Some Simplistic Reasons Why I Reject the TULIP of 5 Point Calvinism with Particular Reference to the “L”, Limited Atonement

What is it about 5 Point Calvinism that I find so off-putting; to the point that it has always, my whole life long, caused me consternation? Let me just say before I answer this, as a disclaimer, that we never should reduce Calvinism to the 5 points; but, as a quick way to get into classical Calvinist theology, as an acrostic the TULIP captures things quite well. So back to my question: I would say that if I were to pick one of the points that bothers me the most that it would be Limited Atonement. This is the idea, for those who don’t know, that Christ only died for those whom God unconditionally elect; i.e. for these particular individuals. This is problematic to me; not because I cannot grasp what it is intending to communicate, just the opposite. The problem I have with this, nested within the other surrounding points, is that it says something about God. To me what it says about God, very plainly, is that his whole creation, the crowning jewel of his creation does not ultimately matter to him. That his love can be delimited by something else greater than his love (maybe his justice, wrath, sovereignty, etc.). But this goes against who I know God to be, Self-revealed as he is in Jesus Christ; the exact representation of his ‘being’. It also says that he has at least two wills, not one; that he has a will for the reprobate, and a will for the elect. But the Bible is very clear that God has one will, a will defined by who he is as One God/Three persons; a will defined and conditioned by his love.

These, among some other issues, represent some of the problems I have with the concept of Limited Atonement. Evangelical Calvinists have our own rendition of Limited Atonement, but it is focused soley on the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ which is for all of humanity, not just a limited amount. After all, God desires all humanity to be saved, and that none would perish.

Ultimately my problem with the classical Calvinist ‘limited atonement’ idea is that it does not coalesce well with who God has revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ; a God with us and for us precisely as that is grounded in the humanity of Jesus Christ. There are obviously some deeper methodological issues at play in all of this (on both “sides”), but I thought I would, off the top, just voice some reasons why I see limited atonement as something that is problematic and unbelievable.

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14 comments

  1. Bobby,
    Great post! You are absolutely right. I think the biggest problem with limited atonement is that it rejects the hypostatic union (Romans 5). Limited atonement suggests that Christ did not take on sinful flesh, but only a flesh that the elect seem to have. They would read Romans 5 as “in Adam the elect died, so in Christ the elect shall be made alive). This makes no sense in the context of the rest of the Bible. To me, rejecting the hypostatic union is heresy, which is why I am very upset by 5 point Calvinist theology. I would love to hear your thoughts!

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  2. Thanks, David. Yes, this is a charge that TF Torrance makes against limited atonement; one of his “twin heresies.” He correlates it with the Christological Nestorian heresy. But I don’t think that limited atonement necessarily rejects the hypostatic union, per se. But it does have a stilted view of human nature. The idea of an elect human nature, that is somehow sanctified prior to Christ’s atoning work—which is what unconditional election and limited atonement presuppose—is very problematic to me. It posits that there was a humanity distinct or abstract from sinful humanity in general based upon the decree of God and apart from the atoning work of God in Christ. To me that’s the real problem here; in classical Calvinism the decree of God as an ontological thing in itself is more determinative of reality than is the personal work of God in Christ in its execution. In other words limited atonement has something behind the back of God in Christ, the decree, which is determinative of God’s work and relation to creation; almost like a 4th “person” of the Trinity from which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit subsist.

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  3. You actually do believe in LA because you also limit atonement to only those who believe. You believe in this view of LA but it’s insufficient and definitely not Calvinistic. You’re missing God’s glory as the foundation of his election.

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  4. No I actually don’t. Please avoid such presumptuous comments in the future, and don’t presume you’ve got it or my view all figured out; it will keep you from looking silly when you hear what my actual view is. This post might have been simplistic so I guess I should expect simple comments like yours, but I assure you my view is anything but simple and as facile as you presume.

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  5. You’re making a massive category mistake. Even if I granted your logico-causal necessitarian thinking, which I don’t, I’m not limiting the efficaciousness or the extent of the atonement, but instead the delimiter is located in it’s application; that’s two different categories, your argument based upon your own logic is a non-starter and fallacious. But the real problem, again, is that you are being totally presumptuous in your comment; you haven’t even begun to understand my doctrine of predestination election/reprobation, until you do that you can’t make a genuine critique of my position. But even so, again, as it stands now your critique is a non-starter based as it is in a serious category mistake; and that’s only if I followed your theory of causation and attendant logic, I don’t! Us evangelical Calvinists are dialectical thinkers, and so we buck the type of constraints you are working from at a methodological level.

    You need to think again, and make a better argument and critique other than offering me the type of limp wristed effort you’ve put forth so far.

    You might wonder why I’m being so terse and aggressive in my response to you. Well for one thing I don’t take kindly to the type of presumption your comment springs from; 2) I know exactly where you’re coming from theologically, and so not interested in mincing words with you. If you want to bring a real critique of my position after you’ve read some other stuff on this from and understand my position, then go for it. But until then don’t come at me again with the type of altitude you evinced your first comment here at my blog.

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  6. I appreciate your thoughts, man. Reading your post reminded me of 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

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  7. Although currently, I am not convinced of your view of limited atonement, I agree with you that the above argument presented against your case drastically fails to take into account the reasons you have for your position. In my mind, ‘classical’ Calvinists would do well to really engage with the theological rational behind Torrance and Barth’s understanding of the atonement, and, especially, the role which the incarnation plays in said event. Put differently, if ‘classical’ Calvinists are going to intelligently interact with Barth, Torrance, et al., they need to do so with integrity, not lazily and cheaply.

    Thanks Bobby for your thoughts.

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  8. I agree, T Jax. I even think most don’t honestly deal with their own positions that deeply. In fact online I’ve hardly ever seen anyone demonstrate that they really understand the nuances of their own classical Calvinism.

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  9. Don’t get me wrong, there obviously are plenty of people who have a working knowledge of their classical Calvinism, but not most it seems (not when it comes to the history of ideas behind it all).

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