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

Question: What do you think about limited atonement?


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.