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.

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Is Matthew 1:21 A Valid “Proof text” For The Reformed Believer Or Not?

One of the verses that I often cite when explaining my transition to a reformed theological position is Matthew 1:21.  The context of his verse is an angel telling Joseph that Mary has not been unfaithful to him and that the child she is carrying is of the Holy Spirit.  The angel tells Joseph what to name the child and for what reason the Holy Spirit has supernaturally impregnated her.  See for yourself:

Matthew 1:18-25 (18) Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  (19)  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  (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.”  (22)  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  (23)  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).  (24)  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,  (25)  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Verse 21 conveys a very specific message.  It says that “He will save His people”.  Note that it does not say that” He will make them savable” or “He will make salvation possible”.  I need to make this distinction because of an article recently posted over at Society of Evangelical Arminians under the title of “Matthew 1:21:  How Calvinists Blind Side A Text“.  As you can imagine, the title caught my eye so I read it.  It is a short article but it gives a good understanding of what the Arminian postition is.  The Article starts with the following paragraph:

One of the more inane prooftexts for Calvinism is Matt 1:21, “…for he will save his people from their sins.” Calvinists argue that this is a statement of definiteness, that it does not say that Jesus will merely provide the opportunity of salvation for “his people,” but instead, that Jesus will definitely save his people. They claim that this flies in the face of Arminian assertions that through Jesus, God provides a way for everyone to be saved.

The quick Arminian retort is simple: “What!? Do you Calvinists think that Arminians deny that Jesus will definitely save his people??? Of course, we Arminians affirm that Jesus will definitely save his people, just as the text says.”

The author correctly and briefly begins by stating the Calvinist position on this verse.  (For those who might be wondering the word inane means:  lacking significance, meaning, or point, i.e. silly).  He also addresses a common objection Calvinists present to Arminianism:  that in Arminian theology Christ’s death only makes salvation possible, it does not directly save anyone.

In my own personal experience, which includes believing in this way myself and then, once I accepted Reformed Theology,  discussing this topic with others who still hold this view, most will say the same thing the author does.  They will quickly and easily affirm that Jesus’ death will save His people.  But, when questioned on specifics of how, most actually come to the position that Jesus’ death only makes salvation possible.  At which point most who believe this way no longer want to continue the discussion because they see the hole in their theology but are unwilling to address it.

The author continues

The ultimate question is a matter of defining “his people.” Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel, the issue which is pounded is whether “his people” consists of Abraham’s descendants only, or whether “his people” is actually the community of faith, consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers; obviously, Matthew favours the latter position.

I agree with him here that the ultimate question is who makes up His people.  This brings us to the point of Election.  Who gets to define who His people are?  Do we or does He?  It is my contention that only God, as Creator, has that right.  The Creator is always greater than the creation.

If you say that His people are defined by us, then that brings up several questions that must be answered.  How can God be truly sovereign if we have the power to decide who make up His people?  Why would Jesus choose to bear, on the cross,  the sins of those whom He knew would never choose Him?  If Jesus did bear, on the cross, the sins of those who would not choose Him then on what basis does God punish them (because the penalty has already been paid by Jesus)?

In conclusion, Matthew 1:21 is a Calvinist proof text.  The author of the post has missed the point of what is being proven though.  It proves that there is a definite group of people who are known as His people.  We must then move on to find out who these people are and how they become and stay His people.

Do you agree with my assessment?  If not, why?  What is your understanding?

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.