Mark Driscoll set off a controversy among some of the reformed, whom he called, ”Young, nitpicking, theologically geeky, Calvinist crazy-makers who are like a rock in my shoe” when he preached his modified Calvinist position on the death of Christ which he calls “The unlimited, limited atonement.” Click to hear the sermon http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/christ-on-the-cross/unlimited-limited-atonement.
Did Christ die for all people (unlimited atonement) or just believers, i.e., the elect (limited atonement)? Or was Christ’s atonement a unlimited, limited atonement?
There Are At Least Four Different Views
1. Universalism is the belief that all people eventually will go to heaven.
Why is this view wrong? The following references refute this view (Lk.16; Rev. 20:11).
Limited atonement people, however, accuse unlimited atonement people of Universalism. Limited atonement people quote Mt. 20:28 as proof. “For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and give his life a ransom for many.”
No man pays a ransom without the certainty of the deliverance of those for whom it is paid. It is not a ransom unless it actually redeems. And an offering is not sacrifice unless it actually expiates and propitiates. The effect of a ransom and sacrifice may indeed be conditional, but the occurrence of the condition will be rendered certain before the costly sacrifice is offered (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952, vol. 2 p. 548).
Dr. Bowman agrees that “ransom” in Mt. 20:28 with the preposition anti (in exchange for) used with ransom is limited to believers.
Soteriologicaly, the “many” (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45) would be limited to only those set free by the purchase price . . . Therefore, this preposition anti is not necessarily a proof for universal provision as it views those only who are actually purchased. However, it does not exclude the fact that Christ’s death was in behalf of (or, for the benefit of ) others as will be discussed later (Dr. Bowman, A Case for Unlimited Atonement, p.25).
Dr. Bowman went on to discuss the preposition “huper” which does have a universal provision meaning as in 1 Tim. 2:6 where Paul said that Christ gave himself a ransom “for all men” (antilutron huper panton).
Paul combines the two words and uses the preposition huper which carries the idea of substitution as well as the connotation of benefit. Five-point Calvinists limit the panton (“all”) to a relative sense of all races (Jews and Gentiles) or to all kinds of men. But it is obvious that Paul is using anthropos in a generic sense as referring to mankind not classes or races. Compare the “all men” (vss. 2, 4) and “men” (v. 5) with the tous andras of verse 8. The panton modifies the noun (“men”). It would be rather unnecessary and redundant to say that God desires that all classes of men be saved (v.4) and that Christ is a mediator between God and all races or kinds of men (v.5). This is unnecessary as God’s decree is not necessarily concerned with races but with individuals (Dr. Bowman, pages 27, 28).
Here is how Millard Erickson answers this view:
Equally compelling is 1 Timothy 2:6, where Paul says that Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all.” This is to be compared with the original statement in Matthew 20:28, where Jesus had said that the Son of man came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” In 1 Timothy, Paul makes a significant advance upon the words of Jesus. “His life” (tan psuchan autou) becomes “himself” (haeuton); the word is “ransom” (lutron) appears in compound form (antilutron). But most significantly here, “for many” (anti pollon) becomes “for all” (huper panton). When Paul wrote, the words of the tradition (i.e., as they appear in Matthew) may well have been familiar to him. It is almost as if he made a deliberate point of emphasizing that the ransom was universal in its purpose (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker, pages 830, 831).
These comments by Dr. Bowman and Erickson also refute the Five-point Calvinist’s definition of “all” meaning “all without distinction” verses the biblical definition of “all” which is “all without exception” in passages like 1 Tim. 2:1-6.
2. Arminianism is the belief that Christ died for all.
In 1609, the Five Arminian Articles or the Remonstrance were written by the followers of Jacob Arminius “in opposition to those parts of the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism which stressed what came to be known as the five points of Calvinism, which were later set forth at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) (Robert Lightner, The Death Christ Died, Des Plaines: Regular Baptist Press, 1967, p.36).
The Five Points of Arminianism
I. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.
II. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved.
III. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed.
IV. This grace may be resisted.
V. Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation. (Roger Nicole, “Arminianism,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, ed. Everett F. Harrison, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960, p. 64).
Article II of the Five Arminian articles elaborates the meaning of Christ’s death. Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the work of the Gospel of John 3:16 (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, III New York: Harper and Son Publishers, 1919).
Robert Lightner insightfully informs as to the true meaning of this apparently harmless statement and the importance of the word “obtained.”
The crucial point of this statement regarding the purpose and extent of the atonement centers in the word “obtained.” This is precisely the Arminian view, not only that Christ’s death provided salvation for all but that His death obtained it for all. This explains, of course, why Arminianism believes each member of Adam’s race possesses sufficient grace to be saved . . . this strikes at the very heart of that great Biblical doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity means that man possesses nothing nor can he do anything to merit favor before God . . . This means in reality that the decision to believe or not to believe is quite unrelated to the election purposes of God or the effectual working of the Holy Spirit but rests ultimately and entirely with the individual (The Death Christ Died, pages 37-40).
The sufficient grace of Arminianism is in contrast to efficacious grace of God or the effective calling of the Holy Spirit referred to by Ryrie in chapter 56 in Basic Theology.
3. Limited Atonement is the belief that Christ died to secure the salvation of the elect.
The views of the Arminians set forth in the Remonstrance of 1610 were examined and rejected as heretical at a national Synod in Dort, meeting from 1618 to November 13, 1619. Not only did the Synod reject the Remonstrance position but it also set out to present the true Calvinistic teaching in regard to the five matters called into question.
This they accomplished by stating what we know today as the “five points of Calvinism.” The term Calvinism was derived from the great reformer John Calvin (1509-1564), who along with many others expounded these views.
The “five points of Calvinism” presented at the Synod are as follows: (1) total depravity; (2) unconditional election; (3) limited atonement, or particular redemption; (4) irresistible grace, or the efficacious call of the Spirit; and (5) perseverance of the saints or eternal security (Robert Lightner, The Death Christ Died, Des Plaines: Regular Baptist Press, 1967, p. 40).
What is ironic about the Calvinistic view of limited atonement is that Calvin did not hold to it. Here is a quote from Calvin’s commentary on Galatians: “God commends to us the solution of all men without exception, even as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world.” Paul Hartog has written a new book on Calvin’s view of atonement where he documents Calvin’s view. Click here for a PDF http://www.baptistbulletin.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/a-word-for-the-world.pdf
Concerning the limited atonement view that Christ died to secure the salvation of the elect Dr. Bowman comments:
This is most certainly correct but this writer feels that such is too narrow to encompass the obvious Scriptural data concerning the provision that has been made for all men. Assuming this to be correct for sake of argument then the provisionary nature of Christ’s death is also an aspect of the divine decree (Bowman, A Case for Unlimited Atonement, p. 5).
Most limited atonement advocates believe in some form of “double predestination.” “I say, with Augustine, that the Lord created those who, as he certainly foreknew were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed” (Calvin, Christian Institutes, 2:23).
The term “double predestination” itself is often used in a misleading and ambiguous fashion. Some use it to mean nothing more that the view that the eternal destiny of both elect and reprobate is settled by the eternal decree of God. In that sense of the term, all genuine Calvinists hold to “double predestination”—and the fact that the destiny of the reprobate is eternally settle is clearly a biblical doctrine (cf. 1 Peter 2:8; Romans 9:22; Jude 4) (Phillip Johnson, Notes on Supralapsarianism & Infralapsarianism, www.spurgeon.org/-phil/articles/sup_infr.htm,p.1)
Condemnation in Scripture is based on the sinner’s actions of rejection, not God’s reprobation (2nd Thess. 1:8).
Often the phrase, the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect, is use by unlimited redemptionist, but incorrectly used as Robert Lightner states.
Though those among Calvinists who accept limited atonement thus confine the extent of the atonement to the elect, it should not be thought that they limit the sufficiency or value of Christ’s death. This they do not do. The usual statement coming from them is to the effect that the death of Christ was sufficient for all men but efficient only for the elect. This statement is intended by limited redemptionists to satisfy those who object to their limited view. But does it really answer the difficulties raised by the scriptural passages which teach the universality of the atonement? What they really mean when they say Christ’s death was sufficient for all is that His blood was of such infinite value that no more could have been required of the Father had He intended the Son’s death to extend to all men (Lightner, p.43).
1. Five point Limited Atonement sees the atonement as unlimited in the value of the atonement as just presented by Lightner. This view has the provision of Christ’s atonement only for the elect.
2. Driscoll’s Unlimited/limited Atonement is unlimited in the benefit of the atonement. The benefit of the atonement is similar to Common Grace which some of the Reformed men have accused him of teaching.
3. Unlimited Atonement sees the atonement as unlimited in provision for all. Driscoll never uses the word provision in his unlimited view and therefore I see his view as not fully Biblical. Only Unlimited Atonement has provision for all not just the elect.
4. Unlimited Atonement is the belief that the death of Christ accomplished two purposes: He provided the basis for the salvation of all people and He secured the salvation of believers.
The position is also referred to sometimes as Amyraldianism or three or four-point Calvinism.
In France the controversy continued largely around Moise Amyraut (Moses Amyraldus) who taught at the Academy of Saumur and John Cameron who also taught for a short time at the same school. Both men did not believe in limited atonement. Amyraut became the theological father of four-point Calvinism . . . Such men as Charles C. Ryrie and John Walvoord could be classified as four-point Calvinists (Bowman, A Case for Unlimited Atonement, pages 2 and 5).
“The Scriptures represents the atonement as having been made for all men, and as sufficient for the salvation of all. Not the atonement therefore is limited, but the application of the atonement through the work of the Holy Spirit” (A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 771).
“Christ most certainly died to secure the salvation of those who believe and it is our conviction that the Bible teaches that Christ died to provide a basis of salvation for all men” (Lightner, p. 46).
A. Biblical references that relate the atonement to believers only.
All five-point Calvinists inevitably foster to some degree a limitation upon kosmos references pertaining to the soteriological import. This limitation is usually shown by pointing out references (such as Luke 2:1; Jn. 1:10; 12:29; Acts 11:28; 19:27; 24:5; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6; Rev. 13:3, etc.) that cannot mean everyone within the world. Such limited redemptionists as Symington, Pink, Berkhof, and Shedd may be consulted. It must be conceded that such references as above, and others, could have such a limitation placed upon them (Bowman, p.30).
Hodge is an example of this reasoning: “Every assertion, therefore that Christ died for a people, is a denial of the doctrine that He died equally for all” (Charles Hodge, p. 549).
These passages do not state that Christ only died for believers. Because Christ died for the whole, He also died for a specific part. But to say that Christ only died for believers contradicts the universal passages. Isaiah 53:5 says that Christ died for Israel: “He was wounded for our transgression.” Does this mean that only Jews can be saved? Isaiah 53:6 says Israel was sinful: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Is total depravity limited to Jews? Matthew 1:21 says that “Christ shall save his people from their sins.” Would limited redemptionists say that Gentiles cannot be saved because of this verse? In Galatians 2:20, Paul limited the death of Christ to himself: “The Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Does this mean that Christ only died for Paul and none other because of the limitations of Galatians. 2:20?
B. There are verses that teach Christ died for all people.
Peter in 2 Peter 2:1 teaches that the Lord died for all people, even those who do not get saved, and thus, false teachers. Both Dr. Bowman and Charles Ryrie give extended explanations of this verse. Both Dr. Bowman and Ryrie state that limited redemptionists explain that this verse does say that the Lord “bought” the false teachers, but that this verse is what the false teachers claimed and Peter only recorded their denial. One example is Louis Berkhof.
The most plausible explanation of these passages is that given by Smeaton, as the interpretation of Piscator and of the Dutch annotations, namely, “that these false teachers are described according to their own profession and the judgment of charity. They gave themselves out as redeemed men, and were so accounted in the judgment of the Church while they abode in her communion? (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941, p. 397).
However, the normal sense of language has Peter stating the fact that these false teachers denied the Lord who paid for their sins on the cross, thus stressing the depth of their apostasy.
I like the way Robert Lightner ends his book The Death He Died: A Case for Unlimited Atonement on page 148 with a proper conclusion and moment of worship of Christ our Savior, who died in our place, and the whole world.
The death Christ was a death in the place of all men—a death which accomplished a work that completely satisfied God the Father. It was a death which provided life for every member of Adam’s lost race who has ever lived or ever shall live—a death that made it possible for the Father to be just and at the same time the Justifier of any sinner who does nothing more that receive Christ as personal Savior.