Posts Tagged ‘Limited Atonement’
This morning I was listening to some Reformed brothers speak in a panel discussion on the vicarious atonement of Christ. One of the brothers began to talk about what he called “the Pelagian view” and he placed Arminianism in here as well saying that the Bible clearly teaches that Christ died a vicarious atonement in the sinner’s place and thus Christ paid a definite atonement for the sins of the elect. Thus when Christ died, He paid the actual sin debt of the elect predestined by God before time began. He attacked what he called “the false teaching that the atonement makes mankind savable but doesn’t actually save anyone.” He said that such a view would be double jeopardy and would mean that Christ died for the sins of the world but people go to hell for the sins that Christ paid their price for.
Now there are many problems with this brother’s view. I would to first state that this brother is a brother who is passionate for evangelism, passionate to preach the gospel to the lost and I respect him for his zeal for the glory of God. That said, I believe he is in error regarding what it is that Arminians believe about the atonement of the Lord Jesus. Calvinist scholars Kim Riddlebarger and Edwin Palmer both wrote, “The death of Christ does not actually save sinners but merely renders people savable if they exercise their freedom to choose to follow Christ” and “Because the Arminian believes in an atonement that is unlimited in its extent, it is necessarily a vague, indefinite, poverty stricken atonement that does not actually save anyone” (Arminian Theology, p.222).
A couple of points here. First, we Arminians hold to an unlimited atonement because we see that in Scripture. Passages such as Luke 19:10; John 1:29; 3:16; 4:42; 12:32; Romans 5:18; 11:32; Galatians 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; Hebrews 2:9, 14-15; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; Revelation 22:17. We believe that, when read in their proper contexts, it is clear that Jesus shed His blood for all to be saved. Not to mention the universal passages regarding the call to salvation (which my Reformed brothers do accept by the way) such as in Isaiah 45:22 (the passage that led to Spurgeon’s conversion to Christ); 55:1-2 or the great commission itself in Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:31; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Certainly I would agree that God foreknows those who are His own and thus election is a biblical truth but I would add, as do my Reformed brethren, that we are commanded by God to preach the gospel to all and the Lord saves those who believe the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). We Arminians simply accept the biblical teaching of a universal aspect to the saving work of Christ. We don’t deny that Christ died for His sheep (John 10:14) or for Paul (Galatians 2:20) or for His Church (Ephesians 5:25-26) but we also assert that He gave His life for all so that all can come and be saved by grace through faith (Romans 10:13).
Secondly, even my Reformed brethren admit that we are saved by grace through faith. This is a Reformation teaching. We reformed Arminians stand gladly with our reformed Calvinist friends and preach that Jesus alone saves sinners by grace through faith apart from works (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Good works flow from our salvation (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12-13; James 2:14-26) but not in order to obtain salvation (Romans 4:5). Faith is contrasted with works in Romans 4 and it is clear that faith is not a work for salvation. Faith is the mere acceptance of the finished work of Christ for our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). No biblical Arminians would teach that Jesus saves us but we keep us. It is clear in Scripture that Jesus saves us and He keeps us by His own power and grace (John 10:27-30; Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 1:5) but we do stress that we are saved by faith and kept by faith (2 Corinthians 1:24; 11:2-4). None can be saved apart from faith. So when did my Reformed brothers get saved? Was it on the cross? If so, were they born sinless or are they born justified before God? What about eternity past? Were they eternally justified in the omniscient mind of God (Revelation 13:8)? I believe the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith (John 3:16; Acts 15:11; 16:30-34; 17:30-31; Romans 3:21-31; 4:24-5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9). So are we justified unto faith or by faith (Romans 5:1)?
Thirdly, there are passages that seem to teach that Christ died for those who deny His work. For instance, Romans 14:15 which says in the NASB, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” That seems very close to teaching that this brother could be offended by the eating of certain foods and turn away from the faith and be destroyed but Paul the Apostle says that Christ died for him.
Another passage to study is 2 Peter 2:1 where Peter the Apostle seems to teach that Christ died for false teachers. Both are interesting passages to debate.
I would close by saying that Arminians don’t believe that the atonement saves all. We simply believe that all can come and be saved the same way that our Reformed brethren preach in the open air, and that is to all, knowing that not all will be saved but those who come through the drawing of the Spirit (John 6:44) will become the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Peter 1:2). We deny that all are saved simply because Jesus died but we affirm with our Reformed brethren that only those who believe the gospel are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21). Those who reject the sacrifice of Christ are lost. They remain in their state of rebellion against God (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:3). Only those who believe the gospel can it be truly said that Jesus shed His blood for them (Romans 5:8-9).
Our duty is to preach the gospel to all and the Lord saves sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). We stand with our Reformed brethren and preach that Christ alone is our salvation and He alone saves (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
Many believe that only Calvinists limit the atonement. We Arminians like to champion our view of “unlimited atonement” but in reality, we both limit the atonement. For instance, Calvinists limit the atonement to the elect only, that Christ died only for the elect. We Arminians do agree. We don’t believe in universalism or the idea that Christ died for all equally. We believe that the Bible teaches that there is a heaven for the saved and a hell for the lost (John 5:24-25). But we believe that Christ died as well for the elect of God. The key difference here is whether this salvation (0r election) is based on conditions from God or not. Calvinists hold that God has unconditionally elected whom He will save and those whom He will condemn. Arminians reject this view and believe that Christ is the elected one and that His blood secures salvation for whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). In other words, the sovereign choice of God was to send His Son to secure the salvation of all human beings who would place their saving faith in His Son. Some say, “He elected the plan but not the man.” While I think that is a bit too simple and is not completely accurate of the Arminian view, it does reflect the heart of Arminianism in some ways such as our view that God has not chosen few to salvation while condemning the vast majority. We believe this doesn’t reflect the doctrine of God in regard to His love for humanity (John 3:16).
My own view is that election is conditioned upon saving faith in Jesus (2 Peter 1:10-11). Thus at this point, the now saved disciple becomes the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10). God foreknows those who His (Romans 8:29) and He knows the free will decisions of all humans. He does not force anyone to be saved but He allows the person to freely come to Him for salvation (John 6:37-45; 12:32). Calvinists would agree in part. For example, R.C. Sproul teaches that people do come to Christ on their own free will and that God does not force anyone to be saved but the difference is that God places an inward call in the elect to come to Christ to be saved. This grace is irresistible and effectual in its calling. All the elect of God will hear the call of grace and will be regenerated to believe. Arminians reply that this grace is resistible but to those who repent, salvation is freely given.
So the reality is that both Arminians and Calvinists believe in some ways in a limited atonement. We differ, however, over whether the call to salvation is conditional or unconditional. I hope that fairly demonstrates the views of both Arminians and Calvinists regarding the atonement and election.
Here is a great post by Dr. Roger Olson on the subject of unlimited atonement. He makes a good argument here that the Calvinist attacks on Arminianism about our view regarding the atonement of Christ is unfair.
You can read his post here.
Esteemed Arminian theologian Richard Watson offers five points regarding the extent of the atonement and the use of the word “world” and the Calvinist argument that the word means “the elect out of the world.” Watson gives the following points:
It is equally impracticable to restrict the phrases, the world, the whole world, and to paraphrase them the world of the elect: and yet there is no other alternative; for either the whole world means those elected out of it; or else Christ died in an equal sense for every man. God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, &c. Here, if the world mean not the elect only, but every man, then every man was so loved by God, that he gave his own Son for his redemption. To say that the world, in a few places, means the Roman empire, and in others Judea, is nothing to the purpose, unless it were meant to affirm, that the elect were the people of Judea, or those of the Roman empire only. It proves, it is true, a hyperbolical use of the term in both instances; but this cannot be urged in the case before us: for,
1. The elect are never called the world in Scripture; but are distinguished from it. I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hateth you.
2. The common division of mankind, in the New Testament, is only into two parts; the disciples of Christ, and the world. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own. Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
3. When the redemption of Christ is spoken of, it often includes both those who had been chosen out of the world, and those who remained still of the world. And you hath he reconciled, say the apostles to those that had already believed; and as to the rest, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed to us the word of reconciliation, plainly that they might beseech this world to be reconciled to God: so that both believers and unbelievers were interested in the reconciling ministry, and the work of Christ. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only; but also for the sins of the whole world: words cannot make the case plainer than these, since this same writer, in the same epistle, makes it evident bow he uses the term world, when he affirms that the world lieth in wickedness, in contradistinction to those who knew that they were of GOD.
4. In the general commission before quoted, the expression world is connected with universal terms which carry it forth into its utmost latitude of meaning. Go ye into ALL the world, and preach the Gospel (the good news) to every creature; and this too in order to his believing it, that he may be saved; he that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth not (this good news preached to him that he might be saved) shall be damned.
5. All this is confirmed from the gross absurdity of this restricted interpretation when applied to several of the foregoing passages. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoso. ever believeth in him should not perish. Now, if the world here means the elect world, or the elect not yet called out of it, then it is affirmed, that whosoever, of this elect body, believeth shall not perish; which plainly implies, that some of the elect might not believe, and therefore perish, contrary to their doctrine. This absurd consequence is still clearer from the verses which immediately follow. John iii, 17, 18, For God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already. Now here we must take the term world, either extensively for all mankind or limitedly for the elect. If the former, then all men through him may be saved, but only through faith: he therefore, of this world that believeth may be saved; but he of this world that believeth not is condemned already. The sense is here plain and consistent; but if, on the other hand, we take the world to mean the elect only, then he of this elect world that believeth may be saved, and he of the elect world that believeth not is condemned; so that the restricted interpretation necessarily supposes, that elect persons may remain in unbelief, and be lost. The same absurdity will follow from a like interpretation of the general commission. Either all the world and every creature, mean every man, or the elect only. If the former, it follows, that he of this world, any individual among those included in the phrase, every creature, who believes, shall be saved, or, not believing, shall be damned: if the latter, then he of the elect, any individual of the elect, who believes, shall be saved, and any individual of the elect who believes not, shall be damned. Similar absurdities might be brought out from other passages; but if these are candidly weighed, it will abundantly appear, that texts so plain and explicit cannot be turned into such Consequences by any true method of interpretation, and that they must, therefore, be taken in their obvious sense, which unequivocally expresses the universality of the atonement.
Dr. Roger Olson, in his book Against Calvinism, states the following:
The sole reason non-Calvinist evangelical Christians object to monergism is because it makes God the ultimate, even if indirect, cause of the reprobates’ unbelief and damnation. It does serious harm to God’s reputation.
Great point. If God is the only one involved in saving a sinner then the non-elect go to hell not because of their own sins but because of the unwillingness on God’s part to save them. This does not reveal the love of God very well (John 3:16) who gave His Son to die for all (1 John 2:2) when in fact He died to secure the salvation of very few.
Calvinists insist that the word “world” in 1 John 2:2 cannot possibly mean “the whole world” but instead they take “world” and teach that John means “Jews and Gentiles” or those from the world. They do this because to teach that “world” means “world” would deny limited atonement and they would be forced to embrace unlimited atonement which simply cannot happen otherwise the other four points of Calvinism would be in jeopardy. To see an example of a Calvinist holding firmly to 1 John 2:2 not being “world” but instead “all types from the world” see this post here.
Let’s do this, let’s look at John’s use of “world” in 1 John to see how John would use the term. For this study, I will be using Dr. Robert Picirilli’s book, Grace, Faith, Free Will. The Greek word is “kosmos” and it occurs 23 times in 1 John. Dr. Robert Picirilli notes the use of kosmos in 1 John as follows:
2:15-17 (6 times)
4:1-5 (6 times)
5:4-5 (3 times)
Picirilli notes that the use of “the world” can be used personally by John (3:1, 13) or impersonally (2:15). The use of “world” in 1 John 2:2 is personal.
John consistently uses “the world” against the Church. Only four times in 1 John does he use “the world” to not be negative: 1 John 3:17 and 4:17; 4:9; and 4:14 which is the same meaning as in 1 John 2:2. The Church is not to love “the world” (1 John 2:15-17), does not recognize Jesus nor His disciples (3:1), hates disciples (3:13), has the spirit of the antichrist (4:3-4), is overcome by disciples (5:4-5), and is in the grip of the evil one (5:18-19).
Dr. Picirilli notes at this point that one would be hard pressed to see, given the consistent use by John for “the world”, to mean “the elect of all nations.”
Even stronger is the use of the Greek word “holos” (or “whole”) in 1 John 2:2. The only other place this word is found in 1 John 5:19. How can 1 John 2:2 be “the elect from Jews and Gentiles” while “the whole world” in 1 John 5:19 cannot? I admit that context must determine the usage but Calvinists have greatly read into 1 John 2:2 their own doctrine when it comes to John’s use of “the world” as being only “the elect.”
I also recommend Dr. Picirilli’s remaining comments on the use of the plural “we/us” in 1 John 2:2. He points out that John is consistent also in his usage of the plural and this strengthens the Arminian argument for unlimited atonement.
In my response recently with the same Calvinist author above over his views regarding limited atonement (in which he argued that one must embrace universalism if you hold to an unlimited view), I asked him to show me one verse in the Bible that says Christ died only for the elect. To merely state a verse where it says that Jesus died for someone (or something) does not mean then that He died only for that which it mentioned. Scripture says that Jesus died for the Church (Ephesians 5:25), the sheep (John 10:11), us (Galatians 1:4), or Paul but it never says in the New Testament that Jesus died only for the elect. Take Galatians 2:20 where Paul says that Christ died for him. Are we to assume that Jesus died only for Paul? In John 10 where Jesus says that He lays down His life for the sheep, are we then to conclude that He lays down His life for the Church or His friends? To merely assume since someone is not mentioned in the text does not mean that He didn’t die for them when in fact it is clear that Jesus did die for all in places such as 1 John 2:2. I replied to the Calvinist brother, “If I asked you if Jesus died for the church you would say yes and point to Ephesians 5:25. If I asked you if Jesus died for the sheep you would say yes and point to John 10:11. If I asked you if Jesus died for Paul you would say yes and point to Galatians 2:20. But when I point out that Jesus died for the world in places such as 1 John 2:2, you turn and deny this simply because your theology will not allow it and not because of your conviction from Scripture.” Again, Scripture is clear that Jesus died for the sheep, the Church, Paul, us, the world, etc. but not once do we find that He died only for the elect. This must be implied through doctrinal positions instead of Scripture.
One final note is this issue of double jeopardy. Calvinists like to argue that if Christ died for all men’s sins then they should be atoned for when they die since God cannot be just in punishing them for the sins He laid upon Christ on the cross. First of all, no one is saved merely by the atonement of Christ. That Jesus died on the cross or shed His blood saves no one. Even Calvinists acknowledge this. We are saved by grace through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-26). Scripture is clear that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9). If Christ died for the elect only then it logically follows that the elect are born saved, regenerated, and sinless. Yet all Calvinists agree that they were sinners and now are saved by grace through faith. How can this be if Christ died for the sins on the cross and paid their sin debt? How can God place the sins of the elect on Christ and then still call people to repent of sins that He has already forgiven them of and did not see because they were in Christ? It is illogical.
The atonement, by itself, saves none. It is faith in the atonement that saves. In this sense, Jesus is the Savior of the whole world in that He died for all and made provision for their forgiveness but He saves only those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). Only those who appropriate His atonement are redeemed and forgiven. The elect then are those who place their faith in Jesus, those foreknown by God (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2).
In closing, I asked the same author above when he got saved. He didn’t really answer me for he knew my question was a trap. We get saved when we place our faith in Jesus. This is clear in Scripture (John 3:1-7). The Calvinist will argue that all of salvation is a work of God and no Arminian would disagree. I have been saved for over 20 years and have never heard one person say that they saved themselves when they were saved by faith. While salvation is a work of God (Titus 3:5-7), God does not believe for us. Even Calvinist theologians acknowledge this. Certainly we Arminians agree that the Spirit of God must help a person to place their faith in Jesus. But we believe that the will of God is for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and that He has graciously given His Son for this purpose (John 1:29; 3:16). We further believe that God has sent His Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement to come (John 16:8-11). What would be the point of the Holy Spirit convicting the world if in fact God already had sent His Son to die only for the elect?
It is clear that we all are saved by grace through faith. You didn’t get saved when Jesus died on the cross. You didn’t get saved when Jesus rose from the dead. You didn’t get saved when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. You were saved when you placed your faith in the saving, precious, shed blood of Jesus that forgives sins (Acts 13:38-39). In Acts 16:30-34 we read of the conversion of the Philippian jailer and we read in verses 30-31:
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Notice what Paul didn’t say. He didn’t say that this man was already saved (through the cross or universalism) nor did he say that he was already saved to believe (regeneration before faith) but he tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus and he would be saved. This man demonstrates his repentance and is baptized (v.33). The work of salvation was accomplished by Christ and for the glory of God but the man was not saved until he exercised faith in Jesus who alone saves (Acts 4:12).