Stop Limiting Christ’s Atonement

Stop Limiting Christ’s Atonement August 31, 2014

[Attribution: Title Photo Altered; The Original Photo by “Freedom II Andres”; CC 2.0]

As a theologically Reformed Christian, I am not limiting the work done on the cross. Rather, I am saying it was infinitely more effective than you can believe. I am not “reducing the beauty of the cross” rather, I am magnifying it!

The cross of Christ is the most central point of all of human history. It’s the single greatest event the universe has ever seen. More than that, it’s the most magnificent example of love, sacrifice, and justice that has ever, or will ever, be produced. When I have doubts or wavering faith the cross is where I stop look back and say “There, right there!” It works like a source of nourishment at my deepest roots. It makes me who I am and drags me away from who I was. Words cannot contain or even begin to accurately describe the beauty and power of what happened there on that day.  

Earlier this week I read an article on www.patheos.com by Benjanmin L. Corey called “5 Reasons Why Calvinsim Makes Me Want to Gouge My Eyes Out“.  All 5 points are, if I am honest, very weak and show a gross misunderstanding of Calvinism and of God’s holiness. I really want to believe it was written with the best of intentions, but with the name of the article he chose I have my doubts. Here is what Benjamin had to say about the “Limited Atonement”, or more accurately defined, “Particular Atonement”

Calvinism reduces the beauty of the cross. As a Jesus follower, I think the cross is the central point of all of human history. The cross was God’s ultimate act of nonviolent enemy love, the act that that demonstrated God’s love for the whole world (John 3:16), the act that drew all people to God (John 12:32), and the act that reconciled all of creation to God (Col 1:20).
From a Calvinist paradigm, the cross is quite different. The cross isn’t the moment where Jesus died to reconcile all of creation– the whole world–but the moment where Jesus died simply for the few people God picked. This is a concept they call “limited atonement” that reduces the cross to being an act for the “elect” (those God picked) instead of an act for the world (John 3:16) and all of creation (Col. 1:20).
As such, instead of the Gospel being Good News for the world, it becomes good news for the few people God picked for his team and becomes absolutely horrible news for everyone else in history.
I’m sorry, but I think what Jesus did for us is bigger, and more beautiful than that. I think the cross is actually “good news” for everyone who is willing to chose love. (From 5 Reasons Calvinism Makes Me Want To Gouge My Eyes by Benjamin L. Corey).

There are so many thoughts and questions running through my mind as I read this. But, I will start with one; the question that opened the door to reformed theology for me. Keeping in line with, what I am assuming is, an Arminian view point, I ask you to think carefully and consider what was accomplished on the cross? ‘

I ask it again, to me make the sure question resonates – what was accomplished on the cross?

Logically, I can only see two possible answers here for an Arminian. 1) Jesus effectively atoned for the sins of all of the world or 2) Jesus died for everyone in a general way but didn’t secure salvation for anyone. There might be some variables in there but in general, I think that would have to sum up the two alternatives for an evangelical. 

Perhaps, contrary to a first impression, both of them require you to limit the power and effectiveness of the cross. The first scenario is the easiest to dismiss. Basically, you would hold this view point if you were a universalist (meaning everyone, in the end, will be saved). The bible is clear about the existence of hell and God’s judgement. Respectable theologians go back and forth about exactly hell is like, but few bible believing Christians deny its existence. This view denies God’s justice and holy nature. 

The second scenario is the only other place to go if you follow out Arminian logic. So I ask you this: If Jesus died for the sins of everyone then why isn’t everyone in heaven? You might say, “well you have to have faith to be saved”. This is true. But, then wouldn’t you have to say Jesus died for the sins of all men everywhere except unbelief. Think about it. Furthermore, if Jesus died in the same way for the sins of all men then why would someone be punished in hell? That means, Jesus paid the debt of their sins but the person does as well? To me, that suggests injustice on God’s part. 

Here’s another thought, if faith is required to complete the work done by Jesus then what if no one believed? This is a total what-if scenario. But seriously, consider it – what if Jesus died but then no one believed? Would Jesus have died in vain?

To say that Christ died for anybody that ends up in hell is to suggest his blood was not enough. The work and beauty of the cross was not quite enough to accomplish what Jesus wanted to do. The idea that Jesus died for every person on the planet in the same way suggests  that God failed at his task. 

Did God’s plan fail at The Passover? The blood of the lamb was not commanded to be placed over the doorway for everyone. It was reserved for God’s people. 

Consider this analogy. Let’s assume you are married. You love your spouse very much, as you should. You also love your mom, dad, brothers, neighbors, etc.. Right? But it would be a lie to say that you love your neighbor the same way you love your spouse. The love you have for your bride is special and unique. It’s reserved for only her. This is why Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (emphasis added) that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

The cross is glorious and is about many things, but central is God redeeming his wayward bride unto Himself. In the greatest act of love ever he died for his bride and brought her unto Himself that He might love her and cherish her for all eternity. Now, that is beautiful! It’s the greatest love story ever told. 

Particular Atonement teaches us that before the foundation of the world God predestined for Himself a bride that He would love and cherish for all of eternity. This bride is the church. And, on that day 2,000 years ago, Jesus died and bore the punishment for all of her sins (past, present, and future). He was her substitute. Faith, of the Christian, is a response to regeneration. While we were are dead in sin, God seeks us out and saves us according to His will. Once this happens, we are made alive with Christ. While my salvation is not realized until I am born again, my hope was secured not the cross.

Benjamin, thank you for being an active voice in evangelical circles. I know there are some other articles you have written that have been very inspiring and Christ centered. So, thank you for your kingdom work. You are also a fantastic writer, I have learned a lot from you. But, I ask you deeply consider and ponder why you think Calvinism reduces the beauty of the cross. 

I prefer not to understand my atonement in a way that just has me as a single person is the vast mass of people that Jesus died for. Rather, I can understand in way that says Jesus knew me, the depths of my heart, and every sin I would ever commit. He knew this and chose to die for me that He would present me unto Himself, blameless. 

I want to clear on something, all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. That’s true. Christ will turn no one away. If you are a Christian, then you are loved more than you know.

Lastly, I think I should add, this is a heavy subject matter with many layers and questions. To think it can be covered in a single blog post is almost laughable. So please forgive me, if you are reading this, and I have not addressed your question, verse, thought, position, concern, point, statement, doctrine, etc… The aim of the article was to show that “Limited Atonement” does not reduce the beauty of the cross or limit to the work done on it. Rather, it enhances it beyond words or imagination.

Feel free to leave your questions or comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.


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