Friday, June 15, 2012

The Arguments for Limited Atonement

When I was new to Calvinism I was a big fan of Limited Atonement, because it seemed to magnify the deep and abiding love that God has for the elect which I never realized was there before. That and R.C. Sproul sounded so wise on the radio.
Once I matured in my thinking and reasoning I began to think of Limited Atonement as the gateway drug to hyper-Calvinism- once you believe it you have set your feet on the road to very unbiblical conclusions. Among the other acrostic elements in the TULIP it alone is the bitter center of death coated in a sweet outer, doctrinally sound TUIP.
Now I think that this doctrine simply is one of the key tenants in hyper-Calvinism, is driven directly by hyper-Calvinistic presuppositions, and the only people who believe in it are the hypers or the closet hypers. To be sure, an unsuspecting person can be taken in by it, but what they are taken in to is hyper-Calvinism. 
That may sound un-charitable at first, but read the arguments for it, consider them, and then you may realize that all of the arguments proceed from the assumption that God has a group of people that He has always hated, and always will hate, and another group that He has always loved, and always will love.
Without further introduction, below are a few of the most common arguments for Limited Atonement. I have also arranged them that the conclusion is the last sentence, and I suspect you will find this so helpful that just by reading the concluding statement the error in the argument is made manifest.


Christ lays down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:15), His people (Matt 1:21, Titus 2:14), His church (Acts 20:28, Eph 5:25), those who wait for Him (Heb 9:28), and His friends (Jn 15:13). Since there is no measure He is not willing to go to save the elect it proves that He loves them in a special way.
Therefore, He laid down His life for them only. 

REBUTTAL(1): A special love for the elect does not imply a general hatred for the non-elect. This is a negative inference fallacy, and it’s foreign to reason. If I tell my wife I love her more than anyone else in the world people should not infer that I hate my children.
REBUTTAL(2): If the atonement can be no larger than what is listed in Scripture, then ultimately atonement and salvation was only for one person, Paul (Gal 2:20).


The word all does not mean all without exception, it means all of a class. Did every person go out to see Jesus (Jn 12:19)? In the same way world, and whomever, do not mean all of humanity it means exactly and precisely the elect.
Therefore, since the text never indicates the non-elect have the potential to be saved; Christ did not die for them.

REBUTTAL(1): If applied consistently this principle makes the text un-understandable. Jn 12:31 would have Satan as elect. Jn 13:1 would have Jesus loving only a subset of the elect, Jn 14:19, 1 Cor 11:1, Jn 3:16 would have some of the elect failing to persevere. In 2 Cor 5:15 would have only a subset of the elect going on to eternal life.
REBUTTAL(2): If all means elect, then only the elect are sinners. In Rom 5:12 we would have only the elect becoming sinners in Adam. In Is 53:6 if only the sins of the elect are laid on Christ, then it was only the elect that were sinful to begin with.
REBUTTAL(3): This interpretative argument, “because sometimes all does not mean every individual without exception, therefore it never does” is wholly devoid of validity.  Unless someone was already convinced before reading the Scriptures that there was no such thing as God’s indiscriminate invitation to salvation they would never reach that conclusion by starting at that premise.


The Bible never records the using the phrase, “Christ died for your sins” to evangelize.
Therefore, Christ never died for the sins of the non-elect.

REBUTTAL(1): The argument that ‘because a specific phrase is not in the Bible the concept for it is wrong’ unravels as soon as it’s pointed out, because by that reasoning there is no such thing as the trinity.
REBUTTAL(2): It’s simply untrue, Paul spoke of preaching Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 1:23), which must necessarily include the topic of Christ dying for sinful men.
REBUTTAL(3): The first half of the argument is irrelevant to the conclusion. We could re-write the statement in this way and have it be just as valid, “The Apostles never used the phrase “Turkey Sandwich” to evangelize, therefore Christ’s death can be of no benefit to the non-elect.”


The Father has chosen only to elect a particular people, and the Spirit regenerates them only. In light of this it’s senseless to say the Son dies for all without exception.
Therefore, the non-elect have no share in the atonement of Jesus.

REBUTTAL(1): If the Father does not have a real love for all men, nor the Spirit does not earnestly desire their salvation and call out to them with an indiscriminate proposal of mercy, then the result is hyper-calvinism, wherein God loved the elect and hated the non-elect from all eternity past. The whole argument proceeds first from the assumption that God hates the non-elect, wishes them to perish, and delights in their demise. That there is only one disposition in God toward the non-elect and it's hatred is a dubious assertion at best.
REBUTTAL(2): The tacit assumption here is that each member of the Trinity can have only one job in salvation. While that means election, regeneration, and atonement are sponsored, it leaves a gap in adoption, sanctification, and justification (to name a few). This is a very strange and unwarranted assumption.


In the Garden Christ does not pray for the world, He only prays for believers.
Therefore since Christ did not intend to save the non-elect, He did not die for them either.

REBUTTAL(1): This is to confound the satisfaction of God’s justice and His application of Mercy. There existed between God and man a legal barrier that had to be first overcome before God could even offer salvation to men (this is the meaning of the temple curtain being torn). To make this argument is to assume that God has absolutely no desire to even lower the legal barrier to salvation.
REBUTTAL(2): The tacit assumption is that because God is not willing to regenerate a man He is not willing that they should be saved. This is a faulty assumption.


Christ did not come to potentially save, to merely give an opportunity to men they may or may not be saved if they take it. He did not die to offer men a chance to be saved, because chance is nothing. Christ actually atoned for the sins of His people on the cross.
Therefore, since the non-elect are not saved, Christ did not die for them. 
(NOTE: This same argument is often seen in the famous form of Owen’s Trilemma: Christ either died for All the sins of all men, in which case nobody goes to hell, some of the sins of all men, in which case nobody goes to heaven, or all the sins of some men, in which case those who have their sins atoned for go to heaven, and those do not to hell.
ALSO NOTE: The argument is sometimes put this way: If the sin of unbelief is not atoned for then the elect would go to hell for their unpaid sins. Christ must therefore have atoned for every sin, even the sin of unbelief while on the cross.)

REBUTTAL(1): The argument proves too much. If the sins of the elect were transferred to Christ, and He made a payment for them while hanging on the cross, then the elect are saved before they were born, regardless of what they do. In other words, contrary to Eph 2:3, the elect are never under the wrath of God, no matter what action, belief, sin, or level of ungodliness they commit or exhibit.
REBUTTAL(2): This is a total denial of the centrality and necessity of faith in salvation. This is classic hyper-Calvinism.

Related: If Christ paid the punishment a sin then it’s paid for. It would be unjust for God to punish sins twice: first in Christ, then in the sinner.
Therefore, Christ did not pay for the sins that men are punished for.

REBUTTAL(1): The argument makes the assumption that our debt to God is made like a cash payment on a debt. The atonement does not ipso facto liberate us because we are under a judicial wrath, and God has set terms for us before He will apply Christ’s death to our account.
REBUTTAL(2): The notion of double jeopardy just isn’t Biblical. How could God be wrathful with believers if this was true? How could He justly discipline believers when they sin?


Related: Christ’s purpose in coming and dying was to keep His people out of hell. There were already people in hell at the time of His death; therefore, He did not make atonement for all men.

REBUTTAL(1): As mentioned earlier, this assumes that men are free from their debt before, and without faith. Men may still end up in hell even after Christ takes their punishment if the conditions for salvation (namely faith) are not met. Therefore if a man goes to hell it’s not necessary there is a deficiency in the atonement, but rather it’s because of their rebellious unbelief.
REBUTTAL(2): The presumption is that Christ’s death does no good to dead men. If this is true then how would (or could) people who lived before the time of Christ ever get to heaven?


Related: In dying for the elect Jesus gave all the gifts necessary for salvation, including faith. (If this were not so then men would be saving themselves by adding the one element that makes all the difference in their destiny).
Therefore, since Jesus gives the gift of faith from the cross as part of the atonement, and the non-elect do not receive the gift of faith, the non-elect are not atoned for.

REBUTTAL(1): The Bible does not specify that all gifts come from Christ. Indeed, doesn't the Calvinist assert that the gift of election is given by God the Father? On what grounds is it assumed then that the cross is the source of the procurement of faith?
REBUTTAL(2): If the cross is the source of all good things, rather than God as the Scriptures say, then the point is over-proved. Does not Christ then also give the gifts of rain, sunshine, sleep, family, joy, sex, children, taste, relaxation, from the cross as well? This must also extend to the non-elect, in which case they must necessarily be atoned for.

4 comments:

AnthonyMcDevitt said...

Phil, I think you have a lot of good strong arguments but I don't think they're strong enough in the areas needed... In particular, the first rebuttal you make is that "A special love for the elect does not imply a general hatred for the non-elect." It doesn't imply that directly, but when you consider other passages of scripture that talk about these things, we can understand it better..

E.g. Christ did lay down His life for particulars as described, and we know that those who aren't a "sheep, His people, His church, His bride, those who wait for Him, and His friends" are lost. Is there any verse that says that He laid down His life for the lost, un-regenerate, un-elect, etc...

Your second rebuttal sounds good, but isn't exact. Because Christ did lay down His life for any one person, does not mean that He didn't do it for others. When I say others I mean other of a class, the elect others...

Also, rebuttal 1-3 in the second section, you're right all doesn't always mean all, but sometimes it can. It is not that it never can, but the context and the entirety of the Bible lead us to reason that way. If you say that we can not use reason and logic while interpreting scripture as a whole and forming sound doctrinal beliefs then you might as well stop reading your Bible because there's no reason.

in rebuttals 1-3 of the next section (3rd) the gospel should go to every person, but if we say that Christ died for everyone then we are lying. (yes that's a presup) What about the indian in the woods that never hears the gospel? Did Christ die for him? If you say He died in a universal way so that all could have the potential of being saved, but then say that the indian in the woods who's never heard the gospel doesn't have the potential to be saved, immediately proves this theory wrong.

AnthonyMcDevitt said...

4th section rebuttals 1&2. I think you're misunderstanding it. That the Father elects according to His own good pleasure, has nothing to do with men. God is not partial, and doesn't give some favor. He chooses to save some because He wants to, but not because of their own inherent worth. Also, you assume that God immediately hates all those who are non elect. You may be right about that, maybe not... Read Amos 1:1-3... AND if He does, that does make Him unjust. Read all of Romans 3. AND read Psalm 5:5 AND Read Romans 9. It's clear...

5th section rebuttals. 1- It doesn't confound it. IT means that His ways are higher than ours and we don't understand them, we are finite and He is infinite. Why God saves some and not others is not for us to dictate but for us to believe, because He does so according to HIS pleasure, and HIS will, not our own. God does not lower the legal barrier to salvation. That's no where in the text! All are either judged or saved by works! Either you're condemned by your own works, or you're saved according to Christ's works! 2- You're assuming it's a faulty assumption. If God doesn't regenerate someone then He obviously hasn't willed that they be saved, because that's the only way to be saved, and it's something that happens to, not from, man.

next section(6th)... we obviously know by scripture that men are born sinners and at a given time they receive salvation. They get born again, changed, forgiven and have Christ righteousness imputed. The argument that because Christ atoned for their sins on the cross therefore they must have been forgiven at that time is faulty. If faith is a gift, and faith justifies, then faith can be given at a particular time, and at that given time the atoning work is imputed and received...

related, rebuttal. The wrath of God can remain on someone until they believe. Because they are elect does not mean that they have been "saved" yet, or justified yet, because justification comes by faith, and until there is faith, they're not righteous before God. 2- The dead people were either just or unjust according to their faith when they were alive. Abraham was justified by faith, but died before Christ, did he not?

The last statement doesn't even make sense... I don't know where that was said or assumed, but I don't agree with that at all.... =P

Anyways... Hope that makes sense... I didn't list a whole lot of verses because I don't have a lot of those memorized, but you'll be aware of what is scriptural and what is not, I'm sure...

Phil said...

That's a polite way of saying you are completely unmoved by them. So I'll answer you.

1. You should rather say that "There is no verse that says He didn't lay His life down for the goats." Which proves my point. Since it doesn't exist, we should not narrow the atonement. This is because there *are* verses that say He lays down His life for the whole world.

2. That's exactly my point. Thank you for proving unlimited atonement in different words, that is helpful.

3. Context is indeed key. My point was that in the cases where all, whomever, and world do have their obvious meanings, the Limited Atonement advocate must trample it down because they have already decided ahead of time that it's impossible to be true.

4. Why are we lying to say that in addition to dying for the elect He died that all may be saved? What about that Indian? If he heard the gospel and believed would he not be saved? In fact the answer from your ilk is 'no'. That indian is in the same situation as the fallen angels- belief and salvation are total impossibilities under every given circumstance.

Phil said...

5. Because God elects some to eternal life according to His good pleasure does not mean that He hates the other class of men according to His good pleasure. The verses you point out are clear that *because* of their sin they are under wrath. It does not prove your presupposition, which you have hidden, which is that God hates them.

6. You don't believe that God wants to save men in the first place, therefore you reject the notion of God being incapable of saving men because of the barrier of mans sin. Your simplistic construct does not allow you to believe that it takes two parties to reconcile. You think that "God is in heaven, He does what He pleases" without considering that if that is true, why did God not absolve men of their sins by an act of His sovereignty?

7.I'm glad to see you reject the Owenistic argument for Limited Atonement like I do.

8. You just said that faith is a gift given from the cross, now you say it's not. Read my post again: if it's permissible to assume faith is a gift, then it's permissible to assume everything is a gift, including the things given to the non-elect, such as sunlight, good food, restful sleep, or laughter. If they are given from the cross then why isn't atonement also given to the non-elect?

Hope that helps.
8.