Some Points to Consider When Examining Limited Atonement

I think I prefer the term Particular Redemption over Limited Atonement but the concept is the same.  In this article, Robertson lists several points in favor of limited atonement Roger Nicole made from chapter 5 of his book Our Sovereign Savior.  One of the best points is

The real issue is the design or intent of the Father when he sent his Son to die on the cross and purchase redemption for sinners.  Since all sinners do not get saved then there is either a limit in the effectiveness of the atonement or a limit in its intent.  Was God doing something to save all sinners and failed?  Or was God purchasing the salvation of the elect and succeeded?

I have heard this before.  I have used this myself.  I have yet to hear a reasonable response to this.  That does not mean that one does not exist but I have yet to encounter it.  Please read the list and leave a comment with your response to any one or all of them.

A Primer on Limited (or Definite) Atonement by Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor has posted a primer on Limited Atonement on his blog.  In it he summarizes the arguments of John Owen from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,  Lorraine Boettner in The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, and John Piper from his Desiring God website.  If you have ever wondered about this doctrine this post will help you get a better understanding of it.

Take the time to read it and let me know what you think.

Did Jesus die for the sins of every person?

A common interpretation of the death of Jesus on the cross is that He died to pay the price for the sins of every person who ever lived.  This is known as universal atonement.  It is then said that we must accept this gift in order to receive salvation and gain entrance into Heaven. A person who does not accept the gift is not saved and will end up in Hell.

I don’t agree with this interpretation but for the sake of argument I am going to grant it and then ask a couple questions.  To be saved two things must happen.  First our sins must be paid (atoned) for.  Second, Christ’s righteousness must be applied to us.  Both must happen or we can’t enter Heaven,

Now for a couple questions.

  1. On what basis does God send a person to Hell once Jesus has paid the price for all the sins of that person?
  2. What does it say about God when you consider that He was unable to save someone who He really wanted to save?

As to question # 1, since Jesus paid the penalty for ever sin of every person who will ever live there are no sins left for anyone to pay for themselves.  Since there are no remaining sins, there is no basis for sending any non-believer to Hell.  Non-believers are no longer guilty in the eyes of God.  The dilemma is that the person can’t go to Hell because they have been justified through Christ’s death on the cross and the person can’t go to Heaven because they have not accepted God’s gift and had the righteousness of Jesus applied to their lives.  In this situation the non-believer is left in limbo.  What does God do with them?  Is this a case for Purgatory?

Some might say that Jesus died for all of the sins of a person except the sin of unbelief.  This does not help them either.  If Jesus did not die for all of the sins of a person, then that person has no way to avoid Hell because.  There is no sin, not a single one, that a person is able to make atonement for themselves.

Anyone who believes this way must be able to answer this dilemma.  It is very prevalent today.  I heard it just this past Sunday.  The problem is that most people who believe this never take the time to think it through.  I know that I didn’t when I believed this way.

Question 2 deals with God’s ability.  Is God able to accomplish His will or not?  If He is, then how can someone whom God wants to save not end up saved?  The standard answer you will here is that the person is free to reject God.  The problem is that this makes the person equal to or more powerful than God.  This is not possible.  By definition, the creator is always greater than the creation.  God is not God if His will can be undone by one, or all, of His creations.  Do we really serve a God who is sitting in Heaven waiting to see who will be saved and who won’t?  How do you respond to this description of God?

This is not a complete examination of this question.  It is just a couple quick thoughts which I hope will spur some conversation in the comments.   If you believe that Jesus died for all people then please take a few minutes to think through these questions and lets discuss what you come up with.

The Atonement: Universal or Particular (Limited)?

Also posted at Exploring Theology.

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This is one of the “hot button” issues in the debate between reformed and non-reformed believers.

Reformed (Calvinistic) brothers believe in a particular (or limited) atonement. They say Jesus died on the cross to save only the Elect.  That He accomplished His intended task which was to save the Elect.  They cite verses like Matthew 1:21 to make this point.  It says “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [emphasis added] This position says that only the Elect will have the opportunity to be saved and that all the Elect will be saved because this was the intention from the beginning.

Non-reformed (Arminian) brothers believe in a universal atonement.  They say that Jesus died for every and all men but that the atonement is only effectual on those who knowingly and willingly accept it.  This position basically says that everybody will have an opportunity to accept the call to salvation but only some will do so.  They cite verses like John 3:16 to make this point.  It says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [emphasis added]  This position says that people must agree to accept the gift of the atonement before it is applied to them.  Basically it says that Jesus died only to make salvation possible for all people.

This was a very brief description of the two alternatives.  Much longer posts could be written about both positions but that is not my purpose here.  I have a simple purpose:  to get you to share what your position you hold and why.  So here is the question:  DID JESUS DIE TO SAVE HIS PEOPLE OR TO MAKE SALVATION POSSIBLE FOR ALL PEOPLE?  DO YOU BELIEVE IN UNIVERSAL OR PARTICULAR ATONEMENT?  WHY?  PLEASE GIVE YOUR REASONS (WHATEVER THEY MAY BE).

Did Jesus Remove The “Legal Obstacles” To Salvation For All Men Or Just The Elect?

This question was discussed yesterday in the theology study group I have joined.  It is an interesting question.  The group is currently reading and discussing Curt Daniel’s book The History and Theology of Calvinism.  We are in chapter 57 which is titled: The Extent of the Atonement.  In a section of the chapter discussing the dual aspects of atonement the following paragraph appears on page 423:

D. His son, A.A. Hodge, followed in this vein: “Nor is there any debate as to the universal reference of some of the benefits purchased by Christ. Calvinists believe that the entire  dispensation of forbearance under which the human family rest since the fall, including for the unjust as well as the just temporal mercies and means of grace, is part of the purchase of
Christ’s blood. They admit also that Christ did in some sense die for all men, that he thereby removed all legal obstacles from the salvation of any and every man, and that his satisfaction may be applied to one man as well as to another if God so wills it” (Outlines of Theology, p. 416).

The last sentence (which I have put in bold type) is which inspired the question.  As you can guess, a vigorous discussion ensued.  Some of the people present agreed with the statement but most disagreed.  The first thing that came to mind when I thought of “removing legal obstacles” was Justification.  Is Hodge saying that Christ justified any and every man?  If so, then why are not all people saved?  Others made the point that this equates to a univeral atonement. We are going to examine this issue further and discuss again at our next meeting.  I was shocked in our discussion to learn that the author (Curt Daniel) of the book asserts that the early Calvinists all believed in a universal atonement.  He said it was not until Beza came along that Limited Atonement began to be taught.  At times like this I wish I was better read in the writings of the historical figures.  It does motivate me to focus my reading more in that area.

What do you think?  If you are an Arminian I would expect you to fully agree with the statement.  If you are a Calvinist then you are probably not in agreement.  Have you considered this issue?  How do you answer this question?

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Also posted at Exploring Theology.

Does Jesus Want “To Be My Friend Forever”?

My RSS reader (Google Reader) has given me links to at least two blogs (Founders Ministries and Tim Ellsworth) that have referenced the same story. Since two different people had thought it was important enough to write about I decided to read it and see what was going on. Here is the money quote:

We’re using these formative preschool years to build a foundation for that eventual decision by focusing on God’s love and telling preschoolers that “Jesus wants to be my friend forever.”

To give my answer to the question in the title: NO, Jesus wants to be our Lord. He died to pay the penalty for our sins. His blood was shed in our place and for that we owe Him everything. It is true that the Bible says we will be joint heirs with Jesus, and indeed we will, but He will always hold the preeminent position.

Apparently First Look (a company that develops children’s Sunday School material) has decided to omit the crucifixion from their Easter lesson. They have sent out a letter (click here to read it) attempting to explain their decision. In the letter they state that “because of the graphic nature of the Easter story and the crucifixion specifically” they have “chosen not to include the Easter story in our curriculum.” They go on to explain that “the crucifixion is simply too violent for preschoolers.” So, you might ask, what will the lesson on Easter be about? They are going to focus “on the Last Supper, when Jesus shared a meal and spent time with the people He loved.”

I am not saying that this is not a good lesson. It might be a very good lesson. The point is that they should not be afraid to tell the complete Easter story. I have 3 children (ages 11, 7, and 10 months) of my own and I have had discussions with them when they were very young about what Jesus did for us. I know that they did not grasp it all and I certainly did not go into graphic detail about the crucifixion. In fact, I waited some time before letting them see the movie The Passion of The Christ. The Easter story can be told very effectively to children without being graphic.

I am left to wonder a few things. Is this the first year that First Look has chosen not to tell the Easter story or have they done this before? What factors or other options did they consider in making this decision? What other parts of the Bible are they purposefully going to (or have been) be keeping from the children?

Does your church use First Look? Do you support their decision to not include the Easter story? Do you leave the crucifixion out when talking to your kids about what Jesus did for us? I am just curious how what you all think about this.

The Atonement…Limited By Who?

If you have followed my blog any at all then you know that I have been studying Reformed Theology for a little more than a year now. I started out (at least I thought) as somewhere between Calvinist and Arminian but I realized several months ago that I had actually always believed in 4 of the 5 points of the TULIP. The one problem I was having was with Limited Atonement. I realized and acknowledged that everyone but a universalist (someone who believes that all people will end up in Heaven) understood that the atonement made by Jesus for us was limited. The only question was who did the limiting. I started out thinking that we limited the atonement by our choice to accept or reject Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. I would say that the Atonement was sufficient for everyone but only effective for those who chose to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus. I also realized that this understanding of the atonement did not fit logically with the other four tenants of the TULIP. That did not change the fact that I want to believe this way. That is what makes it so hard…I have many years invested into this belief. So I have been working through this and I have been getting gradually closer to accepting the full Calvinist understanding of the limitation of the atonement.

One of the passages that has really helped move me is found in Matthew 1:21. It says

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

In our Sunday School class we are going through Matthew this quarter. I happened to be teaching the lesson that included this verse. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had read many people’s explanation about God limiting scope the atonement but had not really accepted it and then I read this verse. I had read it before….how many times I am not sure but it never jumped off the page at me like it did this time. I am not claiming a new revelation but I am saying I have a more accurate interpretation / understanding now.

Now to the question. Who limits the Atonement? Does God limit the scope (meaning that it is only for the Elect) or do people limit the effectiveness (meaning it is for everyone but is only applied to those who choose to accept God’s gift of salvation)? Who has the power…God or man? I light of Matthew 1:21 we would have to agree that it is God and only God. Notice what Joseph was told by the angel in the vision. The angel tells Joseph what, who, and for what purpose the baby was being born. I want to focus on the purpose for a minute. We see here that before Jesus was born God had already set His task and that task was to save His people from their sins. His people….. Let me say it again….His people.

Well that brings the obvious question. Who are His people? The Bible answers this question for us in John 6:44. It says

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

So here we see the Jesus’ people are those that the Father draws. But this does not completely answer the question. It just leads to another question and that is…Who does the Father draw? That is a hotly debated question. Click here and here and here to read some posts that discuss this. One of the most obvious passages that answers this question is Ephesian 1:3-6. It says

(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love (5) he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (6) to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

As we can see in verses 5 & 6, God chose whoever he wanted “according to the purpose of His will.” The Father draws whoever it pleases Him to draw. The Bible tells us in other places that this choice is not based on anything done or any faith foreseen by God. The choice is not earned in any way and it is not a result of God’s knowing that the people would choose Him.

So, to recap. God chooses whom he wants before the foundation of the world and draws them to Himself. He does this for His good pleasure and will. Once drawn, God gives them to the Son. They are His to make atonement for. He makes the atonement on the cross (salvation is actually accomplished) and then serves as the Good Shepherd ensuring that none who are His are not lifted up on Judgment day. From all of this there seems to be some good biblical evidence that God intended to limit the atonement in eternity past. Makes sense…right? Actually it does, but I still am having trouble shaking off the desire to believe the atonement was universal in scope. For me though, Matthew 1:21 was a big step in that direction. How about you? Does Matthew 1:21 help you?

The Problem with Universal Redemption

This was posted over at The Reformed Mafia.  The author touches on the major problems associated with the Universal Redemption position.

What do you all think about his list of major difficulties?

A New Discovery…..Sort Of

(Matthew 1:20-21) (20) But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (21) She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [ESV]

My Sunday School class is in the book of Matthew this quarter.  If you use the Explore the Bible curriculum then so are you.  The above verses were part of our first lesson of the quarter.  The context of these verses is this:  Joseph and Mary are betrothed (similar to being engaged) but they are not yet allowed to live together.  During the betrothal period, Mary is found to be pregnant and Joseph knows for sure that he is not the father.  The only possibility remaining is that Mary had committed adultery.  As Joseph was preparing to divorce her (they were considered legally married under Jewish law during the betrothal period) an angel speaks to him in a dream and tells him that Mary has not committed adultery but is part of God’s plan to bring the Messiah into the world.  The angel told him what to name the child and for what purpose the child was being born.

While I was preparing to teach the lesson, the last phrase of verse 21 practically jumped off the page.  Now, I had read this before but had just assumed His people meant those who chose to accept Him.  I never gave it a second thought but it floored me this time.  The implications are staggering.  Do you realize what they are?

We all know that Jesus came into the world to seek and to save (Luke 19:10) but I had assumed that meant to offer salvation to everyone (because that was what I had always been taught).  Verse 21 above actually proves that Jesus’ purpose in coming was limited in scope before He was even born.  He was coming to save His people and only His people.  The text does not even suggest that He was only making salvation possible.

The second part of the phrase says that He will save them from their sins.  This is another way of saying what He said in the first part of the phrase (save His people).  Not only was there a particular group or set of people that Jesus was going to save but there was a particular set of sins that He was going to save them from.  Wow!!  Do you see the limited scope now.  Had you noticed this before?

Until I started to study theology, I never would have noticed this phrase.  Now, sometimes it seems as if I am reading the Bible for the first time.  It makes me wonder about how my Bible study time could have been more productive if I had known then what I know now.  But then, I know that I was not spiritually mature enough then.

What do you think?  Do you get the same meaning from these verses or do you have a different interpretation?