Analyzing the Calvinist Doctrines of Predestination and Limited Atonement

Analyzing the Calvinist Doctrines of Predestination and Limited Atonement June 13, 2022

I regret digging deeper into the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and limited atonement. It boggles my mind how anybody can call this Biblical. After all, these doctrines violate Bible verses that clearly state that salvation is available to all people, not just the “elect”.

Oh, and it kills me that I found an analogy for this belief in the horror video game Silent Hill 3, of all places!

Deconstructing Predestination and Limited Atonement

Predestination is a hot mess.

This belief goes hand-in-hand with “limited atonement“, another core Calvinist ideology. Limited atonement asserts that no, Jesus didn’t, in fact, die for all. He only died for the “elect”.

In relation to predestination, the “elect” are those God predestined before birth to be saved. Anybody not selected this way is accordingly destined for Hell, no matter what. This belief in predestination for Hell is officially called “reprobation“.

The attempt to defend reprobation paints God as a narcissist. When I started researching Calvinism, I was grossed out by how these ideologies limit Jesus’ sacrificial love for humanity. That’s already disheartening, but reading a defense of this doctrine that suggests God isn’t required to save anybody at all is even worse.

Predestination’s Supposed Basis

Many of us know and adore John 3:16, which, of course, goes like this:

“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)

Would you believe that adherents of limited atonement deny what this verse plainly says?

Reformed Wiki, a staunchly Calvinist site that also runs a YouTube channel, argues that John 3:16 isn’t referring to “the world”. Instead, they assert that if that’s what this verse means, then it should explicitly state something like, “For God so loved people from all over the world…”

That’s reaching, my friends. I don’t get it.

What confuses me is this clip from Ligonier Ministries, where Sinclair Ferguson gives a more balanced view of this verse:

“So, I think to limit that statement to the elect would really be to limit the fact that it is the world has lost itself that has drawn the compassion of God.”

-Sinclair Ferguson, Ligonier Ministries

Even Mr. Ferguson agrees that this argument against the traditional take on John 3:16 doesn’t work.

How Predestination Distorts Scripture

I found this article by Pastor Thomas Taylor, who did an excellent job breaking down why the mere notion of a “limited atonement” is unbiblical. To be fair, as he mentions, it deserves saying that not all Reformed Christians believe in this doctrine.

Pastor Thomas ripped apart the Calvinistic spin on certain scriptures, including John 17:9, which reads as follows:

“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:9)

As Pastor Thomas points out in his rebuttal, “them” in this verse refers to the universal Church. The Church is comprised of all those who choose Jesus. Jesus died for all people so that all people could choose eternal life.

I fully agree with Pastor Thomas stating that this ideology paints God as somebody with an unfair, partial attitude. When the Bible itself calls out the crime of partiality, it’s bizarre to create a doctrine that claims God follows this mindset.

Even, which tends to lean towards Calvinism, gives a balanced description of “unlimited atonement“. Their article admits that this Arminian/Wesleyan (Methodist) view has plenty of support in Scripture.

On top of scriptural support, there’s also the unavoidable fact that limited atonement spits on God’s omnibenevolence. Arguing that God willfully designates some people to Hell for no reason violates John 3:16 and many other commonly known truths about who He is.

Addressing Determinism

This brings us to the topic of “determinism”: does God will/decree all things to pass, good and evil?

From what I’ve researched so far, there’s an ongoing (and heated) debate over how God’s omniscience relates to our free will. Christian scholar William Lane Craig points out that believing that all of our thoughts are already decided for us in this definition makes no sense.

Here’s a video on this matter by Dr. Leighton Flowers, a former Calvinist:

Dr. Leighton makes it clear, with references to Scripture, that God’s foreknowledge of all things doesn’t mean that He’s the cause of every single event.

For example, Dr. Leighton references 1 Samuel 23:9-13, where David asks God if Saul will pursue him to the city of Keilah. God answered affirmatively, which leads to David leaving the city. When Saul finds out that David has left the city, he gives up his pursuit.

God preemptively knew that Saul intended to chase down David in Keilah, but He never would’ve predetermined Saul’s will to do so. After all, Saul was out to murder David, which violates God’s decree against killing in Exodus 20:13.

God Despises Evil Choices

Dr. Leighton drops a clever bombshell by bringing up Jeremiah 19:5 (parts bolded for emphasis):

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jeremiah 19:5)

Contrary to the Calvinistic belief that God predestines/wills all things, Scripture proves that God never wills evil events into reality.

I’m baffled that this is even a discussion. Why do we have Christians arguing that God is essentially the author of evil? When there are numerous verses in both Testaments that clearly state otherwise?

At any rate, this brings me to a video game-based discussion of atonement in the lovely (sarcastically, of course) town of Silent Hill.

A Hot Take on Atonement in “Silent Hill 3”

Would you believe that of all things, Silent Hill 3, a survival horror video game, is chock-full of analogies for religious issues?

Silent Hill 3 will always be my favorite video game of all time. Every time I replay it, I see another metaphor for the dangers of religious indoctrination. The series’ religious characters all have unhealthy desperation to prove that their takes on faith are the correct interpretations.

Before I dig into these cutscenes, it bears mentioning that when the characters talk about “God”, they’re referring to the in-game cult’s man-made version of a deity. That, and if you perchance plan on playing Silent Hill 3, please be aware that this will spoil a fair portion of the plot.

A Call to Question

I’ve gone through a few of my favorite cutscenes and caught unwitting analogies for the doctrine of limited atonement. Here’s the first one, where Heather, the protagonist, has a tense phone call with Leonard Wolf, the father of the game’s religious antagonist, Claudia:

The moment Heather picks up the phone, Leonard starts ranting, not realizing at first that he isn’t speaking to his daughter. Before Heather can finally cut in and state her name, Leonard drops this angry quote:

“Have you come to apologize? Or maybe you still don’t realize how foolish you’ve been?

The ‘salvation of all mankind’. What a ridiculous dream.”

-Leonard Wolf, Silent Hill 3

Leonard is understandably embarrassed that he ripped into a mere stranger, and he discusses his disappointment with Claudia’s supposed “failures”. He begs Heather to find him and free him so that he can stop Claudia. Stop her from what, exactly?

On a quick tangent, while it’s possible that Leonard was taken aback at hearing that Claudia had Heather’s father murdered, I don’t think that’s what provoked him into action. It’s far more likely that Leonard heard unwitting proof from Heather that Claudia had still refused to conform to his takes on salvation.

Heather and Leonard get into quite a nasty spat (that is to say, a boss fight) when she finally finds him.

Leonard’s Unwitting Calvinism

Leonard is hidden in the surreal, twisted depths of a supernaturally warped mental hospital. When Heather descends into his room, Leonard goes off on yet another rant about his view on salvation:

Do you have any idea how much I cringed, re-hearing this quote from Leonard Wolf, which sums up the Calvinist doctrine of predestination?

“The ‘salvation of all mankind’. Ha! Why must we reward even the unbelievers?

…It’s true that God is merciful. But first, one must be chosen.

Only we who hearken to the voice of God will be given the keys to Paradise.”

-Leonard Wolf, Silent Hill 3

Leonard accidentally vocalized the Calvinist doctrine of “unconditional election“. This belief states that in order for anybody to have faith, God must choose them first. It bears mentioning that this ties into another Calvinist doctrine, “irresistible grace“, which argues that the chosen can’t resist God’s call.

One of the biggest issues I see with these doctrines is that they ignore the reality of ex-Christians who lost their faith due to an observed lack of integrity in their leaders. It angers me that religious/spiritual abuse isn’t taken seriously in some Christian circles. I hate reading comments that ex-Christians were “never true Christians at all”.

This is a huge reason why I, honestly, despise Calvinism. It fuels a self-righteous view of other people, especially those who don’t fit “the mold”. Ex-Christians deserve compassion and a listening ear, yet we have Christians who instead place themselves on a holy pedestal to scorn them, even in the aftermath of religious abuse.

By the way, doesn’t Christians mocking and slandering victims of religious/spiritual abuse qualify therein as religious/spiritual abuse?

Claudia and Vincent’s Discussion on Faith

Heather has no choice but to kill Leonard in self-defense. Afterward, Claudia confronts her peer, Vincent, about his hand in the ordeal:

Claudia: “Why did you send her to my father?!”

Vincent: “Was that wrong?”

Claudia: “It’s your fault that he-”

Vincent: “But surely it’s a good thing! It means he was one of God’s ‘beloved’, no?”

-Claudia Wolf and Vincent Smith, Silent Hill 3

Vincent clearly has no genuine sympathy here, either for Leonard’s death or for Claudia’s religious fanaticism. He goes on to tell Claudia that he remembers how physically abusive her father was at times. Digging deeper into the in-game lore reveals that Leonard was abusive to Claudia when she didn’t comply with his religious views.

What makes their conversation so rough is this genuinely pity-filled quote from Vincent in response to Claudia’s religious desperation:

“What you call ‘faith’ is nothing more than a child crying out for love. That’s why you’re all alone.”

-Vincent Smith, Silent Hill 3

At the end of the day, even Vincent knows that Claudia holds onto the cult’s God out of a desire for love and belonging.

If you’re interested in Silent Hill 3‘s takes on religious issues, I highly recommend checking out the other cutscenes on YouTube!

Unlimited Atonement vs. Universalism

I wanted to know what Catholics think about this debate on the atonement. National Catholic Register states that Catholicism frowns on the mere notion of “limited atonement”, and supports universal atonement for all.

Something to keep in mind is that “universal atonement” isn’t the same as “universalism“. NCR also stated in their article that universal atonement is dependent on people making the free will choice to choose Jesus. It’s not, as John MacArthur incorrectly argues in this video below, ignoring the existence of Hell and accountability for sin:

“If you’re going to affirm an unlimited atonement, then you really are going to end up as a universalist, because if He actually died for the whole world then the whole world is saved.”

-John MacArthur, Ligonier Ministries

“Then you really are going to end up as a universalist” is an accusatory claim that invokes the slippery slope fallacy. This is what Dr. Leighton discusses in his videos on Calvinism; they use too many fallacious arguments to try to prove their points.

Free Will and Atonement

Also, here’s an ironically unbiblical claim:

“So, the atonement is limited. Then the question is, ‘who limits it?’

‘Do we limit it, or does God limit it?’

And the answer to that question biblically is crystal clear: God limited it.

He limited it to the elect.

Either God determined who He would save and take the glory, or God just threw atonement out there as some nebulous option and hoped some people would grab hold of it and become a part of His redeeming purpose.

The Bible does not allow for that.”

-John MacArthur, Ligonier Ministries

That’s quite a dismissive way to refer to Scripture that says otherwise, especially John 3:16.

What MacArthur says here is indicative of the ongoing debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. While Calvinism asserts that God chooses who will be saved, Arminianism argues that salvation and atonement involve people “cooperating” with God to make it happen. In other words, their free will choice is a necessary component for their salvation.

As a Methodist, I only recently learned that we have much in common with Arminianism. I believe it! That would explain (at least, what I consider to be) Methodism’s more balanced approach to theological matters like this.

Final Thoughts

I agree with other Christians (I can’t recall who I first read saying this) that universalism is an optimistic hope for the afterlife that unfortunately also contradicts Scripture. One could draw the conclusion that universalism and “limited atonement” are two sides of the same coin in the sense that they both offer extreme (and unbiblical) views of who will be saved.

To wrap this up, here’s an interesting insight into this debate from Mike Winger, who approaches this matter with palpable grace:

Featured Image by jguemez/Pixabay

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