I want to write a little more concerning the doctrine of limited atonement because it is so often misunderstood, maligned, or misinterpreted. The goal will be to answer some common objections to the doctrine and then answer unlimited atonement proponent’s answers to limited atonement objections. Hang with me folks.
Objection 1-The Cross is the basis for the condemnation of the rejecting unbeliever.
Answer 1-The basis of condemnation of unbelievers is sin (Col. 3:5-6; Rom. 1:18; Rev. 21:6; 1 Cor. 6:9-10) of which the rejection of Christ is included (John 3:18). If ones make the rejection of Christ the basis of which sinners are condemned, are those who have never heard of Christ en route to heaven for their ignorance? Hardly.
Objection 2-The doctrine of common grace implies a universal benefit to the atonement.
Answer 2-It does but that does not mean that he died for all in the same way. Piper, Driscol, and a host other Reformed theologians have grounded common grace in the cross. Piper said in a sermon that can be found here that:
There is a precious and unfathomable covenant love between Christ and His Bride, that moved Him to die for her. The death of Jesus is for the bride of Christ in a different way than it is for those who perish. Here’s the problem with saying Christ died for all the same way he died for his bride. If Christ died for the sins of those who are finally lost, the same way he died for the sins of those who are finally saved, then what are the lost being punished for? Were their sins covered and canceled by the blood of Jesus or not? We Christians say, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And we mean that his death paid the debt those sins created. His death removed the wrath of God from me. His death lifted the curse of the law from me. His death purchased heaven for me. It really accomplished those things!”
It may be remarked in the first place that Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that He died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.
Objection 3-Does God love all men or does He not? (John 3:16) The issue is not whether God has a special love for His elect (He does), but whether He has any love at all for the entire world. “Would we attempt to restrict any other perfections of God to the elect only?” (Lightner, 113)
Answer 3– Most if not all Calvinists affirm God loves the non-elect. Arminians rhetorically make Calvinists the Pharisees who taught “love your neighbors and hate your enemies. (Matt. 5:43-48). See earlier discussions concerning God’s love here.
Objection 4-According to the limited view, non-elect sinners cannot be condemned for rejecting Christ, because He did not die for them. “Men cannot reject what does not even exist.”
Answer 4– They can however be punished for the reason Jesus died. They die and suffer for eternity because of their sins. People are in Hell because they sin, not merely because of the one great sin of rejecting Jesus. God will handle sin in two ways- the Son bearing the wrath of God on the cross for it or the sinner bearing the wrath of God for eternity in Hell. The debt will be paid. Concerning Hell, go here.
Objection 5– According to the limited view, there is no “well meant offer” of the Gospel. (This is freely acknowledged by Hyper-Calvinists such as David Englesma) “To us, no maxim appears more certain than that a salvation offered implies a salvation provided” (James Richards, a Calvinist. Quoted in Lightner, 114). Missions are obsolete if limited atonement is true.
Answer 5-This is a gross perversion concerning Calvinists. Calvinists possess a multiplicity of reasons for doing evangelism and missions. Missionary motives are as follows: passionate zeal for the person of Jesus Christ to be worshipped in all his majestic splendor, obedience to the Great Commission and other imperatives to go, love for both God and sinners, the ghastly reality of eternal, conscious punishment, and the satisfying nature of working with God in his quest for universal renown in the saving of needy sinners. Calvinists recognize and affirm that the universal gospel proclamation to all creatures is the instrumental means that the elect come to Christ through (Rom. 10:14). Furthermore, we do not know who the elect are in this time of history. This is why Spurgeon talked about the absence of a large, yellow “E” pasted on the backs of the elect. Until we know who they are, we preach indiscriminately to all types of people. The proclaimation of the Gospel could then be viewed as a treasure hunt. The elect are the people for whom Christ died in a propitiatory fashion and the Gospel call given by the preacher is the pursuit of finding them. God will bring them to himself via that offer.
In this second part, I’ll attempt to answer some answers to unlimited atonement objections.
The LA advocate will say “If unlimited, then a great deal of Christ’s work was wasted.” The UA advocate will argue though that God often provides more than we appropriate. (Example: General revelation is ignored by man).
- Second answer- The grammar used precludes such an answer. Also, general revelation is not efficacious. A better example would be to say the atonement is like special revelation because it clearly shows what is meant to be shown. It has a specific goal and aim instead of being general.
The LA advocate will say “Priestly Christ’s intercession is limited, therefore so is the atonement.” The UA advocate will answer “the Bible does not equate the two in extent. Intercession relates to believers, and only after the exercise of faith.”
- Second Answer- The intercession before the atonement would be typified by the OT practice of the praying over the sacrifice imputing the sins of the person to the animal (Lev. 16). It’s linked in John 17 because it’s linked in the OT.
The LA advocate will say “unlimited atonement leads to universalism.” The UA advocate will answer only if one ignores the Biblical necessity of faith.
- Second Answer- The response is not adequate because repentance and faith are seen also as a divine gift (Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8-10; Acts 13:48; John 6:37; Rom. 9:15-18; 2 Tim. 2:25; John 1:13; 1 John 5:1). God gives what he commands for his people. Pastor-scholar Sam Storms rightly notes:
If a person is to repent, he or she must be enabled by God to do so. He must be ‘granted’ repentance as a gift. Whether or not a person repents, says Paul, is ultimately up to God. It rests with him and his sovereign good pleasure to give or to withhold that which leads to ‘a knowledge of the truth.’ That God does not bestow this gift universally is self-evident. Were repentance something that God gives to all, Paul would hardly have said that ‘perhaps’ God may grant repentance. Clearly he envisions the real possibility that God may not so grant. (ref. 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
- Furthermore, there was a reason why the penal substitutionary view of the atonement was rejected by many Arminians (Hugo Grotius, Charles Finney, John Miley and Orton Wiley) after Arminius. The nature of the substitutionary aspect of the atonement requires certain things.
The LA advocate will say “if Christ died for some who dies lost, then their sins have been paid for twice.” The UA advocate will respond with “salvation is provided at Calvary but applied when the sinner believes.”
- Second Answer- He bore the wrath of God for sins including the sin of unbelief. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, even the believer’s faith can be traced back to the Father. Jesus’ atonement benefits include the ability to procure the atonement benefits themselves! Roger Olson in Against Calvinism argues against the double jeopardy objection saying:
There is still the matter of the…argument that the same sin cannot be punished twice. Again, that’s simply false. Imagine a person who is fined by a court $1,000 for a misdemeanor and someone else steps in and pays the fine. What of the fined person declines to accept the payment and insists on paying the fine himself or herself? Will the court automatically refund the first $1,000? Probably not. It’s the risk the first person takes in paying his friend’s fine. In such case, the same punishment would be paid twice. It is not that God exacts the same punishment twice; it is that the sinner who refused the free offer of salvation by default subjects himself or herself to the punishment that has already been suffered for him or her.
Olson highlights the exact issue Calvinists have! I’m not sure what third-world court system Dr. Olson is use to, but it would be morally deficient of a righteous court system to refuse to return the money to the original payer of the debt if the second person refused their payment. The court deserves $1,000 and, through its shady business ethic, gains $2,000 in the above example? How is that not a textbook example of corruption? The same is true of the atonement. If the wrath of God was spent for the actual sins of the whole world, then for what are sinners suffering for in eternity? Olson remarks that this is what makes Hell so tragic because Jesus died for everyone indiscriminately bearing their wrath and they still refuse it to go bear that same wrath for all eternity. I think the tragedy lies in the fact that the justice of God is impugned. This is why many Arminians argue that Jesus died to make men savable rather than to actually save anyone. But at this point, actual universalism becomes more admirable than the unlimited atonement viewpoint because at least the wrath-bearing nature of the atonement is taken seriously.