Part 1 of 2
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) - The issue of the "extent of the atonement" answers the question "For whose sins did Christ die?" There are only two options: 1) for the elect alone ("limited atonement" also called "definite atonement," or "particular redemption") or 2) for all of humanity.
Importantly, arguing for unlimited atonement and against limited atonement does not require quoting a single Arminian or non-Calvinist. It is a common misconception that all Calvinists affirm limited atonement. But even John Calvin rejected limited atonement, and Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards and Andrew Fuller are just a few of history's well-known Calvinists who likewise rejected this position.
All of the earliest reformers, including Calvin, held to a form of universal atonement -- not universal salvation, but that Christ's shed blood paid the price for all men's sins so the possibility of atonement was unlimited. The five-point Calvinist's doctrinal position of limited atonement was not developed until the second and third generation of reformers, beginning primarily with Beza.
Controversy over introduction of this concept into Reformed beliefs grew to such an extent that ambiguous language on the subject was left in the final draft of the Canons of Dort (1618–1619) so as to allow those among the delegates who rejected limited atonement to sign the final document.
Even the Westminster Assembly (1643–1649) included delegates who rejected limited atonement, and the Puritans in the 17th and 18th centuries included distinguished leaders who preached and wrote against it. For example, John Bunyan declared: "Christ died for all.... For the offer of the gospel cannot with God's allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel, nor grace to be extended."
There are three key sets of texts in the New Testament that affirm unlimited atonement:
* the "all" texts,
* the "world" texts, and
* the "many" texts.
There also are three sets of texts that state Jesus died for His:
* "sheep," and
How are we to reconcile the universal texts with the limited ones?
The high-Calvinist wrongly interprets the universal texts in light of the limited texts. Non-Calvinists and moderate Calvinists rightly interpret the limited texts as a subset of the universal texts.
Some Calvinists argue that biblical authors believed in limited atonement because they made statements affirming Christ died for the Church, even though biblical writers do not say that Christ died only for the Church or that He did not die for the non-elect.
There is no linguistic or exegetical or theological ground for reducing the meaning of "world" to "the elect" in such passages as John 3:16. John Owen made John 3:16 read "God so loved those he chose out of the world," which changes completely the sense of the verse and turns it into something opposite of its intended meaning. But to make the meaning of "world" here "the elect" is to make not only a linguistic mistake but also a logical mistake of category confusion.
-Part 1 of 2, by Dr. David L. Allen, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's school of theology; swbts.edu
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, November 9, AD 2010.
Limited or Universal Atonement by Dr. David L. Allen; part 2