>Why I Reject Limited Atonement Theology

>(Taking a quick break from the eschatology series to get something off my chest. We’ll come back to that later, with a post on Heaven)

Within the five-point system of Calvinism (TULIP), nothing is more unbiblical than “limited atonement”. This doctrine contends that “Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross is limited in scope to those who are predestined unto salvation and its primary benefits are not given to all of humanity but rather just believers.” In other words, Jesus only shed His blood for the individuals (the elect) whom God chose before the foundations of the world to be saved. The non-elect go to hell, because the Father did not choose them, therefore, the Son did not die to save them.

In order to shield this doctrine from it’s own absurdity, some popular Calvinist teachers have attempted to soften the blow with ideas about a ‘general benefit’ for all. For example, Mark Driscoll preached a sermon at Mars Hill Church (Seattle) in which he (and his elder board) renamed the doctrine “Unlimited-Limited atonement”. The tag line?… “a general benefit for all, but a saving benefit for the elect” In other words, the whole world somehow benefits from work of cross, but only “the elect” (individuals that God’s has sovereignly chosen to save) are actually redeemed. The immediate objection to this idea is best formed in the question: “What kind of benefit is the cross for those who are not elect, who will spend forever in hell???”

Not surprisingly, Calvinist teachers are getting this rather obvious objection frequently, evidenced by this recent post from John Piper’s website. John Piper is one the most popular proponents of Limited Atonement theology alive today. Here is a short article from Him about this very thing. (Comments to follow)

“What did the death of Jesus on the cross accomplish for the non-elect? Anything?”
By John Piper

It’s amazing how frequently that question is coming up recently. Somebody asked me after church last week, “Did Christ purchase common grace?” And we were talking about it at Table Talk with the students just a few weeks ago.

I’ll tell you my reflection just as briefly as I can. Frankly, I’m not sure how to answer the question. But I think in telling you why I’m not sure you’ll be able to get a grasp on it.

In one sense, as soon as we sin we should be punished eternally. We shouldn’t get another breath. There should be no reprieve. There should be no time given to us. So clearly then, in some sense, the time given to us is grace. And grace for a sinner requires some kind of payment or purchase or warrant from a holy God. And Christ would be the one who provides that.

So I’m inclined to say, “Yes, the fact that the non-elect, the unbelievers all over the world are still breathing and have another chance to believe is a gift, just like the offer of the gospel is a gift. And that offer is provided by the cross.”

Now here’s the catch. Romans 2:4 says, “Don’t you know that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance? But you, by your hard and unrepentant heart, are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God is revealed.”

So if a non-elect person spurns—which they do—they spurn this grace, the grace itself becomes added judgment. Which makes me wonder, “In what sense was it grace?” In some sense it is. It’s a real offer, it’s a real opportunity. But if you spurn it, if you reject it, it backfires and mounts up with greater judgment.
It’s like the more kindness is shown to a person that they resist, then the more wicked they show themselves to be. And the more wicked they show themselves to be, the more judgment falls upon them.

I think the answer is yes. I think real grace, real common grace, real offer of salvation—right now, just watching this—is grace. And if you’re a non-Christian, grace is being offered you at this very moment in my warning you that, if you spurn this, judgment will be greater.

And that’s a gift to you right now that God may be pleased to then use to awaken you to say, “Whoa. I don’t want to multiply my judgment. I want to respond to this moment of grace.”

That’s what I think the upshot of this conversation should be: respond to the grace. You’re alive! There’s still a chance to believe and be saved.

Now, Let’s go through it again, with my comments in ALL CAPS (for clarity)

It’s amazing how frequently that question is coming up recently.

REALLY? I THOUGHT THE OBJECTION WAS RATHER OBVIOUS?

Somebody asked me after church last week, “Did Christ purchase common grace?”

BY COMMON GRACE, HE MEANS THIS “GENERAL BENEFIT” THAT IS COMMON TO ALL PEOPLE.

And we were talking about it at Table Talk with the students just a few weeks ago.

I’ll tell you my reflection just as briefly as I can. Frankly, I’m not sure how to answer the question.

HE’S NOT SURE HOW TO ANSWER THE QUESTION BECAUSE “LIMITED ATONEMENT” IS BIBLICALLY UNFOUNDED, TO SAY THE LEAST, THEREFORE IT CREATES ALL KINDS OF LOGICAL AND SCRIPTURAL CONTRADICTIONS.

But I think in telling you why I’m not sure you’ll be able to get a grasp on it.

NO, WE WON’T.

In one sense, as soon as we sin we should be punished eternally. We shouldn’t get another breath. There should be no reprieve. There should be no time given to us. So clearly then, in some sense, the time given to us is grace. And grace for a sinner requires some kind of payment or purchase or warrant from a holy God. And Christ would be the one who provides that.

So I’m inclined to say, “Yes, the fact that the non-elect, the unbelievers all over the world are still breathing and have another chance to believe is a gift, just like the offer of the gospel is a gift. And that offer is provided by the cross.”

BUT THE NON-ELECT DO NOT EVER HAVE A “CHANCE TO BELIEVE”. THEY ARE NOT CHOSEN BY GOD (ELECT) AND THEY WILL NEVER BELIEVE BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOT BEEN PREDESTINED TO BELIEVE. THIS IS UTTERLY NONSENSICAL WITHIN THE CALVINIST DOCTRINE OF ELECTION!

HOLD ON, IT’S GETS WORSE…

Now here’s the catch. Romans 2:4 says, “Don’t you know that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance? But you, by your hard and unrepentant heart, are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God is revealed.”

So if a non-elect person spurns—which they do—they spurn this grace, the grace itself becomes added judgment. Which makes me wonder, “In what sense was it grace?”

DID YOU CATCH THAT? THE “COMMON GRACE” OR “GENERAL BENEFIT” ACTUALLY WORKS TO STORE UP WRATH TO BE POURED OUT ON THEM BY THE LORD, ON THE DAY OF WRATH!

NOT ONLY WILL NON-ELECT BE DAMNED FOREVER BECAUSE GOD HAS NOT INDIVIDUALLY CHOSEN THEM, BUT NOW, BECAUSE OF THE “GENERAL BENEFIT” ‘AFFORDED’ TO THEM AT THE CROSS, THEY WILL RECEIVE WORSE PUNISHMENT! WHAT?!?!

In some sense it is. It’s a real offer, it’s a real opportunity.

NO IT’S NEVER “A REAL OPPORTUNITY” BECAUSE IF GOD DID NOT INDIVIDUALLY CHOOSE YOU, FROM THE BEGINNING, HE WILL NOT SAVE YOU BY HIS IRRESISTIBLE GRACE.

But if you spurn it, if you reject it, it backfires and mounts up with greater judgment.
It’s like the more kindness is shown to a person that they resist, then the more wicked they show themselves to be. And the more wicked they show themselves to be, the more judgment falls upon them.

I think the answer is yes.

REALLY?!? BECAUSE NOTHING SAID, SO FAR, LEADS ME TO THAT CONCLUSION.

I think real grace, real common grace, real offer of salvation—right now, just watching this—is grace. And if you’re a non-Christian, grace is being offered you at this very moment in my warning you that, if you spurn this, judgment will be greater.

WELL, HOPEFULLY WHOEVER READS THIS IS ALREADY ELECT OF GOD BECAUSE IF THEY ARE NOT, ACCORDING TO HIS OWN THEOLOGY, JOHN PIPER JUST ADDED A DAY TO THEIR ETERNAL TORMENTS IN HELL.

And that’s a gift to you right now that God may be pleased to then use to awaken you to say, “Whoa. I don’t want to multiply my judgment. I want to respond to this moment of grace.”

IF YOU UNDERSTAND ANYTHING ABOUT “GRACE” IN THE CALVINIST SYSTEM, YOU KNOW THAT YOU WILL RESPOND WHEN THE IRRESISTIBLE GRACE OF GOD COMES UPON YOU, SO THE PLEA TO RESPOND IS MEANINGLESS, BECAUSE GOD ALREADY PICKED WHOM HE WANTED, AND THEY WILL RESPOND ACCORDINGLY.

That’s what I think the upshot of this conversation should be: respond to the grace. You’re alive! There’s still a chance to believe and be saved.

THE UPSHOT OF THIS CONVERSATION OUGHT TO BE, ABANDON LIMITED ATONEMENT THEOLOGY FOREVER.

This one of the many reasons that I unashamedly reject limited atonement theology, and plea with whomever teaches this heresy to observe the contradictions, and most importantly derive your understanding from the teaching of scripture and not a failed theological system.

For the record, I love John Piper. He is a brother in the Lord and I understand that people are reached through his ministry. I also know that he is taking a sabbatical from ministry for a few months, and pray that he finds the rest that he needs. I also hope that some day he will abandon the teaching of limited atonement. Perhaps that will happen during this time that he not preaching and teaching it.

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About kurtkjohnson

Husband to Abbey Johnson, proud father, irregular blogger and occasionally creative. View all posts by kurtkjohnson

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