I recently participated reluctantly in a small debate on a fundamentalist website about Calvinism. Sadly, I spent most of my effort attempting to undue the many fallacious and shallow strawman arguments the author was putting forward in his defense of his own personal Weslyianism (which he called ‘biblicism’).
In this post I’d like to lay out a few of the different views on the atonement within modern fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity and summarize why I think the Calvinist view is best.
A few important remarks first (summarized from Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology text):
- The debate does not concern the nature of the atonement. The atonement is a sacrifice which makes satisfaction for sin. This is agreed upon by all conservative Bible students
- The question does not concern the value of Christ’s atonement. Both Calvinists and proponents of a general atonement admit the infinite value of Christ’s shed blood (the only exception are some groups of hyper-calvinists and a small group of hyper-dispensationalists who have mystical views of Christ’s literal blood). If it were possible for God to elect 10,000 additional souls, no single additional drop of Christ’s blood would need to be shed. His sacrifice is of sufficient value to atone the sins of all mankind if that were to please God. Augustine said “sufficient for all; efficient for the elect”.
- The question doesn’t concern who benefits from the atonement of Christ. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that Christ’s atonement only ‘savingly’ benefits those who believe. Only universalists (outside the scope of this debate) would argue that Christ’s atonement ‘savingly’ benefits all men. So, if the atonement does not save all men, it is limited in some way. Was it limited by God’s intent and design – intending that for those whom He chose before time, He would provide everything necessary for their justification? Or, is it limited by man? Did God ‘intend’ to save some or to make all men ‘savable’?
With the question framed, future posts will focus on differing views concerning the ‘intent’ of the atonement and Biblical evidence for the particularist view.
Click the link to see older posts regarding Christ’s Atonement;
[Calvinists] are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will go back to the old statement—Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say “No;” you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it. (CH Spurgeon)