John Davenant’s “Dissertation On The Death Of Christ”: A Review Essay (With An Invitation) -- By: Jared M. Compton

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 21:0 (NA 2016)
Article: John Davenant’s “Dissertation On The Death Of Christ”: A Review Essay (With An Invitation)
Author: Jared M. Compton

John Davenant’s “Dissertation On The Death Of Christ”: A Review Essay (With An Invitation)1

Jared M. Compton2


John Davenant (1572-1641), one-time Bishop of Salisbury and British delegate to the synod of Dort, wrote a Latin dissertation on the extent of the atonement that was published posthumously in 1650 and translated into English over a century later.3 Early reception was mixed,4

predictably falling along party lines. In fact something quite similar can be seen presently (when Davenant’s piece is not simply overlooked)5 in debates over Calvin’s and Dort’s legacies.6

Here, however, I am not interested in tracing the reception history of Davenant’s views, much less in showing how they relate to Calvin’s. My task is at once both more modest and, I want to suggest, more urgent. I want to present Davenant’s argument for careful consideration based on the conviction that he should continue to serve as an important conversation partner in the debate over the extent of the atonement. And, if he is going to play this role, if he should play this role, then his work needs to be better known and understood.7

To this end, therefore, I will first give an aerial sketch of Davenant’s argument in the form of a detailed (and annotated) outline—something akin to what one finds in J. I. Packer’s introduction to Owen’s Death of Death. Then I will summarize the arguments Davenant enlists in support of his thesis. And, finally, I will conclude with three, somewhat critical reflections on Davenant’s piece. After all, simply because Davenant’s argument is important and should be considered does not imply that it is definitive or, for that matter, unassailable.

A Dissertation On The Death Of Christ Outlined

The Banner of Truth edition of John Owen’s Death of Death

contains a useful introduction to Owen’s argument by J. I. Packer.8 Besides the context and summaries Packer provides (given in English more readily accessible than Owen’s), he also gives readers a roadmap to Owen’s argument, something Packer hopes will help readers “keep [their] bearings.”

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