Thursday, April 13, 2006

Limited Atonement, Final

Welcome back! I'm feeling good since I just took a test and feel I did well, so tonight I will attempt to finish our series on Limited Atonement. Tonight we will deal with the implications, my view, and conclude the doctrine.


Now, there are several implications that limited atonement brings, but none more profound than this:
Limited atonement must drive the believer into weeping, grief, sorrow, and prayer for the lost.
Just in case you think you didn't read that right, I'll say it again: Limited atonement must drive the believer into weeping, grief, sorrow, and prayer for the lost. Think about this for a moment. In fact, let's use a very extreme, though inaccurate, example to drive home my point. If you had an entire school full of children, and armed terrorists came in and told you that because their comrade died, they were only going to allow specific children to live, and that those children were predetermined by them, would you not be driven to grief for the children who would die? Not to say God is an armed terrorist, but hopefully you see the point. Limited atonement teaches that because of Christ's death, only certain people chosen by God from before the foundation of the world are going to be allowed into heaven, and that by virtue of the death of Christ securing their entry. Couple this with the indisputable fact that none of us here on earth know who those people are. This means that every lost person is consigned to hell. Even your unsaved children. Limited atonement absolutely MUST give us a heart for the lost. Which leads to the second implication:
Limited atonement must drive the believer to evangelize.
If limited atonement gives us a heart for lost people, the obvious corollary is that we must get off our behinds and start witnessing to the lost! We must preach the gospel. We must witness to our family and friends. We must witness to our neighbors and even people we don't know from Adam. Think about this for another moment. If there are a limited number that Jesus has purchased with His blood, and we have no idea who they are, that means failure to evangelize has dire, dire, dire consequences. Do we want to be responsible for disobedience of the Great Commission? Don't you realize that our witness is the means by which the elect are saved? As it is said in Romans 10:13-17 --
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (emphasis added)
So now we can understand clearly that none of the elect will be saved unless we witness to them in some way.

My View

At the current time, I am not a "full" believer in limited atonement. I am not, as yet, fully convinced that Christ only died for the elect. But I am fully convinced (and have been for quite some time) that the application of the atonement is to the elect only. It is my view that there is a distinction to be made between the extent of the atonement and the application of the atonement. I think it is fallacious to say that "if Christ died for all men, then all men will be saved." This argument, in my mind, is a disservice to God's sovereignty. If God really is sovereign, then He can do whatever the heck He wants, whether we think it's logical or not. Some may say "it makes God unjust to withhold the benefit from those Christ died for, therefore Christ could only have died for the elect." That's malarkey and does the exact thing proponents of unlimited atonement are accused of, namely limiting God's sovereignty. It says God couldn't have done it that way, when yes, He could have. I think it is also fallacious to say "all" means "the elect" in some cases. This is because many of the "all" or "us all" passages were written specifically to believers, and as such we cannot (as I stated in Part 2) infer the general from the specific in these passages. Proponents of limited atonement would be better served to use the distinctively general passages I listed in Part 2. I won't get into the whole "meaning of 'world'" debate because I'm coming to think it's a silly and wrongheaded debate. Suffice it to say that I find the Greek for "world" to refer to mankind in general in the places debated, with modification brought about by either the specific nature of the passages or due to being interpreted in light of general passages. I could and probably should go a little deeper, but that would require a post of its own. I can summarize my view of limited atonement as follows: The atonement of Christ is sufficient to pay for the sins of the entire world. However, the atonement is effective only for those elect chosen by God from before the foundations of the world. This is a position that has been much attacked by those holding the "full" view of limited atonement. I've been told that my view is the "majority Calvinist" position as well. Whether this is true or not I do not know, as I am still studying limited atonement as my personal project. I will say that, as I have no desire to become a "theological curmudgeon," I am very open to the possibility that I am wrong on this issue. It is not a hill on which I will die. But I am certain that any change will be because the Holy Spirit has so convinced me of its truthfulness. If limited atonement, in its "fuller" sense, is true, then the Spirit has just not yet seen fit to convince me.


I have defined limited atonement as the amends for the sin of specific humans made by the redemptive life and death of Jesus that brings about reconciliation between God and those specific humans. There is ample biblical support for this argument. The support is convincing for many, and indeed is all but convincing for me, myself. But I feel that there is other biblical evidence to warrant a limitation in application rather than extent. So yes, I believe in a "limited" atonement, just not the fuller understanding. But nevertheless, limited atonement should never be characterized as "sapping evangelism from our churches." What a stupid, ignorant, and curmudgeonly thing to believe! Limited atonement, in its fullest form, is one of the greatest spurs to evangelism the Christian can have. Only so many have been redeemed, and we must get out there and get them! Pray that God will give you a heart for the lost, for only so many will be redeemed, no matter which form of limitation you ascribe to!


Blogger Tom said...

Hi Stephen, thanks for your thoughtful and biblical analysis of "limited atonement." You seem to fall where James Boyce and Andrew Fuller fell with regard to the atonement, arguing that Christ's death actually paid for the sins of the world, but is only applied to the elect. My question for you is how you can separate these two things, such that one does not follow from the other: accomplishment and application.

That is, if Christ actually satisfied God's wrath for the sins of every person who has ever lived, then how can anyone go to hell to satisfy God's wrath for those sins again (Owen's Syllogism)? Or, if Christ actually and truly satisfied God's wrath for the sins of every person who has ever lived, then why isn't God obligated by His own holy justice to declare "not guilty" everyone whose sins have already been paid for, justifying them, and thus giving them a title to eternal life? May a just God really declare guilty any of those whose sins have been propitiated and expiated?

Further on your view, do you believe that Christ actually paid for every sin of every person in the whole world?

Please understand that these are honest question.

4/17/2006 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen Newell said...

Tom, at this time I am not exactly sure where I am falling on your question. About a month or even as little as 2 weeks ago I would have said yes in answer. But at this time I am not sure. I think I am moving away from an understanding of "sufficient for all" that would hold payment for sin for the non-elect.

I think the prudent course would be for me to wait until Dr. Bruce Ware articulates his view in class next week. His view in many respects has been similar to mine, so I'd like to hear how he puts it together before I start to seriously chew on the movement I am sensing in my view. In the meantime, I'd welcome any thoughts you have to share with me before Dr. Ware lectures next week.

And that goes for the rest of you reading this blog too! ;-)

4/19/2006 06:30:00 AM  

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