Richard Baxter Theologie
Richard Baxter rejected the idea of a limited atonement in favour of a universal atonement, which drew him into a long debate with Calvinist theologian John Owen. Interpreting the kingdom of God in terms of Christ as Christus Victor and Rector of all men, Baxter explained Christ's death as an act of universal redemption (penal and vicarious, though substitutionary in explication), in virtue of which God has made a new covenant offering pardon and amnesty to the penitent. Repentance and faith, being obedient to this covenant, are the conditions of salvation.
Baxter insisted that the Calvinists of his day ran the danger of ignoring the conditions that came with God's new covenant. Justification, Baxter insisted, required at least some degree of faith as the human response to the love of God.
Baxter's theology was set forth most elaborately in his Latin Methodus Theologiæ Christianæ (London, 1681); the Christian Directory (1673) contains the practical part of his system; and Catholic Theology (1675) is an English exposition. His theology made Baxter very unpopular among his contemporaries and even into the next century caused a split among the Dissenters. As summarised by Thomas W. Jenkyn, it differed from the Calvinism on four points:
- The atonement of Christ did not consist in his suffering the identical but the equivalent punishment (i.e., one which would have the same effect in moral government) as that deserved by mankind because of offended law. Christ died for sins, not persons. The benefits of substitutionary atonement are accessible and available to all men for their salvation.
- The atonement is not limited to a select few, but is available to all who will believe in Christ.
- The righteousness that is imputed to the believer in the work of justification is not the righteousness of Christ, but is by virtue of the faith of the believer himself in Christ.
- Every sinner has a distinct agency of his own to exert in the process of his conversion, which is to believe in Christ.