Richard Coords, “The Atonement”

, posted by Martin Glynn


The reason why Jesus Christ is the only way to God, as per John 14:6, as it relates to the New Covenant, is the fact that there is no solution to human sin apart from the atoning death of Christ. Therefore, an atonement which is limited in scope, such as limiting the number of people who are allowed to participate (i.e. Limited Atonement), limits the number of people who are able to become saved, and so if God were indeed to limit the number of people who are allowed to become saved, then it could not be truthfully said that God has a universal salvific will, in terms of desiring that every person come to know Him (or that He truly conquered death). Again, the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement makes a divine universal salvific will impossible.

Here we provide an outline which contrasts the 5-Point Calvinist’s view of Limited Atonement and the traditional perspective of Provisional Atonement.

  1. Where We All Should Agree:
    1. The gospel appeal is for all: The gospel is for every man, woman, boy and girl. We should all agree (unless you affirm Hyper-Calvinism) that all are to be the recipients of the gospel offer.
    2. The atonement is sufficient to save all: Christ’s death is sufficient for all. Everyone should agree that the value of Christ’s atoning work is sufficient to cover the sins of every man, woman, boy and girl.
    3. The atonement only benefits those who believe: Christ’s death is only efficacious for those who believe. Every Christian should agree that the saving benefit (efficacy) of the atoning work of Christ is limited to those who believe (regardless of how you think the lost come to believe).
  2. Where There Is Disagreement: What is God’s intention in the atoning sacrifice of His Son?
    1. God’s intention is to certainly save people by His Son’s death.
      1. Held to by 5-Point Calvinists who conclude His intention is only to effectually save the elect, therefore God’s intention for the atonement was limited. (Limited Atonement)
      2. Held to by Universalists who conclude His intention is to effectually save all, therefore God’s intention for the atonement was unlimited and universal. (Not for the purpose of this outline.)
    2. God’s intention is to provide a payment for all people which is only effective when the individual savingly believes.
      1. Held to by Arminians, Southern Baptist Traditionalists and all other non-Calvinistic believers. (Provisional Atonement)
      2. Held to by Amyraldians (4-point Calvinists, such as Bruce Ware. — Not for the purpose of this outline.)
  3. Two Positions On The Atonement With Key Biblical Arguments:
    1. Limited Atonement (5-Point Calvinism): Christ died for the purpose of actually and certainly saving people from their sin, but since not all are in fact saved, it requires then that he only died for and saved a certain people (i.e. “the elect”).
      1. John 6:37-40“‘All the Father gives the Son will come and he will not lose any but will raise them up on the last day.’”

        [Rebuttal: Those being “given to the Son” while he is “down from heaven” is only said in reference to the apostles as reflected in John 17.]

      2. John 10:11, 15 – Christ laid down his life for his own sheep.
      3. Acts 20:28 – the church of God which Christ purchased with his own blood.
      4. Romans 8:31-39 – Christ was delivered up for “us all”, which clearly is the elect.
      5. 2nd Corinthians 5:15 – He died for “all” that they who live, likely indicating that the “all” for whom he died is the same group as those who believe.
      6. Ephesians 5:25 – Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her.
      7. Titus 2:14 – Christ gave himself for us, to redeem us from every lawless deed.

        [Rebuttal: The 5-Pointer must invoke “the negative inference fallacy” in order to appeal to these last 6 passages as proof of their position. “The proof of a position does not prove its converse.” One cannot prove that Christ did not die for the whole by showing that he did die for a part of that whole. For instance, in Gal. 2:20 Paul says that Christ died for him, but no one would infer from that statement that Christ only died for Paul. Yes, some passages say Christ died for his own, his sheep, his church, but no passage says he died only for these. His death can be provided for all people while only those who believe are actually saved by his death. His death for his own, then, is part of the larger whole in which he died also for the world.]

    2. Provisional Atonement (Traditionalism, Arminianism, Non-Calvinism): Christ died for the purpose of providing payment for the sin of all people making it possible for any and all to be saved. God loves all and wants all to be saved. In His love for all, he sent Christ to provide payment for the sin of all. Belief in Christ is necessary, however, to receive the benefits of Christ’s death and be saved. The gospel should be preached to all, and, upon hearing the gospel, any can come because Christ died for the sins of all people in the world.
      1. 1st Timothy 4:10God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.
        So, there is a sense in which Christ is the Savior of unbelievers (i.e., He died for their sin, though they reject His payment on their behalf), yet a special sense in which He is the Savior of believers (by faith, they receive Christ’s payment for their own sin).
      2. 2nd Peter 2:1 – refers clearly to unregenerate people as “denying the Master who bought (aor. act. prtc. Of agoradzo, “to redeem”) them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
      3. 1st John 2:2; 4:14 – Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only, but also for the “whole world;” and He is “savior of the world.” Notice that “world” occurs 28 times in 1 John, 26 of which are used either in a comprehensive sense (e.g., 2:17; 3:17; 4:1, 9) or more narrowly as the world of the unsaved (e.g., 2:15-16; 3:1, 13; 5:19). This makes doubtful that 2:2 and 4:14 refer to a world of the elect.
      4. 1st Timothy 2:6 Christ gave himself a ransom (antilutron, “a payment”) for all.
      5. 2nd Corinthians 5:14-15, 19One died for all. He died for all that they who live…. This indicates that while Christ died for all, only some will live through him. In some sense, the whole world is reconciled through Christ.
      6. John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8 – indicate God’s love for the entire world and that Christ came to save sinners generally.
      7. 1st Timothy 2:4, 2nd Peter 3:9 and Ezekiel 18:30-31 show that God wants all to be saved.
      8. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-47; John 6:35, 40; Rom. 10:13 – texts which stress the necessity of the proclamation of the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection on behalf of the world.
      9. John 3:18; 12:48 – texts which indicate that rejecting Christ is a further basis for judgment. They can only rightly be held accountable for rejecting what was offered them if a real offer had been made to them.
      10. Romans 8:20-23; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:9-10; Phil. 3:21; Col. 1:19-20 – texts which indicate a far broader cosmic extent of the atoning work of Christ.
  4. Two Positions On The Atonement With Key Theological Arguments:
    1. Limited Atonement (5-Point Calvinism)
      1. Efficacy Argument: Scripture teaches Christ came to save His own (Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:14), not merely provide a payment that may or may not succeed in saving people. Therefore, Christ died to actually save, not potentially save.

        [Rebuttal: See the actual point of disagreement under point II. We disagree over what God’s intention was in sending Christ. If God’s intent was to actually save people (apart from any condition – like faith) then this argument would be valid. As it is, however, we know that only believers (regardless of the effectuality of the means by which they come to faith) will actually be saved. Therefore, we too can claim that Christ died to actually save those who believe.]

      2. Sovereignty Argument: If Christ died for all, and by this paid for the sins of all, then, because God is sovereign and His will cannot be thwarted, all would be saved. Since all are not saved, it must be the case that Christ died for those who are saved (i.e. the elect).

        [Rebuttal: Calvinists wrongly define the concept of divine sovereignty as meaning “meticulous eterministic control over everything, including the evil intentions of creatures.” The scriptures imply never teach this concept. Instead, divine sovereignty is reflected in God’s ability to do whatever He is pleased to do (Ps. 115:3) even if that may include giving the world over to creature’s free dominion (Ps. 115:16). God sovereignly decreed not which choice man would make, but that he would be free to make it. A God less than Sovereign would be afraid to bestow genuine freedom to His creatures (see AW Tozer)35.]

      3. Double-Jeopardy Argument: It would be ethically wrong for God to hold people accountable for paying for their own sin through their eternal punishment if Christ has already paid fully for their sin.

        [Rebuttal: See the actual point of contention under point II. This is not a problem for those who hold to the provisional nature of the atonement. Just as the serpent lifted on the pole in the desert was provided for all, it only benefitted the ones who look to it for healing. No one would argue the serpent did not sufficiently provide the means for healing to all simply because some may have refused to look to the provision for healing. This argument requires its adherents to hold to a relatively obscure view called “equivalentism.” The argument goes like this: “If Christ’s death was substitutionary then He died for particular sins of particular people. And if He died for particular sins then He didn’t die for other sins than those.” The adherents of equivalentism seem to see a one for one equivalence between our sins and the price of their atonement which ultimately denies the sufficiency of the atonement to save anyone except those for whom it was designed to save. This notion that Christ suffered just so much, a finite amount, in relation to the sins of the elect is a position that stands in opposition to the Synod of Dordt and to most of mainstream historic Calvinism (see Phil Johnson and Charles Hodge.36)]

      4. Comprehensive payment argument: If Christ paid for all the sin of all people, then He paid for their sin of unbelief (among other sins). If their sin of unbelief is paid for, then God cannot hold them accountable for their unbelief. But He does, so only the sin of the elect is paid for in Christ’s death.

        [Rebuttal: Again, this is not a problem for those who hold to the provisional view of the atonement. The provision of payment is made for all but the benefit is not applied until one believes. This argument would be like saying, “If the serpent lifted on the pole provided the means of healing for all, then it provided healing for those who refuse to look at the serpent for healing,” which would not make any sense given the conditional nature of the provision. The same is true of Christ’s provision on Calvary. Whoever looks to the provision in faith will be healed because the means of healing is provided for all through those given means.]

    2. Provisional Atonement (Traditionalism, Arminianism, Non-Calvinism)
      1. Universal Divine Love Argument: If God truly loves all equally and impartially, and if He truly wants all to be saved, then it is inconceivable and impossible that He would offer Christ to pay for the sin of only some. Universal love of God requires a universal payment.
      2. Universal Gospel Offer Argument: Since the offer of salvation is clearly to go to all people (e.g., Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), there must be a payment made on behalf of those to whom the gospel offer is extended, otherwise, the offer is disingenuous. If no payment has been made for everyone, then we cannot sincerely say that God offers salvation to everyone. Since we are commanded to preach the gospel to all people as “Christ’s ambassadors” (i.e. 2 Cor. 5:20; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), the unlimited atoning sacrifice of Christ renders this offer of salvation fully and uncompromisingly genuine (e.g., John 6:35, 40; Rom 10:13).
      3. Limitless Scope Argument: Christ died for the purpose of providing payment for the penalty of all sinners making it possible for all who believe to be saved (e.g., 1 Tim 4:10; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:14-15). Belief in Christ is necessary, however, to receive the benefits of Christ’s death and be saved. The limited atonement position appears to strain the natural and intended meaning of texts.
      4. Just Condemnation Argument: Those who hear and reject the gospel that has been genuinely provided and then offered to them are justly condemned for their rejection of that offer. Christ’s death for the sins of those who reject him and are condemned (e.g., 2 Pet 2:1) ensures that their judgment for rejecting Christ (which is only part of the full basis for their judgment) is just, because they reject a real gift that is genuine, free and graciously provided and offered to them (John 3:18b).
      5. Cosmic Triumph Argument: Christ died for the purpose of reconciling all things to the Father. Were Christ to die for the sin of the elect only (or for any partial amount of the totality of sin), this would leave sin that stands outside of His atoning work and hence outside of His victorious triumph over sin. Since sin is not only a penalty that must be paid (which payment is only efficacious by faith) but also a power that rebels against God’s rightful authority and reign, sin’s penalty must be paid (so that believers may be saved) but its power must be defeated that all might be conquered and laid at the feet of the Father (Romans 8:20-23; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Col. 1:19-20). Colossians 1:20 is especially important because it shows two things clearly: 1) the universal scope of the reconciliation wrought by Christ (“all things,” “things in earth and things in heaven”), and 2) that his reconciliation is accomplished by the atoning death of Christ (“through the blood of his cross”). That this does not entail universalism is clear because in the very context Paul warns that these believers will one day be holy and blameless only if they continue in the faith (1:23). So, the reconciliation of Col. 1:20 is one in which the rebellion is over, yet God’s conquered foes do not share in His glory.
      6. Part-To-Whole Argument: Yes, some passages say Christ died for His own, His sheep, His church, but no passage says He died only for the elect, while many others do explicitly say He died for all. His death can be for all people while only those who believe are actually saved by his death. His death for those who believe, then, is part of the larger whole in which He died also for the world.
      7. Necessity of Saving Faith Argument: If, as limited atonement proponents say, Christ died actually and certainly to save people (i.e., the elect) and not merely provide the means for their salvation, then it follows that nothing else is needed for the elect to be saved. They are saved because of the full, perfect and finished work of Christ which actually and certainly saved the elect. But is it not true that the elect are born into this world under the condemnation of God, dead in their sin, and facing the impending wrath of God (e.g., Eph. 2:1-3)? Is not saving faith required for the elect to be saved? If so, how can it be said of the death of Christ in itself that by His death alone He saved those for whom He died? As long as one believes that all people (including the elect) are born into this world with the sin of Adam so that until anyone savingly believes in Christ he or she remains unsaved and under God’s wrath, then we cannot speak correctly of Christ’s death as actually and certainly saving the elect. No, even here, the payment made by His death on behalf of whosoever believes renders their salvation possible while that salvation becomes actual only upon their exercising saving faith. If Christ’s death, then, is a payment for sin that makes possible the salvation of people, which salvation actually occurs only when they savingly believe, then there is no problem saying Christ’s death provided payment for the penalty of all the people in the whole world, because until any believes, he or she is not saved.

What do Calvinists believe?

James White: “Christ’s substitutionary death in behalf of His people is a real and finished work: It is not dependent upon the human act of faith for success or failure. When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.”37

Our reply:

Phrases like “not dependent” and “but at the same time” is a very cagey response, demonstrating an inherent contradiction in one’s attempt at an explanation. By contrast, a clear explanation of a non-Calvinist’s understanding of Christ’s atonement is made by applying the dichotomy between available vs. applied.

In the available vs. applied dichotomy, advocates for an Unlimited Atonement, including 4-Point Calvinists (a.k.a. “Amyraldism”), explain that the provision of Christ’s atonement was accepted by God and made universally available to all, but is only individually applied when a given person places their trust in Christ. Until such time, the atonement remains available and unclaimed. Upon death, the availability of the atonement expires. So, if an unbeliever dies in unbelief, then the atonement never ends up getting applied to them (i.e. no Double Jeopardy) and they would perish in eternal judgment, despite what otherwise would have saved them, had they received Christ.

By contrast, in Calvinism’s doctrine of Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption, the atonement is both available and applied (key distinction) to the “particular” elect person, limited to only such elect individuals, apart from having first met any precondition such as faith in Christ. For that reason, 5-Point Calvinists cannot consistently maintain in their system that the atonement is either available or offered to a non-elect person who has been specifically excluded from such a Limited or Particular Atonement.

Calvinist objection:

What works can you possibly perform that can add to the perfect atoning work Christ Jesus has finished?

Our reply:

No one can “add” anything to Christ’s atonement, but we must meet God’s stated condition for receiving it, namely, faith in Christ. For instance, when offered a free gift, we do not necessarily add to their gift— rather we simply receive it. God designed for the perfect atoning work of Christ not to become efficacious to any individual until it is personally received. How do we know this? Simply compare John 3:14-15 with Numbers 21:6-9, in which Jesus provides an Old Testament illustration to explain His eventual atonement. A standard was raised for the healing of all those who were snake-bitten, which was fully operating, but intentionally designed not to save anyone until they looked upon it. Calvinists would call the faith to look upon it as a “work” (apart from Irresistible Grace) but the Bible repudiates the notion of faith constituting a work, particularly at Romans 4:5: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness….”


Calvinist objection:

If the Atonement is unlimited, then did Jesus pay for the sin of unbelief?

Our reply:

See IV. a. iv. above for the Comprehensive payment argument.

Calvinist objection:

In an Unlimited Atonement, isn’t it true that Christ didn’t actually pay for the sin of anyone when He died?

Our reply:

Christ’s atonement does not save without faith. While it is true that Jesus died for everyone, making the atonement available to all, it does not automatically save anyone, since it is not applied to unbelievers. One must believe in Christ in order for it to be applied to them. Calvinists frequently conflate the extent of the atonement with the application of the atonement. In the Provisionist perspective, Christ’s atonement is:

(a) accepted by God as a finished work,
(b) available indiscriminately to all men,
(c) applied individually only by faith.

The provision of Christ’s atonement is fully accepted by God, and thus finished in that respect, just as the serpent on a standard of Numbers 21:6-9 was a finished work of God for all who were snake-bitten to come and receive their healing. The atonement is made available to all men, so that anyone can come and receive God’s free offer of forgiveness. The atonement is applied individually only when someone places their faith in Christ. By contrast, in Calvinism’s doctrine of Particular Redemption, or Limited Atonement, Christ’s atonement is both available and applied (key distinction) exclusively only to Calvinism’s elect “X” (apart from any precondition, such as believing in Christ). Hence, there is no basis for advocates of a Limited Atonement to meaningfully say that the gospel can be offered to Calvinism’s non-elect “Y” since they are specifically excluded. Calvinists will retort that it was never owed to them in the first place, but the point remains that it could never be meaningfully offered to those for whom it is excluded and that’s the key point concerning the ramifications of Limited Atonement.

Calvinist objection:

If Jesus had not died to secure the salvation of His people, but instead only died to make salvation possible, then there is at least the theoretical possibility that when Jesus was on the Cross, He could have died in vain, if no one had ever chosen to believe in the gospel.

Our reply:

That isn’t a theoretical possibility because when Jesus was on the Cross, He already disciples, including the multitudes who believed in Him, not to mention His own mother and His cousin, John the Baptist (who by that time would have been in Abraham’s Bosom, described at Luke 16:19- 31, together with all of the Old Testament Saints). So, the Calvinist objection is really not a possibility at all.

Calvinist objection:

John MacArthur: “The atonement is limited because people go to Hell. … And if you believe in a Universal Atonement—to be logically consistent—then there’s no Hell, and no one will be in Hell, and everyone will be in Heaven. If you’re going to affirm an Unlimited Atonement, then you really are going to end up as a Universalist, because if He actually died for the whole world, then the whole world is saved.”38

Our reply:

Non-Calvinist “Provisionists” affirm both the existence of Hell and the necessity of the gospel. So, if Jesus died for the sins of those in Hell, why are they there? In other words, if Christ died for all, why isn’t there universal salvation? The answer is because God set a condition for a personal application of the Cross, just like with the serpent on a standard at Numbers 21:6-9, in which the standard was made for everyone bitten, though in which a personal application was explicitly only for those who met God’s stated condition of actually looking upon it. A provision was made and a condition was set. So, those in Hell simply failed to meet od’s condition of believing in Jesus in order to access His provision for the forgiveness of their sins. The upshot is that those who perish in Hell didn’t have to be there. They will experience the instant regret of knowing that they could have believed in Jesus and have gone to Heaven, instead.

Jesus died for everyone so that no one has to spend eternity separated from the love of God, but people end up there anyway whenever they die in a state of never having accepted Jesus’ payment for their sin, and hence the urgency of the gospel message, which is to tell all people about the availability of their salvation. Jesus said, “‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” (Luke 10:2)

The reason why Calvinists demand that a logical consistency of Unlimited Atonement requires Universalism is because they are confusing the availability of the atonement with the application of the atonement. Calvinists seem to believe that the atonement automatically saves, so that if Jesus died for you, then it is a done-deal and you are already saved, but the problem with that view is that the atonement of the Cross does not get applied to unbelievers. A person must believe in Christ in order for the atonement to apply to them, personally. In other words, the atonement does not save without faith, just like the serpent on the standard of Numbers 1:6-9 never healed anyone until they first looked upon it. God set that condition, so Calvinists can take up their objections with Him.

Calvinist objection:

Why would Jesus die for the non-elect?

Our reply:

That question already assumes that there is such a thing as “nonelect” people, whom God either  eternally passed by for grace (i.e. Preterition) or predestinated for Hell (i.e. Unconditional Reprobation).

Secondly, Jesus likened the atonement of Calvary to Numbers 21:6-9, in which the serpent on the standard was made for all Israel, in order to heal everyone who was bitten. That provision didn’t single anyone out, and for that matter, nor does Calvary single anyone out. Calvary is a provision for every person effected by sin, just as the serpent on a standard was a provision for every person bitten by the fiery serpents.

Calvinist objection:

But how can Jesus’ death alone give an Arminian confidence that you are saved if His death didn’t secure the salvation of anyone?

Our reply:

First of all, if Jesus died for everyone, then I can know for certain that He also died for me in particular, since I am part of the “everyone” that He died for, and thus I can know that He means well for me. I also know that God has established a condition for receiving the benefits of His atonement, which is to believe in Jesus. This way, I can know that God provided an atonement for me, and also established a way for me to access that atonement, simply by His stated condition of believing in His Son. Conversely, if Jesus hadn’t died for all, then I could only speculate about His intentions for me and whether or not I would be included in His atonement. Secondly, as for “confidence” in Christ’s death, the sight of the serpent on a standard of Numbers 21:6-9 likely gave the snake-bitten people of Israel a great deal of confidence, even though the instructions still required that they look upon it, in order to be healed.

Calvinist objection:

If Jesus died for every individual, then His death was insufficientto save.

Our reply:

Christ’s atonement certainly is sufficient to save. He simply attached a condition to it, which is clearly stated in John 3:16: “‘For God o loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’” His condition on access does not negate the atonement’s underlying sufficiency for those who meet His condition on access, especially since He indiscriminately opens access to “whoever.”

The fact is this: Christ’s Atonement provides the foundation on which God can forgive a single sin, and for the Atonement to be unlimited shows that it is for all people. Otherwise, if Jesus had not died for all, then at most I could only presume or suppose that He died for me in particular. The conclusion, then, is that Calvinists are Christians by presumption, presuming to be among the secret elect who Jesus alone had died for, while non-Calvinists are Christians by promise, trusting in God’s promise to keep His Word to save whoever believes in His Son.

A closing word is needed to address the prerequisite foundation of the Atonement itself since some religions believe that a “ceremonial cleansing” is sufficient to establish peace with God. The fact is, though, that repentance is required, but even that is only meaningful when there is already a prerequisite foundation in place for forgiveness. As revealed in he Old Testament scriptures, the blood of animal sacrifices was a necessary platform, from which repentance could then convey peace with God. Hebrews 9:22 states: “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” So how would a “ceremonial cleansing” substitute a necessary blood sacrifice? Therefore, some religions turn to martyrdom, as an automatic means of restoration to God. However, martyrdom would only have significance with God if there was already a foundation for forgiveness, as their own shed blood would not be worthy enough to forgive the own sins.

While the platform for forgiveness in the Old Covenant was the shed blood of animals, in the New Covenant, the platform for forgiveness was one particular sacrifice made once and for all. Hebrews 10:10 states: “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” No additional sacrifices were needed to replace that platform. Jesus became the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus was not a man who became God, but God who became a man. When He raised the dead, opened the eyes of the blind, made the paralyzed to walk and cleansed the lepers, He did so as God who was also a man, and when He endured the sufferings of the Cross, including the punishment which led up to that, He did so likewise as God who was also a man, given that He could have stopped the whole thing at any moment, but chose not to, so that every person could have a platform for salvation, through which, repentance would convey the spiritual properties inherent to His blood sacrifice. 1st John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, whether it is a matter of ceremonial cleansing, martyrdom, the reservation of certain days for the worship of God, or any other personal dedication toward God, they would only contain meaning if it was something in addition to the already established foundation of the Cross, and not for the purpose of obtaining salvation or restoration to God, but for the purpose of earthly and heavenly rewards, as they are never a substitute for the atonement of Calvary. Calvary never needs a substitute. Calvary is the substitution which replaces everything that precedes it.


What do Calvinists believe?

R.C. Sproul: “To be sure, Christ’s propitiation on the cross is unlimited in its sufficiency or value. In this sense Christ makes an atonement for the whole world. But the efficacy of this atonement does not apply to the whole world, nor does its ultimate design.”39

Our reply:

This reflects the Calvinist maxim that Christ’s atonement is “sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.” By contrast, non-Calvinists teach that Christ’s  atonement is available for all, but applied only to believers. That’s a big difference. Saying that the atonement is “available for all” means that anyone can be saved, and saying that it is “applied only to believers” means that only believers will be saved. As for he Calvinist expression, for Calvinists to say that Christ’s atonement is “sufficient for all” is rendered completely meaningless since they also teach that God never intended Calvinism’s “non-elect” class to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. In other words, what is the point of saying that the atonement is sufficient for all if it was never intended for all? It merely comes across as window-dressing for an otherwise dubious doctrine of Limited Atonement.


33 Byron Smith, Why I Doubt Christianity, February 10, 2011.

34 Portions adapted from “Extent of the Atonement: Outline of The Issue, Positions, Key Texts, and the Key Theological Arguments” by Bruce A. Ware, accessed here:

35 AW Tozer, “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which  choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so,” A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1961), 110-111.

36 The Nature of the Atonement: Why and for Whom did Christ die?, accessed here: Charles Hodge taught, “It is a gross misrepresentation of the Augustinian doctrine to say that it teaches that Christ suffered so much for so many; that He would have suffered more had more been  included in the purpose of salvation. This is not the doctrine of any Church on earth, and never has been.” Accessed here:

37 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 191, emphasis added.

38 John MacArthur, How is limited atonement true when Scripture teaches that Christ died for the whole world?, 0:09 – 0:54.

39 What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 177, emphasis mine.


This post has been excerpted with permission from Richard Coords, Calvinism Answered Verse by Verse and Subject by Subject, © 2020.