The TULIP’s Petals and Sepals, part 3

May 8, 2013

by Ronnie Rogers

3. Limited Atonement: Christ’s death is of infinite value, but He died salvifically only for the unconditionally elect.

Calvinism understands limited atonement to mean that Christ’s death did not in any eternally meaningful way pay for the sins of the non-elect. Thus, there is not even the remotest possibility of even one of the unconditionally non-elect experiencing salvation in spite of such opportunity being so lucidly and compellingly commanded and presented in the simple call of the gospel for everyone to repent and believe; correspondingly, this point, along with the aforementioned points, gives rise to the need for and creation of the extra-biblical “good faith offer.”

Four-point Calvinists reject this point in order to avoid trying to reconcile the idea that Christ died only for the sins of the elect with what they believe to be the clear, consistent, and undeniable teaching Scripture; which is that Christ’s death paid for the sins of the human race. This frees the four-point Calvinist to make an actual offer of the “good news” to all as is so vividly portrayed in the gospels. As a result, the position of four-point Calvinism is understood to eliminate the need for a good faith offer.

However, if a four-point Calvinist believes in the previous two points as defined by Calvinism, it seems to me that their offer to the non-elect is actually as salvifically hollow as is the offer of the five-point Calvinist. To wit, they may be free to speak more consistently with the gospel’s message of God’s salvific love for all of the lost, but they still offer no real hope to the non-elect. This is particularly true, and I believe unavoidably true, for anyone who embraces unconditional election (even if they call themselves a one-point Calvinist and the one point is unconditional election).

To state it differently, if a person does not fully embrace unconditional election (where unconditional really means unconditional), he should doff the title “Calvinist.” Lastly, limited atonement is organically related to God’s pleasure in limiting His salvific grace, love, mercy, and compassion. Additionally, I do not believe any reference to God providing temporal grace, e.g. rain, temporal life, other earthly blessings, etc., or “God loves the lost differently” allays this reality in the slightest—voluminous attempts notwithstanding.

Therefore, if a person believes the Scripture teaches the following, he cannot be a Calvinist: God really does love His humanity as evidenced by His declarative statements, God gave His Son to die for the sins of the world, the gospel being His power unto salvation for everyone whether they are Jew or gentile, and He sent the church to every nation with this gospel because He truly loves and desires everyone who hears it to repent and be forever forgiven and delivered from their just desert; that Christ passionately desires for everyone whom he commanded “repent and believe in the gospel,” to do what He so commanded them to do; and further believes that all of these scriptural attestations  quite obviously disallow the likelihood that the God who does these things also devised a plan that inviolably precludes the remotest possibility for the vast majority to obey His gospel. These truths are embraced by other biblical approaches but not Calvinism.

Ronnie is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., and is the author of  “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist.”