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.

Differences Between Pelagians, semi-Pelagians, Arminians, Sub-lapsarians, and Supra-lapsarians

This article was posted over at the Society of Evangelical Arminians. The author uses an analogy to illustrate each. I am not sure if these are accurate and if they have any problems. I would be interested to see what you think of the analogies

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?

Sovereignty and Free Will – An Arminian Perspective

This article was posted over at Arminian Perspectives by Kangeroodort. In the article he discusses the differences between Calvinists and Arminians on this issue. He asks a question that I have asked in the past. In fact, when I first started to study Reformed Theology this was one of my first objections.

Kangeroodort said

Is a God who can only control His universe through cause and effect bigger or smaller than a God who can allow for true contingency in His creatures and still accomplish His will?

Likewise, Arminians consider that this view magnifies God’s power, in at least two interrelated ways.

1. God was able to create a being who was not merely “determined,” but an actor who also “determines” things, a being who is free and in His own image. He of the only true sovereign will was able to endow man with a will that really has the power of decision and choice.

2. God is able to govern the truly free exercise of men’s wills in such a way that all goes according to His plan. A God who created a complex universe inhabited by beings pre-programmed to act out His will for them would be great. But one who can make men with wills of their own and set them free to act in ways He has not determined for them, and still govern the whole in perfect accord with His purpose is greater.” [page 43, italics his]

This was my position. I can still understand the argument. After all, in what way is God more powerful…when He controls everything or when He allows his creatures to have free will and He is still able to have His will accomplished? The answer seemed obvious. It makes so much sense, doesn’t it? Well on the surface it does. But there is so much more to this. The biggest problem I now see with this position is that it does not accurately account for the depravity of man. The depravity is total meaning that it permeates our whole being to the point of enslaving our will. Click here to read a more thorough discussion of Total Depravity. When we understand the true condition that our will is in we can understand that we can not have free will.

A.W. Pink explains it this way in Ch. 7 of The Sovereignty of God. He said

To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision. Hence the will cannot be Sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be both Sovereign and servant. It cannot be both cause and effect. The will is not causative, because, as we have said, something causes it to choose, therefore that something must be the causative agent. Choice itself is affected by certain considerations, is determined by various influences brought to bear upon the individual himself, hence, volition is the effect of these considerations and influences, and if the effect, it must be their servant; and if the will is their servant then it is not Sovereign, and if the will is not Sovereign, we certainly cannot predicate absolute “freedom” of it.

All men have free will but they are only able to make choices within and in cooperation with their nature.  For unregenerate people that nature is the sinful nature inherited from the Fall.  For regenerate people that nature is the new nature given to them at the point they are made alive and freed from the bondage of the sinful nature.  The new nature is one that seeks after God and can respond when the Gospel is proclaimed to them.

Human Will….Sovereign or Servant?

In Chapter 7 of The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Pink has the following discussion on the nature of the human will.

What is the Will? We answer, the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action. Choice necessarily implies the refusal of one thing and the acceptance of another. The positive and the negative must both be present to the mind before there can be any choice. In every act of the will there is a preference-the desiring one thing rather than another. Where there is no preference, but complete indifference, there is no volition. To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision. Hence the will cannot be Sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be both Sovereign and servant. It cannot be both cause and effect. The will is not causative, because, as we have said, something causes it to choose, therefore that something must be the causative agent. Choice itself is affected by certain considerations, is determined by various influences brought to bear upon the individual himself, hence, volition is the effect of these considerations and influences, and if the effect, it must be their servant; and if the will is their servant then it is not Sovereign, and if the will is not Sovereign, we certainly cannot predicate absolute “freedom” of it. Acts of the will cannot come to pass of themselves-to say they can, is to postulate an uncaused effect. Ex nihilo nihil fit-nothing cannot produce something..

He makes an interesting point in this paragraph. He proves that the human will is NOT sovereign. I have struggled with this concept of human free will for a long time. I was always taught that we must choose to accept the gift of salvation when God offers it to us. I also thought that we could choose to reject His offer of salvation. If the will is not sovereign then that calls into question our ability to accept or reject the offer of salvation.

If the will is servant…then servant to what? Pink addresses this a couple paragraphs later. He says

That which determines the will is that which causes it to choose. If the will is determined then there must be a determiner. What is it that determines the will? We reply, The strongest motive power which is brought to bear upon it. What this motive power is varies in different cases. With one it may be the logic of reason, with another the voice of conscience, with another the impulse of the emotions, with another the whisper of the Tempter, with another the power of the Holy Spirit; whichever of these presents the strongest motive power and exerts the greatest influence upon the individual himself is that which impels the will to act. In other words, the action of the will is determined by that condition of mind (which in turn is influenced by the world, the flesh, and the Devil, as well as by God) which has the greatest degree of tendency to excite volition.

So we see here that the will chooses that which has the greatest influence on it. Another way of saying this is that we will choose the thing that we want more and is in agreement with our nature. This is why that an unregenerate person cannot choose God. In their fallen sinful nature the sin has the most influence over their will (For a discussion of how our sinful nature permeates us read this post on Total Depravity). We could actually go a step further and say the the sin nature has control over the will because the will can never choose something against its nature. Pink sums it up this way “if the will is controlled, it is neither sovereign nor free”.

What does all this mean to us? It means that until God chooses to change our nature that we will never be able to choose God. Calvinists call this regeneration. Arminians call it Prevenient Grace. Either way God has to initiate the process of Salvation. We are not free to choose to accept or reject salvation.

John MacArthur – Doctrines of Grace

John MacArthur is doing a series on the Doctrines of Grace on his show Grace To You. The series started on 9/17/07. Click here to go to the first one. They have been very good. Today’s show was on reprobation.

Does Calvinism Create God Robots?


This was one of my early objections to Calvinism. I could not see how Calvinism did not lead to this conclusion. I no longer have this as an objection. My objection was a result of a misunderstanding of Irresistible Grace. Click here to read how I worked through this issue.


I found a post over at Classical Arminianism by Billy Birch entitled The Robots of God where he discusses this issue from an Arminian perspective. Interestingly, he addresses the issue from the Total Depravity argument not from the Irresistible Grace argument.

He starts out by saying

“Does depravity effect every area of a human being? We would answer, “Yes.” Arminians, however, do not believe that depravity renders an individual helpless in trusting Christ Jesus for salvation.”

What does the Bible have to say about this? Romans 3:10-18 says: “(10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; (11) no one understands; no one seeks for God. (12) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (13) “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” (14) “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (15) “Their feet are swift to shed blood; (16) in their paths are ruin and misery, (17) and the way of peace they have not known.” (18) “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This paints a pretty clear picture of the condition of man. It would seem that the depraved man is not righteous, does not understand, does not seek God, has turned aside, become worthless, does not do any good….and does not fear God. How can any person who fits this description trust is Christ so they can receive salvation?

Next Billy discusses the ability to persuade someone to accept Christ. He says

“Persuasion only works on those who have the ability to reason. If people are in the state as Calvinists believe, then persuasion and reasoning are rendered moot.”

I believe that persuasion and reasoning is all a waste of breathe until God does a work in the heart of the hearer. Until God allows the lost person the ability to understand that they are lost and to respond to the Gospel once they hear it. I think some Arminians call this prevenient grace. I used to teach people that God had to remove the blinders so that the person could see their true spiritual condition. I have come to believe that another name for this is regeneration. In other words, God must regenerate a person so that they can understand and respond to the Gospel once they hear it. Until they are regenerated they cannot and will not respond to the Gospel because they are still slaves to their sin nature. John 8:34 says “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

Billy said

“Jesus pleaded with myriads of people to trust in Him for their salvation. If we are to think as the Calvinists think, then Christ was actually pleading for people in vain. And not only so, but Christ Jesus knew full-well that people COULD NOT trust in Him for salvation unless His Father first regenerated them!”

This has given me a few problems in the past and probably still does a little. It sounds right but is it. This is the real question. Who was Jesus really pleading with – everyone or the elect? I am beginning to think it is the elect. It was that way from the time of his birth. Matthew 1:20-21 says “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.”

Billy says

“Since no one loves God “naturally,” as they would have it, then God was also choosing who would love Him as a result of being regenerated. That, to me, is one of the most odd aspects of Calvinism: God chose who was going to love Him. This, among many other oddities of Calvinism, is something foreign, not only to Scripture, but also to the human psyche.”

This is not foreign to Scripture, it is in complete accord with it. In regeneration God changes the nature of the person. The nature goes from one at enmity with God to one the seeks God. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says it this way “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

To sum things up: All people are totally depraved. This is to the point that it affects every aspect of their lives. It is a result of being slaves to sin. Sin taints every part of the person. As such, people cannot (and don’t want to) trust in Christ unless God first frees them from their slavery and gives them a new nature. Some would call this regeneration. Once regenerated, a person is ready to respond to the Gospel when it is proclaimed to them. It is all an act of God from start to finish. But this does not mean that we are robots….our choosing God is a natural response to His freeing us from our bondage and giving us new life.

Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation)

 This (Arminian Today: Brief Notes On Ordo Salutis) was posted over at the Arminian Today.  It is a brief article listing the difference in the order of salvation between Calvinists and Arminians. 

The author points out the primary difference is the timing of Regeneration.  Calvinists believe it to be the first step in process while Arminians believe it to only occur after a person has put their trust in Jesus. 

Election vs. Reprobation

I am currently reading The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink and I am in chapter 5 which is titled “The Sovereignty of God in Reprobation”. Reprobation is a controversial topic but one that we need to get a handle on. It seem only logical to me that if we have a group of Elect then we must also have a group of Reprobate. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

It is interesting to me that some who believe in Election will reject Reprobation. How can this be? The primary argument I have read for this position is that “God will pass over the non-Elect”. He does not choose them to be reprobate, He simply passes over them and thus leaves them to their fallen selves. What this argument fails to understand is that not choosing is still a choice. Let me use an illustration to explain what I mean.

Think back to when we were kids and we were choosing teams to play a game or some other activity. Two kids would be appointed captains and they would take turns picking the kids they wanted on their team in hopes of picking a group that would win the game. The captains in this example were picking based on the abilities and attributes of the players. They wanted the players best suited to help them win.

Now, let me try to apply this illustration to God’s picking of the Elect and Reprobate. God and Satan will be our captains. The difference here is that Satan does not get to pick. God gets to pick His entire team (the Elect) first and Satan gets whoever is left (the Reprobate). In fact God picked His team before he created anything…including Satan. The other difference is that God does not pick based on any attributes of the one chosen – He picks based only on what pleases Him.

We can see now that God actively chooses the Elect and also the Reprobate. By not choosing someone to be Elect He is choosing that person to be Reprobate. And He did it before the foundation of the world so He created everyone knowing they were Elect or Reprobate. So for God, not choosing is still a choose.

What do you think of my illustration? Does it work or are there some major flaws that I need to address? What is your understanding of the relationship between Election and Reprobation?