Thursday is for Theological Terminology:
The Study of Specialized Words relating to Theology

May 5, 2011

Ron F. Hale, Associate Pastor, West Jackson Baptist Church, Jackson, TN

Definite Atonement . . . (also known as Limited Atonement and Particular Redemption)

One definition: “The belief that Christ bore the wrath of God for God’s elect alone. God, the Father, chose certain persons to be His children, and on the cross the Son died for those persons alone. This is the “L” of TULIP. It is often referred to as the fifth point of Calvinism; if one is a four-point Calvinist, or Amyraldian, this is the point that is denied” (Shawn D. Wright, “Glossary of Some Important Theological Terms,” in the book, Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, Nashville: B & H, 2008, 281).

The Case For Definite Atonement

James Montgomery Boice and Philip G. Ryken argue in their book The Doctrines of Grace (p. 31):

What Reformed people want to say by these words is that the atonement had a specific object in view, namely, the salvation of those whom the Father had given the Son before the foundation of the world, and that it was effective in saving those persons. Thus it would be better to call this doctrine definite atonement, or particular redemption.Particular redemption signifies that the death of Christ has saving efficacy for the elect and for the elect only. Christ made satisfaction for sin when he died on the Cross, offering himself as the perfect substitute for God’s chosen people. Therefore, according to the plan of salvation, Christ’s death atoned for the sins of the elect but not for the sins of those who never come to him in faith.

Boice and Ryken’s last sentence seems inconsistent with their next paragraph on “irresistible grace” in that they believe the Holy Spirit only extends an “inward call” to the elect; therefore, would it not be impossible for the non-elect to come to God in faith?

The Case Against Definite Atonement

Dr. David Allen writes in his chapter entitled “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” in the book Whosoever Will: A Biblical Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (p. 62) “Atonement, in modern usage, refers to the expiatory and propitiatory act of Christ on the cross whereby satisfaction for sin was accomplished. One must be careful to distinguish between the intent, extent, and application of the atonement.”

He explains, “Extent of the atonement answers the question, ‘For whom did Christ die?’ or ‘For whose sins was Christ punished?’ There are only two options: for the elect alone (limited atonement) or for all of humanity (universal atonement).”

Later in his chapter (p. 91) Dr. Allen shares,

With no respect to the intent and extent of the atonement, high-Calvinists believe the following: God loves all people (but not equally), God desires the salvation of all people, but Jesus only satisfied the sins of the elect and not others. Moderate-Calvinists and all non-Calvinists believe the following: God loves all people, God desires the salvation of all people, and Christ died for all people in the sense that His death satisfied for the sins of all people.

So do you have a better definition of Definite Atonement? Are you pro or con in your understanding of this doctrine? Which verse(s) of Scripture best represents your leaning?

Ron F. Hale