Tuesday 6 September 2011

Atonement (Part 2)

This is the second post which handles some questions regarding the atonement. Following discussion with a fellow-minister, I have called this post 'atonement' and not 'limited atonement' because there is only one truth on the atonement from the scriptures. Let us look further to see what that the Bible's teaching is.

There are three main systems concerning the atonement: 1. Universalism which teaches that all mankind will be saved in the end. 2. Arminianism which holds a type of self-salvation and we may say that it is a halfway house between Pelagius and Augustine. 3. Calvinism which declares that God alone is the author of salvation from beginning to end.
But how do we judge these different systems? The answer has to be the scriptures, not what we feel to be right or what we have been traditionally taught. Every generation needs to return to first principles to understand why we believe certain things.

I intend to deal with the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism regarding salvation and the atonement here, but universalism is gaining some ground, surprisingly, among some evangelicals. However, the Bible condemns this position outright and therefore it must be pseudo-evangelicals who have completely lost their bearings and their grip on scripture to foster such false notions of God and the truth. All will not be saved, but sinners and law-breakers will spend eternity under the wrath of God. Listen to the teaching of the Lord Jesus:

'Then he will say to those on his left [the goats] 'Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" ' Matthew 25: 41. But, for now, let us contrast the two systems of Arminianism and Calvinism.

The Five Points of Arminianism

1. Free will or human ability
2. Conditional election
3. Universal redemption or a general atonement
4. The Holy Spirit can be effectually resisted
5. Christians can fall from grace and lose their salvation

Arminianism in all its various forms, one which is probably mainstream today, teaches that God has provided salvation through Christ's death for 'all' but we have to choose Jesus in order to be born-again, to be saved. The final deciding factor in salvation is the individual person who chooses Christ by their free will. This in effect leaves God standing on the sidelines, seeing who will be saved but not effectually ordering the events of life. For me personally this is a step towards Atheism. Atheism believes that life is ordered by random events without purpose and while Arminianism does not explicitly teach this, it is a step in that direction. Over many years I have looked at the subject from every angle, having once held Arminian views myself, in ignorance, and my firm conclusion is that the Bible firmly repudiates the Arminian system.

The Five Points of Calvinism

1.Total Depravity or Total Inability
2. Unconditional election
3. Particular redemption or limited atonement
4. The efficacious call of the Spirit or irresistible grace
5. The perseverance of the saints

This was the discussion of the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-19 and they condemned Arminianism as teaching that is false. Calvinism teaches that man by his fall is dead in in sin and therefore they are incapable of responding to God, unless the Lord by his free grace makes them willing by regenerating that person. Being made alive and being raised from the dead spiritually is God's act of mercy. It is not man's will that chooses but God's will and when God saves, he saves eternally on the basis of the atoning death of his son who redeemed those whom God the Father has chosen.

Here is some homework for those who want answers from the Bible to compare these two systems. Read John 6: 22-71, 10:1-30; Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:1-10; Romans 9: 6-24. Calvinism is taught in the whole Bible and it is not a system based on a few proof texts. Often the big 3 proof texts for Arminians are: John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. Compare the Arminian proof texts with the passages I have given you for Calvinism and let us compare scripture with scripture.

Here are two concluding verses for this blog post, ones which defend a calvinistic view of the atonement:

John 10:11 'Jesus said 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep'. Note it is for the sheep not sheep and goats!

Ephesians 5: 25 'Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her'.

Ps A good book is Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.


Stephen said...

Thanks, Kevin, for starting this series.

Kevin Bidwell said...


I think your questions are a crucial catalyst to address the subject of the precious atonement of our Lord. I am not sure that I will actually satisfy the nuanced question that you asked but my thoughts are along the line of 'De Dortdse Regels' is that the atonement is of infinite value but it is efficacious only for the elect. However our offer of the gospel should be to all, provided it is anchored in the command to repent and believe the gospel (mark 1:15).

Does that help you?
Kevin B

Stephen said...

Hi Kevin,

I agree it's a
good idea to address the whole picture on atonement, rather than focus on my perhaps academic question.

I fully endorse the position of Dordt and practical implications that you summarize, but can't help wonder whether its popular reduction to TULIP has been unfortunate (the infinite value then gets left out). I have heard it said that there are differing understandings in our Reformed tradition, some readily affirming an infinite sufficicency of the atonement for all, others preferring to see this sufficiency as hypothetical (perhaps because of an assumed commercial understanding of the atonement). My own position would be the former.

Have you read "The Atonement Controversy in Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841" by Owen Thomas? I found this very interesting. I came away convinced that two truths need to be held onto (and we): the infinite sufficiency of Christ's atonement, but also the intent of this atonement to purchase a particular people.

Thanks again,