Posts Tagged ‘Limited Atonement’
Here is a great article written by Dr. James Leonard on the subject of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the penal substitutionary view. Some Calvinists contend that not only is the penal view the only view of the atonement that is truly biblically based but also one cannot hold to the penal view and not hold to definite atonement (or limited atonement). I know this has confused some Arminians to the point that they now reject the penal view in favor of the moral governmental view.
Dr. Leonard’s piece is well written and draws upon Arminianism to show that an Arminian can safely hold to the penal view while rejecting limited atonement.
Here is a short but excellent article on the subject of John Owen and the idea of double payment in the atonement. The writer points out the flaws of Owen’s logic on the double payment theory.
You can find the article here.
One of the arguments against the Arminian view regarding the atonement is that both Arminians and Calvinists limit the atonement. The Calvinist limits the atonement to the elect whereas Arminians limit the atonement to those who believe the gospel and become the elect but both limit the atonement in some way. Only the universalist can claim that they hold to an unlimited atonement since in fact they see nothing to limit the atonement of Christ.
I would agree with this. In fact, I agree that we Arminians limit the atonement. We reject the idea that Jesus saves everyone by virtue of His death on the cross. But I would disagree with the Calvinist by asserting that Jesus’ death saves no one on the cross. It is faith in the finished work of Christ that saves us. This is point of Romans 3:23-26:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
That Jesus died does not save. That Jesus shed His blood for the sins of the world does not save (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). The gospel must be preached and believed on by faith in order to save the sinner (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-39; 17:30-31; Romans 10:11-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14). The person who merely hears the gospel but rejects the gospel is not saved. They can claim all day to believe in Jesus or that Jesus died for them but if they have not been truly born again (John 3:1-7; 1 Peter 1:18-25; 1 John 5:1-2), they are not saved (James 2:19). If faith does not save us then Romans 5:1 should read that we are justified unto faith but instead it says that we are justified through faith. Ephesians 2:8 is likewise clear that it is faith that saves us. To merely say that Jesus died without calling people to faith and repentance does not save.
The atonement is then unlimited in its power to save (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21) but it is only appropriated by faith (1 Timothy 4:10). Thus the question that arises, “Did Jesus die for people in hell” is pointless since only those who appropriate His shed blood are saved. Those who are in hell are there because of their willful rebellion against God and refusal of His Son (Romans 2:6-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10) and not because of arbitrary choosing on God’s part. We can thus preach to the world that Jesus shed His blood for our sins (Matthew 26:28) but only those who repent are saved from the power of sin (Luke 13:1-5; 24:47; John 6:40; Romans 5:8-9). All can come and be saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:14-18, 36) but only those who repent of their sins are truly baptized into His death and His resurrection (Romans 6:1-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21-22).
The Calvinist approach is one of completely limited atonement. Jesus shed His blood only for the elect (who still must believe the gospel to have the blood of Jesus wash their sins away unless one teaches eternal justification or the idea that the elect were justified in Christ before time began and in the sovereign mind of God, the elect have always been the elect and have always been His children) and only the elect can be saved (and will be saved). The atonement is not to be preached as vicarious for all people but only for the elect otherwise one is not being consistent with their soteriology views.
I can safely preach to the lost that Jesus shed His blood that they might repent and be saved because of my firm conviction that Jesus did in fact shed His blood for all people (1 Timothy 2:4). I can preach that Jesus is calling the person to repentance and forgiveness of their sins because of my firm conviction from Scripture that He is (Luke 19:10; Acts 13:38-39). I can preach that God has demonstrated His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NIV). I can preach that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21). I do this all because I believe that Jesus Christ shed His blood and was raised to life for our salvation (Romans 4:24-25) and all who have saving faith in Him can be saved (John 20:31; 1 John 4:14-15).
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.