
we can do philosophically to explain how both propositions are true is negative: we can show
that it is not possible to deny either one. We cannot deny that everything comes from God, for
from any exercise of our reason thinking about the world, we come to the knowledge of the
existence of God the creator, source of all that is. Nor can we to deny that we have free choice,
for without it “we” cannot act at all. The only possible positive explanation is theological. In
Christ are both divine activity and human freedom. We live and act in grace by freely entering
into a covenant freely offered by God."

if you are interested, you can read the rest of it on the following site:

good luck on your research and writing and thank you for sharing it with all of us . . . do we see a book coming some day? I hope so.

Jim G.

Thank you Dr. Allen for your encouragement. I have not studied Augustine's views on the atonement, but I have an idea and want to run it by you to see what you think, since this is your area of expertise.

Limited atonement, it seems to me, is a logical deduction from two premises. The first is unconditional individual election (which Augustine believed). The second is a strongly objective view of the atonement, which, I believe, Augustine did not have. As a 5th century church father, his operating paradigm would have been (what we know as) a more classical model of atonement. Do you think that, without the overly-objective interpretation of the atonement, it is even possible to arrive at LA? The Eastnever so objectified the atonement, and never bought into Augustine's determinism. Thus LA is a foreign concept in Eastern Orthodoxy.

Moreover, I wonder if Augustine's turn to the individual in the decree is what precipitated such an objective turn in atonement models. I think the point can be argued. It seems to work out given centuries of time for doctrinal development. Augustine's 5th-century determinism led to Anselm's 12th-century atonement objectivity to the 14th-century Augustinian revival to the 16th-century Reformation and penal substitution. Just an idea...what do you think?

Jim G.

Jim G.

Thanks for the link, Christiane.

While Brown makes a good argument from the sources he uses, I don't think he surveys the breadth of Augustine's writing on the subject. Brown limits himself to "On the Free Choice of the Will" which was largely written before Augustine's "conversion" to grace in around 395 and "Grace and Free Will" from late in his life. He also consults "Confessions" and "City of God," 2 of Augustine's 3 greatest works. In between the beginning and the end of his career lies the polemics with the Pelagians and the Gallic monks. (Key works from this period largely ignored by Brown include "To Simplician," "On Rebuke and Grace," "Enchiridion," and "On the Predestination of the Saints.") Much of his views on nature and grace are hammered out there, sources that Brown omits. The tension that Brown has Augustine seemingly happy to live with is settled differently in the heat of battle with his theological opponents. I think it would have been good of Brown to offer a more complete picture of Augustine's ideas.

I hope to include these posts as a book chapter on a larger book arguing against the deterministic model of providence. I envision the book to be in three sections. The first will be the historical development of determinism. The second will be a theological argument against determinism. Finally, in the third section, I will put forth a model of providence that I think will be faithful to both Scripture and the majority of the great tradition. At least that is the plan. Thanks again.

Jim G.

David L. Allen

I do agree that LA is a logical deduction from the notion of unconditional individual predestination viewed from the Augustinian/Dortian perspective of its proponents. As you know, it is debated whether Augustine held a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement. Clearly all the Fathers held some form of substitutionary atonement. It seems also clear that they did not have the developed penal aspects as we find in Calvin and the later Reformed. If Flood’s assessment (Derek Flood, “Substitutionary Atonement and the Church Fathers,” EQ 82.2 (2010), 142–159), as well as others, is correct that the Fathers held a more restorative justice paradigm as contrasted with the retributive justice paradigm of the later Reformed, then I think your premise would have merit. I do believe the Fathers held an objective form of the atonement in the sense of substitution, but I agree with you that it was not “overly-objective.” LA is not only a foreign concept in Eastern Orthodoxy, it was a foreign concept in the Western Church as well (if my interpretation of Augustine’s view of the extent of the atonement is accurate). I don’t think we have LA cropping up until Gottschalk in the ninth century. I suppose it would be “possible” to arrive at LA purely from the premise of unconditional individual election, but my point would be that even in Augustine, this did not happen.
As to Augustine’s turn to the individual in the decree is what precipitated such an objective turn in atonement models, that is something I had not considered before, but it certainly seems a possible scenario. I’ll need to think on it some more. Like Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Savak in “The Wrath of Khan,” when Savak said to Kirk, “that thought had never occurred to me,” Kirk responded, “well . . . now you have something new to think about!”

peter lumpkins

Drs Gifford and Allen,

I appreciate the exchange between you. Thank you...

Eric Hankins

Dr. Gifford,

Thanks so much for your work on this. Very helpful, indeed.

Ken Hamrick

Eric Hankins,

Very helpful in what?... It is much easier to criticize Augustinianism than to provide a detailed, systematic replacement for it. When can we expect you (or your traditionalist movement) to offer something thorough enough to be seriously considered as a replacement for the Augustinian theology---something to be submitted to a scrutiny equal that applied to Augustine? As I said to Jim regarding his paper above, it is not enough to criticize a theology. What is offered to replace it?

Jim G.

One piece at a time, Ken (not answering for Eric, just for myself). That's the way Johnny built his Cadillac.

Fortunately, I don't believe we have to bring along anything new to replace it. The anthropology of the pre-Augustinian church (both east and west) is a sufficient place to begin. I'll work on it, but I can't produce a finished product in a couple of weeks.

Jim G.

Jim G.

Hi Ken,

This is the third time you have brought up the assertion that I have nothing with which to replace Augustinianism. You seem to have ignored my call (for now the third time) to revert to a pre-Augustinian anthropology. I have offered a replacement, one that is three centuries older, still fully viable as the anthropology of one of the three major families of Christianity, and in my opinion has fewer pitfalls than Augustinianism. I don't have to reinvent the wheel - all I need to do is change the tire.

As for your claim that Augustinianism has no match, well, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. It is an opinion that I do not share, obviously, and backing up your claim by the number of systematics books written really does not prove anything other than the abundance of Augustinian systematic texts. Neither does pointing back to the Reformation, since the three prominent magisterial reformers - Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin - were all fully committed Augustinians. You are correct that most informed Baptists operate out of some sort of Augustinian paradigm, but I think that occurs more by default than by anything else.

I haven't really tried to critique Augustinianism per se, though I do not agree with it. Instead, I think I have shown rather conclusively that Augustine's ideas listed below are an innovation into the tradition:

-Overemphasis on divine omnipotence
-Infralapsarian humanity via active original sin and original guilt
-Divine determinism
-Theological and anthropological dualism

300+ years passed between the apostles and the beginning of Augustine's teaching career. His ideas are nowhere to be found in those 300 years. John Gill and Steven Lawson have tried to revise history, but they have failed miserably. To say, with some of our Reformed brethren, that Augustine "rediscovered" the true understanding of nature and grace taught by the apostles is pure hogwash. He injected his interpretation into the tradition and, as I have shown, relied more heavily on his Manichean and Neo-Platonic past for his ideas than on either Scripture or the received tradition. He then forced his interpretation to fit Scripture by wrenching passages out of context (e. g. 1 Cor 4 and Rom 9), ignoring some (any that call for real human freedom apart from a particular work of grace), and completely redefining others (1 Tim 2:4). If that is the best systematic framework we have, it is time for a new model.

Jim G.


" Truth is systematic; and not even Baptists have done without it. Such systematic truth is reflected in the consistency and cohesiveness of the BF&M. "

The BFM has changed over the years which means "truth" has changed? Or what man deems is truth has changed? Changing words or adding to it means those before us missed it?

Is this where the insistence upon "following" an ST leads us? Do we fall into a trap of using a sort of man made syllabus to know Christ?

peter lumpkins


I want to be especially sensitive to guest contributors (like Dr. Gifford) on this site. In fact, I'm attempting to recruit some more guest contributors. I think one major reason some don't is the low-level of personal respect received from some commenters.

Those who follow this site know we have a very good track record for allowing dissent. Good questions--even difficult and hard questions--will always be welcome to pieces I post here whether by me or a guest. But hijacking a thread, pitching out needless personal insults or bringing baggage not germane to the topic all the while self-promoting one's blog remains out of the sphere of good discussion so far as I am concerned.

Hence, I decided to unpublish the comments above which derailed when one commenter logged the snide and needless remark toward Dr. Hankins. I think the thread deserves a little better. Hope all understands.

Know I appreciate your readership. Lord bless...

Debbie Kaufman

Lydia: First, it's amazing to me that 6 years ago the BFM was the end all to this group, the document by which all doctrine was measure. It was used as the litmus by Peter and others as to who was and was not SBC. Yet now that is not the case? That is what changes. Not the BFM which has only be changed slightly a few times to keep up with the changing times. I guess it boils down to whatever supports the cause one is currently in. That does change like the weather, the BFM and its basic truths, not so much.


Debbie, I think it was a big mistake to force missionaries to sign it. I understand that people from both sides view it as a parameter and engage when discussing doctrinal stances. I do know that some feel like I do about any doctrinal statement. While I agree with much of the trad statement I would never sign a doctrinal statement, creed or follow an ST. To me, that is not baptistic. Since I never have to worry about working in any SBC entity, this works for me.

Personally, I think we have come to the end of the BFM road. It has been parsed and stretched beyond recognition even to the point of discussing the intent/meaning of words chosen by some on the last committee as if it is the Constitution and they are Founding Fathers! That is when we know we have a man made document we have said we can agree on but in reality, don't, unless we get to define what it means. :o)

To sum up any confusion you might have: I am not a "side" person. I am an "issue" person.

I am mulling over the statement offered here that "truth is systematic". When the BFM was used as an example I immediately thought of the historical changes made to it. And thinking of my stint in the org systems world where systems always seem to evolve and not always in a good way, either. :o)

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