Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Limited Atonement - A Middle Way

In a recent post on the Theological Meditations blog, Tony Byrne offered an extensive quotation from the esteemed English Puritan, William Lorimer (1640-1722), in which Lorimer traces the history of the debate over the extent of the atonement and concludes that there are not two but three main categories to consider. Two of them are Reformed, and one is Arminian. Here is a little excerpt from the conclusion:

". . . we maintain that Luther and Calvin by holding universal Redemption in the sense explained, did not corrupt the Christian Religion, nor preach a new Gospel. And if they did not, then those amongst us who hold universal Redemption as they held it, do no more corrupt Religion, nor preach a new Gospel than they did; and consequently it is a vile Calumny and Reproach cast upon us (and through us upon our First Reformers,) that by the middle-way aforesaid we corrupt Religion, and preach a new Gospel."

Responding to critics who viewed universal atonement as a distortion of the Gospel, Lorimer carefully distinguished between the Arminian view, the strict Limited Atonement view, and the "Middle Way" of Calvin, Luther, and other early reformers. This is very helpful for those who don't find a sufficient Biblical basis to affirm the strict Limited Atonement view, but also deny the Arminian extreme and wish to articulate a solidly Reformed position that is Biblical and does not distort the clear meaning of numerous Scripture texts.

Mark Driscoll has articulated a similar view, which he confusingly (but paradoxically) calls "unlimited limited atonement." A really cool and creative graphic and web designer named Satchell Drakes has extensively summarized (another paradox) Driscoll's teaching and created the nifty chart below (sorry if you have to squint to see it) . . .


  1. Derek, I believe that Driscoll's unlimited limited language comes from Bruce Ware's multiple intentions view of the atonement. See Bruce Ware on the Atonement

  2. Barry,

    How did I miss that post back in January of 2009? I have seen Bruce Ware's outline and found it very helpful. I don't know if I'd say I'm in "full agreement" with Ware, but I think he has a good and helpful approach overall and points us in the right direction for sure.

    href="" Multiple Intentions View

    Thanks for the link!


  3. My attempted hyperlink was a disaster. Anyone interested in seeing Ware's outline can paste the url below into the browser, or just visit Barry's post and use the link he has provided. Sorry, I'm technologically challenged!

  4. What are some of the main concerns or points of disagreement you might have with Ware, Derek? I'm just curious. Thanks.

  5. Sure, put me on the spot.

    Actually, I'm not sure. I hesitate to give Ware's view a ringing endorsement because I'm not well versed in all of the details. I certainly don't think calling one's view "4-point Calvinism" is the best approach, although I understand the reasons for this distinction. That's probably just a semantic issue.

    I remember reading through Ware's outline and having a few unanswered questions. I also seem to recall my friend David Ponter saying there was something missing there (it was probably something minor, and don't take this recollection as fact, I don't want to misrepresent him - it's a very faint recollection). I remember hearing the discussion between Piper and Ware, and thinking, "I want to agree with both of them - but they're not exactly agreeing with each other. My position must be somewhere between them."

    One has to consider Richard Baxter's Middle Way, which I haven't studied in detail yet. And then there are the approaches of R.L. Dabney and William G.T. Shedd that warrant more study than I have given to them. Amyraut's views are completely unknown to me, and I don't want to study them until I'm more settled in my convictions, Biblically speaking. Later I want to allow Amyraut's arguments to challenge me.

    For now my conviction is "sufficient for all, effecient for the elect (a.k.a. those who believe)," and "Christ died for the sins of all men, and especially of those who believe." Also, "Christ died for all men, but not for all men equally." Those are all good formulas in my opinion.

    There are a lot of ways to articulate a middle position on the extent of the atonement. Ware's is a good one, but I'm still not sure if it's the best one. Most likely, my ultimate view will incorporate some of his thoughts, some from Dabney, some from Shedd, some from Baxter, and who know what else. It's a deep subject, and concerning certain aspects I'm not even sure where the mysteries start or stop, or where there might be paradoxes and puzzles, solvable and unsolvable.

    Finally, and most importantly, I'm glad that the extent of the atonement is sufficient to reach even me, a poor sinner, and to wash away all my sins.



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