This was a facebook message/discussion between a few friends and me on the topic of “Limited Atonement” (the “L” in Calvinism’s acronomical existence). I’m thinking about letting this be the first of a new type of article I’m calling “Orthodoxological”. I’m thinking about trying to write some articles on some of the deepest and seemingly arbitrary and useless doctrines of the Christian faith, and showing how they do in fact necessarily lead to a greater worship of God. Let me know what you think!
We just talked about this last night with the gang from University of Richmond.
Atonement IS Limited. That’s not up for debate. As Peter says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell…” (2 Peter 2:4). Some fallen beings have been permanently excluded from the class of those who have a chance to benefit from Christ’s redemptive work. Therefore, atonement IS Limited.
The only question that remains is “To what extent has God limited that atonement provided by Christ?” Is it so limited that there are some human beings who don’t even have a chance? Now, THAT we can debate.
Personally, I like Paul Burkhart’s term “particular redemption.” It more accurately reflects the fact that God has been generous with the atonement provided by Christ’s blood as opposed to the idea that he has been unnecessarily and unjustly stingy (limited…).
Piper’s been the greatest help to me on this one. 2 images explain this best for me:
1. We believe in a cross that actually saves, not just makes salvation possible. so, it’s like the cross opened the door for EVERYONE but only was effectual to save SOME.
2. (this image is my favorite) drew, now that you’re married, you’re still called to love all women, but you will love YOUR BRIDE in a special, unique, sacrificial way that you will NOT love other women. just so with Christ. he loves all people enough to come to earth and provide a way for their salvation, but ultimately, he will only love his Bride in that special, unique application of the cross.
i love this stuff.
limited – the blood of the cross is only able and intended to cover the sins of the elect. it is absolutely limited in its scope, ability, breadth, and application
unlimited limited – the blood of the cross is not hindered in any way but by Sovereign decree. it is completely unlimited in its scope and ability, but limited in whom it is applied to. the atonement itself is not limited in any way, just its application.
the important distinction: limited atonement means that those not saved never had the chance to be saved, because there was no atoning work of Christ available to them. unlimited limited means that there is unlimited atoning power available to all, hanging above the heads of all people, but they freely reject this available atoning power. but, a limited, pre-ordained number of people, by the power of God’s merciful grace will drink freely from this unlimited ocean of atoning power and taste the goodness of the One for Whom their soul was made. hence my preferred term (which i got somewhere else, can’t remember where, so i guess it’s mine now): “particular redemption.”