For and Against Calvinism 10

The question at hand is this: Did Christ die for every human being and make atonement for every human being, or did Christ die effectively only for the elect? Strong Calvinists, or high Calvinists, contend Christ died only for the elect (particular redemption, limited atonement) while Arminians believe Christ died for all but only those who repent and believe have that atonement applied to them.

As you may know, we are doing this series on Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism and Michael Horton’s For Calvinism. Olson contends limited atonement is not supportable from Scripture, is out of sync with the Great Tradition of the Church (no one believed this among the fathers, before Augustine), and takes exegetical ingenuity to make NT texts teach this. Roger Olson says it this way: “the high Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement is confusing at best and blatantly self-contradictory and unscriptural at worst” (145).

Calvinism believes the death of Christ actually redeemed while Arminians contend it provided salvation but that redemption is only applied if one believes. The big nuance for Calvinists is this: the death of Christ was sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect. Olson contends there is virtually no difference between “sufficient for all” and the typical Christian view that Christ died for all. Since some Calvinists accuse others of believing necessarily of universalism if they believe Christ died for all (since that death actually saved), Olson argues that Calvinists ought to be universalists since they believe the death of Christ is actually sufficient for all. [Packer unfortunately says Arminians save themselves since they believe Christ’s death potentially saves but only saves those who believe.]

Olson points out that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement and, in fact, often says Christ’s death expiated the sins of all humans. Olson admits what Calvin believed on this doesn’t matter that much; the issue is what the NT teaches.

Universal death does not necessitate universalism since both sides acknowledge the necessity of faith; high Calvinists have what I think is either a contradiction or an antinomy here: they can’t believe in the necessity of faith as a human act that “applies” atonement and that the death of Christ actually saves. So they affirm both. Olson affirms the potentiality and sufficiency of that death but that it doesn’t become effective until someone believes. In other words there is a difference between provision and application.

High Calvinists need to have more integrity when it comes to preaching salvation: if they believe in limited atonement they need to say either “if you are elect you can respond” or not say that God loves you and died for your sins.

Olson: “limited/particular atonement is aberrant church teaching” (154).

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  • gingoro

    As a moderate calvinist I would phrase limited atonement as:

    the death of Christ was of infinite worth and thus is sufficient for all but efficient only for the those who persevere to the end and are the elect.
    Dave W

  • RJS

    Every time God interacts with humans in the pages of scripture – every single time as far as I can tell – it is with a call to obedience, consequences for disobedience, and an assumption that the people can obey, believe and follow, and can disobey and fall away. This is true from the second chapter of Genesis (maybe even the first chapter of Genesis) through the prophets, the gospels, and Acts. It is implicit, it seems to me, in every last thing Paul, Peter, James, and John write.

    Limited atonement, proposed because of a conviction of what the sovereignty of God must mean, and the (unfortunate) claim that anything else limits the glory of God by putting humans in the drivers seat, is just plain contrary to the grand sweep of scripture.

    Olson puts it rather bluntly – but the words God loves you and has a plan for your life ring rather sour when that plan is eternal punishment to further the Glory of God.

  • DRT

    Yet another example of the Calvinists taking something about god or something god and Jesus did and turn it around into something about them that makes them special.

    Jesus dies for all, to show that god accepts all, god forgives all, when we turn to god and accept the gift we are doing it only for our small self, the smallest of faith and turning does indeed help seal the deal for us. We acknowledge what Jesus did for everyone and then participate in it for us. We have no power, Jesus has all the power.

    But in Calvinism they make Jesus someone who singles them out, they as an individual is then the special one. That Jesus chooses them over others. Its all about them, not all about Jesus. The elect are special and have the power. No, Jesus should be the special one..

  • Alan K

    “And he is the atonement for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

    Seems pretty clear, does it not?

  • RJS


    That seems a rather unnecessarily harsh assessment.

  • “High Calvinists need to have more integrity when it comes to preaching salvation: if they believe in limited atonement they need to say either “if you are elect you can respond” or not say that God loves you and died for your sins.”

    Actually they can simply preach salvation like the apostles did. I don’t recall the apostles in scripture preaching to unbelievers as follows: “God loves you and died for your sins.”

    If anyone knows where they preached like this please let me know.

  • DRT,

    To assert what you have about the elect being *special* in and of themselves, clearly demonstrates you haven’t taken the time to actually understand, sympathetically, the Calvinist view.

    Why don’t you find out what Calvinist themselves say about being elect and what that says about Jesus and oneself. See if that even comes close to your characterization.

  • Robert Dunbar

    @Jorge: Jesus: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    Paul: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

    John: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9, 10)

  • gingoro

    As a moderate calvinist I can affirm all those verses enthusiastically. As usual, it depends on how one interprets them.
    Dave W

  • Olson says, “Calvinism believes the death of Christ actually redeemed while Arminians contend it provided salvation but that redemption is only applied if one believes.”

    Define, define, and define your terms. Olson is correct that Calvinists see ‘an effective’ atonement; that’s why they ‘particularize’ it. Olson contends Arminians believe Christ’s death “provided salvation,” but what does this mean? What did his death, his blood and his resurrection accomplish? It seems like Olson, and the Arminians, would have to say it provided ‘A PATH’ for faith should someone decide, but in and of itself, it accomplished nothing in so far as one’s sins are concerned. For accuracy and systematic presentation then (assuming Olson is not a universalist), Olson should say that Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, provided A PATH to salvation, i.e., belief in Christ, or that God provided THE OBJECT OF SALVATION, i.e., Christ Himself, for some future human response, i.e., faith But only in the loosest sense can an Arminian claim that God provided SALVATION ITSELF.

  • Robert,

    Those verses (which I do believe by the way) don’t address my question. I ask for verses which show the apostles preaching to unbelievers & declaring that God loves them & that Jesus died for them. If you notice the verses you quoted in Rm. 5 & 1 Jn. 4 are directed to believers not unbelievers..

    What I’m objecting to is this idea that when evangelizing we *must* tell people specifically that Christ died for & loves them. Now, I don’t object to this in a qualified sense (see Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God) but why is communicating this the make or break factor in genuine evangelism, especially when we find no apostles in the bible preaching this way to unbelievers?

  • DRT

    I hear the criticism of what I am saying from rjs and Jorge, but I stand behind it.

    What am I missing? Is it not true that the assertion, in the end, is that the people holding to this belief are inherently claiming that they are the ones who are privileged?

    As far as unnecessarily harsh, the harshness of the conclusion is the whole point of the argument. I am making the argument that the place it ends up is, at least to me, quite distasteful and that should give us an indication that the argument is wrong.

    I don’t want to make light of it, but it is the difference between cat and dog theology. Each one has a gracious master but the dog thinks the master is special because of all he does for him, but the cat thinks the cat is special for all the master has done for him.

    I science we have the cosmological principle ( )which is the working assumption that observers on Earth do not occupy an unusual or privileged location within the universe as a whole. I feel that the same sort of test should be applied to our conclusions in theology too. If our theology leads us to the conclusion that we, the thinkers of that theology, end up being somehow special relative to others we need to believe we have a problem.

    I just can’t buy the idea that somehow I am more special than many of the other people in the world.

  • The rub for me with an Arminian outlook is not one verse here or there, but an overall testimony to the OBJECTIVE EFFECTIVENESS of the atonement. For example, take 2 Cor 5:19 > “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” There are many syntactical issues here, and this is not the place for such nuance, but the context for this verse is the death of Christ on the cross. THERE God was reconciling “BY NOT COUNTING THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST THEM,” which is synonymous with FORGIVING. So “not counting” and “forgiving” are the same. God actually forgave; God actually reconciled.

  • The rub for me with a Tulipian Calvinistic outlook is the preponderance of data that makes THE WORLD the object of the atonement. For each verse the typical Calvinist can make a response that works ‘logically’, i.e., the world is the elect world, or the world is the gentiles, but contextually, several of those verses in a Tulipian framework seem ‘forced’ to me. Take 1 John 2:2 > “He [Christ] is the propitiation for OUR sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.”
    At issue here is the referent of OUR & NOT OURS ONLY, i.e., WHOLE WORLD. If John wrote these letters to churches all across Asia Minor, I doubt whether these churches were all Jewish, so that would seem to prevent a Jewish/gentile interpretation. And the present/future , i.e, the elect now and the future elect, seems quite forced. So the best option – contextually – is a believe/unbeliever division. Christ, then, is the propitiation for our (believers) sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (every single person past, present, and future).

  • Paul W


    I’m no Tulipian Calvinist (hat tip Nate) nor an apologist for them. But really?!?

    The Calvinist scheme doesn’t entail thinking of oneself as more special because of election at least not any more than an Arminian scheme entails that they must think that they are much better at making choices than other people. I think we can probably be somewhat more charitable in how we frame our judgements toward those with whom we disagree.

  • To me the point question in Calvinist-Arminian debate is the omniscience and omnipotence of God. The biblical fact is that some people are not saved, which is very very tragic. Arminians would say they are not saved because they do not choose Christ (the freewill thing), yet the problem is why God gives freewill to some people knowing all beforehand that they are going to misuse it, and go to hell because of that. This is no trivial joke. It would be better that God overrides their freewill (or not give them at all) and save them. (
    who would, in his right mind, give a sharp knife to his child, knowing that his child is going to bleed himself to death) Here, even the Arminian seems to believe in predestination (predestination on the basis of freewill!). The calvinistic position is not easy to understand, but I find it easier to embrace, than the other option.

  • DRT

    Paul W, perhaps you can help me. This is, again for me, a time where I have to differentiate between those who are Calvinist by tradition etc, and those who are theologians who are Calvinists. The same holds true for me when I consider people who are YEC. Those who hold to YEC, like those who hold to much of Calvinism, are not the ones with whom I have a beef. People often believe what they are taught. I would not expect Calvinists writ large to consider what I am saying.

    But that is also not the folks who generally read here. The ones who read here are considering the root of the theology as well as the consequences.

    I am most definitely not indicting all of those who follow Calvinism. My argument is against Calvinism as a theology. The leaders in Calvinism, and Horton is no doubt one of them, are the ones that I am addressing my concerns.

    So, does that help at all? Or am I still missing the point.

    And to your point about Calvinist vs Arminians making better choices, well, I agree, Arminians do elevate those who make better choices but that seems to be the whole idea, isn’t it? Isn’t it about choosing to follow Jesus? Isn’t it about the choice to do good works, to help others, to love god and love others? Isn’t that what it is about?

    The root of my concern is that Calvinism does end up making the adherent more special than others. The choice in Arminianism does not take something that Jesus and god is doing and apply it to themselves, it is strictly something that the adherents are doing. They are choosing to follow and be subservient. In Calvinism they are saying that Jesus and god made them better than others. That’s very different.

    How else can I state my concern, the fact that Calvinism seems to end up putting the adherent in a privileged position without actually saying that. That is, after all, my gripe with it. They are saying that god chose Horton, for instance, over my son and therefore no matter what my son does it will be futile.

    You are checking my, and correctly in my view, because my view seems to be unnecessarily derogatory toward others. I think the key here is to see if the *unnecessary* is true or not.

  • RJS


    I think the Calvinist would say that God chose some despite the fact they were no better and condemned others despite the fact that they are no worse. This is just and merciful because all deserved to be condemned.

  • DRT

    …and to clarify a bit more on the difference between the Arminian choice and the Calvinist election

    A choice is inherently not absolute. Choice indicates direction for an individual person. If I am faced with a certain situation I can choose multiple outcomes. If I find a wallet on the counter I can take it, turn it in, or do a bunch of other things. The choices are directional based on the individual. If my child is going to die if I don’t get a dollar for fruit juice to stop diabetic shock, then perhaps taking it is the right answer. Choice and direciton are not absolute, they are in the context of the individual.

    In other words, I don’t believe I will be judged whether I took the wallet or not, I will be judged based on my approach toward my neighbor.

    The people who choose are choosing love. The Calvinist is deemed special by god. There is a big difference.

  • PLTK

    While DRT’s comment might seem a bit harsh, I think that Calvinists should be willing to admit that it is a very plausible understanding for others to apply to their theological world view. [In the same way a Calvinist might argue an Arminian is “responsible” for his/her own salvation and this therefore leads to too much pride and hence Calvinist are less proud about then others(which statement in of itself seems very prideful to me!)]. Although I will acknowledge this is not what Calvinists say they believe, from my view sometimes I cannot help but think how prideful Calvinism seems (a la DRT’s comment) as well as how weak the Calvinist description of God is. A sovereign God who cannot allow others any free choice (in the libertarian sense)because that would undermine his purposes in the world and make him less sovereign? Huh? What kind of sovereignty is this? Is it not more magnificent and powerful to work out his purposes while allowing those who would oppose his will to do so? Is this not a more glorious way? Again, I accept this is not what Calvinist believe they believe, but it seems a very plausible extension of their theological world view. Again, this is in the same sense of the all too common Calvinist pointing of fingers at those who disagree with them and proclaiming those others to theologically believe they have earned their salvation.

  • DRT

    RJS#18, I hear you on that, and that is what I think they would say too. And that is why I have a problem.

    Let’s say that Jesus intends for the elect to be some small radical church in the north Midwest. I could say, well, all are sinful so his election of that church is just and merciful.

    How about it is only me that is going to be saved. Certainly I am not worthy, so it is amazing and wonderful that he even chose me! It is especially wonderful and amazing!

    In the end a theology that asserts god chooses them necessarily is self promoting and wrong, in my view.

    Now if the Calvinists say that the EO church is the chosen, or the Catholics or something like that. Now that would be believable!

  • DRT

    OK, let’s try Luke

    18:9 Jesus 24 also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down 25 on everyone else. 18:10 “Two men went up 26 to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee 27 and the other a tax collector. 28 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: 29 ‘God, I thank 30 you that I am not like other people: 31 extortionists, 32 unrighteous people, 33 adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 34 18:12 I fast twice 35 a week; I give a tenth 36 of everything I get.’ 18:13 The tax collector, however, stood 37 far off and would not even look up 38 to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful 39 to me, sinner that I am!’ 40 18:14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified 41 rather than the Pharisee. 42 For everyone who exalts 43 himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    Now the Calvinist will certainly see himself as the tax collector, right? But isn’t the prayer of the Pharisee inherently a prayer about his percecption that god made him like that? He says “‘God, I thank 30 you that I am not like other people:” well, he does not say something like “thank you god for predestining me to be better than others,” but that is what his prayer is saying. He is thanking god for the way he is because he feels *god made it that way*.

    It sounds exactly like the Calvinists to me.

  • DRT,

    “What am I missing? Is it not true that the assertion, in the end, is that the people holding to this belief are inherently claiming that they are the ones who are privileged?”

    The Calvinist believes that she/he is privileged, along with the Arminiam and all true believers, in the sense the bible teaches: that all true believers constitute “the people of God,” the “bride of Christ,” the “elect,” “God’s sheep,” “God’s children,” a “chosen race,” “royal priesthood,” the “Israel of God,” etc.

    “I am making the argument that the place it ends up is, at least to me, quite distasteful and that should give us an indication that the argument is wrong.”

    If it’s distasteful to *you*, why should that give *us* an indication that it’s objectively wrong?

    “If our theology leads us to the conclusion that we, the thinkers of that theology, end up being somehow special relative to others we need to believe we have a problem. I just can’t buy the idea that somehow I am more special than many of the other people in the world.”

    Again, you need to unpack what you mean by “special,” since the bible does teach all believers in Christ are special in the sense I stated above.

    “People often believe what they are taught. I would not expect Calvinists writ large to consider what I am saying.”

    Does this apply to Arminians as well?

    “In Calvinism they are saying that Jesus and god made them better than others.”

    Really? That’s exactly the opposite of what Calvinists are saying. Anyone familiar with a book or two by almost any Calvinist writer would not dare to venture such a conclusion. I can easily make a dozen or so caricatures of Arminianism here, but I know that by doing so I will extinguish substantive dialogue. It’s not a bad idea to adequately learn an opponents beliefs such that it can stated without objection.

  • Rob Dunbar

    Sorry I got waylaid off this conversation. Jorge: Here’s the theological issue. Repentance is always preached as man’s response to the work of Christ. The work of Christ is always preached as obedience to the Father. The Father’s motivation in sending Christ is always shown as love. I do see your point, as I hope I’ve demonstrated. I just don’t think God thinks it’s wrong for unbelievers to be told he loves them, so long as we also balance this with the teaching that God commands repentance in response to his demonstration of that love.

  • DRT,

    “In the end a theology that asserts god chooses them necessarily is self promoting and wrong, in my view.”

    This sounds like an argument an atheist would make. The bible clearly teaches that believers have been chosen by God. The debate is about why some are chosen.

    “Now the Calvinist will certainly see himself as the tax collector, right?”

    Seriously, DRT. It’s like you’re not even trying at all. Try reading a commentary or listening to a sermon on this passage by a Calvinist and see what you find. I take it your conversations with Calvinists don’t go very far, do they?


    I agree!

  • DRT


    Calvinists seem to make many statements attesting to their meek and austere nature. That does not provide any evidence to convince one of their nature in light of their conclusions. If I swear, up and down, that I am terrible and a sinner, yet allege that god chose me despite my nature, does that really say anything other than my allegation that god chose me? I don’t think it does.

    I have read at least three times Piper’s view on justification. I have read, nearly as I can tell, every descriptive letter on Calvinist theology. Tell me one that says that the conclusion, the end game, the basic idea that the Calvinist is chosen in somehow incorrect.

    Lots of the Calvinists say the they are poor terrible souls who do not deserve to be chosen, but they then say that they are chosen. The tax collector begs his austerity to the end, he is not offered confidence in his choice in the parable.

    Isn’t it those who think they are first that may be last? Let me unpack that for you in the way I think about it.

    I will never, ever, be worthy. I am not chosen. I am nothing. But, I know that I am forgiven. I know that I am forgiven because god is good. I do not not do works because I want to get gods good wishes. No amount of works can do that. I do good works because I appreciate that god has forgiven me, has accepted me, will not reject me. God has decided that he will accept me. And he is THE WAY. The Calvinist is too, accepted. He is without blame. But, and this is the rub, he must not elevate himself above god’s other people. He must accept that it is not himself that is forgiven, but men, men are forgiven. To elevate oneself above the status of the others because one feels that god has somehow chosen them to be above the others seems to me to be missing the point in the most obvious way possible. How can you take god’s forgiveness and yet think that you are forgiven more than someone else? I don’t understand that.

    You will know them by their fruit, by their works. Calvinism, inherently, says that some people can never be with god, whether they say it or not it says that to people who hear the message of Calvinsism. How could that possibly be the right message? That you may not be among the elect? That sounds ludicrous.

    Well, I probably will not write more tonight and perhaps should not.

  • DRT,

    I don’t understand why you are against using “chosen” language when that’s exactly how the bible describes those who trust in Jesus. Christians are chosen by God: both Calvinists and Arminians believe this.

    “he [the Calvinist] must not elevate himself above god’s other people.”


    “To elevate oneself above the status of the others because one feels that god has somehow chosen them to be above the others seems to me to be missing the point in the most obvious way possible.”

    We are going in circles here so I will now bow out of the conversation. You’re still not listening. God bless you, DRT.

    Your brother in Christ,

  • DRT

    Jorge, thank you for writing and I don’t blame you for bowing out. But I think the issue is that I am not arguing from the premises, but arguing that the conclusion itself is untenable.

    I really wish I understood another perspective.

  • RJS (#2), what distinguishes your first paragraph from Pelagianism?

  • Paul W


    I was largely reacting. In my past history I have heard High Calvinist argued in a way similiar to what I thought I was hearing from you. Apologies, if I caught you up in ‘a guilty by association’ thing. Fundamentally it seemed to me that they were looking at an Arminian conclusion and then infering a nefarious element in the process.

    I’ve seen High Calvinist accuse Arminians of being arrogant because of their emphasis on choice. Why are some people ‘saved’ while others are not? The Arminian must think he/she is better in some way because they made the wiser choice than those who didn’t choose salvation. The Arminian must think they are smarter, wiser, or simply better at making good choices than those who don’t embrace salvation. Must not the Arminian think there is something better in them or about them that has provided them with this priviledged ‘saved’ status that they have?

    Such a line of reasoning I think is unnecessary and uncaharitable. Personally, I think: 1.) that if a view can be interpreted in an charitable fashion, it ought to be so and 2.)one should not impute negative implications that are drawn from a position to a person who expressly denies the implication. This, I take, as an implication of the Jesus Creed and would make for better discourse IMHO.

  • Sherman Nobles

    Calvinism and Arminianism both LIMIT the Atonement! Calvinism limits the Scope of the atonement. Arminianism limits the Effect of the atonement. But scripture affirms that it is the grace of God as expressed in the atonement that both effects our salvation and is for everyone! Calvinism recognizes that it is God that saves us, and not we ourselves. Arminianism recognizes that God loves everyone and desires everyone to know Him. Both deny the foundational premise of the other. And both MUST deny the other because both believe that some “others” ultimately are damned, lost, not saved. Both have faith in God for themselves but lack faith in God for others.

    Christian Universalism does not limit the atonement but believes that Jesus died for everyone and that we are saved by grace, not by our goodness but based on God’s goodness. We believe that God loves everyone and ultimately effects the salvation of all. We believe that judgment and punishment of sins are not divorced from the character of God but flow from the character of God being both just and loving. We have faith in Jesus not only for ourselves, but for others, yes even for all. Jesus is not only the savior of some, but is the savior all, in deed not only in title, especially, not only we who now believe.

    To me, Calvinism’s view of God makes Him out to be a vindictive capricious dictator. Arminianism’s view of God makes Him out to be impotent, not powerful enough or wise enough to be able to effect the salvation of many whom He claims to love. Universalism’s view of God is that He is sovereign, loving, just, and merciful. In Calvinism and Arminianism Jesus is not and never shall be Savior and Lord of All, evil and the kingdom of darkness knows no end.

  • DRT

    Thanks Paul W. I agree with you that we should be charitable.

    But Jiminy Crickets! Am I the only who realizes that it is inherently dangerous for people to set up beliefs that, in the end, conflate what they do with what god does? It is inherently dangerous to have people believing that their view is god’s view.

    Give me an arrogant person who feels they made a good choice to follow Jesus any day over someone who feels that their actions are equivalent with the will of god!

  • Chris White

    I could use some clarification here from the Calvinists and the Arminians. When the Day of Atonement happened for the Israelites, whose sins were forgiven?

    –every Israelite in the wold no matter what their status before God and the community?
    –only those Israelites who were in good standing with the community
    –only those who were present
    –only those who were humbly accepting it by faith
    –some other subset

    It seems to me if we understood the application of that Atonement it could go along way to understanding the application of the Atonement of the Messiah.


  • Chris White

    Dealing with the atonement in the NT all by itself without considering the flow of truth in the Story of Israel is just the Soterian Gospel focusing on the individual and not on King Jesus. IMHO, if you don’t have a solid understanding of the atonement in the life of the Jews you have a superficial understanding of it. I could be wrong. 🙂

  • Tim

    Ramengliana said:

    “…the problem is why God gives freewill to some people knowing all beforehand that they are going to misuse it, and go to hell because of that.”

    We could just as well ask, ‘Why would God deliver the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, when He foreknew that many of them would later fall, and perish eternally?’

    The Scriptures are quite clear: God did deliver the Israelites, despite the fact that He foreknew that many who would be delivered and hear the good news would nonetheless fall (cf. Rom. 11:20-22; 1 Cor. 10:1-6; Heb. 4:6-11; Heb. 12:25; Jude 3-21).

    Keep in mind that I’m not arguing in favour of the Arminian position, nor the Calvinist position. I am simply pointing out that your question seems to be invalidated by the Scriptures.

    With kind regards,

  • Robert, re: comment #11, you say, “I ask for verses which show the apostles preaching to unbelievers & declaring that God loves them & that Jesus died for them. If you notice the verses you quoted in Rm. 5 & 1 Jn. 4 are directed to believers not unbelievers.”

    Have you read the book of Acts?

  • Interesting to note that James White haraunges Olson in his blog for not doing any “in-depth” exegesis on 1 Tim 2:4 in “Against Calvinism” and claims he does a better job in his book, “The Potter’s Freedom” (

    With all due respect, it seems White’s exegesis is really eisegesis since he presupposes certain things in the text, which it clearly does not state. In his blog, White specifically cites Olson’s failure to discuss Christ as mediator saying that “the inability of Christ’s intercession to save in and of itself, is not brought out with clarity by Olson, but it is there nonetheless.” The text does refer to Christ as mediator and maybe Olson does not discuss it in his book and White does in his; however, the next question should be, does White interpret it correctly?

    For example, in his book (apparently attempting to refute Arminianism):

    1. White asks if one is to believe that Christ is mediator for “all men individually”, then would it not mean that “Christ fails as mediator” whenever one refuses him by virtue of free will? Of course, such a question rests on the assumption that (a) it is free will that saves (a misunderstanding of Arminianism); and (b) salvation is unconditional and grace irresistable (notions held by White and rightly rejected by Arminianism). Therefore, White is asking the wrong question.

    2. White shows he misunderstands the Bible’s revelation of Jesus’ office as mediator: (a) His act of mediation – “a ransom for all” – does not necessarily, automatically, and inevitably obtain its intended results, but this is what White believes; and (b) man’s rejection of Christ is not result of any failing on the part of Christ as mediator. Hymenaeus and Alexander’s shipwreck of their faith does not reflect on the power of Christ to save; it reflects only on their own failure to believe (Jn 3:19-20). The disobedience of the people of Israel does not reflect any failing on the part of the Law – for the Law is holy and good and if a man would obey it fully he would thereby live – but it reflects the people’s propensity to disobey.

    To claim that interpreting 1 Tim 2:4 as including every individual person would thereby show an “inability of Christ’s intercession to save” shows a misunderstanding of the divine intention and work for man’s salvation as plainly revealed in the Bible.

    3. Even if the 1 Tim 2:4 does reflect “all classes and kinds”, it would necessarily include all the individuals within (note: v.2-“kings and all that are in authority”).

    There is no reason in the text of 1 Tim 1:15 to limit the reference “sinners” as excluding any individuals for “all have sinned.”

    1 Tim 2:2 is not placing any “categorical limitation” (as I read it, that would be forcing an unwarranted presupposition onto the text) but merely provides examples for whom the believers ought to especially pray.

    1 Tim 5-6 shows that, Christ being a mediator for men (as sinners, since this is the specific context within which his office of mediation is viewed, i.e. as “a ransom”), is such for “all”, that is (from vs.5), all men.

    Furthermore, it can be asked, did Jesus give himself as a ransom for “classes and kinds” or for individuals? If the latter, then v.3b-4a shows that God’s desire is for the salvation of “all men” individually.

    For support outside the text, from Matt 28:20, one can legitimately conclude that the intention of God’s salvation, is to reach every nation and, thereby it follows, every person in that nation, especially if we are to be “his witness unto all men” (Acts 22:15). Whether or not we reach every nation or every man is irrelevant. The point is that God’s mandate is such that we, not as individuals but as a Church, are to “declar[e] to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30, a verse that seems to cover all classes, kinds, and individuals without limit).

    However, I’m not a scholar; just a common man of no particular educational expertise in the Bible.

    In any case, there are many qualified Bible scholars – among them even Calvinists! – equal, if not superior, to White in Biblical exegesis who disagree with his assessment of 1 Tim 2:4 (or, must we ignore them and simply take his word for it?). The Church Fathers disagree with White. All the Bible versions I have read do not translate this verse in a way that demonstrates any limitation to “all men” (not even the NASB, which White claimed to have taken part in translating; cp. NIV, NRSV); and if translators are to be honest and White is correct, why did they not translate the verse so as to be understood clearly as not referencing “all men without limit” but “classes and kinds”.

    As such, I do not find White’s method of “exegesis” convincing. (What may be even more unconvincing not for what he claims “all men” does not mean, but for what he claims it does mean, that is, “the elect”, especially as he understands Christ’s office as mediator. From my perspective, that may require a greater degree of exegetical gymnastics).

    White, in his blog, also seems to demand Olson exegete the text his way as if he is making himself the standard method for correct exegesis. However, I don’t think Olson’s exegesis of the text required “in-depth exegesis” since, not only does it not fall within Olson’s purpose for writing “Against Arminianism” (as stated in his blog), but 1 Tim 2:4 reads plainly what it clearly means, much like Jn 3:16.

  • In comment #31, Sherman says, “Calvinism and Arminianism both LIMIT the Atonement…”

    The problem is not that both are limit the atonement but how they are limit. For Calvinism, it is God’s decreethat limits the atonement, that is, only to the elect; for Arminianism, it is man who limits the atonement through unbelief.

    As such, it can not be correctly said that Arminianism limits the atonement, for the intended application of the atonement is affirmed as universal; whereas, Calvinism can rightly be said to limit the atonement because there is no divine intention for its universal application.

    In other words, for Calvinism, the divine intent and plan is to limit the atonement to a certain number of particular persons on the basis of a divine decree.

    In Arminianism, although conditioned on man’s reception by faith, the divine intent and plan is to not limit the effect of Christ’s atoning sacrifice but to apply it to all men.

    In conclusion, to say that Arminianism teaches a form of “limited atonement” may be inaccurate and misleading.

    Sherman also says that “Arminianism’s view of God makes Him out to be impotent, not powerful enough or wise enough to be able to effect the salvation…”

    This is, in no uncertain terms, an inaccurate and misleading view of Arminianism. Since God ordained (or, decreed) that man’s faith was a condition for obtaining salvation, such refusal to believe on man’s part is no reflection on God’s ability or wisdom to save. It’s like assuming necessarily that because their adult son/daughter decided to drive drunk and was killed in a car accident, his/her parents were neither strong nor wise in the training of their child to be a responsible adult.

  • Stephen

    Arguments are interesting, but to me, it’s all about what the Scriptures teach. And they make it clear that Christ died for all. . . .
    Christ died for all
    Isaiah 53:5-6 (all)
    Psalm 69:9, 89:50
    Matt. 24:14; 28:19
    Luke 19:10
    John 1:12; 1:29b; 3:14-18; 4:42; 7:37 (the world)
    Acts 1:8; 2:21; 17:30
    Rom. 5:6, 18 (all men)
    2 Cor. 5:14-15, 19 (for all)
    1 Tim. 1:15; 2:3-6; 4:10
    Titus 2:11
    Heb. 2:9 (everyone)
    2 Pet. 2:1, 3 (unregenerate deny the Master who bought them)
    1 John 2:2; 4:14 (Christ’s propitiation for the sins of the whole world)
    Rev. 22:17
    -God desires all men to be saved
    Isa. 55:1
    Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11
    1 Tim. 2:4
    2 Pet. 3:9
    -Salvation available to all
    Matt. 11:28
    John 3:16-17
    Rom. 10:13
    Rev. 5:9, 21:6
    Savior of all, especially of believers
    1 Tim. 4:10
    -other passages
    Isa. 53:11-12 (many)
    Matt. 1:21, 20:28, 26:28 (many)
    John 10:11, 15 (sheep)
    cf. John 10:16 (other sheep)
    John 15:13 (his friends)
    Acts 20:28 (church of God)
    Rom. 8:32 (us all); 8:33 (elect)
    Eph. 5:25 (the church)
    Titus 2:14 (us)
    Heb. 9:28 (many)
    Verses that show the atonement is available for all:
    Isaiah 53:6 (The iniquity of us all was put on Christ)
    Matthew 11:28-30 (any who come to Christ are welcome)
    Matthew 18:14 (The Father does not wish that any should perish, i.e., anti predestined-reprobation).
    John 1:7 (Jesus intended for all, wants all to believe)
    John 1:29
    John 3:16-17
    John 6:33, 51
    John 12:47
    Romans 3:23-24 (All have sinned and all have access to justification in Christ Jesus)
    Romans 5:6 (Christ died for the ungodly; all are ungodly; Christ therefore died for all)
    Romans 5:15 (Since sin spread to all, Christ’s atonement is meant for all)
    Romans 10:13 (Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved)
    2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (All died, yet Christ died for all)
    1 Timothy 2:3-6 (God desires all men to be saved, and gave Himself for all)
    1 Timothy 4:10
    Titus 2:11 (God’s necessary grace that leads to repentance appears to all)
    Hebrews 2:9 (Jesus tasted death for everyone)
    Hebrews 10:10 (Christ offered once for all)
    2 Peter 3:9
    1 John 4:14
    1 John 2:2 (Jesus is the propitiation, not just for believers, but for the whole world)
    John 4:42
    Revelation 22:17