Apologetics · Calvinism

Theological Consistency In the Atonement Debate

Of all the positions set forth by those who embrace the doctrines of grace, perhaps none is more objectionable to a devout Arminian than the concept of a definite redemption. More time, more emotion, and more energy is spent trying to discredit the biblical idea that Christ specifically came only to save “His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21) than any other position.

In discussing this issue with individuals, more than one person has been surprised when I pointed out to him or her that he or she too limits the redemptive work of Christ at Calvary. The position of the Arminian initially postulates that Christ died to save all humanity without exclusion from all their sins. After all, John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

When asked why all people are not then saved, the Arminian will immediately respond, “Because of unbelief!” Some Arminians will argue that unbelief is the unpardonable sin of Mark 3:28–29. “Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”

Unfortunately for the Arminian, other questions arise. “Is unbelief not a sin?” And, “If Christ died to save all men from all their sins, then why are not all men saved?” Again, the answer comes: “Because of unbelief! Not all people are saved, because individuals reject the offer of Christ to be saved! They blaspheme the Holy Spirit by rejecting the gospel.”

But then one could rightly respond: “Is not unbelief the greatest of all sins? And if Christ died for all sins of all men then He must have died for the sin of unbelief too. On what basis is anyone condemned?”

It is at this precise moment that some Arminians will see their dilemma. They too are found limiting the extent of the atonement. Their position becomes this: Christ died for all sins of all mankind except the sin of unbelief. That is the one sin for which Christ did not die.

While the Arminian will sometimes ridicule the position of a definite redemption and vigorously oppose the teaching with great zeal, the truth of the matter is the Arminian too limits the atoning work of Christ at Calvary. So in one sense, it could be argued both Calvinists and Arminians believe in a “limited atonement”—though each would qualify that term differently.

I understand the concerns of the Arminians when they speak out against the doctrines of grace. They want to protect the character of God and prevent any charge of Him being unloving, unkind, or unwilling to save anyone. They do not want to discourage evangelism or soul-winning activity. They do not want to put up a barrier to any sinner and discourage any soul from coming to Christ. They do not want to take away gospel hope—and neither do I.

What I do want is more intellectual theological honesty and consistency when discussing the issue of the death of Christ and those for whom He died. Fortunately, all Christians can come together to affirm that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13). No one who has ever called upon the name of Jesus for salvation has been refused.

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