Monday, October 25, 2010

Limited or General Atonement? (What's atonement anyway?)

In my spare time, I’ve been reading Whosoever Will from B&H Publishing. I was enjoying it immensely until I reached the chapter on limited atonement by David L. Allen. In many ways I agree with what he says, but I have struggled with the chapter because of how he defined atonement and sufficiency. His claim is that Christ’s death is sufficient to cover the sins of all men, therefore atonement is general, rather than limited. He makes the claim that if we accept a limited atonement then we cannot make the claim that all men can be saved.

Here’s the problem I have with that. First, this is the only place where I’ve seen the word sufficient used in this way. If a hostess asks if she has sufficient dip for all of the guests, she isn’t asking if she has enough as long as we tell people they can’t have any. Neither is she assuming that every guest will choose to get dip. Sufficient doesn’t mean that dip will be on the plate of every guest. Likewise, just because Jesus’ death is sufficient to cover the sins of the world doesn’t mean that all people will be saved.

Second, David L. Allen is using the word atonement in a strange way. To have atonement is to be at one with God. But David L. Allen isn’t talking about actually being at one with God but being able to be at one with God. John 3:16 makes it very clear that “whosoever believeth” is at one with God.

So basically, I’m going to come down on the side of limited atonement because I believe that while God wills that all men come to repentance, not all will. While Jesus’ blood is more than sufficient to pay the price for all the sins of the world, much of the world has rejected him and the payment will not be applied to their sins.

If we reject a limited atonement then we must accept a general atonement, which is where the original General Baptists got their name. The General Baptists of today reject the concept of security of the believer and it partly makes sense when we consider a general atonement. With a general atonement, the claim is that the death of Jesus covered all sins and yet the Bible clearly teaches that some men go to hell. Why do they go to hell if their sins have been covered? It can’t be because Jesus is incapable of saving them, so it would seem that it has something to do with the sinner. The sinner must take some positive action in addition to Jesus’ death on the cross. If salvation is then dependent on the action of the sinner, then it makes sense that a negative action (some sin) would be able to reverse the positive action. By committing that sin, the person would lose his salvation and go to hell, just like the person who failed to do the original positive action.

But that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that salvation is limited to those who believe, but all people have the opportunity to accept Christ. The Bible also teaches that we are not able to lose our salvation. Salvation is wholly dependent on the power of Jesus to save us. I think that if David L. Allen would get his definitions straightened out that he would agree with me, but the important thing to remember is that call people can believe but not all will.

1 comment :

Michael Gormley said...

Caholic Teaching and Limited Atonement

I don't think there's any point getting into another Limited vs Unlimited Atonement debate, so I'll just say quickly what Scripture and Tradition have to say on the matter:


St. John says: "he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

The issue here is the use of the 2 phrase "not for ours only" and "sins of the whole world".

This is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of limited atonement.

It reminds me of the doctrine of sola fide where Calvinists interpret "not by faith alone" as "by faith alone", and "wills that all men be saved" as "doesn't will that all men be saved".

(Kind of like the Catholic case: "A bishop should be the husband of one wife" interpretted "A bishop shouldn't be the husband of one wife" - but we don't believe in sola scriptura so we at least have a reason)


In any case, I think the whole thing is just another great example of the failure of the Reformation doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture.

As Calvinists and Arminians prove by their continued existence, Scripture does need an interpreter, Moses' seat must be replaced with the chair of St. Peter.

The Patristic evidence is also in complete opposition to the doctrine, as the classic formulation was that Christ died for those whose nature he assumed, meaning all of humanity.

"Christ Jesus our Lord, as no man who is or has been or ever will be whose nature will not have been assumed in Him, so there is, has been, or will be no man, for whom He has not suffered-although not all will be saved by the mystery of His passion.

But because all are not redeemed by the mystery of His passion, He does not regard the greatness and the fullness of the price, but He regards the part of the unfaithful ones and those not believing in faith those things which He has worked the rough love (Galatians 5:6), because the drink of human safety, which has been prepared by our infirmity and by divine strength, has indeed in itself that it may be beneficial to all; but if it is not drunk, it does not heal."
- Council of Quiercy 853 CE