Roy Ingle, “Biblical Arguments For And Against An Unlimited Atonement (Part 1)”

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When it comes to the doctrine of election, I believe the strength or weakness of the arguments for unconditional election lies in the doctrine of the atonement of Christ. If Jesus did in fact die for only the elect and this can be proved from the Scriptures, then the argument is much stronger that election according to Calvinism is biblically true. However, if the opposite is true and the Scriptures can be shown to teach that the atonement is for all people, then the doctrine of election as taught by Calvinists falls short of the biblical standard for sound doctrine.

This one doctrine – the doctrine of the atonement, is the basis for the arguments over conditional versus unconditional election. I want to examine the biblical arguments for and against an unlimited atonement because, if the atonement is not unlimited, then unconditional election must be true. The basis for the Arminian understanding of the atonement is fundamental to our view not only of God Himself and His nature but also to the gospel itself and its application to the believer.


Defining The Views Upfront

Essentially there are two main approaches to the atonement that we will examine. The first will be the arguments against the Arminian view and thus for the biblical basis for the Calvinist understanding of the atonement of Christ. Then we will look at the Arminian basis for teaching an unlimited atonement. Lastly, we will look at the Calvinist questions of the Arminian viewpoint with counter arguments from an Arminian view of the Calvinist critique.

The basic understanding of the atonement that we will study is essentially this:

Calvinism – John Calvin taught (although this is debated among Calvinists) that the atonement is limited in its application, and thus Christ died only for the elect. Calvinist theologians such as Dr. Samuel Storms, Dr. John Piper, or Dr. Michael Horton all hold firmly to the teaching that Christ died for only the elect. However, this does not mean that the gospel should not be preached to all men since only God knows who the elect are. This is why Scripture often uses the word “world” or “all” when speaking of the atonement, because while the death of Jesus is sufficient for all men, its application is only to the elect known and chosen by God Himself by His own wisdom and knowledge and only by His grace. The Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus died for the elect (see Isaiah 53:11-12; Matthew 1:21; John 6:37; 10:11; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; 9:18; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:10; etc.). While there have been hyper-Calvinists, such as John Gill, who taught that evangelism was not necessary since God Himself will save the elect, many Calvinists, such as Jonathan Edwards or Charles Spurgeon opposed such a view and taught that, while the Bible teaches unconditional election and God does sovereignly save by His grace and power alone, nonetheless we are still called to preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Arminianism – James Arminius taught that election was indeed a biblical doctrine but he simply rejected unconditional election. Arminius taught that Christ’s death on the cross provides salvation for all who would believe and repent (Acts 17:30). He saw clearly in the Scriptures that Jesus died for all men (Luke 19:10; John 3:16; 5:24-25; 20:31; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18; etc.) and he concluded that it was not God’s will for anyone to perish in their sins but to repent (2 Peter 3:9). While salvation is a gift from God and is not earned in any way (Ephesians 2:8-9), Arminius saw that, once man met the conditions for salvation, God had promised in His Word to save them (Acts 2:36-41). The elect are those foreknown by God (Romans 8:29-30; 1 Peter 1:1-2) and are saved by faith in Christ’s death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 10:9-13). Arminius read 1 Timothy 4:10 which says, “For this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (ESV). Therefore, Arminianism teaches that Christ died for all men and that the elect are those who meet the conditions that God has set forth in His Word. Arminianism does not teach works-salvation or that we co-operate with God for our salvation, nor does this negate the sovereignty of God but enhances the goodness, grace, and love of God for humanity.

More To Come

So join me in our study of the atonement as we see how Christians differ over the doctrine and its application to sinful men. However, may both the Calvinist and the Arminian rejoice over the saving work of Christ and the fact that there is power in the cross. Salvation is clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures and while we might differ over those for whom Christ died, let us not neglect to tell all men that they must repent and be saved by the cross of Christ alone.

[Link to original post and comments at Roy Ingle’s website]