Q&A 13: What do you think about limited atonement?

Question: What do you think about limited atonement?

Reply:

This is the issue within Calvinism that causes the strongest emotional response. And, that is easy to understand. Let me say first of all that the phrase “limited atonement” is unfortunate. A far better way of identifying what classic Calvinist mean by this doctrine is “particular redemption” (or “definite atonement”). I have never been persuaded for the truth of this position though I do understand and respect the perspective. I think the scripture overwhelmingly teaches that God made a universal provision for which there is a limited application. Those who hold to particular redemption believe that the intention of the atonement was to both provide and purchase the salvation of the elect. While I think it does accomplish that, I am convinced that it was God’s intention also to make a universal provision wherein Christ died for the sins of all people. In part, that is the basis for their condemnation at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15). However, I think to be fair we must note that all evangelicals limit the atonement in some manner. To do otherwise would be to advocate the heretical doctrine of universalism, that everyone will eventually be saved. I believe texts like Isaiah 53:6, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4-6, 1 Timothy 4:10, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 2:1-2, and 1 John 4:9-10 make clear that there is a universal component to the atonement. This is the most natural and plain reading of these texts. Still, I think a way to move forward, while also acknowledging our disagreements, is that we can all affirm that the atoning work of Christ is “sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.” There I believe is common ground on which Calvinist of the 5 point variety and others can stand together. We can look anyone in the face and tell them that the death of Christ is sufficient to atone for your sin. There is no lack or deficiency in His work on the cross. Repent and believe the gospel and you will be saved. On this we can all agree, and it is here I would want to give the greater attention.

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  4Comments

  1. Christiane   •  

    “However, I think to be fair we must note that all evangelicals limit the atonement in some manner. To do otherwise would be to advocate the heretical doctrine of universalism, that everyone will eventually be saved.”

    flawed logic ?

  2. Bruce H   •  

    In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus is likening the Kingdom of Heaven to how three (3) servants handled the talents of the man traveling to a far country. Upon return, all but one had traded and added to the amount they were given. The talent was returned to the man without even gaining usury who cast him out into eternal darkness.

    This parable can be used for many applications. Is there an assumption that there was available atonement the third man never had?

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  4. Dr. James Willingham   •  

    Dear Dr. Akin: Could the preaching of particular redemption serve a Divine purpose in the preaching of the Gospel? Consider Mt.15:21-28 where Jesus said in the hearing of the woman of Canaan, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She was no a Jew, but a Canaanite. Seemingly His mission of redemption did not have her in view. And yet she came to Him and worshipped Him. There is a technique in counseling known as paradoxical intervention or, to put it another way, there is such a thing as a therapeutic paradox. Reverse Psychology is the pop version of a more sophisticated counseling strategy. In any case, it seems that Particular Redemption was preached by our Lord, and that seemingly opposite and contrary truth moved the woman to worship. Could it be that such doctrines are the real secret of that humbling of the sinner, that humility without which no one can truly be saved?

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