Review: The Extent of the Atonement

29227859David L. Allen (Ph.D, University of Texas) is dean of the School of Preaching, distinguished professor of preaching, director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, and George W. Truett Chair of Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Allen has authored numerous articles and chapters in multi-authored works, as well as several expository commentaries and monographs. Most recently, Allen has released a mammoth tome focused on the extent of the person and work of Christ in the atonement.

It is important to note at the outset that Allen is a well-known and longtime critic of Reformed theology. More specifically, Allen has been outspokenly opposed to the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement for as long as I can remember. That said, as readers look to approach The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review, it is reasonable to expect that Allen would produce a volume firmly situated within such conclusions. I am here to report that the theological outcome of this volume comes as no surprise! Where the surprise will surface for most readers is in the historical/theological depth with which Allen guides the reader.

The Extent of the Atonement is divided into three major sections: (1) the extent of the atonement in Church history, (2) the extent of the atonement in the Baptist tradition, and (3) the extent of the atonement: a critical review. The first two major sections are somewhat self-explanatory in their content. Allen surveys nearly every significant historical and modern figure that concerned themselves, intentional or not, with issues related to the extent of the atonement. The third major section offers a lengthy, chapter-by-chapter and point-by-point review of the widely praised From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. For those who have previously interacted with this work, the cover price of the present volume is well-worth a glimpse into Allen’s engagement with those authors.

There is much to be praised about this volume. For starters, I was happy to see the threefold emphasis that Allen placed on the atonement being aligned in its (1) intent, (2) extent, and (3) application. This is an important aspect of the conversation that, unfortunately, gets overlooked far too often. It is here that the extent of the atonement is rightly positioned within its proper soteriological framework. Second, the level of historical depth and analysis from an Arminian perspective is unparalleled in the market today. Lastly, while I found myself disagreeing with Allen’s analysis more than I found myself agreeing, I appreciated the evenhandedness of his interaction throughout.

There are also a few hesitations or shortcomings about this volume. At least two are worth mentioning at this point. For starters, despite spending nearly a decade researching and writing on the topic, Allen still seems to misrepresent the Reformed understanding of limited atonement in places, especially in the case where exegesis is the driving force of the conversation. Second, I failed to find anything, by way of an argument against limited atonement that was breakthrough or revolutionary. That is, I was honestly unable to find anything in this volume that hasn’t been discussed or addressed elsewhere by both sides of the conversation. Still, it should be noted at this point that the level of detail of Allen’s work, including the different directions of approach, is in a caliber of its own.

The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review by David L. Allen is a massive theological achievement. To say that Allen is exhaustive is an understatement. It is theologically informed and pastorally sensitive. Allen has done his homework (to one degree or another) and presented the reader with a tour de force through the theological trenches of the atonement. For whom did Christ die? Allen contends that Christ died to make salvation possible for all. Those who agree with Allen’s conclusions will now possess a significant work to interact with and refer to often. Others will likely leave unaffected. Nonetheless, placing theological persuasions aside, David L. Allen has written an unavoidable book for anyone who would seek to approach the subject of atonement. While Allen and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the matter, I have to admit; this book was much better than I initially anticipated. It comes highly recommended!

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