In the last post I was looking at an article on Limited Atonement. There I talked about how the issue of Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement has less to do with the nature of the atonement and more to do with the relationship between God’s intent and His sovereignty. Most of the post was me pointing out that the article in question fails to understand that and spends the meat of its content arguing for points that both sides agree with.
However, he then shifts his attention from the general discussion to specific talking points. I will be spending this post addressing those points.
Points of Defense
So first the article makes an attempt to defend Limited Atonement to some objections.
One common misunderstanding about the doctrine of limited atonement is that this view somehow lessens or limits the value of the atonement of Christ.
I won’t spend too much time here because I agree with him. This is a mischaracterization of the LA view, and in my article on the nature of the debate (referenced here), this agreement is a major point in my claim that the atonement debate has nothing to do with the nature of the atonement itself.
Another common misunderstanding about the doctrine of limited atonement is that it somehow lessens or diminishes the love of God for humanity.
This argument is interesting. Here he claims that Limited Atonement makes God more loving since the love that God has for the elect is more productive than the general love that God has for all humanity in Unlimited Atonement. For a very technical argument, he gives very little space to it. However, the real problem is that his argument is a straw-man.
No one is saying that God’s love for the elect on limited atonement is less than God’s love for the elect on unlimited atonement. First of all, I think the argument is flawed in thinking that love is measured only by what it accomplishes. Certainly love is also measured by what it is willing to sacrifice for those it loves: in this case, the sacrifice of Jesus. Once again, this is something both sides share. The strength of God’s love is the same.
But more importantly, there exists no true love for the reprobate. This is the actual objection from the Unlimited Atonement side: that God’s love for the reprobate is illusory. It is a deception. After all, love is the pursuit of someone’s good, and there is no sense where God is actually pursuing the reprobates’ good in Limited Atonement. Therefore, one cannot properly say that God loves them. Yet the Bible says that He does (Matthew 18:4, John 3:16, II Peter 3:9, I Tim 2:3-4). Therefore, this is not an issue with the strength of God’s love, but the veracity of that love for the lost.
How can God offer salvation to all, including those whom He has not elected or foreordained to be saved?
This is not an objection to the position. This is what the debate is! This is the heart. And his answer here is really frustrating because this is where I sit up and hope for a thorough answer. Yet, all he gives is “1) The call of the gospel is universal in the sense that anybody that hears it and believes in it will be saved. 2) Because everyone is dead in trespasses and sin, no one will believe the gospel and respond in faith unless God first makes those who are dead in their trespasses and sins alive.” That’s not an answer. That doesn’t even address the question. It is just a restatement of the Limited Atonement position. It does not explain how such an offer is genuine if God has no intention of following up on it. How can you say that God truly loves the reprobate if He has no intention of saving them? How can you say that an offer to save them is a true offer if He withholds the means of accepting it? He offers a contract with no pen and then proclaims, “Well they didn’t sign.” God is sovereign; He can do what He wants. But how is that honest?
Another argument against limited atonement points to the passages in the Bible that speak of Christ’s atonement in a more general or unlimited sense… However, these verses are easily reconciled with the many other verses that support the doctrine of limited atonement simply by recognizing that often the Bible uses the words “world” or “all” in a limited sense.
This is partly correct. It is true that ‘all’ does not necessarily mean ‘all and sundry’. However, ‘all’ without qualifiers still should mean something universal and general. I also do not think that the Arminian interpretation of these texts have to be understood to mean each and every individual. But ‘all’ does include those who are lost since the lost are part of the world. And excluding the lost from these texts often does great damage to the context of the passages. But since he does not address any particular texts, there is not really much more I can say.
Yet another argument against limited atonement is that it is a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel and to evangelism.
On a practical level, this accusation does seem to be false. Calvinist churches have a long history of being very active evangelists. What I think this article fails to recognize though is that the honest offer of the gospel for the reprobate is such a powerful motivator, that it is difficult for many Arminians to understand why the Calvinist would be motivated to do so at all. I think this is short sighted on their part. Calvinists are generally motivated to evangelize because God commanded them to do so. This is a sufficient motivator. But I do think that the motive given by the doctrine of Unlimited Atonement is so powerful, that it does speak to the doctrine’s veracity.
Points of Offense
On the point of evangelism, the article then shifts its attention from criticisms of Limited Atonement to criticisms of Unlimited Atonement.
First of all, if the atonement was truly unlimited, then every person would be saved as all of their sins, including the sin of unbelief, would have been paid for by Christ on the cross.
This assumes Irresistible Grace, which Arminians reject. To overly isolate Unlimited Atonement like this is a straw-man.
Here he also says, “The question, then, is not whether the Bible teaches a limited atonement but how or in what sense the atonement is limited”. Yes! This is exactly true. Arminians are not universalists. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that we are not born justified, so the atonement needs to be applied. And both Arminians and Calvinists agree that once applied, it completely justifies the person, so it is completely efficacious. We disagree on how God decides who to apply it to, but that is the discussion of election, not the atonement, which has to do with God’s intent. And it is right here, in this muddled mess of a paragraph, that the article shows how little it understands what this discussion is actually about.
- Is the power of the atonement limited in that it only makes salvation a possibility, or is its power to save unlimited and it actually results in the salvation of those whom God intended to save (the elect, His sheep)? Its power to save is unlimited, for all those to whom it is applied are justified fully.
- Does God do the limiting, or does man? God’s election does the limiting.
- Does God’s sovereign grace and purpose dictate the ultimate success or failure of the redemptive work of Christ, or does the will of man decide whether God’s intentions and purposes will be realized? God’s sovereign grace and purpose.
And these are the answers that all Arminians give. These questions are not toward an Arminian, but some straw-man that the Calvinist feels good about knocking down.
A major problem with unlimited atonement is that it makes redemption merely a potential or hypothetical act. An unlimited atonement means that Christ’s sacrifice is not effectual until the sinner does his part in believing.
False. Are you born justified? If you say no, then you are in agreement with me that the sacrifice is not effectual until it is applied by the Holy Spirit to the believer. But it is God that does the applying, not man. I can have all of the faith of Abraham, but if the Holy Spirit does not apply Christ’s atonement to me, then I am condemned. My faith does not justify me. Christ does.
There is another really bad argument in this paragraph. He says, “Logically, it makes no sense for God the Father to have Christ atone for the sins of people who were already suffering the wrath of God for their sin.” God is not bound in time. There is no reason to think that temporal considerations have any bearing on the nature of eternal punishment.
Still another problem with an unlimited view of the atonement is that it demeans the righteousness of God and destroys the grounds of a believer’s assurance.
This objection is grounded in something the article says a little early on, but I saved until now: the issue of double jeopardy (I have been dancing around this issue for awhile). The objection is, if Jesus died for the reprobate, then for them to suffer their punishment means that both Jesus and the reprobate suffer punishment for the same sin. Though this is an interesting objection, if my point about application is true, there is something odd about it.
Every Calvinist I know agrees with the statement that they are not born justified. However, why is that? Why are we not born justified? I think the Scripture demands this point, so denying it gets them in different trouble. There is some conceptual block on this issue for Calvinists who use the double jeopardy argument.
They claim that Christ’s atonement merely makes salvation possible. This is an example of the “merely” fallacy: that the insertion of the word ‘merely’ makes something bad. No, Christ’s atonement is the thing that is actually used to justify a person. But it has to be applied. And in the sense that it has to be applied, before it is applied, our justification is a potential rather than an actual. And this is true in both theologies. I do not think it is a problem, as long as, in the end, it is the application that justifies rather than the person’s actions. This makes salvation by faith a gift, and not some accomplishment (Ephesians 2:8), especially since time is not a factor, and necessarily so since we had not committed our sins before Christ died on the cross anyway.
So, what causes the double jeopardy? It is that the atonement was not applied to the reprobate. Why was it not? Because God did not apply it. That is His choice. Nothing stopped Him other than His own decision not to apply it to the unbelieving.
But does this mean that Christ’s blood was wasted? The power of Christ’s blood is infinite! You cannot waste an infinite resource. And who are you, oh man, to question God’s extravagance? I think all of this is the heart of the common Calvinist critique, and it strikes me as demanding that something is bad that actually is not a problem at all, but an inevitability regardless of the system.
Limited atonement, like all of the doctrines of grace, upholds and glorifies the unity of the triune Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit all work in unison for the purpose of salvation. These doctrines build upon one another. The doctrine of total depravity establishes what the Bible teaches about the spiritual condition of unregenerate man and leaves one with the question “Who can be saved?” The doctrine of unconditional election then answers the question by declaring God’s sovereign choice in choosing to save people despite their depravity and based solely on God’s sovereign choice to redeem for Himself people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Next, the doctrine of limited atonement explains how God can be perfectly just and yet redeem those sinful people and reconcile them to Himself. The only solution to the depravity of man was for God to provide a Redeemer who would act as their substitute and suffer the wrath of God for their sins. He did this in the death of Christ, who, having been crucified, completely and totally “canceled out the certificate of debt…having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
Ironically, I think that Calvinism actually undermines the Trinity by making Christ and the Holy Spirit merely the Father’s right and left hands. But I do not have space to actually make that argument here, so I won’t. That is a different post.
I do agree though that TULIP is a full system that builds on itself. But this is ironic since much of the critique of Arminianism here fails to give it the same consideration. In the FACTS, ‘T’ (Total Depravity) indicates who needs to be saved and what they need saving from. ‘A’ (Atonement For All) is God’s ardent heart to save those whom He had made. ‘C’ (Conditional Election) is His righteous commitment to save on His terms. ‘F’ (Freed to Believe by Grace) is the means through which He has sovereignly chosen to save. ‘S’ (Security in Christ) acknowledges that it is Christ that grounds assurance and security rather than unknowable decrees. And Calvinists would do well to learn that system before critiquing it.
For comments, see original post: https://jcfreak73.blogspot.com/2019/08/response-to-got-questions-limited_30.html