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!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Your Doctrine of the Atonement is Too Small - Part 2

In part 1, we discussed the limited redemptive purpose of the atonement (reflecting the truth of particular redemption). Alongside of this, we discussed the atonement's universal revelatory purpose (in connection with the general preaching of the Gospel to all the world). Here, we will look at the potency of the atonement, as potentially salvific for all people and powerful enough to cover all sins. The atonement's real potency as a bearing of the sin of all mankind is an essential ground for the free offer of the Gospel, and it does not conflict with the particularity of God's purposes in the redemption of the elect. Like so many other theological issues, this one has become polarized by the false dichotomy of an "either/or" proposition. It is said that either Christ died effectively for the elect, or He died ineffectively for all people. It is said that either Christ's atonement is sufficient for all sinners, or God's purpose for the atonement is particular.


The framing of these propositions can only lead to a reduction and narrowing of the real truth about the atonement. It is wrong to say Christ's death was somehow ineffective, yet it is equally unacceptable to regard His death as limited in its saving power. The solution lies in understanding the Biblical account of what God intended to accomplish in the atonement. If we think the atonement is designed to accomplish something God did not intend for it to accomplish, we will be forced to diminish either its particularized effectiveness or its universal power. Only by giving careful attention to what the Bible actually teaches can we avoid painting ourselves into a corner by drawing premature conclusions. In order to discover the Biblical truth regarding the atonement's inherently infinite power, we'll look briefly at some of the clues found in John's writings.


The Johannine Concept of "The World"



John uses the Greek term kosmos in three key passages which are sometimes mistakenly called "Arminian" texts (as a side note, such designations are ill-conceived because there are no "Calvinist" or "Arminian" texts, just Biblical ones).

John 1:29 - Christ sacrificially bears the sin of the world
John 3:16 - God shows His love to the world by giving His Son
I John 2:2 - Christ is the propitiation for the world
Some Calvinists attempt to counter Arminian arguments by creatively re-interpreting the meaning of kosmos in these verses, but this only damages their case because it is exegetically unwarranted and entirely unnecessary. Understanding "world" in the universal sense of "all humanity" or "all mankind" or "mankind as a race" is exegetically superior and entirely consistent with historic Calvinism, as I will now attempt to demonstrate. [UPDATE: a more precise definition of "world" in these contexts is "all living unregenerate humanity."]

A Quick Side Note on the Error of Arminianism

There can be no doubting that Arminian theology depends upon the universal extension of the atonement to all mankind. However, the problem with Arminianism is not merely its affirmation of a universal aspect in God's plan to save sinners. It is the over emphasis of this truth, to the neglect of the very real particularities, that makes Arminianism a false and misguided system. The defining feature of Arminianism is a purposeful ineffectiveness on the part of God which is designed to make room for man's supposed decisive freedom of will in the matter of salvation. God tries to save everyone but can't quite do it because human choice stands in the way. This is truly bad theology that should be refuted strenuously, but the defining feature of a Calvinist must lie in an unyielding commitment to the whole counsel of God rather than mere opposition to Arminian errors. When an Arminian brother states a Biblical truth, Calvinists ought to be the first to say "Amen" because we are not so much against them as we are for the Word and honor of God. The defeat of Arminianism lies in Biblical balance, not in the utter refutation of every argument presented by Arminians.


In this article, I'll leave off from commenting on John 3:16 and focus instead on the two passages which directly address the extensive power of the atonement. After reading the remainder of this article, I hope readers will have no problem agreeing that "world" truly means "world," and that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient, in and of itself, to save all mankind.

The Sin-Bearing Potency of the Atonement

The sin-bearing potency of the atonement is clearly revealed by John the Baptist, the greatest of all Old Covenant prophets, in John 1:29
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
"Takes away" translates the Greek word airō, which means "to raise up, to lift, to bear, to carry." The language is distinctively that of sacrifice, corresponding to the Hebrew term, nasa, which has approximately the same meaning and is often used in connection with ritual sacrifices. It connotes the carrying of a weight, or the bearing of a burden. In Genesis 4:13, Cain says "my iniquity is too great to bear (Heb. nasa)." As the Lamb of God, Jesus bore the sin of the world. He suffered the punishment due for that sin and was treated as if the sin was His own (though it was not). 


1. The word "sin" is singular, not plural. So "sin" as a general reality is being carried, not the specific sins (plural) of particular individuals. Humanity's problem with God is a matter of SIN (in principle), not just sins (specific acts, thoughts, words, etc.). Sins are events, but SIN is the very nature of mankind in his fallen state. Sins are a result of SIN. Humanity is "under sin," therefore humanity commits "sins." The elect do not come to believe because their specific sins, as events in time, were borne by Christ. The eternal and infinite reality of the world's SIN was borne by Him, so that all who come to Him may cast their sins on Him.
2. To illustrate the prior point, consider the faith of the Old Testament saints. They looked ahead to Christ's sacrifice and cast their sins on Him for atonement. If their faith had to be initiated by an atonement made chronologically prior, they could not have been saved. But saving faith can look ahead to the cross, or back to it, because in the cross humanity's full weight of sin is carried to judgment. Covenant theology correctly recognizes faith as the only means of salvation, both before and after the cross.
3. To maintain the idea of limited sin bearing, some would take this passage as John the Baptist informing his fellow Jews that Christ will atone for the sin of the Gentiles (and not just the Jews). But the argument itself would force us, without any ground from the text, to go even further and limit it to the elect Gentiles. This move would gratuitously reduce the meaning of kosmos to "the elect," which hardly seems appropriate. Nevertheless, hyper-Calvinists like John Gill promote this unwarranted maneuver because their theology demands it.
4. Note how John uses kosmos just a few verses prior, in the prologue of his Gospel:
"There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every manHe was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." (John 1:9)
To make "world" mean the elect Gentiles here would lead to an absurdity:
There was the true Light which, coming into the [realm  of] elect Gentiles, enlightens every manHe was in the [realm of] elect Gentiles, and the elect Gentiles were made by him, and the elect Gentiles knew him not.
Surely we can do better than that! Survey the way John uses kosmos throughout His Gospel and you will quickly see the "elect Gentile" idea is based purely on a theological prejudice. Why not accept the following translation?
There was the true Light which, coming into the realm of humanity, shines light upon every man. He was in the realm of humanity, and humanity was made by Him, and humanity knew Him not. (John 1:9) 
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who bears the sin of humanity! (John 1:29)
Taking John 1:9 and 1:29 this way does not pose the slightest threat to a Reformed view of salvation and preserves us from the charge of Scripture twisting. At the end of this article, we'll offer a solution for the tension this creates in systematic theology. For now, can you accept that it is the plain meaning of the text itself?

The Wrath-Averting Potency of the Atonement

No single verse of Scripture is clearer than I John 2:2 in affirming the complete sufficiency of the atonement for all of humanity. There are several exegetical and contextual clues which argue strongly against the common high Calvinist interpretation that reduces "world" to the elect. Let's take a brief look . . .
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:1-2)
1. John does not say Christ propitiated for the sins of the whole world, but that He IS THE PROPITIATION. John is pointing us to the incalculable value of the Person of Christ as the One offered in sacrifice, not to the work of Christ as having secured actual redemption for all people. Christ is the propitiation for the whole world, but He is the advocate of believers only. As our advocate, He applies the benefits of His propitiatory work to believers in particular.
2. John does not necessarily mean Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, but that he is the propitiation FOR THE WHOLE WORLD. The phrase, "sins of" is added by the translator, as A.T. Robertson notes: "It is possible to supply the ellipsis here of τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν (the sins of) as we have it in Hebrews 7:27, but a simpler way is just to regard "the whole world" as a mass of sin (I John 5:19)" Thus, we can regard Christ as the propitiation for the world. That is, He is the only sin-bearing and wrath-averting sacrifice the world can ever have before God.
3. To make "world" in this passage mean "elect Gentiles," one would have to interpret John's "our" as referring to Jewish believers only. However, John was writing to a mixed group of believers, probably late in the First Century when the Church was already filled with Gentiles. In this context, "world" clearly means something like "world of humanity," not "world of elect Gentiles."
4. I John 3:1 and 3:13 provide important context, showing that the "world" referred to in 2:2 cannot be made to mean "elect Gentiles" or anything like it.
5. I John 5:19 says the "whole world lies in the power of the evil one." Here John lets us know exactly what he means by "world." The "whole world" for which Christ is the propitiation is the same "whole world" which now lies in the power of the evil one. It would be ludicrous for John to mean all the elect Gentiles lie in the power of the evil one, especially in view of the way he carefully recounts Jesus' debate with the Jewish Pharisees in John 8, showing clearly that they were the children of the devil.


I John 2:2 is not arguing against the Jewish eclecticism that the Church had dealt with decades earlier. It is instead a powerful argument for the exaltation of the sufficiency and exclusivity of the work of Christ - and the potency of that work. With great joy we realize that Christ's blood is more than sufficient for both our sinful condition and all of our particular sins, and more than sufficient for the sins of every person to whom we proclaim God's mercy in the Gospel.

Don't be afraid of this plain Biblical Truth, my Calvinist brothers. Our soteriology does not fall apart simply because John says Christ is the propitiation for the whole world of humanity. Nothing in the Bible is ever going to make Arminianism or any other error true. We must be willing to recognize the definite effects of the atonement without trimming down its real sufficiency. Christ's work could potentially save every human being. There is enough sin-bearing potency in His one sacrifice to save every sinner who has ever lived, every sinner who will ever live, and every sinner who could ever live. We don't need to limit the inherent power of the atonement when God has only limited its application.



The Infinite Power of the Atonement


The wisest of our Reformed forebears affirmed this famous axiom of the atonement:


"Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect only." 


This means Christ would not have had to suffer more if there were more elect souls. He bore the concentrated wrath of God in its fullness, offering enough in His one sacrifice to save all sinners and to cover all sins.



What do we gain by reducing the atonement to a mere extension of the doctrine of election? Clearly, this was not what the writers of the Canons of the Synod of Dordt had in mind when they penned the following:
Head 2: The Death of Christ, and the Redemption of Men Thereby
ARTICLE 3. The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.
ARTICLE 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.
Note the use of the word "infinite." When we consider the power of Christ's atoning work, we must bear in mind that we are not dealing with the finite quantities of a mathematical transaction, but the infinite punishment due for infinite offense rendered against an infinitely holy God. The atonement is an infinite sacrifice offered by an infinite Being in behalf of infinitely sinful sinners. Again, He does not bear our sins as mere events, but sin itself as the reality of our condition. If our sinfulness, for which Christ atoned, is infinite in its nature, there can be no limit to the sufficiency of the atonement. On the other hand, if our sin is infinite but the power of Christ's atonement is in any sense finite, we cannot possibly be saved. Note that I said "power", and not "effect".


What, then, of double jeopardy? Did Christ suffer a punishment for all sinners that some sinners will later have to experience in hell? No, Christ did not suffer more - or less - than He would have needed to suffer had God's eternal purpose involved the salvation of one, some, or all sinners. Infinity is infinity, no matter how many times it is multiplied or divided, so the question is one of application. The world's infinite sin was multiplied to Christ's account, and now His atonement is divided to the elect (a.k.a., those who believe). The transaction can neither increase nor reduce the infinite sinfulness of the sin, nor can it alter the infinite potency of the price that was paid for it. If sin itself, with its infinite penalty, has been borne by the Son, then every specific sin brought to Him can justly be forgiven, and every specific sinner who comes to Him can justly be saved from sin. For those who do not come, the atonement has no effect. Sufficient payment is not the same as effectual payment.


As Calvinists and Bible believers, we know that the ones who come to Him are those effectually called and irresistibly drawn by saving grace.


The atonement is the payment of an infinite debt, and because the payment is infinite it is sufficient for all. Christ died under the weight of all humanity's sin. Christ died for the world - not with a final saving result for every sinner who has ever lived - but in some sense, Biblically, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the atonement is for the world of sinners. It is not just for the "world" of the elect. Yet, because of divine election, it is meant especially for the elect.


It should be noted that even the non-elect benefit from Christ's atonement because it gives God a just ground for delaying their punishment and blessing them temporally with common grace. On the ground of an infinite atonement, God by the standards of His own justice is free to give or withhold as much mercy as He chooses, on whom He chooses, for as long as He chooses.


I don't think this is the final word on the matter. Yet I believe I have offered a reasonable and exegetically-driven explanation of a moderate Calvinist approach that takes the apparently contradictory Biblical teachings of Universal Atonement and Particular Redemption seriously. And I believe I have shown they are not irreconcilable.

One final note: if you won't take my word for it, consider the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 37. What dost thou understand by the words, "He suffered"?
Answer: That he, all the time that he lived on earth, but especially at the end of his life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favour of God, righteousness and eternal life.
That strikes the right balance.


For further study, see Curt Daniel's discussion of the Extent and Intent of the Atonement
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NOTES:



We can learn much from Wayne Grudem's balance and sobriety as he discusses the extent of the atonement:
The statements "Christ died for his people only" and "Christ died for all people" are both true in some senses, and too often the argument over this issue has been confused because of various senses that can be given to the word "for" in these two statements. . . . 
. . . the sentence, "Christ died for all people," is true if it means, "Christ died to make salvation available to all people" or if it means "Christ died to bring the free offer of the gospel to all people." In fact, this is the kind of language Scripture itself uses in passages like John 6:51; I Timothy 2:6; and I John 2:2. It really seems to be only nit-picking that creates controversies and useless disputes when Reformed people insist on being such purists in their speech that they object any time someone says that "Christ died for all people." There are certainly acceptable ways of understanding that sentence that are consistent with the speech of the scriptural authors themselves.
(Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan: 1994, p. 601)
Although I disagree with some of Grudem's arguments and find his discussion of the extent of the atonement a bit confusing and convoluted, I greatly appreciate his demeanor and charity.

15 comments:

  1. Excellent. And my favorite point was in equating Arminians to liberals, the issue is not in what they say, but in what they leave out.

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  2. Phil,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this long post! Since you are well studied in these matters, I greatly appreciate your positive comments. If you can think of any ways to improve what I've proposed, or see any glaring weaknesses or omissions, let me know.

    Blessings,
    Derek

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  3. Hi Derek,

    I've begun reading through your article and saw this at the beginning:

    "Understanding "world" in the universal sense of "all humanity" or "all mankind" or "mankind as a race" is exegetically superior..."

    I think we need to be careful here. Technically, the "world" of John 3:16 is the "world" of 1 John 5:19.

    ESV 1 John 5:19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

    What do I mean? The "world" of 1 John 5:19 does not mean "all humanity," or "all mankind," or "mankind as a race." Rather, it means "all living apostate/unbelieving humanity." The "world" is distinguished from those that are "from God" (i.e. believers), and the "world" is said to be under the power of the evil one (i.e. existing people on earth at that time in unbelief). According to this verse, we can infer that the "world" is 1) not believers, 2) living people on earth, and 3) people under the sway of the wicked one, i.e. unbelievers. Then, when interpreted in conjunction with other verses (such as John 3:16), we can know that the "world" still has an opportunity to be saved, i.e. not dead people.

    I think we also need to be careful to distinguish between "meaning" and "application" in this respect. Technically, the "meaning" of "world" in 1 John 5:19 is "living apostate humanity" at the time in which John the Apostle wrote, but by "application" it references "all unbelievers that have come to exist, and therefore also "all humanity," or "all mankind" since all of us (including those of us who have come out of the world and now believe) we once "in the world" (i.e. the class of existing apostate humanity).

    Take a look at this chart (click) that I made in order to carefully demonstrate these distinctions. The arrow pointing up shows the "unbelieving elect" who eventually come out of the "world," which is a sub-class of existing people who have not yet died. Using this chart and this concept of "world," we can show how it is inaccurate to immediately say world=all humanity or world=the elect (whether the believing elect or the not-yet-believing elect). "World" does not "mean" these things. It is simply *apostate* humanity on earth back then, and now (by application) all *apostate* humanity on earth now. Plug that concept in to the New Testament use of "world" and you may be surprised at how consistently it works, even in John 17 :-)

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  4. Tony,

    You are correct. I was a sloppy on that point and your clarifications are on point. The chart is excellent and very helpful.

    Please let me know any further thoughts.

    Blessings,
    Derek

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  5. I love the chart Tony. Love it.

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  6. Thanks, Derek and Phil :) When you read "world" and the context has people in view, just plug in "living unbelieving humanity" (both the unbelieving elect and the non-elect) and it fits. Too many people immediately jump to application before adequately considering meaning, or some just impose a system upon the text, such that "world" must mean exclusively the elect or exclusively the non-elect (and they pose false either/or dilemmas for those who disagree). None of that is necessary or biblically warranted.

    Also, I finished reading all of this post last night, Phil, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Grace to you,
    Tony

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  7. Whoops. I meant to say Derek in that last sentence.

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  8. I'm a little late to the discussion, but I just discovered your blog. I have to say that it greatly helps my confusion with the concept of universal atonement. Limited atonement, as explained to me by other Calvinists, has always been difficult for me to swallow given the passages you quoted above, and even some other Johannine and Petrine passages.

    Am I correct in summing it up like this: Christ's atonement has the sufficiency and power to redeem all humanity, but it is only applied for the salvation and redemption of the elect? Therefore, Christ died for the sin of the elect and the reprobate, but because of the reprobate's unbelief, His death does not justify the reprobate?

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  9. And I use "universal atonement" not meaning universal salvation.

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    1. CJ,

      Thank you for your comments, and I apologize for the long delay in responding.

      In the main, I would agree with your summation. However, we have to be careful in the way we articulate the reason for the reprobate's condemnation. One critical factor is that the reprobate remains unjustified by his own will and choice, and not because the atonement itself is so limited as to leave him without the possibility of being justified. In other words, Christ died sufficiently to cover the unbelief of every person; however, the ones who never bring their unbelief to Christ never have that unbelief (the root of all other sins) covered or removed.

      Paradoxically, the reason the non-elect don't bring their unbelief to Christ is that they lack the faith to come to Christ. After all, saving faith is what motivates the sinner to come to Him for salvation. Thus, it is the absence of Effectual Calling, and not an insufficiency in the atonement, that leaves the reprobate in his unbelieving state.

      In other words, Christ died sufficiently for all unbelievers, but efficiently for those unbelievers who come to faith by the grace of God.

      The reason these distinctions are important is that some High Calvinists will argue that if Christ died for all of the sins of all people, everyone would have to be justified because unbelief is itself a sin. I am saying there is a difference between having one's unbelief died for, and actually being justified by faith. Otherwise, every elect person for whom Christ died would already be justified before birth. In contradistinction, we say the elect are elect from before their birth, but not justified until they believe.

      Hope this makes sense.

      Blessings,
      Derek

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    2. Derek,

      Thank you for your reply. It does make sense. In the light of your response, I have a follow-up question.

      I have heard some Calvinists say that this view of the atonement seems to be in conflict with Christ's high priestly prayer in John 17, and that it in effect wastes the blood of Christ on those whom God has not elected. Are you, then, in response to this charge, separating the atonement and the Effectual Call to salvation? In essence, is your position that while Christ's atonement has the power to save all humanity, it does not actually atone for the sins of those who do not believe (sufficiency vs. efficiency, I suppose)?

      I apologize if this sounds redundant with your post and your reply, but this portion of Calvinism (or at least the Calvinism I was taught in high school) is one I've always had trouble reconciling with Scriptures like 1 John 2:2 and 1 Timothy 2:3-5.

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  10. CJ,

    Thank you for your follow up questions. The answers are somewhat complex, but here goes.

    My belief, as a moderate Calvinist (understanding, of course, that not all Calvinists -- or even all moderates -- will agree with everything I am about to say), is that Christ atoned for everyone's sin in the sense that He atoned for sin ***in general***, paying a ransom price so infinite that any sinner can potentially be saved by it. Thus, forgiveness is extended to all (though not received by all), the Gospel is offered to all (though not believed by all), and the words "Christ died for your sins" can truly be proclaimed to all (though not all believe and receive the benefit). This general sense of Christ's dying for everyone is not ineffectual, but has several purposes. First, it grounds the free offer of the Gospel as an actual offer of God's self-sacrificing mercy toward sinners. Second, it declares to the reprobate that their rejection of God is primarily their own choice, and not a lack of God providing for their possible salvation. Third, it magnifies the extravagant love of God (because of the value of what was offered) and the infinite wretchedness of sin (in rejecting such a precious treasure). Fourth, it reasonably accounts for common grace and the patience by which God bears with sinners (both the reprobate and the elect prior to their conversion). Other reasons could be added, but these are critical in my thought process.

    Much of the discussion of the extent of the atonement boils down to the notion of what is construed as possible, and why. It seems to me that high and hyper Calvinists sometimes confuse what is decreed with what is practically possible, and then apply this confused thinking to the subject of the atonement. They say it was never technically "possible" for the reprobate to be saved because they were never elected. There is a sense in which this is true, because what is not predestined won't actually happen. However, the lack of election or predestination or a thing being decreed does not render it "impossible" by the normal definition of a possibility.

    Here is an illustration of what I mean: a man is on the 49th floor of a tall building. He waits several minutes for the elevator to arrive, and grows impatient. The stairs are nearby, and he momentarily considers taking them. Then he decides not to and waits a few more minutes for the elevator. As soon as the man steps into the elevator, the cable snaps and he plunges to his death. Quite a sad story, but he understood the risks of stepping into an elevator.

    Now, we would say that this man's tragic death was decreed. If that is the case, was it ***possible*** for him to have taken the stairs? Certainly it was possible! It was possible in the sense that there were stairs, and his hands were capable of opening the door leading to them, and his legs were capable of carrying him safely down all 49 flights. It was possible in the sense that he actually saw the stairs and actually considered taking them. It was possible in the sense that hundreds of other people successfully took the stairs to the ground level after he died. It being decreed that the man should die in the elevator shaft did not make the stairs non-existent! In fact, the man had actually used the stairs to climb up to the 49th floor because the elevator was being repaired when he arrived. He could not have gotten to the 49th floor in the first place if the stairs had not been available to him.

    To be continued . . .

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    1. Similarly, Christ has provided a real way of escape for the reprobate. Christ's atonement has already prevented the reprobate's instantaneous destruction time and time again. The fact that the reprobate does not choose to avail himself of the atonement's provision does not render it "impossible" for him to do so. The sacrifice of Christ's blood is there, ready and able to be applied to the reprobate. The atonement has been made, and it is sufficient and available. God's decree of election (or the lack thereof) does not in any sense take this provision away.

      To understand the sufficiency of the atonement, one must grasp the importance of what is "possible" versus what is "decreed." Please don't read too far into the illustration, as all illustrations have their limits. The point of this one is simply to show the genuine reality of real possibilities in our daily human experience -- and not in spite of the decree, but working purposefully within the scope of what is decreed.

      On the other hand, there is a real sense in which Christ atoned only for the sins of the elect. For one thing, only the elect have been decreed to be ultimately saved by His death. This is the saving purpose of God from eternity past, and there is no denying it. But there can also be no denying the infinite sufficiency of the provision offered to the non-elect, the genuine possibility of conversion through it, and the actual availability of the Good News that is proclaimed.

      As far as the idea of "wasting" Christ's blood is concerned, it is evident that there are purposes other than achieving the final salvation of the elect, which may be applied even to the reprobate, as described above. Also, the whole idea of "wasting" does not fit with the concept of an infinite sufficiency because what is infinite cannot be made more or less. It just is. It's not as if Christ offered a limited quantity of atoning sacrifice and a little more of it gets used up each time a person is saved. Some approaches to limited atonement would seem to reduce Christ's sacrifice to a mere "quantity" of divine power, as opposed to the QUALITY of God's mercy and justice in dynamic action and on full display.

      I hope this meandering stream of thought is helpful. Beyond that, I hope it is at least possible for it to be helpful. :)

      Blessings
      Derek

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  11. Hi Derek,
    I have had trouble with this issue in the past. This article and others in this blog has helped clear up some of the issues. However, I have been struggling with a certain article from a famous blog. What are your thoughts on this article. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2007/01/05/why-limited-and-unlimited-atonement-debates-miss-the-point/

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  12. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comment. The linked article is interesting. On the positive side, what is said about I Tim. 4:10 is excellent, and beyond this a number of useful points are made. On the less positive side, the article seems too short and makes sweeping statements without exploring or explaining their implications.

    I do agree, though, that debates over limited atonement can easily miss the point. Trevin seems to say that they miss the point because we begin with an individualized perspective rather than a global-eschatological perspective. This seems strange, given the fact that Calvinists believe in the election of a certain and irrevocable number of individuals who will be the ultimate benefactors of Christ's saving work. I tend to think these debates miss the point because we fail to recognize or appreciate that we are working on solving the ULTIMATE CONUNDRUM when we are considering the cross and its effects.

    In other words, we are trying too hard to solve too much so that we can state with excessive certainty things that are not necessarily revealed with specificity in Scripture. What if we focused more on the things revealed -- the undeniable and indisputable revelation of Christ's person and work? That He is the only Savior, that He reveals God's love to the world, that He is the only hope of lost humanity, that He is the subject of our Gospel and the message we proclaim? That His saving work truly and certainly saves all who believe? That He will ultimately restore creation and very cosmos through the power and grace that were unleashed at the cross?

    Perhaps this is what Trevin was getting at in his article. I wish he had said more.

    Blessings,
    Derek

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Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.

Thanks!
Mgmt.