The nature of theology and the extent of the Atonement

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This article considers the post-Reformation debates over the extent of the Atonement. It traces the origins of these debates from the articles of the Arminian Remonstrance of 1610 through the declarations of the supporters of the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The debate is then considered in relation to an English Baptist context, and specifically the exegetical dispute over the meaning of the word ‘all’ in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and Romans 3:23-4. Three options are examined and the various difficulties in arbitrating between these various interpretations. Recognising these difficulties, the article goes on to explore the relationship between scriptural exegesis and theology with reference to the formulation of the ecumenical doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth century. It argues that while theology should always attempt to be consistent with the exegetical data on occasion it proves inconclusive, as in the case of the debate over the extent of the atonement. In such cases the role of theology becomes one of mediation as it seeks a way of reading the texts of Scripture that allows them to be heard without contradicting each other. Again, this is illustrated from the fourth century and the Christology of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa. Returning to the question of atonement with this understanding of the task of theology the article seeks to propose a way to reconcile the biblical texts which speak of the atonement as both universal and limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2018


  • Atonement
  • Metaphor
  • Dort
  • Westminster
  • Remonstrants


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