Today’s Discussion Topic:
Article Three: The Atonement of Christ
of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist
Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

June 5, 2012

A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of the Plan of Salvation,” authored by Eric Hankins and others, has drawn strong interest. It has been referenced in a recent Baptist Press article, multiple blog posts, and many dozens of posts in Facebook and other social media.  The statement has been accessed over 18,000 times in the last few days.  The comments on the document in SBC Today alone are now over 750 posts, and over 300 persons have signed the document (including some key leaders from every level of Southern Baptist life).  You can sign it also by following the directions below.

In order to structure the discussion, we are focusing the comments on the affirmation and denial statement of one article of the statement at a time. Today’s discussion will address Article 3: The Atonement of Christ. Keep in mind that each of the affirmations and denials in the articles complement each other, just as they do in the Together for the Gospel statement signed and/or affirmed by some Southern Baptist leaders who embrace Reformed views.

Please confine your comments to the article being discussed that day, not general comments about the statement. If you want to comment on other things, follow the links to other discussion threads:

Thank you for your comments on these theological issues!

The Editors of SBC Today

Click this link to see the full statement of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”
Click this link to see the list of signers of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”
Email to join the movement and sign “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” as follows: 

Name, Position, Organization/Church, City, State

For example: John Doe, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Anytown, LA or
Jane Doe, member, First Baptist Church, Anytown, LA or
Jamie Doe, Professor, Some Seminary, Anytown, LA

Discussion of Article Three: The Atonement of Christ in “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

Note: As we discuss each article of the statement, today’s comments should focus on the affirmation and denial in Article 3. Please limit your comments here to Article 3.

Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.

We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.

Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-12; John 12:32, 14:6; Acts 10:39-43; Acts 16:30-32; Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:10-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-20; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:12-15, 24-28; 10:1-18; I John 1:7; 2:2

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I’m chuckling at myself because I had said I wouldn’t comment any more, but the temptation to be the first commenter has overtaken me again.

As a 4-point Calvinist (TUIP), I can agree with every word here. My many 5-point friends would probably agree with all but the last sentence. Other than the last sentence, I am not sure how these denials set anyone apart from orthodox Calvinism.

Can anyone find even a single quote by an SBC Calvinist teaching that a person can be saved without responding to the gospel in repentance and faith?


    Point of clarification: I understand that the authors of this document are probably using “free will” as a gloss for libertarian free will, as opposed to compatiblistic free will. If that definition were made explicit, then this article would contain substantive disagreements with Calvinism throughout. Those disagreements, however, would be about the nature of free will and not about the necessity of repentance and faith.

    As it stands, the implication for the uninformed reader is that Calvinism denies the need for a human response of repentance and faith for salvation. I wish there were more clarity throughout the document so that such potential for misunderstanding could be eliminated.

    Ron Hale

    I’m glad you stopped shy of Limited Atonement.

    Dr. David Allen in the book Whosoever Will … did an excellent job showing how even Calvin didn’t believe in LA.

    He also said, “The first person in church history who explicitly held belief in limited atonement was Gottschalk of Orbais (AD 804-869). Contrary to who some Calvinists think, Augustine did not hold the view of limited atonement. On the other hand, Gottschalk stated that “Christ was not crucified and put to death for the redemption of the whole world, that is, not for the salvation and redemption of all mankind, but only for those who are saved. Three French councils condemned both Gottschalk and his views” (pages 68 -69).


Question for advocates of this document:

It says, “We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.”

Does this denial then mean that you believe that Christ died for the sins of those who will NOT be saved?

Looking for clarification.


    Ron Hale

    As a Presbyterian … you sure do like to hang with us Baptists; I see you on all the Baptist blogs. I think you just miss us and wish you never left us :)

    The extent of the atonement seeks to answer the question: For whom did Christ die? Many Calvinists say, “for the elect alone” thus limited atonement. We are saying, “for all of humanity” thus a universal atonement.

    Blessings on you and your work in Haiti!


      Thanks Ron. As my good friend here in St. Louis said to me recently, “Les you’ve got the Baptists thinking you’re Presbyterian and the Presbyterians thinking you’re Baptist.” He is a PCE Ruling Elder and also has a 30 year career at Missouri Baptist University.

      Anyway, I suppose I’ll never understand how sinners can have their sins atoned for by Jesus and the wrath of God against them satisfied and yet still suffer the penalty of hell for those sins Jesus paid for.

      And to think you guys give us a hard time for the way we interpret the “all” passages!

      God bless!


        Ron Hale

        You said: Anyway, I suppose I’ll never understand how sinners can have their sins atoned for by Jesus and the wrath of God against them satisfied and yet still suffer the penalty of hell for those sins Jesus paid for.

        Me: Think about verses like ..2 Cor. 5:19 “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.”

        God ‘s great and glorius plan for the atonement was providing a punishment and satisfaction for sin as a basis for salvation for all people (everyone) and to secure the salvation of all who believe in Jesus.

        I repented and believed in Jesus at the age of 23. I became a “whosoever.”

        Dr. Allen says …”the intent of the atonement is that Christ died equally for all men to make salvation possible for all who believe, as well as to secure the salvation of those who do believe (the elect).”

        Les, some make it too hard with … two wills, two calls, two kinds of grace, two this, and two that. Jesus did not build an elaborate theological system that requires the decoding of words and terms. He used the “KISS” method: Keep It Simple Sinner.



        I think of John 10. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice. He says in particularistic language,

        “Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.””

        (John 10:25-30 ESV)

        Notice, some are not among his sheep and so don’t hear his voice.

        I still can’t see how universal atonement theorists deal with propitiation and expiation.

        Anyway, God bless.


      PCE should be PCA.


Have yall seen this new study from Lifeway?


    David, the byline says,

    By Audrey Barrick , Christian Post Reporter
    September 20, 2006|8:44 am


      Tim Rogers


      That was my fault. I called David because I was not close to my computer and asked him to post it. If you will notice the date for the article is showing June 5, 2012. When I saw the date on the article I presumed it was the recent study by Lifeway back at the beginning of May. Don’t blame David, I was the one at fault.



        No worries. I wasn’t looking to blame anyone. I assumed Davis just might not had seen that 2006 date, hence it wasn’t a new study. Just got reported again probably because of the new statement.


Jeff White

Regarding the AFFIRMATION of Article III: I would change the word “every” to “any”.

Regarding the DENIALS of Article III: Again, the supporters of this statement seem to be repeatedly assuming the false notion of the “free will” of the unbeliever. Once again, let me assert, what Jesus said, that we are NOT FREE until the Son sets us free (John 8:30-32). Before salvation we are the slaves of sin (Rom. 6:6). This includes the mind, will, and emotions. We are in bondage to inquity (Acts 8:23). Just because people make choices doesn’t necessarily mean they have a free will toward God or the Gospel, or that their unsaved will is unbounded or unlimited. That is an assumption they are making.

Further, Christ died for the sins of His people (Mat. 1:21). The phrase “whole world” in the Bible is sometimes used in a hyperbolic sense for emphasis, but does not always mean every single human being that has ever lived or ever will live (Luke 2:1). On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest, who was an illustration of Jesus, made an atonement for the Children of Israel ONLY. Not for Gentiles or even for every person that has ever lived or ever will live. In that sense, the High Priest in the Old Testament was offering a limited atonement. If Jesus died for those who reject Him, and God sends them to hell, then God is demanding a double payment for their sin, which would be unjust. The atonement either has to be (1) unlimited in its power (i.e., able to clease all sin including the sin of unbelief) and limited in its scope (i.e., Christ died only for the elect), or, (2) the atonement has to be limited in its power (since unbelievers don’t get saved) and unlimited in its scope (i.e., Jesus died for every single person who has ever lived or will ever live). Or, I guess, one could argue that (3) the atonement is unlimited in its power AND unlimited in its scope, which results in universalism (everyone getting saved), or, (4) that the atonement is limited in its power AND limited in its scope, which results in NO ONE getting saved. Arguement (1) is Calvinism, arguement (2) is Arminianism, arguement (3) is Universalism, and arguement (4) is just plan heresy like (3) is as well.

You see, Christ died for all sin including the sin of unbelief. As Spurgeon used to say, “Everyone limits the atonement. The Calvinist limits it by the sovereign will of God, and the Armininan limits it by the supposed free will of man”.

    Ron Hale

    Can you show us a scripture that says Jesus died “only” for the sins of the “elect.” The usual argument is that Jesus died for “His people,” and “His Church,” and for “His sheep” — and for His friends.

Jeff White

Hey Ron,

At this second, I can’t remember one. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, as I have a pretty failable memory as a result of my sin as a young man. At the same time, I don’t know that there needs to be a verse that says that.

What I mean is this: It’s pretty clear that “His people”, “His Church”, “His sheep”, “His Friends”, etc., are all “the elect”. For example, I can’t remember a verse that says Jesus died only for a “disciple”, but again, I don’t know there needs to be. It seems clear to me that someone who is a part of the people of God, a member of the Body of Christ or the Church, who is one of God’s sheep, and is friends with God through faith alone in Christ alone, must be a disciple (Acts 11:26). I don’t know if that helps, but that’s the best I have at this late hour. LOL

Thanks, Brother!

Jeffery S. White

David L. Allen


You are correct that sometimes the Bible uses the word “world” in a sense that does not mean, as you say, “every single human being that has ever lived or ever will live.” The same is true for the word “all.” This point is not in dispute. The problem lies in the invalid hermeneutical/exegetical legerdemain that transmutes the word “world” into something less than all humanity in the New Testament passages where it is used in direct and indirect reference to the extent of the atonement. For example, passages like John 1:29, John 3:16, ad 1 Timothy 2:4-6 simply cannot be shackled with the limiting lexical chains which restrict the meaning of “world” and “all” to something less than all humanity. Lexical semantics prohibits it. Context prohibits it. Common sense prohibits it.

Those who affirm limited atonement read texts that say things like Jesus died for the “church” and for His “sheep” and rightly understand that the biblical authors are here referring to a limited number of people: believers. They go on to read the texts that speak of Jesus dying for the sins of the “world” or for “all” and wrongly conclude that these statements must be interpreted in some limiting fashion. Why? In some cases I’m convinced it is because of a pre-conceived theology they bring to the text.

It is interesting that numerous Calvinists since the Reformation have argued against limited atonement with these very points, including men like Davenant (signatory of the Canons of Dort), Calamy (a Westminster Divine), Charles Hodge, Dabney, and more recently E. Hulse.

Your reference to the Old Testament Day of Atonement actually argues against limited atonement. No one in Israel was exempt from the benefits of the sacrifice. The Double Payment argument for limited atonement was long ago answered by Davenant and has been answered by numerous Calvinists since Dort who reject limited atonement, not to mention some I named above. Here are some of the problems: 1) The argument is never made in Scripture. 2) It confuses a commercial debt with a penal satisfaction for sin. 3) Ephesians 2:3 makes it clear that the elect are still under the wrath of God until they believe. 4) It negates the principle of grace in the application of the atonement since no one is owed the application.

Finally, your statement from Spurgeon needs to be clarified. All orthodox Christians limit the atonement in the application. It is only applied to those who believe. Those who affirm limited atonement limit it at the point of provision, which appears to me to be contrary to Scripture.

    Jeff White


    Thanks for the responses. Actually, I do think the case can be made linguistically and contextually for “Cosmos” to refer to the elect in John 1:29, to refer to Jews and Gentiles categorically in John 3:16 (just as it does in 1 John 2:2), and for the word “all” in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 6 to refer to “all” without “distinction” and not “all” without exception. In other words, “all” classes, types, and groups of people. Like those in authority mentioned back in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. But, again, it is an interpretive call, which is why good and godly believers are on different sides of this issue.

    Sometimes in Scripture “comos” or “world” can refer to only Jews, only Gentiles, both Jews and Gentiles, the elect only, believers only, unbelievers only, or to terra-firma only, etc. Context is the key. I would never say one interpretation of “world” should be applied equally to all passages.

    Second, I am aware that there are Calvinist who are four-pointers who don’t believe in limited atonement. I was one for many years. But, after a 10 year personal study of the atonement, I came to realize that I was being logically inconsistent, and also not dealing correctly with some very important passages like Revelation 5:9 where it indicates that Jesus has redeemed or ransom people “out of” or “from every” tribe, language, people, and nation. It does not say Jesus redeem every person from those entities, but from “out of” (depending on which translation you use, like NASB) them.

    You’re right, no one was exempt from the atonement made for the nation of Israel on Yom Kippur, but you did have to be an Israelite or a Gentile convert to Judaism. It was for a select group which was limited. And, the double payment argument still stands. It was made by both Spurgeon and by John Owen. Owen’s work on “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” is still Owen’s magnum opus when it comes to dealing with limited atonement.

    Lastly, I do believe when Spurgeon made the comment about everyone limiting the atonement, he was referring in both cases to “application”.


    Jeffery S. White

scott p

In my mind, 1 Timothy 2:6 ends the debate about Limited Atonement. Unless we want the word “all” to mean something besides “all”. I suspect that the number of “New Calvanist” that hold to limited atonement are probably limited in number.

Brad Reynolds

Dr. Allen,
Excellent comment! If I might add one additional word. Much has been made of Romans 5 in regards to article 2 (I have tried to explain it in relation there) but what many Calvinists seem to neglect is verse 18 in relation to this article.

“Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to ALL MEN…” (KJV – Caps are mine)

In the Greek, as you know, the same terms (pantas anthropous) are used both for one man’s offense affecting ALL of humanity and one Man’s righteous act on behalf of ALL of humanity. (I have my Greek professor to thank for that…thanks:). Thus, if Adam’s offense affected us all then Jesus died for us all.

    Jay Beerley

    No offense, Brad (well, maybe that’s not entirely true), but the reason it’s not brought up is because you’re using a terrible hermeneutic.

    Romans 5
    In Adam- condemnation
    In Jesus- righteousness

    Who’s in Adam? everyone
    Who’s in Jesus? are you suggesting everyone is IN CHRIST? Or could it be that ALL who are IN CHRIST have righteousness that leads to justification?

      Brad Reynolds

      I appreciate your willingness to share, but if I may, I would like to point out that I am not the one who equated the judgment on ALL MEN with the free gift to ALL MEN: that would be Paul.

      But since you bring up hermeneutics, let us go back and see what verse 18 says about Adam and Jesus: “through one man’s offense judgment came to ALL MEN unto condemnation…so, through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to ALL MEN”

      If you were to say that pantas anthropous means ALL MEN in the first part of the verse but the ELECT in the second part of the verse then I believe you and I certainly would have a different hermeneutic. While you may call mine “terrible” I am much more comfortable with it, than I would be with yours.

        Jay Beerley

        If Paul meant “all men” everywhere, and not all men who are in Christ (the word “in” is important here), then why did he say in verse 16 “the free gift of grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for MANY? Why did he not reiterate his intention that it was for “all men?”

        I would say because Paul is making a positional argument in Romans 5, being IN Adam or being IN the Second Adam.

Brad Reynolds

Two thoughts:
1) Your salvation typology of the OT Yom Kippur fails in that you hold to limited atonement and thus its efficacy for ALL for whom He died. Yet, Paul was clear that not all of Israel was Israel. That is, although the atonement was made for ALL of Israel it was not efficacious for ALL. Which was Dr. Allen’s point: atonement made for all under the law of Moses but not efficacious for all under the law of Moses.

2) Your comment that “(2) the atonement has to be limited in its power (since unbelievers don’t get saved) and unlimited in its scope (i.e., Jesus died for every single person who has ever lived or will ever live)” is an “Arminian argument” bespeaks of the Calvinistic theological lens this discussion is seeking to remove. Both Dr. Olson and Dr. Mohler were right, we are not Arminian. The Anabaptist held to this view and they were not Arminian.

In closing I am not sure we can really discuss much more. If you choose to interpret John 3:16 as “For God so loved the elect that he sent His only begotten son…” then I am not sure any further discussion would be of benefit to either of us.


    Dr. Reynolds,



    Jim G.

    Hi Brad,

    I would suggest the two lenses we have in Christian discourse are the Augustinian-Calvinist lens that is built on the idea that God meticulously controls all events and the (for lack of a better name, but I am open to suggestions) free-will-tradition lens that does not believe that God meticulously controls all events.

    I think buried deeply under soteriological language, this is the real difference. The assumption of the degree of determination of events in space-time is the underlying axiom beneath the soteriological view. There are two fundamental Christian worldviews, and I don’t know if the views themselves can ever be harmonized. The people holding them might agree to reconcile, but the views themselves cannot merge.

    Jim G.

      Jay Beerley

      The lenses are, I believe, properly identified as monergistic and synergistic. Either one power in the universe accomplishes salvation or two powers in the universe accomplish salvation. Obviously this document’s stance is that two powers are needed.

Jay Beerley

Here’s the general problem with this conversation: actual vs. theoretical.

If there are any universalists posting here, this doesn’t regard your position, which I think everyone else would agree is heresy.

So, the big concern is whether or not the atonement could theoretically forgive sins (synergists; this document; etc.) or whether it actually accomplishes atonement for Christians (monergists; Calvinists; whatever).

My question is this: why does the theoretical matter? The sky could theoretically be green, purple, or yellow. But it’s actually blue, because God made it that way. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but to me there is only one reason to care about the theoretical: because if the theoretical weren’t true, you’d end up casting judgment upon God as being unfair. I’m pretty sure it’s never a safe thing to dabble in the theoretical, the what-if’s, the mystery of God. Calvin himself warned of getting trapped in a mental labyrinth of no escape when you try to mess with things like that.

Here’s what I want from the universal atonement people: an answer to a yes or no question.

Has EVERY person who EVER lived had his sins penally, substitutionally atoned for, meaning that their guilt has been removed?

Brad Reynolds

I would resist the options you have given us. I do not think is is theoretical vs actual but possible vs actual. That is, it is not a discussion of whether it is theoretical for all to be saved, but it is a discussion of whether it is possible for all to be saved. We are agreed all will not actually be saved, but I would argue it is possible for all to be saved because of the extent of the atonement.

Further, in regard to the atonement, while I usually do not make a habit of quoting from the Canons of Dordt, I shall here: “The death of God’s of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.”

    Jay Beerley

    Brad, that’s the point! NO “Calvinist” I know would say that the atonement of Jesus is not sufficient to save everyone. BUT IT DOESN’T! Of course Christ is all powerful and COULD do whatever he wanted. But, within his own character and love for the praise of his glorious grace, he predestined us. Ephesians 1. Sorry, but we have to deal with that. And it should be comforting and glorifying to God.

mike white

To note:
On the Day of Atonement, only those who afflicted themselves were atoned for. Not all Israelites, per se, but a limited number, limited to those who believed.

mike white

In response to Jay, you said:
“I would resist the options you have given us. I do not think is is theoretical vs actual but possible vs actual. That is, it is not a discussion of whether it is theoretical for all to be saved, but it is a discussion of whether it is possible for all to be saved. We are agreed all will not actually be saved, but I would argue it is possible for all to be saved because of the extent of the atonement.”

One problem that universal atonement has is when we compare it to the universal most agree on, that is universal sin. We know that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. ‘All’ there means everyone [save Jesus] who ever lived. Thus ‘all’ is universal as it relates to sin.

But how does universal [all] work in relation to salvation? Is there not conditions we agree to already that must be present for there to be salvation? How can they believe if they are not told? Certainly you do not hold that everyone who ever lived has heard the Gospel?

Thus how is it possible for all to be saved? How can those who never hear be saved? Therefore since the Gospel call is not universal, neither can the extent of atonement be universal.

When will the end come? When the Gospel is preached to all nations. But haven’t many died in the nations where the Gospel call has not yet reached? Thus the extent of the Gospel call is limited by time and space. Certainly God knew this.

Then why can’t it be said [at least] that the atonement is limited to those who hear the Gospel? if so, then it is not universal but limited.

Seeing how each need ALL of Christ [it isnt how many drops of blood shed] on the cross, the actual number, in that sense is unlimited except by whatever conditions we see limiting it. For some, it is limited not only by the hearing of the Gospel, but also the of the hearer in response to that hearing. For others, it is limited by the choice of God in which ears He opens. But universal, how do you justify that?


My question is of this article as a whole. It seems first pompous to me for one to claim that a definitive understanding has been gleaned and this, penal substitution, is the only way in which the salvation of man is effectual. As I read scripture more than one atonement theory is articulated, and secondly, is the gospel just about humanity? Is salvation, whatever that might mean, just about humanity? Or could it quite possibly be about the entire created order and need something larger than penal substitution to attempt to articulate it. The really funny thing about this whole article is that it essentially says that “We deny salvation as articulated by the Calvinist” it would have been a whole lot simpler to just write that on a piece of paper than take the time to write ten articles that say they are wrong and we have it figured out. My biggest critique is still that both a Calvinist articulation and this articulation contain far too narrow an approach to salvation, and far too limited and systematic an understanding. Where is the mystery of the action of god?

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