Contend Earnestly: Bullinger's belief in Strict Limited Atonement and Unicorns

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bullinger's belief in Strict Limited Atonement and Unicorns

This is starting to frighten me. Yesterday, I posted something from my friend David on Bullinger's view of the atonement. David made a great comment in his post. He said:

These works have added a lot of useful material for my Bullinger file. What is clear now, beyond any doubt whatsoever, is that the doctrine of unlimited atonement was a Reformed doctrine. The evidence now is of such efficacy that only a proverbial fool would insist otherwise.

One may not agree with the doctrine. One may claim it is illogical. One may claim it is inconsistent with the doctrine of Predestination. One may claim that later Calvinists refined and smoothed out earlier inconsistencies. One can think and believe all that. What one cannot do is be dishonest about the plain and undeniable historicity of the doctrine in early Reformed theology.

What is starting to frighten me is the bullheaded process of just outright denying that the Reformers believed in universal atonement. Now, when we say this, we aren't denying that they also believed in limited atonement, we are saying that they believed both. Our friend Turretinfan cannot accept this. He goes to great lengths to try and outright deny that Bullinger or others ever believed in a universal atonement. So, he not only denies unlimited atonement but he now tries to just say, "nuh uh" when we constantly prove otherwise that a lot of the Reformers would agree with us. He might as well try and prove that Bullinger also believed in unicorns. I can accept that he doesn't believe in the unlimited view of the atonement, but this is getting ridiculous how much he twists words and ignores plain language to try and refute that the reformers didn't believe in the unlimited aspect of the atonement. With his arguments I am going to start to debate why Bullinger and the Reformers believed that leprechauns rode in on unicorns with fairy dust to take over Montana. No matter how hard Turretinfan, and others mind you, try and refute the plain language of Bullinger and others, it is still there for all to read. Take a look at this comment from Bullinger (from David's follow up post):

Also they declare by the way, whom he has redeemed: that is to wit, men of all tribes, &c. In which rehearsal he does imitate Daniel in the 7. chapt. and signifies an universality, for the Lord has died for all: but that all are not made partakers of this redemption, it is through their own fault. For the Lord excludes no man, but him only which through his own unbelief, and misbelief excludes himself. &c. Henry Bullinger, A Hvndred Sermons Vpon the Apocalipse of Iesu Christ. (London: Printed by Iohn Daye, Dwellyng ouer Aldersgate, 1573), 79-80.

Can you honestly tell me that Bullinger is not clear as day here? It is now to the point to where we say it is sunny outside and Turretinfan says that it is snowing and it is midnight.

If you would like to see to what lengths Turretinfan is going to try and prove that there are unicorns in the language of Bullinger click here. To see David's rebuttal, click here.

If you don't agree with us, fine. I can take that. But stop with this pretend world that makes no sense at all. At some point, you have to just say, I don't agree with some of the Reformers and move on. But to continue to try and have a smear campaign is retarded.


Stefan said...


Can I get copies of the Bullinger titles David was/is dealing with?


Tony Byrne said...

Seth said:

"What is starting to frighten me is the bullheaded process of just outright denying that the Reformers believed in universal atonement. Now, when we say this, we aren't denying that they also believed in limited atonement, we are saying that they believed both."

Me now:

Some readers may not understand what Seth is saying above about "believing both." The early Reformers believed that Christ satisfied for all in the death he died (what most today think of when they speak of "atonement"), but only the elect benefit unto the obtaining of eternal life, because the Holy Spirit sovereignly grants the gift of faith to them alone according to the eternal purpose of God. Some, like R. L. Dabney, use the term "atonement" to reference that sovereign application, instead of the satisfaction on the cross considered by itself. Thus, what is "limited" in the mind of the early Reformers, such as Bullinger, is the election of some from eternity and consequently the limited application of Christ's death to that same group. There is no limit whatsoever in the imputation of sin to Christ on the cross, as if he only suffers for the sins of the elect. Contrary to the later Bezan/Owen model, the early Reformers believed that Christ substituted (or satisfied) for all as the last Adam.

If one thinks of limited sin bearing when thinking of "limited atonement," then the early Reformers did NOT believe in this. If one thinks of a limited decretal purpose in conjunction with a limited application of Christ's death when one thinks of "limited atonement," then the early Reformers DID believe in this.

Later thinkers, such as Jonathan Edwards, recaptured the classical/Bullinger-type model and said:

"...Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death [Tony: unlimited sin bearing]; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death [Tony: because of election], with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved [Tony: the application] thereby."

Jonathan Edwards, "On the Freedom of the Will" in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:88.

So, one could cautiously say that some Reformed men believed in unlimited atonement [i.e. unlimited sin bearing] and limited atonement [i.e. limited decree to save producing and limited application] at the same time. In them there is a happy union between the universal and particular aspects of Christ's redemptive work.

Unfortunately, many today fail to understand this classical Calvinistic paradigm, and understand even less how it actually comports with scripture. The result is poor historiography, and immature and/or uninformed theological discussion on the point, especially when it's coupled with investigative laziness.

Seth McBee said...


Thanks for the clarification...


I will talk to David and see if he has the files available. Until then, you can check out his blog and his meta links for the info you are looking for.

Here is his Bullinger files online:








Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

That is truly odd. I've scarcely seen stranger readings of plain texts from Roman Catholics—and some of them are pretty strange!

Tony Byrne said...

Our understanding of Bullinger's view is even further supported by what Rudolf Gwalther [1519-1586] says. Gwalther [also Walther, Walthard or Gualther] was Bishop of the Reformed Church of Zurich, following Bullinger and Zwingli in that office. He was Bullinger's student, lived in Bullinger's house for a time and came to be treated as a son. He even married Zwingli's daughter [Regula Zwingli], who was also a resident in Bullinger's household. For more than thirty years he worked closely with Bullinger until the latter's death in 1575. In his Testament, Bullinger named Gwalther his successor. See J. Wayne Baker, "Gwalther, Rudolf," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand (Oxford University Press, 1996), 2:203.

Rudolf Gwalther said:

"Again, when he commends the preaching of the Gospel to his Apostles, he will first have repentance to be taught, next after which, he will have remissions of sins to be joined. Therefore Peter [Tony: in Acts 2] does not without a cause proceed in this order, that speaking of the death of Christ, he first proves his hearers to be guilty, and to be the authors [auctors?] thereof. And so it is necessary to have Christ's death preached in these days, that all men might understand the Son of God died for their sins, and that they were the authors [auctors?] thereof. For thus it shall come to pass, that men shall learn to be sorry [sorye?] in their heart for their sins, and shall embrace the salvation offered them in Christ with the more fervency of faith."

Rudolf Gwalther, A Hundred Threescore and Fifteen Homilies or Sermons Upon the Acts of the Apostles, trans. John Bridges (Henrie Denham, 1572), p. 108. I have taken the liberty to modernize the english.

Gwalther believed the same thing Bullinger believed. The diligent student will also note that Richard Muller agrees with our take on Bullinger, and yet Turretinfan heaps scorn upon our reading of Bullinger.

Tony Byrne said...

That information by Gwalther can be read HERE. Also, David has referenced the Richard Muller take on Bullinger HERE and HERE, or see Richard Muller, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology,” by Jonathan D. Moore. Reviewed by Richard A Muller, in Calvin Theological Journal, 43 (2008), 149-150..

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony,

Years ago I use to do real face to face counter-cult evangelism with an organization called 'Freedom in Christ.' I mean, this is not some man sitting in front of his laptop 24/7 beating up on others through the net.

My areas of specialty were Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. I used to know their literature like the back of my hand.

There is a real cultic mentality. You see it when you meet the JW. They propose something about church history–or any point of their theology–you show the absolute rebuttal. I mean, this directly refutes the claim they just made in front you. You even have the very source right in front of you. They made a claim about Charles Russell. You read to them the very words of Russell from one of their own early publications. They stand there and with bold-face, say “He didn’t say that. He did not say that.”

Steve Hassan wrote a book on cult psychology. I think it is very good. Cultists have strategies to evade honest criticism and self-analysis. One strategy he called ‘thought stopping behaviours’ where the cultist will just repeat or reassert certain lines of thought or arguments to themselves or to their followers. They will just make assertions like: “He could not have meant that... He could not have really said that... They are taking him out of context...” Another trait of the cultic mind is the tactic of trying to maginalize people who disagree, or who no longer believe in the cult’s doctrines. To this end, they will not respond to the ex-cultist’s–now Christian–actual arguments, they will engage in a campaign to destroy the character and credibility of the ex-cultist.

They are so scared that others may actually be influenced by the ex-cultist, that they seek to publically destroy their opponents intellectual abilities, in order to first “quarantine” their opponents, and secondly, to “vaccinate” others, in order to so put-off others from actually thinking for themselves or investigating the truth. Thus the ex-cultist is treated as if he was a disease, and then the re-indoctrination of the remaining flock begins

What is clear, is that the cultic mindset is not committed to the truth. She is committed to perpetuating the paradigm at the expense of truth.

Now here is my point: We can all slip into this cultic mindset at times, if we are not careful and prayerful. It does not mean we are cultists or are part of a cult, but that we, individually, can slip into a anti-Christian cultic mindset or attitudes in the way we “need” to defend our paradigms, in the way we treat others, and in so doing, use sinful strategies to win the argument and to prevent others from being influenced by our opponents.

With regard to our two critical detractors, what comes to my mind, with two of our opponents, it looks to me that they are motivated by a pure personal animus that borders on hatred. It reads to me, that they treat us as if we are no different from the Benny Hinns out there. I mean, you read what they have said about us, and if you didn’t know better, one would think that I am sure.

The bottom line is, its not the love of the truth, God’s truth, that is motivating them in some of this, but something else.

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