Thursday, July 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Limited Atonement

A field of tulips
My personal view on the matter of the atonement is that of Bible-believing Reformed orthodoxy, that the Father eternally decreed a particular race of people, the Son eternally undertook their redemption in the fullness of time, and the Holy Spirit eternally undertook their regeneration and sanctification in this life.

First, let me point out that the phrase "limited atonement" is a misnomer. It came into popular usage because the "L" fits the TULIP acronym. "Definite atonement" or "particular atonement" better reflect the actual meaning of the phrase. It is the understanding of the Reformed or Calvinists that the atonement in the blood of Christ was intended for the elect, not humanity in general. If anything, it is the Arminian who holds to a limited atonement: while the Calvinist insists that Jesus fully and effectually atoned for the sin of the elect, the Arminian holds that He actually only potentially atoned for the sins of all without distonction.

I am not going to address the biblical support for the Calvinist view of the atonement. That has been handled elsewhere better than I can do. I intend merely to address some logical issues that arise in my own mind.

For example, if Jesus atoned for the sins of all men, then that necessarily implies that there are some who are or will be in Hell for whom Jesus died (I'm passing over those who hold to universal salvation, which avoids this issue, but doesn't enter the biblical discussion). In addition to being a repugnant thought, it would also necessarily imply that the blood of Christ is insufficient for salvation. If that is so, then no one can have any hope of eternal life!

Also, consider the implications for the Person of Christ.

If the Second Person of the Trinity has died for some that the Father has not decreed His purpose to save, and that the Holy Spirit has not undertaken to regenerate, then we set up a war within the Trinity, an obvious impossibility! That would introduce a logical slippery slope to Arianism, depriving Christ of His essential divinity! This is why the Pelagians of the hardest core, the United Pentecostal Church on one hand and the Jehovah's Witnesses on the other, deny the doctrine of the Trinity. While their error is greater, one must at least acknowledge their logical consistency!

Logically speaking, I think that one who holds to a universal atonement must acknowledge that he makes either the atonement insufficient or the Person of Christ impotent, or both. No doubt someone reading this will say he believes no such thing(s), but rather that it depends on us. That response in itself concedes my point, as it cannot answer directly this accusation, but rather turns to man, which is my very objection! My salvation is in Christ alone, not myself, nor in any mere man!

I hold, as an accurate summary of what Scripture teaches, what the Westminster Confession of Faith III:6 says: "As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only."


Michael Gormley said...

Caholic Teaching and Limited Atonement

I don't think there's any point getting into another Limited vs Unlimited Atonement debate, so I'll just say quickly what Scripture and Tradition have to say on the matter:


St. John says: "he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

The issue here is the use of the 2 phrase "not for ours only" and "sins of the whole world".

This is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of limited atonement.

It reminds me of the doctrine of sola fide where Calvinists interpret "not by faith alone" as "by faith alone", and "wills that all men be saved" as "doesn't will that all men be saved".

(Kind of like the Catholic case: "A bishop should be the husband of one wife" interpretted "A bishop shouldn't be the husband of one wife" - but we don't believe in sola scriptura so we at least have a reason)


In any case, I think the whole thing is just another great example of the failure of the Reformation doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture.

As Calvinists and Arminians prove by their continued existence, Scripture does need an interpreter, Moses' seat must be replaced with the chair of St. Peter.

The Patristic evidence is also in complete opposition to the doctrine, as the classic formulation was that Christ died for those whose nature he assumed, meaning all of humanity.

"Christ Jesus our Lord, as no man who is or has been or ever will be whose nature will not have been assumed in Him, so there is, has been, or will be no man, for whom He has not suffered-although not all will be saved by the mystery of His passion.

But because all are not redeemed by the mystery of His passion, He does not regard the greatness and the fullness of the price, but He regards the part of the unfaithful ones and those not believing in faith those things which He has worked the rough love (Galatians 5:6), because the drink of human safety, which has been prepared by our infirmity and by divine strength, has indeed in itself that it may be beneficial to all; but if it is not drunk, it does not heal."
- Council of Quiercy 853 CE

Chris Cole said...

No, the problem is your use of Scripture out of context. For example, in I John 2:2, the Apostle isn't claiming that the propitiation is for every individual in the world, but rather that God has elect from every nation, tribe, and era, as the same author testifies in Revelation 5:9. He is addressing Jewish converts, who believed that the Messiah was for them alone; he is correcting that error. And the same is true of II Peter 3:9, in which the "any" refers to the "you" just before it. God id withholding His judgment until the number of the elect is filled. And your interpretation of James puts him at odds with Paul, which is impossible, since both are inspired by the same Spirit. Rather, in context again, James is clearly referring to "justified before men," that our works demonstrate the truth of our relationship with God. You confuse the effect with the cause.

Chris Cole said...

In an interesting coincidence, this very question comes up on another blog.