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).